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Emanuel: Make drivers stop for pedestrians

A pedestrian crosses Clark Street outside County Building. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times file

A pedestrian crosses Clark Street outside the County Building. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times file

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Updated: November 2, 2011 12:44AM

Drivers in Chicago would be required to come to a full stop when a pedestrian is crossing at intersections that have no traffic signal or stop sign, under a crackdown proposed Thursday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“My administration is committed to making our streets safer for pedestrians,” Emanuel said. “The ordinance … will clarify our safety laws to better protect pedestrians and support a vigorous, creative, public awareness campaign to help educate all who use our roads about pedestrian safety.”

Six weeks ago, newly appointed city Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein told the Chicago Sun-Times that a playing field now heavily tilted in favor of drivers needs to be leveled to better protect pedestrians.

Klein suggested reducing the number of downtown corners where right turns on red are allowed and giving pedestrians a three-to-five-second jump before the light for cars turns green at 100 dangerous intersections.

He also proposed narrower streets, slower speed limits and intersections where vehicular traffic is stopped for 14 seconds every other light cycle to give pedestrians a chance to cross in every direction, including diagonally.

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, Emanuel got the ball rolling in a more modest way. He proposed an ordinance that would require drivers to come to a full stop when a pedestrian is crossing at an “uncontrolled crosswalk” — an intersection with no traffic signal or stop sign.

The ordinance also would authorize Klein’s department to maintain “temporary awareness signs” on the public way to promote pedestrian safety. The signs would include temporary safety messages “stenciled on the sidewalk” or “crossing flags” at key intersections.

The new driving requirement and the awareness campaign set the stage for a more sweeping pedestrian safety initiative that the city plans to unveil later this summer. That will include education, outreach and a crash analysis to determine intersections that have been the site of the most-severe pedestrian crashes.

Transportation Department spokesman Brian Steele said the change would eliminate driver confusion and bring the city’s municipal code in line with the state vehicle code.

“Our current ordinance says a driver needs to yield, which means slowing down or stopping, if need be. We’re now saying they must stop,” Steele said. “By changing the language, we make it 100 percent clear, just in case a driver doesn’t know what `yield to pedestrian’ means.”

In 2004, a top aide to then-Mayor Richard M. Daley proposed that the city’s 303 traffic-control aides be empowered to ticket pedestrians who push the envelope and tie up downtown traffic — either by crossing against the crosswalk or within the crosswalk, but against the light.

Klein has argued that City Hall needs to “make it safer” for pedestrians “before we start coming down on people.”

“It’s not that people want to break the law,” he told the Sun-Times last month. “It’s just that we’ve prioritized automobiles since post-World War II. It’s made pedestrians and cyclists feel at a distinct disadvantage. We’re gonna put the streets back closer to the way they were before the urban expressways were built in the late ‘50s. We’re trying to go back to a time when things were more balanced.”

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