IDOT leader on crosswalk safety: We've got to rethink it
In June, cyclist Joni Beaudry was killed by an SUV driver at a busy Mount Prospect crosswalk after activating a yellow beacon that was supposed to keep her and others safe.
The tragedy has raised questions about the role of drivers and pedestrians in the suburbs, where a car culture clashes with the desire for an environment where people can walk and bike freely.
“We've got to rethink the whole pedestrian safety issue,” IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said Friday. “Pedestrians are part of the transportation system and we need to start treating them like that.”
In November 2015, Mount Prospect and the Illinois Department of Transportation installed a median island and flashing yellow beacon at the crosswalk on Central Road at Melas Park.
Previously, the crosswalk resembled others in the suburbs - a series of painted lines often ignored by drivers, leaving pedestrians to wait for a traffic break and then sprint across four lanes at their own peril.
In the wake of the fatal crash, Mount Prospect intends to erect additional beacons and IDOT is conducting a speed study on Central.
“We are working with the village to try to figure out what the right solution is. ... We don't want that to happen again,” Blankenhorn said.
The yellow flashing beacon gives a false sense of security by letting people think vehicles will stop, says Beaudry's husband, Eric Jakubowski.
He and other concerned residents are pushing for a red flashing beacon, which remains dark until activated. The technology is appearing in suburbs including Oak Park, but IDOT engineers raised concerns that drivers would stop at the darkened signal, slowing traffic.
Asked about using red flashing beacons at crosswalks, Blankenhorn said: “I think that's a possibility in more urban areas. We may have to go in that direction. We've got to find a balance (between) keeping traffic flow but allowing pedestrians access to places they need to go.”
Before moving to IDOT, Blankenhorn was chief at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and helped promote walking and biking in the region. He acknowledged the disconnect suburban drivers have when it comes to pedestrians.
“We've got the sign, we've got the crosswalk, it says very clearly 'pedestrians,' and yet people think, it's not for them,” Blankenhorn said. “Maybe we have to think about how we signalize differently. Honestly, maybe we ought to think about where we're putting crosswalks. It may be that it just isn't an option (for a particular location) and we've got to move it to a safer place.”
The SUV driver, Hanna Burzynska, 56, of Elk Grove Village, faces charges including improper passing of a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk. However, in a controversial report Mount Prospect police also concluded that Beaudry contributed to the crash and pedestrians have a responsibility to check for vehicles before entering a lane of traffic. Jakubowski called the report an insult.
<h3 class="leadin">You should know
Here's one positive step. After Jakubowski pointed out there's no mention of flashing yellow beacons and crosswalks in Illinois' Rules of the Road, state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, contacted the secretary of state's office about the omission.
That's correct, Legislative Affairs Director H.W. Devlin wrote back. As as result, Secretary of State Jesse White has required an item about the devices and how drivers should react to them at pedestrian crosswalks to appear in the 2017 Rules of the Road, coming out in January.
<h3 class="leadin">Gridlock alert
Sorry, Wheeling. Expect lane closures through spring on westbound Dundee Road and northbound McHenry Road as IDOT works on intersection improvements.
<h3 class="leadin">Your voice
Robert Darcy of Wheaton contacted our DuPage office to find out if the state is mailing license plate renewal reminders again after suspending them in 2015.
The answer is: yes. Notices resumed this summer after they were stopped in October 2015 because of the state budget crisis. Drivers can sign up for email reminders at cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/vehicles/onlinerenewals/home.
<h3 class="leadin">Deer in the headlights
It's fall and deer are feeling lucky. So please drive carefully around dusk near parks and preserves or risk adding to Farmers Insurance's statistics. The insurer found 36 percent of animal collision claims occur in autumn and it's getting worse. Crashes involving animals grew by 2 percent in 2015 compared to 2014. Not convinced? Animal collisions spiked by 67 percent in the fall compared to summer.