Chicago Unveils Its Ambitious Pedestrian Safety Plan

Yesterday, the city of Chicago rolled out a sweeping new plan for pedestrian safety [PDF]. With some 250 recommendations — including traffic-calming measures like pedestrian islands, chicanes and midblock curb bumpouts — Chicago joins cities like New York and Portland in formalizing a plan to meet targets for reducing pedestrian injuries and deaths.

Chicago is getting serious about pedestrian safety. Photo: CDOT

Chicago Department of Transportation Director Gabe Klein aims to bring the total number of pedestrian fatalities down to zero in 10 years time. Currently about 50 pedestrians are killed annually on Chicago streets.

“We want pedestrian safety to be at the forefront of everything we do,” Klein told the Chicago Tribune. “Everyone in the city is a pedestrian.”

The plan was developed after a series of public meetings. It calls for identifying and repairing two high-collision corridors and four dangerous intersections annually, basing the interventions on crash data. Chicago also aims to improve driver education, conduct police crackdowns on dangerous drivers, and implement tougher safety mandates for taxis.

A wide variety of street infrastructure treatments are listed in Chicago’s toolkit, including road diets, roundabouts, speed humps and pedestrian scrambles — a signal phase for pedestrians only. Even nagging headaches like snow removal lapses and sidewalk closures for construction — treated as a fact of life in most places — are addressed.

Better connectivity for walking trips is another goal. CDOT recommends filling in gaps in the pedestrian network, improving walking routes to transit, and enhancing pedestrian wayfinding systems.

Each recommendation contains a timeframe for implementation, and the plan calls for CDOT to evaluate its progress at regular intervals.

Chicanes, a traffic calming measure, are one of 250 proposals for reducing pedestrian injuries and death. Photo: CDOT

CDOT’s plan takes special care to protect the city’s most vulnerable pedestrians, calling for longer pedestrian crossing times within one-eighth of a mile of senior housing centers and schools. It also recommends expanding local “safe passage” to school efforts, and making walkability a factor in school siting decisions.

Chicago’s 2011 Pedestrian Crash Analysis found that kids between the ages of 15 and 18 were the most frequent victims of car-pedestrian collisions. The study also found that senior citizens were 10 percent more likely than the average person to be struck by vehicles.

In recent years, pedestrian safety has been improving in Chicago. In 2009, the city recorded 34 pedestrian deaths, a 16-year low. That year, 503 pedestrians were seriously injured, down 20 percent from 2005.

But Klein is not satisfied.

“We want to set an aggressive goal that forces us in every element of our job to look at pedestrian safety and make it everything we do,” he told the Chicago Sun Times. “If at the end of the day, two people are killed, heaven forbid, versus zero, I will still feel like we made huge, huge progress.”

That goal is what impresses John Greenfield of Grid Chicago about the plan, although he, as well, has doubts about how achievable it is.

“I think the plan basically just codifies what [Klein and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are] already doing,” Greenfield said. “They’ve been very busy restriping crosswalks, installing leading pedestrian interval walk signs [that give peds a jump on cars]. They’ve been adding pedestrian refuge islands in a lot of locations.”

The Chicago Pedestrian Plan appears to draw inspiration from New York City’s 2009 Pedestrian Safety Study and Access Plan. This could be a trend that saves countless lives, if a new wave of cities begin systematically analyzing the dangers to pedestrians and taking concrete actions to make streets safe for walking.

  • Anonymous

    Let me guess – they are going to “crack down” on dangerous drivers by giving out speeding tickets, but elderly people and those who for whatever reason are just terrible drivers will continue to be allowed on the roads.

  • Anonymous

    The last time I was in Chicago, I ended up at a location a little west of downtown. I could see a building near the hotel that I was staying at downtown, and I thought that I would walk back. I couldn’t do it. Twenty minutes west of downtown, the sidewalks were not continuous.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Good for Mr. Klein and Mayor Emmanuel. An ambitious “plan zero” goal will be great for Chicago and will inspire the rest of the country. I’d like to see our Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC adopt a similarly ambitious plan for our city.

  • There are many reasons I DIDN’T vote for Rahm (including his Mr. Macho battle with the Chicago Teachers Union), but he and Gabe Klein are on the right track in recognizing that MOST Chicagoans are at least part-time pedestrians, and that traffic interventions that protect pedestrians are positive for ALL Chicagoans!

  • Ts

    Portland has a plan for reducing pedestrian injuries and deaths?  That’s a joke.  Portland has really high bicycle traffic.  To reduce car/bike accidents, they basically let the bikes ride anywhere they want, which is usually the sidewalks.  Most.pedestrian.hostile,city,you,can.imagine.  They may have reduced the bicyclists’ injuries, but I doubt anyone is even counting all the minor injuries caused by bicyclists to pedestrians, to say nothing of the constant nuisance factor of never knowing when a bike is going to come whizzing by you.

    And am I missing something in that picture of a “chicane”?  Like, um, the sidewalk?  I guess that’s a good way to make a road safe – banish pedestrians and make the road zigzagy so that you have lots of corners you can’t see around – can’t see things like car doors opening or bicyclists or oncoming traffic.  Slowing things down by making them less safe is not necessarily making them any more safe overall.  More accidents at lower speeds is not an optimal trade-off.

  • This is great news and I hope Rahm and Klein keep this up. I am left wondering just what a “pedestrian crash” is. Is Chicago trying to prevent peds from walking into each other? 

  • The pedestrian islands are great, as long as they’re installed thoughtfully.  There is a new one on California just south of the courthouse that is probably nice for peds, but sucks for cyclists- only half of the traffic actually slows down, and now bikes and cars are squeezed into a MUCH smaller lane.  I’ve been buzzed by motorists lots of times here, which is on my daily commute.  Maybe because there’s a bike lane on the other half of this section of California they didn’t think to accommodate extra lane space for cyclists, but had they actually done a traffic count I doubt they’d have seen any bikes making the two unprotected left turns needed to go out of their way to leave the main thoroughfare just to utilize this two-block “bike lane” .   Good idea, but make sure you’re not making things worse in practice!

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