Will an IDOT report help save people crossing busy streets?
For anyone confused about traffic rules at crosswalks on busy suburban roads, enlightenment is on the way.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is finalizing statewide guidelines for pedestrian crossings on multilane streets, a move that comes amid confusion and controversy over traffic laws and a spike in crashes.
Although the state mandated that drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks in 2010, not everyone's aware of the law, safety experts say.
And fixes such as rectangular rapid flashing beacons -- those yellow blinking lights popping up on high-speed roads -- are misfiring in some locations.
"In response to seeing an increasing number of pedestrian-involved crashes, IDOT is seeking to identify effective strategies for improving pedestrian safety," spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said.
Clarity from IDOT is especially helpful after the Federal Highway Administration's recent hiccup when authorities pulled the plug on the flashing beacons in a Dec. 21 memo.
Was it a victory for those who argue the devices give pedestrians a false sense of security at busy streets?
Not really, because three months later, the highway administration reversed itself, declaring on March 20 that the flashing beacons are good to go.
Neither ruling was made with safety concerns in mind. Rather, a technical issue involving patents prompted the two rulings.
The no/yes switcheroo caught Batavia smack in the middle after a Super Bowl Sunday crash that bashed one of its flashing beacons at Route 31 and McKee Street. The federal government has allowed the devices on an "interim" basis since 2008, but rescinding that approval meant the city couldn't even replace the mangled one.
With the rescind now rescinded, Batavia can get a new signal, but it's not all smooth sailing -- or driving. The beacons provoke mixed reactions from residents, Public Works Director Gary Holm finds. When installed on two-lane roads, the flashing lights generate a positive response. On four-lane roads, it's a different story because of conflicts with traffic in one lane blocking the vision of drivers in the other lane, Holm said. "We, as a city, are still struggling with the effectiveness and safety and overall operation" on four-lane roads, he explained.
The IDOT report will discuss best practices and traffic-control solutions, including flashing beacons, for multilane pedestrian crossings, Urgo said.
Eric Jakubowski's wife, Joni Beaudry, was killed cycling across busy Central Road in Mount Prospect when a driver ignored a flashing beacon and struck the mother of five.
He thinks it's "about time" for IDOT's coming guidelines.
"If Illinois wants to do the right thing and protect pedestrians, this has to be a priority. With an education program, enforcement and a fund to make necessary improvements," Jakubowski said.
The Active Transportation Alliance issued a new report finding pedestrian crashes with injuries grew by 10 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the most recent data available. Fatal crashes increased by 26 percent.
Every week on average, at least one driver strikes and kills a cyclist or pedestrian on suburban streets, a 2017 Daily Herald analysis of IDOT data from 2012 to 2015 found.
If the new guidelines can help identify what signals will work or not work in problem locations, that's good news, "especially for suburbs that have these state-controlled multilane roads that cut through the centers of communities with lots of high-speed vehicles," ATA government relations officer Kyle Whitehead said.
Got an opinion on crosswalks or flashing beacons? Drop an email to email@example.com.
You should know
The Illinois tollway cemented an intergovernmental agreement with Rosemont, Chicago and IDOT Thursday to build a long-awaited Lee Street eastbound exit ramp from the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) at a cost of $13.2 million. Construction could start in 2019.
One more thing
If you've ever been frustrated by O'Hare's Wi-Fi system before (hello), a new day is coming. The city is now offering unlimited free Wi-Fi access at both Midway and O'Hare through Boingo Wireless. Previous Wi-Fi was limited to 30-minute sessions.
A car-free Lake Shore Drive
It's registration time for the Active Transportation Alliance's annual MB Bike the Drive. Participants can cycle along Lake Shore Drive sans vehicles the morning of Sunday, May 27. The event is open to all ages and abilities, and children are welcome. To find out more, go to bikethedrive.org.-