Tagpedestrians

Let’s get rid of beg buttons

As much as you may believe, because you encounter them so rarely, Chicago indeed has several types of “beg buttons”. This is a mechanism wherein a person walking along a street must apply to cross another street. You are begging for permission. They are not popular, many are not even hooked up anymore, and they don’t call the pedestrian signal any sooner (their purpose is to make the green traffic signal long enough for a person to cross).

Jan Gehl et. al. succinctly demonstrate in Cities for People the opposing methods of telling a person when they can cross the street (meaning cross traffic has been halted).

The 2013 Chicago Complete Streets Design Guidelines and 2012 Pedestrian Plan reorients the city to prefer facilitating and encouraging transportation by foot over all other modes of travel.

The Pedestrian Plan says that beg buttons should have an LED light that indicates to the pusher that the button has been pushed. (The Pedestrian Plan also calls “traffic signals” a high cost pedestrian safety tool, alongside the high cost of “pedestrian hybrid beacons” and the medium cost of “rectangular rapid flash beacons”. Slow traffic, on the other hand, doesn’t have an operating cost, but it definitely has a “we’re getting there cost”.)

The Plan also says to get rid of them “except for locations where they are necessary to bring up a WALK phases for pedestrians” and without saying what makes it necessary to bring up a WALK phase (versus always having a WALK phase for that direction of traffic) and if that “necessary” is aligned with the Complete Streets Design Guidelines’ paradigm shift. Systematically removing inoperable ones is a separate, medium term milestone (alongside developing a location database).

The CSDG thankfully considers many other realities in Chicago that go against the new transportation paradigm that puts the pedestrian first. For example, it calls for the systematic removal of all slip lanes – none of which I’ve heard or seen removed in the year since CDOT created the guidelines.

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I want the city to systematically remove all beg buttons. If the green signal is too short for a person to cross the street, then it’s probably too short for a bicyclist to cross in the green signal (yes, this exists in Chicago). It also means the street is too wide to foster it being a place over being a pipe for cars. And if it’s not a place, what is it and why are people walking there? What personal needs – like a job, food, and socializing – are not being fulfilled where they live that people have to cross this road to meet those needs?

Updated March 10 at 12:56 to clarify what the Pedestrian Plan says about beg buttons.

I need a visualization tip for showing pedestrian and auto traffic in downtown Chicago

Madison Street over the Chicago River. Pedestrian traffic is very high, and very constrained, near the Metra stations.

Here’s the goal:

Show that pedestrians don’t get sufficient space or time to have a high quality pedestrian experience given that they comprise the largest mode share on streets in the Loop. The trips are highly delayed at traffic signals, pedestrian space is encroached upon because of automobile turning movements, and the sidewalks aren’t wide enough for two-way or even one-way traffic at certain times of the day. It’s possible to build our way out of pedestrian traffic…

Here’s an example data set:

On October 3, 2006, for all of the 24 hours, at 410 W Madison Street, there were 17,100 automobiles counted.

On some day in summer 2007, for 10 hours, at 350 W Madison Street, there were 43,987 pedestrians counted.

The two locations are practically the same as the bridge here prevents more pedestrians or automobiles from “slipping in”.

It’s possible to download the data sets from CDOT’s Traffic Tracker so you can see the whole city on your own map, but you’ll have to do some digging in the source code to find them.

Tell it, Sue Baker! Car crashes are not accidents

“It was an accident!”, said the driver. Photo by Katherine Hodges. 

Because of Hurricane Sandy, the New York Times paywall is down so I’m reading every article I can, starting with “Safety Lessons from the Morgue“:

As she explains it, “To say that a car crash is an accident is to say it’s a matter of chance, a surprise, but car crashes happen all the time, and the injuries that people sustain in those crashes are usually predictable and preventable.”

Another car crash-related excerpt from the article about Sue Baker, injury prevention researcher extraordinaire:

In one of her recent projects, Baker looked at another aspect of highway deaths. The study, which Baker prepared with David Swedler, a doctoral candidate, examined more than 14,000 fatal crashes involving teenage drivers. They found that male drivers were almost twice as likely as female drivers to have had high levels of alcohol in their blood and were also more likely to have been speeding and driving recklessly. Significantly, 38 percent of 15-year-old drivers, both male and female, were found to have been speeding, but by age 19, female speeders dropped to 22 percent, while male speeders remained steady at 38 percent.

Those differences, Baker says, suggest that boys and girls should not automatically receive the same driver training — and that boys should perhaps receive their license at an older age than girls. “Males might scream foul,” Baker acknowledges, “but let them.”

Yes, let them. It’s too easy to get a driver’s license in this country.  I love her style:

In 1979, at a Department of Transportation public hearing about the dangers faced by truck drivers, Baker angrily explained, “Isn’t it time we did some crash testing with trucks and dummies, rather than with drivers themselves?” Later, according to Baker, the trucking industry hired a researcher to try to discredit her driver-safety studies. Unable to uncover problems with her work, he eventually gave up and called to tell her about his assignment. [emphasis added]

Not everything is perfect with injury prevention studies, though.

In the mid-1970s, [Sam] Peltzman did research on highway fatalities that suggested that mandatory safety features like seat belts and padded dashboards actually encouraged people to drive less cautiously.

Tom Vanderbilt talked about that in “Traffic“, which is basically my favorite transportation book, even mentioning Mr. Peltzman. Flip to page 181 to read it. Vanderbilt lists all of the different labels for that behavior:

  • the Peltzman effect
  • risk homeostasis
  • risk compensation
  • offset hypothesis

He summarizes: “What they are saying, to crudely lump all of them together, is that we change our behavior in response to perceived risk, without even being aware that we are doing so”. But Sue has a response:

Baker acknowledges that there may be some individuals in cars with anti-lock brakes, for example, who may not apply the brakes as soon as they did with the old brakes. But she insists there is no evidence that better brakes or air bags have encouraged recklessness — that they have in fact saved many thousands of lives. “What concerns me,” she says, “is that these spurious arguments are used by companies to bolster their opposition to beneficial safety regulation.

I think it’s safe to say now that she’s a personal hero of mine. But way, there’s just one more thing!

As she talked about what still needed to be done, her voice was tinged with anger: “Buildings need to be designed so it’s not so easy to fall down stairs. All new homes should have sprinklers. Traffic lights should be timed for pedestrians, not to move as many cars as possible through an intersection.

Yep. Exactly what we don’t do. We make ‘em wait. And wait. Without even telling people the traffic signal’s even acknowledged their presence.

More

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

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