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We'll Keep Looking Both Ways

By Matt Wood in News on Dec 18, 2006 6:19PM

chicagoist_200612_crosswalk.jpgIn today's Getting Around column, the Tribune's Jon Hilkevitch says that this spring, the city of Chicago will start sending officials posing as pedestrians to bust drivers who endanger walkers at intersections. The Department of Transportation and Office of Emergency Management will work with the police to conduct stings on reckless drivers, particularly those making right turns through crosswalks. On average, more than one pedestrian is killed in a traffic accident each week in the city. Mayor Daley has also created a Pedestrian Advisory Council and a Safe Streets for Chicago plan that will look to build more pedestrian-friendly intersections, coupled with a marketing campaign to promote pedestrian safety.

We'll file this one under the "believe when we see it" category. We hate to be skeptical of such good intentions. We've all been nearly run down by aggressive cabbies, oblivious cell-phone talkers, and the like, but how likely is that undercover monitor to be there when we need it? Just the other night Chicagoist was walking our dog and had to jump out of the way of a driver turning left at an intersection with absolutely no other cars around. Will this new program be a real deterrent? It depends on the severity of the punishment. City officials told Hilkevitch that "warning citations" would be issued to drivers who fail to yield, with tougher punishment to follow for repeat infractions. Like what, a ticket? Because that stops lots of people from running red lights, blowing stop signs, and talking on their cell phones while driving now.

"Well what would you do then, Chicagoist?" you ask, to which we would have to answer, "We don't know." We don't know enough about the deterrent effect of traffic stops and tickets to know how many people would really heed the warnings. We've made a habit of assuming that cars aren't going to stop for us, and come this spring, no supposed crackdown on this behavior is going to change that. Of course, no assurances from the city should supplant common sense anyway. We're just here to point out that this smells like another one of those feel-good programs with the highest of intentions that will ultimately fall short on execution.