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City Releasing Plan To Protect Pedestrians Amid Surge In Fatal Crashes

 Advocates are pushing the city to make Chicago more pedestrian-friendly.
Advocates are pushing the city to make Chicago more pedestrian-friendly.
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DOWNTOWN — The city is expected to release a plan this month detailing how to better protect pedestrians, unveiled amid a nationwide surge in deadly crashes between pedestrians and cars.

A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association estimates pedestrian deaths rose 11 percent around the country between 2015 and 2016. Chicago itself saw 44 pedestrians killed in 2016, higher than the average of 38 annual deaths since 2010, and crashes have affected thousands of people walking, riding a bike or driving, according to a February report from the Mayor's Pedestrian Advisory Council.

The city hopes to end crashes that cause death or serious injury by 2026 with its Vision Zero campaign. Various city departments and advocacy groups have been working together to create a three-year action plan in line with Vision Zero's goals, said Kyle Whitehead, the government relations director at the Active Transportation Alliance, a bicyclist advocacy group that has worked with the city on the action plan.

“We’re definitely concerned about [pedestrian fatalities],” Whitehead said. “When you’re looking at statistics like this, we always want to be careful to [not] read too much into a single change or fluctuation from year to year. What we try to pay attention more to is longer-term trends, and when you look longer-term our numbers have been going down in Chicago.

“We think every one of those crashes is preventable and every loss of life is tragic. We as advocates continue to work until those numbers are reduced to zero.”

Active Trans has pushed the city to reduce speed on streets, especially large "arterial" roads like North Avenue, Irving Park Road or 79th Street, as a lifesaving measure, Whitehead said. The group doesn't have a "specific ask" on what the speed limits on those major roadways should be, but Whitehead said it wants to city to significantly reduce speed limits "across the board." 

Active Trans has also pushed for lanes to be removed or narrowed — which can be done by adding a bike lane or a pedestrian "refuge island" — so drivers have less space, which causes them to "naturally drive slower," Whitehead said.

“Those are the types of projects that we would really like the city to pursue on some of these corridors,” Whitehead said.

Chicagoans should also be encouraged to use alternate means of transportation, like walking or riding a bike, instead of driving, to help prevent fatal crashes, Whitehead said.

“When more people are using those modes, not only is our city more healthy and sustainable, it’s also safer,” Whitehead said. “Within the city, if we can get more people walking and biking, you’re going to see fewer of these crashes, and we could have fewer people driving.”

A Department of Transportation spokeswoman said more information about what the city has done and what it intends to do is expected to be released this month, but details were not immediately available.

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