We’ve spent a lot of time and attention this fall on pedestrian safety in our neighborhoods – as students returned to school, filling our sidewalks and navigating their way across our streets. Each of us has taken time to observe the traffic and behavior of drivers in areas where there have been complaints and concerns.
We are alarmed at not only the volume of vehicle traffic around our schools at arrival and dismissal times, anecdotally confirming a study showing that parents account for 20 to 25% of morning rush hour traffic, but we are also troubled by the way we drive in school zones. We know that the safety of our children is of paramount concern in Evanston, but getting to and from school should not be a dangerous proposition.
The costs of haste and inattentiveness on our streets are real. The City of Evanston employs 49 crossing guards every school day to ensure the safety of pedestrians and school children at 41 busy Evanston intersections. The City budgets $344,000 a year for crossing guards to look out for school children because many drivers do not.
Pedestrian safety is not just an issue in our school zones. We aspire to changing the culture in Evanston so that pedestrian safety is on the mind of every walker, every cyclist, and every driver. This will require a community-wide educational effort, some infrastructure improvements, and changing habits that come with busy and multi-tasking lives.
Raising public awareness is perhaps the most important component of an overall strategy. We need to continually remind pedestrians that they cannot rely upon having the right-of-way and that they must remain vigilant and keep their cell phones in their pockets when crossing a street. As drivers, we must watch for pedestrians, especially our children. A pedestrian or cyclist is no match for a car.
There are things we are doing in our official capacities, but there are some simple things that everyone can do now: call Springfield with your support for Illinois House Bill 43, which amends the Illinois Vehicle Code to require cars to STOP, rather than simply yield, for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. You should know that texting and emailing while driving becomes illegal statewide on January 1. Likewise, a statewide ban on cell phone use in school and construction zones takes effect January 1. So don’t use cell phones while driving, especially in a school zone. Look for pedestrians, and be the driver who lets them cross the street. And be patient. Please.
Coleen Burrus is alderman of the Ninth Ward; Jane Grover is alderman of the Seventh Ward; Don Wilson is alderman of the Fourth Ward and Melissa Wynne is alderman of the Third Ward and Nichols School PTA Co-President.