Chicago alliance on street-crossing fines: Take a hike
The Active Transport Alliance (ATA) has a message for Chicago lawmakers angling to fine pedestrians for texting, reading emails, playing video games or talking on their cellphones while crossing streets: You're going up a blind alley.
“ATA believes the ordinance is missing the underlying contributing factors to crashes involving pedestrians, including street design that encourages speeding and distracted driving," Julia Gerasimenko, advocacy manager for ATA, told Chicago City Wire. "People walking are at risk because of careless drivers and poorly designed streets, and that should be the focus.
"The law already requires cars to stop for people walking in the crosswalk regardless of what they’re doing. This ordinance would inappropriately redirect the onus to vulnerable people walking.”
Edward Burke, Chicago City Council finance chair, and Anthony Beale, transportation chairman, have proposed making it a crime to “cross a street or highway while using a mobile electronic device in a manner that averts their visual attention to that device or that device’s activity."
Fines would range from $90 to $500. Burke has further proposed a so-called “Vision Zero Fund” to bankroll the project and others recently introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as part of his overall plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries across the city over the next eight years.
The “Vision Zero” plan has designs on making improvements at 300 Chicago intersections, 25 Chicago Transit Authority stations and assorted bus stops over the next three years. The campaign also calls for increased awareness education, as well as targeted enforcement.
Law enforcement officers and emergency personnel would be exempt from the ordinance while on duty or otherwise acting in an official capacity. Individuals “using a telephone to call 911 or other emergency telephone numbers to contact emergency or law enforcement personnel” would also be exempt.
“The city should focus on designing streets that discourage speeding and other unsafe driving behaviors,” Gerasimenko said. “Other design elements can help keep people walking safe, such as curb bump outs, pedestrian refuge islands and raised crosswalks. The city’s 'Vision Zero Action Plan,' published this past July, prioritizes street redesign, but currently there’s no additional funding to make it happen.”
Founded more than three decades ago, ATA is a non-profit advocacy organization that serves the Chicagoland area, promoting walking, bicycling and public transit in order to create healthy and sustainable communities. The group describes “a pedestrian advocate” as “someone who wants to uplift the voice of the people walking on our streets and improve conditions for people walking, as our culture and streets have become more car dominated.”
Advocates are further entrusted with improving overall pedestrian safety by pushing for street design that places the concerns and safety of pedestrians ahead of everything else.