A recent study by the Chicago Tribune has revealed the deadliest streets in Chicago; Ashland Avenue topped the list as the most fatal street for pedestrians.
The Chicago Tribune based its study on Chicago Police Department statistics from 2014 through 2016. The data did not include highways or expressways since they are under the jurisdiction of state police.
Among pedestrian deaths, Ashland Avenue ranked first with a total of ten over the three-year period. North Avenue was in second place, with seven pedestrian deaths during the same timeframe.
When looking at total deaths, however, including bicyclists and motorists, the deadliest streets in Chicago ranked as follows:
• Lake Shore Drive – 15 deaths.
• Ashland Avenue – 14 deaths.
• Western Avenue – 15 deaths.
• Milwaukee Avenue – 9 deaths.
• Stony Island Avenue – 8 deaths.
• North Avenue – 8 deaths.
What all of these streets have in common is that they are so-called “major arterials.”
“Magnets for Traffic Crashes”
Major arterials are high-capacity urban roads. They are wider than residential streets, with multiple lanes to allow for a heavy flow of traffic. Because of their design, however, major arterials suffer a disproportionate number of crashes – and fatalities.
“They are magnets for traffic crashes,” according to Ron Burke, the executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance.
Critics note that motorists on major arterials tend to drive as fast as possible because of the lanes available. Moreover, because major arterials usually run through commercial districts, with businesses on both sides, drivers are more likely to turn. This combination of excessive speeds and frequent turns increases the likelihood of traffic accidents.
The wideness of major arterials is especially dangerous for pedestrians. Wider streets take longer to cross, giving pedestrians more exposure to traffic. Additionally, obscured vision may also be a problem. One vehicle may stop to allow a pedestrian to cross, but a vehicle in the next lane may hit him.
Furthermore, diagonal arterials such as Milwaukee Avenue feature six-corner intersections with more opportunities for crashes.
Pedestrians may also be more likely to jaywalk on major arterials, since the distance between traffic lights can be great. While seemingly a “convenient timesaver,” jaywalking can expose pedestrians to fast-moving vehicles with unsuspecting or distracted drivers – with disastrous results.
Addressing the Problem
Pedestrian and traffic deaths are not unique to Chicago. In fact, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, traffic deaths are on the rise nationwide. Pedestrian deaths in 2015 were at their highest level since 1996, and up 9.5% from the previous year. Total traffic deaths also rose by 7.2 percent during the same year.
Given these troubling statistics, particularly with regard to major arterials, Chicago is working on a plan to address the problem. The plan, known as “Vision Zero,” is based on a blueprint Sweden first implemented and other major cities have adopted. The city hopes to release its plan during the first quarter of this year.
While the details of “Vision Zero” remain unknown, traffic experts have a number of suggestions to make major arterials safer. Some suggestions include the following:
• Countdown Lights (to let pedestrians know how much time they have to cross).
• Refuge Islands (to offer pedestrians a place to stand safely in the middle of streets).
• Reducing Lane Width (to slow traffic).
• Limiting Driveway Access Points.
• Better Enforcement Against Speeding.
• Rapid Transit Bus Systems.
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