COMMENTARY | Driving through the Loop the other day, heading west on Wacker, my foot hovered over the brake even with the green light ahead and traffic moving pretty well. I kept my eye on the pedestrians who were edging their way toward the street, glancing at the oncoming clump of traffic and sizing up their chances of making it all the way across, or at least to the median.
The chances are probably not good, which is why Chicago needs to start ticketing for jaywalking.
In the fall of 2011, the city placed 32 mannequins along Wacker to represent the number of pedestrian fatalities in Chicago in 2010. In addition to the deaths, there were roughly 3,000 pedestrian injuries, according to the Chicago Tribune.
While the pedestrian crashes most often occur at intersections while the pedestrian has a “walk” signal, says a report from the City of Chicago, anyone who has ever driven anywhere in the city knows that it is an obstacle course of people wandering into the street at any given location or moment. You know that pedestrians, crossing against your green light, will eye you defiantly and dare you to challenge their right of way.
Unfortunately, a car moving with the force of physics behind it doesn’t necessarily respond to dares.
I’ve seen pedestrians so glued to their electronic devices, they barely register that they’ve entered the street, and I’ve seen people cross in the middle of a block without so much as turning their heads to check for traffic. People stroll down the sides of roads, even with open sidewalks, and sometimes, I’d swear, I’ve seen people trying to walk into my car. For a period of time, it happened so frequently, I wasn’t sure my car didn’t have an “invisibility” option I’d managed to accidentally activate.
Much of the responsibility for these car/pedestrian crashes is placed on the driver, and in instances where pedestrians truly should have the right of way, that makes sense. But the idea of “right of way” has supplanted any notion of personal responsibility for many pedestrians, who should be more concerned with their own safety.
If the risk of death or horrific injury isn’t enough to get pedestrians to cross at marked intersections and wait for the light, perhaps a fine will do the trick. The city needs revenue to slash a significant budget deficit; jaywalking tickets could, for a time, be the new red-light cameras.
Of course, if ticketing for jaywalking raises awareness of its risks and danger, as intended, it will be a very short-term revenue solution. Raising money, though a benefit, is not the point. We need to make people aware that their safety should not be left to the reaction time of drivers who may or may not see them in time. And best of all, maybe issuing tickets for jaywalking will mean we won’t need any mannequins on Wacker this year.
Isa-Lee Wolf is a Chicagoan with a passion for all the details, moments, and moods of Chicago that give the city its unique spirit.