Pedestrian Injury on Clark St.

October 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that a mother and her 5-year-old child were injured in the 2400 block of North Clark St. around noon:

The woman was taken in serious-to-critical condition to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the boy was taken to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital in serious-to-critical condition, according to Chicago Fire Department Spokesman Will Knight. The boy was 5-years-old, Knight said.

The driver of the car remained at the scene and was issued two citations for striking a pedestrian in the roadway, according to police.

Above is a view of 2400 N Clark St., looking north.

Clark St. is an important traffic artery in Chicago, carrying many vehicles through some of Chicago’s busiest North side neighborhoods. The #22 bus route that runs along it carried an average of 21,871 passengers daily in 2011 (for comparison, an average of 12,600 vehicles passed 3733 N Clark St. near Wrigley Field on a weekday in 2006 and 14,100 passed 1111 N Clark St., near downtown, on another weekday in 2006)*. Clark St. is important for many people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding it, especially for transit riders, since many points on Clark St. are not close to an L line.

I’m going to avoid getting too wonkish on the subject, but I think Clark St. needs to be more than a congested street. The buses that run along it are frequently bunched (more often than not, I have waited more than 15 minutes for a #22 or #36 bus on Clark St. only to discover two buses of the same route arrive one behind the other), not because of bad planning but because of bad traffic. For most of its length through dense North side neighborhoods, Clark St. is a bi-directional street with one lane in each direction. With so many people living and so many businesses along Clark St., it’s not a surprise that the street is often congested. This impacts the quality of life on the street as well as the quality of those who rely on the street for transportation.

One of the best solutions to this problem I’ve seen is the Chicago Streetcar. A beautiful website, sure, but an even more beautiful proposal for such a congested street. I’ll let you peruse the idea yourself, but at a time when building new train lines is difficult for cash-strapped cities, light rail and BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) is becoming the modern way to provide fixed, dependable transportation. I don’t think Chicago’s buses have as much “bus stigma” as other cities, but a more modern, dependable, and fast transit system would improve the quality of transit along this corridor.

Grand Street Buffered Bike Lane, New York City

Grand Street Buffered Bike Lane, New York City. Credit: K_Gradinger via Flickr

What does this have to do with the injuries (and the manslaughter of a pedestrian on the West side) that happened yesterday? So much of the development in Chicago is car-oriented development, and it shouldn’t be. The drivers on the 2400 N block of Clark St. drive too fast for a city because they’re given too much space. There are crosswalks on the street but drivers largely ignore them unless they’re at signalled intersections. Illinois state law requires that drivers stop, not yield, to pedestrians who are waiting the crosswalk (not already in the crosswalk, but waiting to cross it at the edge of the street), but this law is still largely ignored. A light rail line along Clark St. like the proposal linked in the last paragraph or even a reduction in lane width (perhaps bicycle lanes with parking acting as a buffer between cyclists and the moving traffic lane, like in the photo to the right) could force drivers to slow down. Bus rapid transit lanes on four-lane avenues could also remove a driving lane, slowing down drivers (who will cry foul because of a lane reduction, but there are plenty of other streets to drive on) and encouraging use of public transportation. Slower-moving traffic means drivers focus more on their surroundings.

Streets aren’t just for cars, they’re for people. It’s time to reverse decades of bad urban design and refocus the streets on uses for all people, not just those in cars. This will not only make neighborhoods more attractive, encourage bicycling and walking (and therefore promote public health), it will also reduce the amount of injuries and fatalities among non-drivers in our cities.

* these figures aren’t meant to be direct comparisons; traffic counts are recorded at one point on one date whereas the Average Daily Boardings provided by the CTA are recorded continuously.