Is walking risky business? Pedestrian deaths rise in Illinois

  • Pedestrian fatalities increased in 2015, but there are ways to improve crosswalks and intersections to make them safer for those on foot.

    Pedestrian fatalities increased in 2015, but there are ways to improve crosswalks and intersections to make them safer for those on foot. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 5/16/2016 10:07 AM

Ever crossed a busy suburban road on foot and felt you were risking your life?

You know the intersection -- four wide lanes with cars speeding along at 40 to 50 mph.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

You think you can stroll across with the dog. But midway, the walk signal is replaced by a warning, then a yellow light. Your saunter becomes a sprint, and you resolve never to do that again.

Are walkers an endangered species? Pedestrian fatalities spiked by 18 percent in 2015, according to preliminary Illinois Department of Transportation data released Friday to the Daily Herald. Last year there were 150 pedestrian deaths compared to 127 in 2014.

Close to home, a number of pedestrian fatalities have made news. Here are a few examples from the first five months of 2016:

• A 22-year-old woman was hit and killed by a vehicle while crossing Route 12 in Volo early May 5.

• A kindergartner in Wheaton died after a car hit him when he ran across a residential street on May 4.

• An 88-year-old woman died after a vehicle struck her March 14 while she crossed Milwaukee Avenue near Des Plaines.

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• A 66-year-old man was killed by a car late afternoon Jan. 18 on Route 173 in Antioch.

Nationwide, 4,884 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in 2014, the highest number since 2005, which tallied 4,892, according to federal data.

Federal officials are still finalizing 2015 figures, but the first nine months show a 9 percent increase in traffic deaths, which is expected to be reflected in pedestrian fatalities. And it's expected that tally will rise, officials said.

These tragedies "take their daily toll but often go unnoticed," National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr said Wednesday at a hearing on pedestrian safety in Washington, D.C. "There is no better time than now to address this important and urgent issue."

Why are more pedestrians dying nationwide? Impaired and distracted drivers are part of the problem, but poorly designed crossings and signals are also to blame, experts say.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In many suburbs, "roads are designed to move as many cars as possible and as fast as possible," Active Transportation Alliance Campaign Director Kyle Whitehead said. "People walking are an afterthought."

He also attributes the increase to more people driving as the economy recovers and gas prices drop.

"The two most common factors (in pedestrian deaths) are vehicle speeding and failure to stop for people walking," Whitehead said.

Drivers aren't the only ones to blame. Pedestrians texting or streaming videos, oblivious to traffic, have given rise to laws proposing penalties on distracted walking and texting in states like New Jersey, but none have passed.

But before you retire your walking shoes, know that help is out there for pedestrians in peril. Solutions include concrete islands, adjustments to signal timing and countdowns, as well as better signs indicating crosswalks.

Illinois passed a law in 2010 requiring drivers to stop at crosswalks for pedestrians, but an ATA study showed many drivers ignoring or unaware of the mandate.

"A lot of people didn't even realize there is a law," Whitehead said. "Everyone acknowledges we've got work to do."

One more thing

It's three years since Rosaleen Waters went on a bike ride in Elk Grove Village and never returned. The 46-year-old former Peace Corps volunteer was killed by a driver at Higgins Road near Busse Woods May 14, 2013. The tragedy prompted the construction of an overpass for cyclists.

"It was the first nice warm day in a long time, and she said, 'Oh, I want to go for a bike ride,'" husband Tony Waters recalled. He urges suburban drivers to look out for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians.

A Ride of Silence in honor of Rosaleen and other cyclists will start around 6 p.m. Wednesday, from the Al Hattendorf Center, 225 E. Elk Grove Blvd., Elk Grove Village. Additional Ride of Silence events are scheduled in Bartlett and Arlington Heights. To learn more, go to www.rideofsilence.org/main.php.

Gridlock alert

Sorry South Elgin. Route 31 will be closed north of Silver Glen Road until Tuesday for intersection improvements.

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