Guerrilla-style traffic survey of where cyclist was killed helps defenders draw attention to deadly crosswalks
DOWNTOWN — Little is being done to stop motorists hitting cyclists on Chicago streets, bike advocates said — so volunteers are taking matters into their own hands.
On April 21, about 20 cyclists and their supporters carried out a guerrilla-style traffic survey on DuSable Lake Shore and East Balbo Roads, near where a driver hit and killed cyclist Gerardo Marciales in late February while that he was crossing a pedestrian crossing. They hoped to document driver behavior on the busy street, raising awareness of the dangers faced by pedestrians and cyclists.
What they said they saw: people running red lights and driving over pedestrians in the crosswalk, drivers threatening volunteers and other concerning behavior.
Dubraska Diaz, Marciales’ sister, said in a tweet that she saw a driver use the same maneuver – going straight into a turning lane, ignoring a red light – that led to her brother being killed. When she complained, the driver insulted her, she wrote.
“I don’t want other families to experience this tragedy,” Diaz wrote on Twitter.
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It wasn’t a scientific study, said Christina Whitehouse, founder of Bike Lane Uprising, a bike advocacy group that organized the study. But she asked volunteers to submit their photos and videos of the event so they could be aggregated to show what they saw and experienced. They are reviewing the results and plan to send them to officials so they can see the dangers pedestrians face and make changes.
Tour guide Michael Perrino — who has earned a sequel as Segway Batman — volunteered during the study. He also made a similar individual effort, documenting online traffic obstructions at the same intersection.
“There have always been problems here,” Perrino said. “I’ve always had my tourists staying further behind me at this particular intersection.”
Traffic violence at Balbo Drive appears to be getting worse, said Perrino, who estimates he’s crossed DuSable Lake Shore Drive there more than 1,000 times in four years.
This year alone, Perrino has had five close calls where a driver nearly hit him or one of his tourists near Balbo Drive. He changed his route and now crosses DuSable Lake Shore Drive at another location, he said.
On average, five to six cyclists were killed each year from 2012 to 2019 in Chicago. But nine cyclists have been killed in 2020 and 10 in 2021, including 16-year-old Jose Velásquez.
This year, motorists have killed at least three cyclists: Marciales was killed at the end of February. Paresh Dinesh Chhatrala died in late April after a driver hit him in the West Loop. And a driver struck and killed Nick Parlingayan while riding on Milwaukee Avenue, the cycle highway, last week.
Aware of the danger he faces every day on his segway, Perrino wears full protection and a helmet with a “BAN CARS” sticker on the back.
On the day of the guerrilla traffic survey, Perrino counted 1,827 motorists entering the crosswalk against a red light from 1:50 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.
But this particular issue isn’t new: A resident spoke to officials at a meeting of the mayor’s pedestrian advisory council in February 2018, warning them that drivers on DuSable Lake Shore Drive were crossing the red light and were entering the crosswalk near Jackson. The resident said it was only a matter of time before someone got hurt.
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A few years later and just two blocks away, the driver who killed Marciales committed the traffic violation, police said.
The volunteers recorded hundreds of drivers committing the same traffic violation during their study, just months after Marciales died.
“It’s just complete, do whatever you want,” Whitehouse said.
A volunteer, who said he has been biking in Chicago since 1985, set up a camera on a tree near DuSable Lake Shore Drive and recorded riders from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Traffic violations near Balbo Drive are “much worse” than he imagined, he said.
“It’s depressing,” he said.
The city could make simple changes — like changing the length of lights so drivers don’t pile into the intersection and pedestrians have more time in the crosswalk — to keep people safe, he said. he declares.
Perrino said she thought something more — ideally a bridge or tunnel — was needed to protect pedestrians. The intersection is near Buckingham Fountain and the south end of Grant Park, popular areas to visit and walk around.
“It’s our business district and our tourist district,” Perrino said. “A lot of people are moving along the path by the lake [or] they want to get from their lakeside hotel, and it’s so hard to do that without risking your life.
“For the people of the city, it’s incredibly frustrating to endure this every day.”
Traffic violations pose an even greater risk to tourists, Perrino said.
“They don’t know what’s going on here – it’s all new to them,” Perrino said. “They don’t know what to expect, and that can make the crossing even more dangerous for them.”
Whitehouse plans to share his findings with the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation. Her “hopes are high” that the agencies will take a chance, she said, but she also tries to be cautious and realistic.
Bike advocates have already taken safety issues into their own hands: they have long lobbied the city to create safer cycling infrastructure. In 2019, after a driver killed cyclist Carla Aiello while she was in a bike lane with faded markings, they lined up and formed a human bike lane to protect fellow travellers. They donate their time and resources to create ghost bikes that commemorate cyclists who have been killed and raise awareness of the need to protect pedestrians.
For the recent study, some volunteers took time off to participate, Whitehouse said. The work it takes to “really move the needle” is full-time, unpaid work that safe streets advocates take on to protect themselves and others, she said.
“I don’t know traffic – that’s not my job,” said Alec Schweng, a volunteer who lives in Ravenswood. He works at Trader Joe’s. “I just want to move around safely.”
Earlier this month, Schweng was at the intersection to help prepare him for Marciales’ ghost bike when he saw a driver run a red light from the turn lane.
“It’s just bad design,” he said. “I don’t know what’s a better design, but there has to be something because it’s clearly not working.”
Whitehouse said she hopes the results of the study will be finalized soon.
“We were literally painting Gerardo’s bike when the news of Paresh’s death broke,” Whitehouse said. “We can’t finish one person’s death before the next.”
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