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Jeff Ward: Our New Pedestrian Crosswalk Law Ain't Working!

Cross the street in Geneva at your own risk!

It ain’t working! All you have to do is drive down Third Street on any sunny afternoon, and you can see it for yourself. Oblivious to anything but their incessant and inane cell-phone conversations, the vast majority of motorists fail to notice even the sweetest of little old ladies trying in vain to cross the street.

And it ain’t working despite Geneva’s best efforts to get the word out.

What’s even worse is, those attempts to enlighten the motoring public may inadvertently be causing more problems than they solve. Some drivers inexplicably take those Third Street signs alerting them to “stop for pedestrians in crosswalks” as the equivalent of four-way stop signs.

In fact, in the last two months, I’ve been twice forced to come to a screeching Third Street halt when a crossing motorist incorrectly assumed I also had a stop sign.

You may recall, in an all-too-brief bout of sanity and foresight, our state decided, if a pedestrian steps into a marked crosswalk with no overriding traffic signal, then approaching vehicles must stop and give that pedestrian the right of way. The motorist may then proceed when it's safe to do so.

Does this July 2010 statute absolve anyone from using their God-given common sense when stepping off the curb? No! As St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin told me, this new law doesn't mean pedestrians should start running out into the street and hope for the best.

What the law does mean is, should our little old lady step of the Fourth Street curb onto that State Street asphalt, traffic on Geneva's main thoroughfare must come to a complete stop and remain immobile until she makes her way across those four lanes—no questions asked!

But even the GPD folks have given up on this statutory notion. They posted a police officer crossing guard at that intersection during the Festival of the Vine. They knew darn well that, despite the law and without their presence, our intrepid little old lady wouldn’t have made three feet without getting picked off by an impatient motorist.

Of course, this begs the question, “What the heck happens to us when we get behind the wheel?” People who wouldn’t be caught dead uttering an unkind word to someone’s face suddenly turn into the moral equivalent of a Hells Angel. I can only surmise that climbing into that steel contraption instils a form of anonymity not unlike what propels some Patch posters into saying the silliest things.

What does this phenomenon say about us as a culture? C'mon! Traffic out here isn’t nearly as bad as it is in the big city.

Every civilized First World country on the face of the planet already has these kind of reasonable pedestrian crosswalk laws. It's only in this country, where chronically late and irrational drivers can’t wait 10 seconds for a senior citizen to shuffle across the street, do generally reasonable people get rebel against them.

No wonder they call it the “home of the brave.” It takes that much courage just to make it across the street.

As I recently made my way across a secondary street in my own neighborhood, an SUV coming up a hill and around a bend actually accelerated when the driver saw me in the crosswalk. Only when he/she realized I wouldn’t be intimidated, did he/she slow down.

Generally, I’m not one to encourage any police department to resort to its ticket books, and I've consistently complimented the GPD brass on their reluctance to do so. But not only is it time to start writing citations, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stage the kind of stings the city of Chicago has often implemented.

You’ve heard about ‘em! The CPD sends an undercover officer into the crosswalk on a busy street in full view of nearby patrol cars that proceed to stop any motorist who doesn’t stop for the “pedestrian.”

Of course, I’d continue that fine GPD tradition of educating the public by issuing warnings first, but the second time? Lower the boom!

C’mon Genevans! What’s so hard about this? If a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk, you stop!

That’s all there is to it!

Patrick Sennett September 21, 2011 at 12:17 PM
Unfortunately, it isn't just in Geneva. People are blissfully inattentive behind the wheel everywhere. There are laws against turning without properly signaling, crossing solid stripes on the road, no-passing zones, right-turn-on-red and, of course, speed limits. Except for the last one, I'll bet most people don't remember them. Maybe there should be a required online test before refreshing your drivers license or license plate. Now there's some government intrusion I could get behind.
Dennis C. Ryan September 21, 2011 at 12:31 PM
Maybe there are the same drivers who insist on making U-turns in heavy traffic on State Street to get to an open parking space on the other side.
robert poznanski September 21, 2011 at 02:33 PM
Having grown up in Chicago,this whole concept of "pedestrian prominence" is fairly amusing to me! First thing you learn, as a kid playing on "the mean streets", is to "look both ways, twice", and then acquire whats called, timing,,that is, not stepping out into traffic, until its all clear to,or at least,timing your movement,between cars, trucks, etc.!! A real boy scout could also make lots of points helping "old ladies",(the term now not politically appropriate) getting across the street, but that was a situation where you needed lots of time for, traffic being what it was! Man, we have really gotten crazy thinking that "the law", is going to make a cell phone user,actually pay attention, or a driver to become more aware, then he actually is! After all, have you driven up Randal Road lately??? Laws are great, and that's what we "pay" our lawmakers, to do, but lets get real here, take upon yourself to protect your life, as best as you can,because in the end, you will do that better than anybody else!!!
Debby Becker September 22, 2011 at 02:21 AM
My husband and son almost witnessed a teenage girl get hit while crossing State Street at Fourth St. She apparently thought that traffic was stopped but did not see the car coming in the far lane. The car slammed on the brakes and she jumped to the side and all was well but I am sure both of them were a little shaky. I know it scared them. I myself was stopped on State for not seeing a pedestrian step off the curb on the other side of the street. I was to busy watching to see if a young child was going to run out between cars as his mom was loading the baby in the car. I am always careful to keep an eye on the parked cars along the street to make sure no one is going to back out because they can't see around the SUV that's parked next to them. I honestly wasn't looking to see if someone was stepping off the curb on the other side. I, too, was taught and taught my children to stop and look both ways and to not cross if cars were coming. I myself am not willing to roll the dice and hope the car stops.

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