Calls City Coun­cil’s pro­posed fines for dis­tracted walk­ing ‘ mis­di­rected’

Chicago Sun-Times - - POLITICS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter Email: fspiel­man@ sun­times. com Twit­ter: @ fspiel­man

Chicago has no busi­ness fin­ing peo­ple “legally cross­ing the street” — even if they’re dis­tracted by tex­ting, read­ing emails, play­ing video games or talk­ing on their cell­phones, the city’s lead­ing ad­vo­cate for pedes­tri­ans said Thurs­day.

One day af­ter a pair of pow­er­ful al­der­men pro­posed hefty fines for “dis­tracted walk­ing,” the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ac­tive Trans­porta­tion Al­liance branded the crack­down “mis­di­rected.”

Ron Burke ad­vised the City Coun­cil to focus in­stead on what he called the real prob­lem: care­less driv­ers and streets de­signed to en­cour­age dan­ger­ous driv­ing.

“Pedes­tri­ans de­serve the right of way. The laws are al­ready set up to ac­com­mo­date that. Whether they’re talk­ing on their phone, talk­ing to a friend, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic or what­ever, they are to be pro­tected un­der the laws,” Burke said.

“The law al­ready rightly puts the onus on peo­ple driv­ing a 3,000- pound car to stop for pedes­tri­ans in a cross­walk. This pro­posed or­di­nance would in­ap­pro­pri­ately put the onus on pedes­tri­ans to es­sen­tially dodge cars. It makes no sense to fine peo­ple for legally cross­ing in a cross­walk.”

In­stead of throw­ing the book at pedes­tri­ans — with fines rang­ing from $ 90 to $ 500 — Burke urged the City Coun­cil to cre­ate a so- called “Vi­sion Zero Fund” to bankroll street im­prove­ments in­cluded in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s am­bi­tious plan to elim­i­nate traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties and se­ri­ous in­juries by 2026.

Those im­prove­ments in­clude: bet­ter- lit cross­walks and count­down timers; pedes­trian- refuge is­lands on wider streets; nar­row­ing streets and re­strip­ing the width of lanes to force mo­torists to slow down; in­stalling bump- out curbs that force turn­ing ve­hi­cles to go slower and make wider turns; and al­low­ing pedes­tri­ans to en­ter the cross­walk be­fore cars start to turn.

Down­town Ald. Bren­dan Reilly ( 42nd) ac­knowl­edged that tex­ting while cross­ing the street is a “stupid thing to do, and that alone should be dis­in­cen­tive to do it.”

But he, too, op­poses the plan to ticket and fine pedes­tri­ans.

“I’d love to see bad be­hav­ior end, but we can’t pass a law for ev­ery bad act,” Reilly said Thurs­day.

“I per­son­ally have landed on the hood of a taxi­cab in a mid- block in­ter­sec­tion. And frankly, it’s the driv­ers who aren’t pay­ing at­ten­tion more of­ten than the pedes­tri­ans.”

The “Vi­sion Zero” plan would im­prove pedes­trian safety by mak­ing im­prove­ments at 300 Chicago in­ter­sec­tions, 25 CTA sta­tions and as­sorted bus stops.

The three- year cam­paign also calls for us­ing ed­u­ca­tion and tar- geted en­force­ment to re­duce an epi­demic of crashes that Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sioner Re­bekah Sche­in­feld has called a “per­sis­tent plague” that has cre­ated a “true pub­lic health cri­sis.”

Fi­nance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed­ward Burke ( 14th) and Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee Chair­man An­thony Beale ( 9th) could not be reached for com­ment on the Ac­tive Trans­porta­tion Al­liance op­po­si­tion to their dis­tracted walk­ing crack­down.

Af­ter introducing the or­di­nance, they pointed to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s claim that peo­ple who text and walk are “nearly four times more likely to en­gage in at least one dan­ger­ous ac­tion” in­clud­ing jay­walk­ing and ne­glect­ing to look both ways.

Dis­tracted pedes­tri­ans also take “18 per­cent more time to cross the street” than fo­cused pedes­tri­ans, Ald. Burke said.

Ron Burke

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