Evanston officials say recent efforts to improve pedestrian safety at crosswalks have caused some confusion for motorists.

As a result of a change in state law last July, motorists now are required to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks — not just yield to them, as was the rule before.

But the new signs used to mark crosswalks across the state incorporate a small replica of a standard stop sign — and some motorists reportedly have concluded that means they have to stop, even if no pedestrians are in sight. But the law only calls for a stop when pedestrians are present.

“Evanston motorists need to pay special attention to the nearly 50 uncontrolled mid-block pedestrian crossings (those without traffic lights or stop signs) around town,” says Public Works Director Suzette Robinson. “The city is in the process of upgrading these crossings with clearer, more visible signs alerting motorists of an upcoming pedestrian crossing.”

The city has already upgraded 20 of the crossings with a series of three signs:

  • 100 feet before the crossing, yellow diamond shaped signs read “pedestrian crossing ahead.”
  • 20 feet before the crossing are yellow rectangular shaped signs emblazoned with a small “stop sign” within the sign labeled “State Law, Stop here for pedestrians”
  • At the pavement marked crosswalk there are yellow rectangular “pedestrian crossing” signs.

“The city would like to call special attention to six of these new upgraded mid-block crossings as being part of a pilot program that, in addition to using the three above described traffic signs, will also employ the use of yellow in-street signs that are tall, slender and rectangular emblazoned with a small “stop sign” within the sign labeled ‘State Law, stop for pedestrians within crosswalk,’” added City Engineer Paul Schneider.

The locations of these six in-street crossings are: Oakton Street and Grey Avenue, Emerson Street and Dewey Avenue, Emerson Street and Hartrey Avenue, Chicago Avenue and Hamilton Street, Main Street and Ashland Avenue and Main Street and Florence Avenue.

“We have had some recent concerns about people stopping abruptly at these crosswalks causing traffic back-ups, and in some cases, accidents,” Robinson said. “With the winter upon us, this type of last second, abrupt stopping because the motorist misinterprets the sign could potentially cause accidents on snowy or icy street surfaces.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation says that every year an average of 170 pedestrians are hit and killed by motorists in the state. In addition, approximately 6,000 accidents involving pedestrians are reported to authorities. The vast majority of pedestrian fatalities occur in crosswalks and over 30 percent of these accidents involve children.

The new law imposes hefty fines on motorists who fail to stop at crosswalks and yield to pedestrians. The law imposes a $150 minimum fine to motorists for the first violation, with the fine doubling for second offenses. An additional $50 fine can be imposed when the law is broken in a school zone. About 20 percent of all pedestrian crashes occur within 800 feet of a school.

Related document

Details on new sign rules from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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28 Comments

  1. When I’m driving I too have

    When I’m driving I too have encountered cars suddenly stopping in front of me at the new signs.

    Either the signs are of a poor design, or drivers are not paying attention. 

    My hunch is that it’s the latter: drivers not paying attention. 

    Probably a good percentage of them are busy talking on their cell phones….maybe even enjoying a latte with that phone conversation….

    Which reminds me, when are the police going to begin to enforce the no talking on the cell phones while driving law?

    1. Cell phone ban

      Hi Richard,

      I checked with the police about that on Thursday, and they weren’t able to immediately come up with a count of the number of cell-phone-while-driving tickets issued, but said they’ve been issuing them since last spring.

      During just one weekend last spring they issued 21 cell phone violation tickets.

      Based on my own observations, I’d say a lot of drivers still haven’t gotten the message.

      Bill

      1. Cell phone tickets

        Hi Bill,

        In your story on 12/1 about the special enforcement campaign during a period in November, you stated that the Police had issued 23 cellphone tickets among other types of violations. So they are working on it.

      2.  Hi Bill,  In May of this

         Hi Bill, 

        In May of this year, I stood on the corner of Oakton and Ridge at 8 AM and counted the number of drivers using cell phones during a 15 minute period.

        There were approximately 50 people using cell phones between 8 AM and 8:15 AM on just

        one intersection…..

        The cops could just sit there and call to cops a block away and write tons of tickets….

        Of course it might be helpful if there were signs on the roadway….nothing like the fancy new stop signs, just a pictogram of a phone, underneath a big prohibition icon: one of those red circles with 

        a diagonal red line bisecting it at an angle, with a simple caption below: NO CELL PHONE USE IN CAR, or NO DRIVE NO TALK.

