This movable ‘School Crossing’ sign is placed on Dodge Avenue in front of Evanston Township High School. RoundTable photo

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School children and other pedestrians will have additional protections this year as they make their way around Evanston. Earlier this month, City Council adopted a set of pedestrian-safety measures that will include a reduction of the speed limit on certain segments of Central Street and Chicago Avenue, installation of new warning signs and “pedestrian-countdown” signals, and ensuring that street crossings and other pavement markings are visible.

To reduce distractions, limits on activities while driving are already in place: Non-emergency hand-held cell phone use and texting are both prohibited while driving a vehicle in Evanston.

But distracted driving is not the only problem, says Traffic Engineer Rajeev Dahal. The danger on the flip side is a belief that one is familiar with the road and the signs so that a driver never really “sees” the “school crossing” or “stop for pedestrian” signs.

The number of pedestrians hit by vehicles from 2009 to 2011 is small but not zero, so the City is looking at pedestrian safety from the standpoint of walkers and those who might run into them.

Over the past several months, the City’s Department of Public Works and the Evanston Police Department have taken a close look at the City Council goal of “safety,” a goal sufficiently fluid to encompass streets, said Public Works Director Suzette Robinson. That included looking into the number and the causes of pedestrian-vehicle and bicycle-vehicle accidents, said Traffic Engineer Sat Nagar.

Crosswalks at intersections with left-turn lanes are the least safe for pedestrians, said Ms. Robinson. “The driver is looking straight ahead to see when he can turn, and the pedestrian thinks he’s okay because the ‘Walk’ sign is on,” she added.

At a Pedestrian Safety Open House for the community last month, Ms. Robinson and Public Works staff, together with Police Chief Richard Eddington and other safety officers, highlighted “pedestrian safety” with conversations with community members who attended, as well as posters showing current pedestrian safety measures, a three-year track record, and recommendations for the City and School District 65 to consider.

They presented the same information again on Aug. 6 at a special City Council meeting. Aldermen agreed to adopt those recommendations and to lower the Citywide speed limit to 25 mph except where otherwise posted.

Pedestrians in the Crosswalk

Crossing a street at a crosswalk should be uneventful, but statistically in Evanston, pedestrians are most vulnerable in crosswalks where there is a left-turn lane at the intersecting street. The City is implementing several pedestrian-safety measures, most of which will be completed this month. Some will be only temporary solutions, to be fully completed next year. Most of these involve signs and on-street markings. At the left-turn intersections, signs will alert drivers to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

The “Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk” signs that still annoy and confuse many drivers will remain at many crosswalks that are not controlled by other traffic signs or signals. Additional signs will advise of “Seniors Crossing” and “School Crossing.”

Pedestrians who wish to cross Gross Pointe Road to get to Lovelace Park may pluck a flag from a nearby quiver and hold it aloft to alert drivers who may be otherwise inattentive. There is a similar setup on Sheridan Road. Ms. Robinson told the City Council that, even though many flags disappear, they are inexpensive to replace – and some are even returned after a time.

Getting Safely to School

Crossing guards help District 65 school children across major streets near their schools, and the City maintains the warning signs. The presence of crossing guards is mandated at certain intersections, and additional guards can be added when there are 20 student-crossings at an uncontrolled intersection or 15 student-crossings at a controlled intersection.

The safety plan adopted by the Council on Aug. 6 recommends some measures that the District can do to help ensure safe passages for children to and from school: prominently posting school-walk routes on the map located on a school’s home page; teaching bicycle and traffic safety in schools; and encouraging “walking school buses” and “bike trains.” A walking school bus is a group of children headed for school shepherded by one or more adults. A bike train is similar, with adults atop rather than behind the wheels.

The City also plans to add new school-crossing signs with LED lights that go on when a button is pushed.

Jaywalking: A Guilty Pleasure

The Evanston police are “facilitating the Council’s role of making this a walkable city. We’re focused on violations; we try to make the City safer,” said Chief Eddington.

The EPD would like to have the City’s walkers be, well, pedestrian. Distracted walking – while texting, talking on the phone, listening to music or huddling under an umbrella – can turn the act of walking into a competitive sport. Jaywalking includes sauntering defiantly across a busy street or darting among moving cars – frenetic for the driver but pleasurable perhaps for the pedestrian until the inevitable accident occurs.

“If you’re going to jaywalk, you’re making the assumption that everyone in your universe is as ‘with it’ as you are,” says Chief Eddington. The stars are rarely that well aligned, he says: “There are too many factors that [a jaywalker] can’t control.”

Next Steps

Chief Eddington said the Police Department will continue to enforce traffic-safety laws but added that is only one aspect of pedestrian safety. The other two are engineering and education.

Traffic engineers will be making the street markings more visible and building additional “bump-outs.” Bump-outs are curbs that extend farther than normal into the street to decrease the space pedestrians must walk to cross.

The City is constructing a protected bicycle lane along Church and Davis streets and enhancing the plaza along Orrington Avenue north of Davis Street.

As for education – one need only read and heed the signs.