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Crosswalks: Being Safe While Crossing

With the beginning of the school year, more students walk as they head to school and will use crosswalks. Many parents rightfully worry about the safety of their children while walking to school. It is too often that pedestrians or bicyclers are killed or fatally injured while using a crosswalk. Recently, a Mount Prospect cyclist was killed after a driver failed to stop at a crosswalk. At this particular crosswalk, a special beacon flashed to warn drivers that someone is crossing. People wonder if a more effective way exists to warn and alert drivers of pedestrians in crosswalks.

Back to School

As students return to school, drivers may feel their commute time increase. Illinois law forbids drivers from exceeding twenty miles per hour while passing a school zone or while traveling through any neighborhood where children pass going to and from school. While traveling through school zones, it is important also to pay attention to sidewalks and crosswalks. An accident can happen in a blink of an eye, especially if a driver does not fully stop at a crosswalk, and this has led experts to question whether we can make crosswalks safer not just for children, but for bicyclers and anyone else who uses crosswalks.

Crosswalk Beacons

In order to make a busy crosswalk safer for pedestrians, the city of Mount Prospect installed what is called a crosswalk beacon. Just months after the installation, a bicycler was unfortunately killed on this crosswalk. These beacons have been popping up more and more all across Illinois. Crossing beacons are installed on traffic signal poles with regulatory warning signs to try to alert the driver that there is a crosswalk when the driver approaches the crosswalk, and to let drivers know that pedestrians might be present so that drivers can slow down and stop for pedestrians to cross.

To activate the beacon, the pedestrian presses a button and drivers are alerted that a pedestrian will cross.

Benefits of the Beacon for Crosswalks

On paper, beacons seem to benefit pedestrians who are attempting to cross a crosswalk. A study revealed that, at crossings with no beacons, drivers yielded to only 18 percent of pedestrians. With beacons present, drivers yielded over 80 percent of the time. Additionally, these beacons have been good in some cases because

  • they increase driver compliance with the law and drivers stop completely at these crosswalks,
  • drivers are more aware of pedestrians, and
  • these beacons increase the flow of traffic since drivers do not have to stop if no pedestrians are present.

Problems with the Beacon in Crosswalks

Some believe that the beacons are problematic and just confuse drivers give them a false sense of security. There have been some problems with the beacons, including

  • the absence of a red light that requires traffic to stop,
  • relatively high costs, and
  • and problems that arise when the visually impaired attempt to use the beacon.

Furthermore, opinions are divided about whether this beacon is ideal for all crosswalks in Illinois. Maybe the beacons would be effective if the road that the crosswalk only saw two to five thousand cars each day. But if the road sees over 22,000 cars each day, the beacon becomes less effective in preserving the safety of pedestrians.

Another Option for Crosswalks

There is another option for those who think that the crosswalk beacons are not effective. Another type of crosswalk signal has a red light and a promising track record. This device, known as a pedestrian hybrid beacon, might fix some of the problems that regular traffic beacons have failed to reconcile. This device hangs over the road and is dark until a pedestrian activates the device by pressing a button. Once a pedestrian presses the button, the device emits a yellow warning light to alert drivers that a pedestrian will cross. The light will then turn red. Drivers are then forced to stop and the pedestrian can safely cross the road. A study conducted in Texas and Arizona found that 96 percent of drivers stopped with this type of cross walk signal.

How Drivers Should Interact with Crosswalks

Since a new traffic signal will require action on the city and state legislature’s part, drivers can start making changes today. Drivers should pay attention to the traffic beacons that are currently in place, and always stop completely at them, even if no pedestrians appear to be present. Especially since school has begun, drivers pay attention to little children as you drive. Most importantly, drivers should always yield the right of way to pedestrians.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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