         

        Richard

        1. Around 10% of drivers have cell phones

          I strongly agree, but to save money, run it more like red light cameras.  Instead of using several expensive police officers, use a cheaper employee.  Give them a digital camera.  Take one photo of the driver holding the cell or failing to yield to a pedestrian, one photo of their license plate, and mail a ticket to the registered owner with copies of the pictures.  Keep the cops dealing with serious crimes, improve safety, and raise some revenue for the city.

          There are some no cell phone signs on the city borders, but they are not very noticeable.

  2. What, there’s a new law protecting pedestrians?!

    This law, enacted in July, needs a major public information campaign, at least in Evanston. Most drivers here barely yield for pedestrians, let alone stop. Among the worst offenders are the many cab drivers circling round and round, jockeying for position at the Orrington and the Davis circle between the El and Metra stations.

  3. Stop sign problem

    The first set of signs have been poorly placed, the first sign blocks the next sign. Now it appears they are going to add a third sign? Will that block the next two? The three sign approach will not work in commerical districts with  their high level of visual confusion.

  4. Thanks

    Thanks for this story. Indeed, I have observed much confusion re: the new "stop when pedestrians are present" signs.

  5. Stop signs instead of cross walk sign.

     Some of the cross walk signs can be changed into stop signs…That’s the best solution…

    1. Always stopping

      Then you would have to stop at every crosswalk regardless of a pedestrian being there or not… thus having a uneccesary impact on traffic flow.  Just as studies have shown that unwarranted installation of stop signs at intersections can lead to lack of compliance, you would likely have the same at the crosswalk you you always had to stop and never ended up seeing a pedestrian cross.

  6. New law?

    I could be wrong, but I believe it is the hefty fines for not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks that are new. It has long been the law that motorists are to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

     

    1. Yes, new law

      Hi Beau,

      The fines haven’t changed. What has changed is that instead of just "yielding" for pedestrians, motorists now have to "stop" for them.

      One way of looking at it is that before, as long as you managed to not actually hit a pedestrian or didn’t force them to jump back to avoid a collision, it was difficult to successfully argue you hadn’t yielded to them.

      Now if you don’t actually stop for them, you’ve broken the new law.

      — Bill

  7. Crosswalks

    Are pedestrians still supposed to obey the "walk-don’t walk" signals with the new law in effect? If so, a lot of them think they have the right to cross against  the "red hand"! What’s the law?

    1. Nothing’s Changed at Controlled Intersections

      John –

      You are supposed to obey the Walk and Don’t Walk at traffic signals as we have before.  Same at regular intersections with stop signs.

  8. Great law, great signs

    Now all we need is increased enforcement of the crosswalk law and the cell phone law.

  9. Crosswalks

    Does the new law obviate the "Walk"-"Don’t Walk" signals? If not, I have seen many people crossing against the signals with cars trying to get through the intersections.

  10. Design Flaw?

    My personal opinion…there is an unnecessary element causing motorists to slow or stop without need.

    You’ll notice in front of the crosswalks there is a thick white reflective stripe, perpendicular to the roadway. It is the same road marking used in front of actual stop signs / stop lights calling attention to where drivers need to stop their car before proceeding through the intersection.

    As motorists approach the crosswalk they see the (albeit small) stop sign image AND the white stripe, then reflexively feel the need to stop (or slow) before proceeding.  Drivers are conditioned to slow or stop when (even subconsciously) noticing the perpindicular strip across the roadway on which they are driving.  I think if you eliminate the stripe and leave just signs and the crosswalk markings drivers wouldn’t feel the need to slow or stop when now pedestrians are present.

    I see this slow/stop behavior everytime I’m approaching one of these crosswalks with other motorists (and admittedly have done this myself). In my opinion this is a design flaw that causes this driving behavior, and thereby a very dangerous driving situation.

    1. Stop Bar

      I agree with the stop bar… I don’t like it much either.  According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the "stop here for pedestrians" sign shall be used if a stop bar is placed in advance of the crosswalk.  However, I don’t believe that the stop bars are required.  I do believe that you may put up the signs without the stop bar.

  11. Crosswalks Difficult to See

     Some of these mid-block crosswalks are difficult to see, especially at night. In particular, the crosswalk on Maple Av in front of the Century Theater. At night, this crosswalk has no illumination to warn motorists who might be unfamiliar with the area. This new law should require the addition of white or amber pavement reflectors (like those used to mark center lines) along the crosswalk so motorists can see them when approaching, the reflective striping is not enough. I feel the City of Evanston should install these reflectors at all mid-block crossing to enhance the safety of both pedestrians and motorists. 

