DOWNTOWN – Sporting high-visibility vests and wearable stop signs, street safety advocates became de facto Patrollers for DuSable Lake Shore Drive earlier this month to shine a light on how drivers endanger pedestrians and cyclists.
Local volunteers staged their Red Light Action on August 12 to hold their ground in the Balbo Drive crosswalk, forcing drivers to stop once the pedestrian priority signal started. Drivers routinely run red lights on DuSable Lake Shore Drive, clog intersections and block crosswalks during the walk signal, pedestrian advocates said.
The event was organized by tour guide Michael Perrino, who gained a following on Twitter as Segway Batman. It took place near where a driver hit and killed cyclist Gerardo Marciales in April as he crossed a pedestrian crossing.
“Protesting is not the right word” to describe the event, Perrino said, because all the group did was “ensure pedestrians’ right of way.”
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Yet volunteer Maciej Wojtasik said he recorded more than 300 drivers going through a red light at the intersection in 90 minutes, “even as we literally put our bodies on the line to stop them from continuing”.
“There were quite a few drivers coming right past us, almost hitting us, before the second wave of red lights braked seeing us coming out in front of them,” Wojtasik said. “On a normal weekday, they just don’t stop. They do it constantly, throughout the walk cycle, making it almost impossible for pedestrians to pass.”
Chicago law prohibits drivers from entering an intersection or crosswalk “unless there is sufficient space…to accommodate the vehicle without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians. “. Drivers can be fined $200 for infractions.
Police were on hand during the action, but none stopped drivers from running red lights, volunteers said.
Police did not respond to questions about what officers were instructed to do during the action.
Volunteer Sam Wight said ‘there were a lot of very close calls’ where drivers nearly hit people, including him – twice.
“It would be one thing if there were just a few drivers like all the action that were stopped at the intersection,” Wight said. “But it was every light where people were running it.”
Besides enforcing the law, “there are tons of very simple things the city could do to make things safer” at the intersection, like longer segments in the light cycle, staggering the changes so that the right-of-way change isn’t immediate, speed limit enforcement and red-light cameras, Wright said.
The yellow light at Balbo only lasts three seconds, “which, at the speed the cars are going, really isn’t enough time to get them to stop,” Wight said. “There are so many things that could be done, a lot of them are just simple tweaks. And it’s really embarrassing that the city hasn’t done anything yet.
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The problems at the intersection predate Marciales’ death, Perrino said.
A public commentator at a meeting of the mayor’s pedestrian advisory council in February 2018 warned that the exact traffic violation that allegedly killed Marciales – a driver in the left turn lane but going straight – would result in injury to someone.
Perrino said his “last straw” was when one of his tourists was nearly run over by a driver just after Marciales died. He began filming drivers at the Balbo intersection and posting to Twitter, which led to the red light action this month, Perrino said.
“We are aware of that,” Perrino said.
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