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There’s a lot I like, even love, about living in Chicago. One thing I hate, though, is how unutterably jackassy people get behind the wheel of their cars. I’m talking about stuff like using the sidewalk as a turn lane, passing on the left cars that are trying to turn left, routinely passing people in the intersection, routinely using the bike lane as a car lane, and treating stop signs like a really good suggestion for other people.
About a year ago, the state of Illinois passed a law saying that motorists must come to a complete stop to allow pedestrians in marked crosswalks to finish crossing, as opposed to just yielding to them, edging ever closer, honking angrily because some jerk pedestrian is FORCING them to stop at a stop sign. People largely disregard this law and sail gayly through crosswalks that pedestrians are trying to dash through. I’m currently temping on UIC’s campus, and the situation is so bad that there are signs literally in the middle of the road reminding motorists that they have to stop at the crosswalk if there’s pedestrians in it.
People ignore the signs. You know. The signs that are literally in the middle of the road, mounted on neon yellow traffic cones between the lanes.
I have to cross a four-lane divided boulevard to get to the train station after work. I made it to the median with no problem. People stopped, pedestrians, crossed, etc. I looked to my right and saw two cars coming, one in each lane, but they were far enough away I figured that I could safely cross. And even if they were going faster than I thought they were, they had ample time to stop. I’ve been crossing the street for a long time, and I’m very conservative in my estimates of whether or not it’s safe to go, just to put things into perspective. I don’t fuck around with street crossing. I go when I feel safe. I felt safe. I started crossing.
The guy in the lane farthest from me SPED UP to try and cross the crosswalk before I got there, which is neither “stopping fully” nor is it “yielding.” It’s “being a complete and total jackass who is willing to endanger the lives of others just to save a few seconds.” I kept walking. He slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting me.
It had rained recently and the street was both wet and slick.
There was a long, loud screech of brakes and tires-skidding-on-pavement and that motherfucker nearly hit me. I’m not exaggerating here, he came very close to hitting me with his car. His very large, very heavy, fast moving car.
At least this time I only had one brush with death, as opposed to a few years ago when two different cars came shooting out of two different alleys and nearly hit me. The first one, I jumped back and out of the way as another pedestrian jumped forward, and this HUGE dude came running up and started screaming at the driver. The second time, less than five minutes later and a block from my house, the car shot out his bumper was literally touching my coat. I heard the plink of my coat buttons and his bumper colliding. And then he honked at me, for walking along a sidewalk in front of him while having the right of way. 1
I don’t like walking around my neighborhood, or pretty much any part of Chicago, because it’s literally dangerous. There are a LOT of motorists who don’t obey the rules of the road and who act in aggressively unsafe ways. Those examples I cited earlier, about driving on sidewalks etc? Those are things that I, personally, have witnessed. I feel unsafe walking on sidewalks. I know several experienced cyclists who have been hit and dragged by cars that then drove off, leaving them bleeding and badly injured by the side of the road, their bikes totaled. This is a normal occurrence. I read blog posts and news articles about cities that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly and I am so incredibly jealous because that? Is not my city.
And it could be my city. We have the bones of a great mass transit system in place. We have great weather for about half the year. In theory, it should be possible to make this city a haven for people who don’t drive. All of our buses are ADA compliant (although our sidewalks and curb cuts aren’t), many of our train stations are ADA compliant, which means that people using wheelchairs and scooters and assistive devices… and pushing strollers and shopping trolleys… can use them for $2.25 a pop. We are so close to having this great, walkable, bikeable city… and instead of improving the infrastructure to favor pedestrians and cyclists and mass transit users, we keep pouring money into repairing roads and adding more lanes and cutting funding for the CTA. It’s frustrating.
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- That day, just as a note, I also had a concussion from the arm of a parking garage entrance/exit falling on my head as I passed it. It hit me hard enough to rattle my teeth together and my glasses went flying off my head. I was in down town Chicago during rush hour, and other pedestrians noticed what had happened and came over to check me out, THAT is how hard it hit me. That was pretty much a terrible day all around. ↩