  12. New signage very confusing – deathly design

    Imbedding a stop sign within another sign is incredibly bad design.

    Right now, the new signs cause people to panic stop – as their subconscious minds scream at them – "There’s a stop sign; why aren’t you stopping?"  I’ve nearly rear-ended several drivers who’ve slammed on their brakes at the last second for an empty crosswalk, apparently fearing they were about to run a sign.  And I’ve caught my own reflexes wanting to hit the brakes as my conflicted mind was trying to elevate the mental processing to give priority to interpreting what the heck this sign was asking me to do and what the circumstances of the intersection were.

    As people adjust to ignoring a stop sign symbol in this sign, they’ll eventually discover they’re reflexively ignoring actual stop signs – believing it to be a crosswalk with no pedestrians present. 

    This terrible design MUST go ASAP!  Citizens speak out!

    Consider how England, in particular London, has long handled pedestrian crosswalks (aka Zebra crossings) – in particular the mid-block crossings.  They have yellow globe lights on posts, bollards to demark the space, special changes in the center dividing line and other markings, reflectors imbedded in the pavement to name a few features.  One cannot visually miss they are coming upon a pedestrian crossing – of which, the mid-block variety is very common and actually safer and easier for pedestrians to use than the corner cross-walk. 

    Please – these signs must go. There are better methods.

    1. Really?

      These signs are based on the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is the federal "bible" of standardized roadway signage.  A lot of study has gone into the sign design, which is relatively new in the most recent update of the manual last year.  My understanding of the common themes for many of the updated signs includes the use of more symbols rather than words…for example, using the stop sign instead of the word "stop" in the signs we’re discussing or for advance warning signs like "stop ahead" signs when a stop-controlled intersection might be around the bend or obstructed by a building.  The symbols are more quickly understood, they stand out more than text, and the understanding is more universal across different langueages.

      With respect to people confusing these with actual stop signs and then later ignoring regular stop signs because they think they are thinking its just a crosswalk.  Seriously?  I don’t think so.  The "stop here for pedestrians" signs are the same size as most "stop" signs (36"x36") and the "stop here for pedestrians" signs, the stop symbol is about 1/3 of the sign height.  I don’t think anyone will begin blowing through stop signs because they think they are crosswalk signs.

      1. If these are so quickly

        If these are so quickly understood and well designed, why do people slam on their brakes in a panic for empty crosswalks?   Why do I catch myself feeling the urge to hit the brakes when my mind registers the presence of one of these signs? 

        When I rear-end the idiot who stops for nothing in front of me, am I to whip out the federal "bible" for the cop who will want to write me a ticket for hitting this moron?

        As for size of signs, the stop sign – while on public property may be 36" x 36" (that sounds huge) – I’ve never hopped out of the car to measure – but on private lots such as NU parking lots, Jewel/Dominick’s lots, etc., the sizes vary and can be as small as the imbedded one within this crosswalk sign.  Notice how well people obey the private parking lot stop signs (they often don’t!)

        From practical driving experience – I stand by my position these signs are too confusing – your federal bible to the contrary.

        1. maybe you follow too closely

          If someone stops in front of you, whether its for what they think is a stop sign, a pedestrian, or for a cat running across the street, you should be able to stop too.  If not, you might be too close or not paying attention.  I’m saying nobody will ever get confused by these, but I would guess over 99% of motorists are driving by these just fine without needlessly stopping. 

          I supposed you could explain to the police officer that the person in front of you slammed on the brakes for no reason because they can’t understand signs and they are at fault.  If you aren’t following too closely, I’d say you have a case.

          Please describe one location, such as on a private NU lot, where their stop sign is the same size as the one shown on the signs we’re talking about.  I’ll eat some tasty crow if you can, but I don’t think I’ll have to worry about it. 

          1. Size it up

            Tell you what … You find me some of the 3′ x 3′ signs you claim are the standard throughout town and I’ll start baking the crow.  As I drive about town – I’d say the signs are significantly smaller than your claim.  It’s somewhat irrelevant to the fact people are getting confused.

            As for my ability to stop – who ever said I didn’t stop or that I hit someone?  What I’m saying is dangerous conditions are being created because people are panic stopping abruptly and unexpectedly because of the confusion of these new signs.  I’ve been able to stop so far; cars behind me have had to screech their tires to avoid hitting me in my sudden stop – so far nobody has hit me and I’ve hit nobody.  But it’s a matter of time.  And in NO instance has there been any pedestrian in a crosswalk – it’s been a dangerous traffic situation artificially created by piss-poor sign design. 

