More speed cams, lower speed limits urged to protect pedestrians

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File photo| Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago needs more speed cameras, lower speed limits and a $20 million-a-year fund to re-design local streets to combat a “very troubling” surge in pedestrian fatalities, a pedestrian advocate said Friday.

Motorists driving on the streets of Chicago struck and killed eighteen pedestrians during the first four months of this year, nine of them in April alone. Many of the victims were either senior citizens or children.

That’s up from just seven pedestrian fatalities during the same four-month period in 2012, thirteen pedestrian deaths in 2014 and fourteen walking deaths last year. Three more Chicago pedestrians were mowed down in May.

Even more troubling was the fact that all nine of the April, 2018 pedestrian fatalities involved speeding motorists who apparently lost control and mowed down people standing on sidewalks, according to Streetsblog Chicago.


Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, blamed the “very troubling” increase in pedestrian fatalities on “more cars and more driving” tied to lower gas prices and an improving economy and on an epidemic of both distracted walking and distracted driving.

But instead of fining pedestrians with their heads buried in their cellphones, as some aldermen have proposed, Burke is proposing lower speed limits, more speed cameras and a $20 million-a-year fund to bankroll street improvements included in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ambitious plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2026.

Those improvements include: better-lit crosswalks and countdown timers; pedestrian-refuge islands on wider streets; narrowing streets and re-striping the width of lanes to force motorists to slow down and installing bump-out curbs that force turning vehicles to go slower and make wider turns.

Burke acknowledged that the subject of photo enforcement is “highly-charged and controversial” and that there is “not a huge appetite to re-open that conversation” in an Illinois General Assembly that has limited speed cameras to near parks and schools.

But he argued that it’s worth opening that can of worms after a “comprehensive assessment” of where speed-related crashes and pedestrian fatalities are occurring.

“All around the world and in the United States, all of the research shows that, when speed cameras are deployed properly and used to really improve safety and not just to create revenue, they work. They really do work. They save lives,” Burke said, refusing to say how many more speed cameras he would like to see than the current complement of 151.

If Burke has his way, the same citywide assessment to pinpoint the location of speed-related crashes that mow down pedestrians will lead to reduced speed limits and increased enforcement of them.

“There are a lot of streets in Chicago where the speed limit should be lowered….from 30-to-25 [miles-per-hour] and from 25 to 20,” he said.

“The odds of somebody being significantly injured in a traffic crash—whether they’re inside a car and especially if they’re not. If they’re walking or biking—goes up dramatically when the vehicle speed is above 30 miles-an-hour.”

Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld could not be reached for comment.

The Active Transportation Alliance plans to ask Emanuel and his nine challengers whether they support “creation of a line-item in the city budget” to bankroll “biking and walking safety infrastructure.”

“We’d like to see $20 million-a-year of additional revenue, new money, dedicated to making these of street-level improvements that lead to safer streets for everyone,” Burke said.

“There’s a bunch of revenue streams we think should be considered….Parking [taxes] or potentially expanding the sales tax base. Any new revenue stream is gonna be controversial….I don’t want to get into details now. That will derail the conversation. It just leads people to go, ‘See. We can’t do that. That’s too controversial. Forget it. We’re not even gonna try.'”

Without a dedicated source of revenue, Burke said the city is “just getting started” in implementing its so-called “Vision Zero” plan to improve pedestrian safety by making improvements at 300 Chicago intersections, 25 CTA stations and assorted bus stops.

The three-year campaign also calls for using education and targeted enforcement to reduce an epidemic of crashes that Scheinfeld has called a “persistent plague” that has created a “true public health crisis.”

The Sun-Times reported in mid-April that Chicago’s drivers appear to be slowing down, based on the newspaper’s analysis of the city’s speed-camera data.

This year through March 29, drivers had been caught speeding by one of Chicago’s 151 speed cameras 208,891 times, a Sun-Times analysis of city data found. That’s down 11.8 percent from the same period in 2017.

While a snowy February might have contributed to that drop, City Hall also credits drivers who slow down because of the cameras.

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