DOWNTOWN — Sporting high-visibility vests and handheld stop signs, safe streets advocates became de facto crossing guards for DuSable Lake Shore Drive earlier this month to spotlight how drivers endanger pedestrians and bicyclists.
Local volunteers organized their Red Light Action Aug. 12 to stand their ground in the crosswalk at Balbo Drive, forcing drivers to stop once the pedestrian right-of-way signal began. 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 has gained a following on Twitter as Segway Batman. It was held near where a driver hit and killed bicyclist Gerardo Marciales in April as he went through a crosswalk.
“Protest is the wrong word” to use to describe the event, Perrino said, because all the group did was “ensure the pedestrian right of way.”
Still, volunteer Maciej Wojtasik said he recorded more than 300 drivers going through red lights at the intersection within 90 minutes, “even as we were quite literally putting our bodies on the line blocking them from proceeding.”
“There were quite a few drivers who would blow right past us, almost hitting us, before the second wave of red-light runners would slam on the brakes when they saw us walking out in front of them,” Wojtasik said. “On a normal weekday, they just do not stop. They do it constantly, throughout the entire walk cycle, which makes it almost impossible for pedestrians to cross.”
Chicago law bars drivers from entering an intersection or crosswalk “unless there is sufficient space … to accommodate the vehicle without obstructing the passage of other vehicular traffic or pedestrians.” Drivers can be fined $200 for violations.
Police officers were on-site during the action, but none stopped drivers going through red lights, volunteers said.
Police did not respond to questions about what the officers were assigned 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 only a few drivers over like the entire action that were stopped in the intersection,” Wight said. “But it was every single light where people were running it.”
Aside from enforcing the law, “there are tons of really easy fixes the city could do to make things safer” at the intersection, such as longer segments in the light cycle, staggering the changes so the shift in right-of-way isn’t immediate, speed limit enforcement and red light cameras, Wright said.
The yellow light at Balbo is only three seconds long, “which at the speed the cars go 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 just simple tweaks. And it’s really embarrassing that the city hasn’t done anything yet.”
The issues at the intersection predate Marciales’ death, Perrino said.
A public commenter at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting in February 2018 warned the exact traffic violation that reportedly killed Marciales — a driver being in the left-turn lane but going straight — would result in someone getting hurt.
Perrino said his “last straw” was when one of his tourists was nearly hit by a driver just after Marciales was killed. He started filming drivers at the Balbo intersection and posting on Twitter, which led to the red light action this month, Perrino said.
“We’ve known about this,” Perrino said.
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