            Are you the designer of these signs? Why are you so defensive of them? Especially in the face of the number of critics.  They aren’t arguing for no signage. They aren’t arguing for illegal speeding or running down of pedestrians … they are making the case these signs are not effective in the desired way to increase safety for both drivers and pedestrians – and in fact are creating traffic hazards.  Why are you defending increased traffic hazards?

            For my job, I drive all day long.  I’ve not had a moving violation (parking tickets, yes) or an accident in over 30 years – not even a fender bender…I get the State’s safe driver recognition every renewal period and enjoy a nice discount on my car insurance for being a safe driver … but with these new signs I’m experiencing some of the closest calls I’ve ever had.  They scare me that I will become involved in an accident because they are confusing too many people.

            They are quite simply badly designed and confusing people. I’m not using a cell phone. I’m not following too closely. I’m not doing anything that people suggest in an effort to blame me, the following driver, in an effort to deflect attention from the bad, confusing design of these signs that is causing the lead driver to panic and behave irrationally. 

            If I do end up rear-ending a panic stopping driver, no cop has the leeway to let me off because of the sign – I will be the one ticketed.  You are naive if you think you can talk yourself out of ticket in the fashion you suggest.

            I’m done discussing this point with you.  You defend bad, hazardous design.  I disagree with you. Move on.

  13. Are there different types of cross walks?

    I seem to remember seeing solid white lines designating areas where pedestrians can cross and then the large bold striped cross walks.

    Is there a difference between the two?

    1. Yes… both are legitimate crosswalks

      Grant –

      Both styles you describe are legit marked crosswalk designs.  There isn’t a consistent style at all intersections in Evanston, similar to most communities.  Even on the same street, you’ll see different styles.  One allowable style is two parallel white lines, as you described.  Another are the "ladder" style, which I believe you are also describing.  A third type, which I believe you will find at some of the Central Street crossings (both Prairie and Stewart) is reffered to as "zebra" style where the striping is diagonal.

      In my opinion, the ladder or zebra styles are preferred as they are easier for motorists to see.  They provide mose visual depth given the motorist’s view angle of the pavement.  The two parallel lines are not as visible for approaching motorists.

       

  14. Pedestrian Crossings / Cell Phone Use While Driving

    Here’s a thought for those of you complaining about nearly rear-ending drivers who stop at crosswalks… just slow down and back off and you won’t have near collisions.  Another thought, just because you are driving on one of Evanston’s major streets doesn’t mean you should be ripping along at a high rate of speed and attempting to menace the driver in front by driving 2 feet behind their bumper when they are attempting to obey the 20 MPH speed limit in front of schools.  You’ll note that the majority of our thru streets are residential and respect should be given to the people that live on them and the students that travel them.  This includes honking your horn in front of our residences because someone up the line isn’t getting their foot on the gas when the light turns green or because Joey’s mommy isn’t moving her minivan fast enough after dropping him off.  And hey, maybe you want to give us a chance to get out of our driveways instead of pulling across the foot of them when you see us attempting to back out.  I say thank God for the pedestrian crossings!  I can finally get across my own street, although I still have the jerks who are making turns in their vehicles trying to mow me down when I clearly have the walk signal on the corners, but I guess we can’t have it all.

    Perhaps some of you don’t notice any of these issues because you are too busy breaking the law by talking on your cell phone.  Try NOT getting on the phone every waking minute of your life and spend some time with yourself.  Perhaps you’ll find that respectful person you used to be is still lurking deep down inside and you’ll start letting it show.

    Thanks to those of you who ARE slowing down because you realize the posted speed limit isn’t always the safest speed limit.  Thanks to those of you who ARE NOT using on your cell phones because you realize the dangerousness of the machine your are operating.  And finally, thank you to those of you who DO let us out of our driveways on the odd occasion.  I know you have a life to get to as well and I appreciate your common courtesy!

  15. Ambiguous traffic signs create a hazard

    These signs are ambiguous, and ambiguous traffic signs create hazards.

    Suppose a car traveling from one direction stops for the pedestrian who’s standing at the curb waiting to cross, but a car traveling from the opposite direction doesn’t stop. The pedestrian, taking his cue from the car that has stopped, steps out in front of the car that isn’t slowing down.

    I’ve seen pedestrians nearly get hit when a similar situation is created by flashing yellow lights on Central St. after football games.

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