Chicago seeks to make streets safer for bicyclists, pedestrians

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago is looking to make the streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.

The city is preparing a three-year Vision Zero Action plan. No specifics yet, but reducing vehicle speed limits is something being discussed.

Vision Zero is an international traffic safety effort. Their premise is that all crashes - all fatalities and serious injuries - are preventable. Other big cities, such as New York and Boston, have adopted Vision Zero plans and there are some promising signs.

If you ride a bike in the city, you're on constant alert. Will he walk in front of me? Is the cabbie gonna pull out?

Bicyclist Kayci Sterzer has been hit by a car twice in Chicago in two years, but she still rides.

"I think the benefits outweigh the risks for me personally," she said.

The ever-increasing number of bicycle commuters in Chicago, the explosion of Divvy bikes and the addition of new bike lanes have changed traffic dynamics.

"People talk about traffic accidents. We believe these are not accidents. These are preventable tragedies, and through education, engineering and enforcement we can change behavior to reduce traffic deaths," said Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Crash numbers suggest cycling in Chicago is getting safer, but six fatalities this year show there remains significant risk.

"If you can bring the speed down from 30 to 25, the likelihood of a person surviving that crash - whether they're in the car, on the street or on a bike - goes way up," said Kyle Whitehead, of Active Transportation Alliance.

As part of its Vision Zero effort, New York City has lowered its default speed limit from 30 to 25.

"That's something that we are not recommending today but lowering peoples' average speeds is a key outcome of achieving reductions in traffic crashes," Scheinfeld said.

The city has over 100 miles of protected bike lanes, and the intent is to add more. That means re-engineering some streets and intersections, but what's good in one place may not work in another, and it's all money dependent. Sharing the road brings inevitable conflict
which you see and hear constantly.

There are motorists seemingly oblivious to the presence of cyclists, and cyclists who think the rules of the road simply don't apply to them. If the goal is to change behavior, there must be enforcement.

"We'll be focusing those efforts on high crash areas to insure that we are continuing to target where we're seeing the greatest problems," Scheinfeld said.

Other possibilities: Boston's Vision Zero plan now mandates that all city-owned and city contracted trucks be equipped with side guards - meant to lessen the chances of cyclists and pedestrians being caught under the wheels of passing or turning trucks.

"Any way that the cars and bikes can get along nicer together would be great," bicyclist Peter Zagorski said.

For Vision Zero, the safety issue is not just about transportation, but public health.

The city hopes to have its Vision Zero recommendations by the end of the year. Then everybody can weigh in.
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