Safer Bike & Pedestrian Pathways

Many of you probably already know that a pedestrian and two bicyclists were struck by cars in two separate incidents in downtown Des Plaines in July. Both accidents happened in a marked pedestrian crosswalk crossing Miner between the Sugar Bowl restaurant and the Metra station.

These are tragic and inexcusable events. Thankfully there was no loss of life, though the injuries are very serious.

The fact that the accidents happened in a marked pedestrian crosswalk is appalling. It begs the question whether the motorists on our roads can ever learn to respect the rights of other road users. And how do you respond to this? It’s tempting in light of these serious and potentially deadly accidents to retreat and stop advocating for biking and walking. Are we really doing society a favor or just putting a lot of innocent people at risk?

Automobiles are the ‘kings’ of our transportation system, and benefits are heaped on automotive transportation. But a transportation system which is optimal for cars and trucks is decidedly non-optimal for other users, mainly bicyclists and pedestrians. And the costs imposed by allowing cars and trucks to dominate and exclude all else are gargantuan: in infrastructure spending, in environmental and health impacts, and perhaps worst of all in a loss of peoples’ freedom to experience their outdoor surroundings without the protective cocoon of a motor vehicle. To me, the costs of capitulation are too high, and this should not become a reason to retreat from advocating for biking and walking.

But how do we assure that these accidents stop? For starters, our legal system should send a strong message by sufficiently penalizing any motorist who hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and by declaring them unfit to drive a vehicle. That’s an important message and will get noticed. There are other ways to help, for example education, and better enforcement of traffic laws.

The bottom line is, we have to share our transportation infrastructure, and we have to do whatever it takes to minimize the risks to bikes and pedestrians. We need to keep improving our infrastructure, for example with more - not fewer - crosswalks. And motorists are simply going to have to be held accountable, so that they learn that it’s unacceptable to operate their vehicles in ways that put bicyclists and pedestrians at risk.

DPBPAC Comments:

Maybe we should take turns watching that intersection and see what happens. I think I'd put some time into that. Maybe request that the police do the same. It's probably their job but I'm sure they have a lot to do. If we get some information, we can start talking about how to use it. This already worked once for us with the lights on Lee St.

The gist of my gut level response to the recent accidents is that they should definitely not be a reason to retreat from advocating for more walking and biking in Des Plaines. As pointed out, the downtown improvements are really a step in the right direction.

WHY NOT position cameras to take photos/videos of vehicles (and their license plates) approaching this crosswalk for positive identification of violators?

I think it would be appropriate to make our opinion known that motorists must be held accountable if they are at fault in accidents such as this. The facts are still not clear in this particular case. One thing we can and should do is insist on a full and complete account of the details of the accidents.

The consequences of these accidents for the pedestrian and cyclists are severe and could easily have been fatal. I see it as totally fair to have this reflected in penalties for drivers, if they are at fault. Miner St. in downtown Des Plaines is a busy artery, but it should not be treated by motorists as a way to zip through Des Plaines at high speed with no regard for traffic laws or the rights of other road users.

Increased enforcement of existing traffic laws would be the best and easier solution to most of the problems this group has been trying to solve when compared to the alternatives of either doing nothing or waiting for funding for costly and long term infrastructure improvements. But as you say the car is king, and effective changes would require big changes in behavior.

Big changes are possible with the right motivation, much like has happened with drunk driving. Everyone knew that people shouldn't drink before driving when we were younger and kids rode their bikes to go places; yet people drove after drinking on a regular basis. Drunk driving has become less common now as both changes in attitudes and law enforcement have taken effect. Lowering the requirements for violations as well as increasing the fines for drunk driving have made enforcement of DUI laws more appealing/likely/profitable for communities, and similar changes with regards to pedestrian and bicyclist rights would help prevent more tragedies like the ones that happened in July.

Many valuable perspectives have been brought forth on the recent accidents and the challenge of safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. The parallels between driver behavior around pedestrians and drunk driving shows that consistent enforcement and education can change driver behavior for the better.

Have something to say? Want to get involved? Join us at our monthly meeting or send us a note.

The Des Plaines Bike & Pedestrian Committee cares deeply for our community and advocates for safe and expanded biking and pedestrian pathways. Recent discussions with committee members resulted in the following suggestions and we welcome your input. Our website is filled with information that shows what other communities are do, so please review when you have time.

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