The downtown of my hometown could be classified as “walkable,” if only for a few blocks. This is one of Lake Geneva, WI’s main qualities and one of the reasons many tourists from the Chicago metro region and its environs go there for a visit. Downtown has small-town charm and history dating back to the US railroad era. I wrote about my last visit, and some information on the former train running to Lake Geneva (the old right-of-way is now a multi-use recreational trail).
The principal road, Main Street, is also State Route 50, meaning it is under WisDOT jurisdiction. This is generally not a good thing, since the state-level DOT never seems to really grasp the notion of anything except traffic movement. Luckily, nothing else can really be done to make traffic move faster through Lake Geneva’s downtown except remove angle parking on both sides, which would single-handedly destroy downtown business. There are two traffic signals within downtown, one at Main and Center, and one at Main and Broad (one block from each other). Formerly, they were not coordinated and operated on a timer. I had the timing down to a science when I was in high school and worked downtown. In the summer tourist season, traffic was awful: it could take as long as 20 minutes just to move along a 5-block stretch. The signals weren’t timed for traffic movement.
There’s a reason why newspapers like The New York Timesare often cited throughout the country and internationally as a great source for editorials and opinion pieces. Their columnists are smart, sharp, and eloquent.
In Chicago, we like to be different: we have the columnists of the Chicago Tribune.
I debated even writing about this because I don’t see the point in sending pageviews to Tribune columnist John Kass’ latest vendetta against people on bikes, which are becoming boring, repetitive, and generally predictable. I’m not even going to post a link here*. But I read it, because it’s important to understand the enemy in any “battle,” even if the battle is completely fabricated by disgruntled motorists and the “enemy” is a narrow-minded bellyacher writing for a subpar newspaper.
I’m waiting for the bus on Clark St and Wilson Ave, an intersection where you can see quite a few drivers behaving badly in just a short amount of time (although not as badly as at some other intersections). Aside from the speeding, dangerous to others on this street which carries a lot of pedestrians and people on bikes on nice days like this, you also see drivers breaking numerous other blatant violations like running red lights and turning right in front of a bus.
The intersection of Clark and Wilson in Chicago. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.
As the light for traffic on Clark turned red (not yellow), a car still about 100 feet away sped up and blew through the red light. I commented to a friend about how blatantly obvious of a violation that was when I noticed a police vehicle on Wilson just turn the other direction and do nothing about it. Of course, the officer may have had other things to do — but this doesn’t make the driver’s action any less illegal.
NBC 5 news in Chicago did a short investigation on last night’s news about cab drivers and red-light camera violations. Apparently the violations aren’t seen as moving violations since the driver of a car cannot be identified. Therefore, cab drivers can stay on the streets with many violations – the same cab drivers that have killed people.
You don’t have to walk much in Chicago (or really any major city) to see firsthand the dangerous driving by cab drivers. Every morning on my way to work I see streams of fast-moving, lane-switching cabs zooming to Union Station, ignoring yellow lights and driving through crosswalks full of pedestrians.
I’m not a policy expert, but I like throwing ideas out there. Governments already regulate cabs – why not regulate the speed of cabs, limiting them to the speed limit of the street they’re on? The GPS technology certainly exists (at least enough to distinguish freeways from city streets). Why not try random surveillance of cabs in busy areas using existing cameras? Or installing devices to track the driving habits of cab drivers?
We’ve all experienced our share of bad drivers, but taxis seem to have a higher rate of recklessness. With the incentive to get passengers to their destination quickly so as to increase revenues (and gratuities), speed is key. The Chicago Pedestrian Plan (page 47) lists “Encourage Chicago taxi drivers to be the safest in the country.” I don’t think the answer is education programs. It’s enforcement of existing laws and innovation of new restrictions and surveillance programs. Fortunately, integration of technology tools and incentive programs for taxi drivers are published “milestones” in the Pedestrian Plan.
Time to treat reckless drivers, especially cab drivers, as the danger they are to our streets and our people.