A change in state law regarding pedestrian crossings and the City of Evanston’s efforts to address pedestrian safety with crosswalk upgrades has recently created some confusion for Evanston motorists. With the potential for snowy and icy conditions in the near future, the City of Evanston and its Department of Public Works’ Transportation and Engineering Division would like to clarify the law and the signs associated with certain crosswalks.

As of July 22, 2010 state law changed regarding pedestrians in crosswalks making it mandatory for all drivers to come to a complete stop for pedestrians in all crosswalks regardless of whether or not there are traffic signals/stop signs present at the crosswalk. Previous law only required drivers to yield to pedestrians and stop when necessary. The purpose of the new law is to ensure the safety for all road users including bicyclists and pedestrians.

“Evanston motorists need to pay special attention to the nearly 50 uncontrolled mid-block pedestrian crossings (those without traffic lights or stop signs) around town,” explained Evanston Public Works Director Suzette Robinson. “The city is in the process of upgrading these crossings with clearer, more visible signs alerting motorists of an upcoming pedestrian crossing.”

The city has already upgraded 20 such crossings as follows: 100 feet before the crossing, yellow diamond shaped signs read “pedestrian crossing ahead”; 20 feet before the crossing are yellow rectangular shaped signs emblazoned with a small “stop sign” within the sign labeled “State Law, Stop here for pedestrians”; and at the pavement marked crosswalk are yellow rectangular “pedestrian crossing” signs.

“The city would like to call special attention to six of these new upgraded mid-block crossings as being part of a pilot program that, in addition to using the three above described traffic signs, will also employ the use of yellow in-street signs that are tall, slender and rectangular emblazoned with a small “stop sign” within the sign labeled ‘State Law, stop for pedestrians within crosswalk,’” added City Engineer Paul Schneider.

The locations of these six in-street crossings are: Oakton Ave. and Grey Ave; Emerson St. and Dewey Ave.; Emerson St. and Hartrey Ave.; Chicago Ave. and Hamilton St.; Main St. and Ashland Ave.; and Main St. and Florence Ave.

What seems to be giving several motorists confusion are the traffic signs that have a small “stop sign” represented on the sign causing many motorists to stop regardless whether or not there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk. The law is very clear, motorists must only stop when there are pedestrians present; if there are no pedestrians in the crosswalk there is absolutely no need for a motorist to stop at these mid-block pedestrian crossings.

“We have had some recent concerns about people stopping abruptly at these crosswalks causing traffic back-ups, and in some cases, accidents,” said Director Robinson. “With the winter upon us, this type of last second, abrupt stopping because the motorist misinterprets the ‘state law stop for pedestrian within crosswalk’ for a regular ‘stop sign’ when pedestrians are not present could potentially cause accidents on snowy or icy street surfaces.”

“A rule of thumb for motorists is that if it is a pedestrian crossing without a traffic light or a stop sign and there is no pedestrian present then you don’t need to stop, simple as that. If there is a pedestrian in any type of crosswalk, you should always stop,” explained Director Robinson.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, every year an average of 170 pedestrians are hit and killed by Illinois motorists. In addition, approximately 6,000 accidents involving pedestrians are reported to authorities. The vast majority of pedestrian fatalities occur in crosswalks and over 30% of these accidents involve children. The law will hopefully help to reduce these accidents and fatalities, ensuring safer streets for all Evanston residents.

The new law has the same penalties in place and imposes hefty fines on motorists who fail to stop at crosswalks and yield to pedestrians. The law imposes a $150 minimum fine to motorists for the first violation, with the fine doubling for second offenses. An additional $50 fine can be imposed when the law is broken in a school zone. Currently, approximately 20% of all pedestrian crashes occur within 800 feet of a school.

With the winter months upon us, the city also encourages residents to familiarize themselves with snow parking regulations which are in effect from December 1st to March 31st. For more information on snow parking regulations, residents can visit www.cityofevanston.org/snow or call Public Works at 847/866-2940.