More speed cameras. Lower speed limits in the Central Business District and the West Loop. Fewer traffic lanes. Designs that make streets safer for pedestrians bankrolled by “new revenue streams.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday committed to using all of those strategies and more to combat an epidemic of traffic crashes that has created “a public health crisis” with a disproportionate impact on poor people and minorities.
The campaign is called “Vision Zero” because the goal is nothing short of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2026.
That may sound overly ambitious, considering the fact that the number of traffic fatalities in Chicago during the first four months of this year were up 79 percent over the same period last year, Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld reported recently.
But Emanuel and Scheinfeld believe aiming high is needed to combat the traffic crashes that seriously injure five people every day and kill someone every three days.
The campaign will be concentrated in “high-crash areas” identified by the city. They include: Downtown, Belmont-Cragin, the West Side, Near West Side, Near Northwest Side, Austin, Englewood, and Washington Park.
In those areas and in 70 miles of streets identified as “high-crash corridors,” the city will “prioritize investments” between now and 2020 with the goal of reducing severe crashes by 40 percent and fatalities by 25 percent.
Redesigns may include changes to signs, pavement markings and curbside use, including adding or reducing parking, the study says. Targeted enforcement is planned, though the goal is “education over fines.”
The campaign was unveiled at Chicago and Lamon in the West Side’s 37th Ward — for good reason.
“Between 2008 and 2015, two people died here just trying to cross the street and five people were injured. Those fatalities included a 10-year-old boy and a 40-year-old woman,” Scheinfeld said Monday.
“Last year, as part of safety improvements on Chicago and Madison at 10 different intersections, we installed the pedestrian refuge island that you see behind you. And we have not had any serious injuries or fatalities there since. . . . It’s a great example of what we can do to make very targeted investments to make real change.”
Emanuel said the “integrated, comprehensive approach” will use everything from “improvements on the street to enforcement” to create an “envelope of safety.”
The three-year action plan will attack traffic safety as a “public health and equity issue,” while acknowledging that African-Americans are more than twice as likely to die in traffic accidents than whites.
A similar disparity exists in areas of economic hardship, records show.
The ambitious plan includes a commitment to improve 300 intersections to make them safer for pedestrians.
CDOT will also work with the CTA to improve “access and safety” at five transit stations this year, and ten apiece in 2018 and 2019.
Lower speed limits will be considered in the Central Business District, the West Loop, the University of Illinois at Chicago campus and in and around the Illinois Medical District. Speed limit changes will also be considered on “all new construction projects, including those set for construction in 2017 and 2018,” the report states.
The report notes that automated speed enforcement “will be studied as an option to curb dangerous speed in high-crash areas or corridors and, if appropriate, additional units will be placed.”
Cabdrivers and ride-hailing drivers will be required to be trained in the “Vision Zero curriculum” when they’re issued chauffeurs licenses or re-certified.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said one of the of the “data points that stood out to me” was the fact that people who live in areas of high economic hardship are three times more likely to die from a traffic crash.
“These are oftentimes the same people who are affected by gun violence,” Johnson said Monday as an emergency siren nearly drowned out his words. “Which says to me that we need to invest in these communities and make them safer overall.”