For nearly a year, Oak Park police have conducted public awareness campaigns intended to educate the public about the state’s crosswalk safety law. Put succinctly, that law requires motorists to yield to pedestrians crossing the street within a clearly marked crosswalk, and at intersections.

“We’re just trying to get the message out,” said Sgt. Bill Rygh of the community policing division.

School’s about to let out, however. And anyone who hasn’t gotten the message could find themselves the focus of the next phase of the village’s crosswalk safety program- enforcement. As in tickets, court dates and fines.

A study released in March by the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) ranked Oak Park the sixth most dangerous suburban municipality for pedestrians and cyclists attempting to cross streets. The ATA analyzed Illinois Department of Transportation data from 2004 to 2007 and identifies suburban communities with the highest rates of pedestrian crashes based on population. The rate is equal to the number of pedestrian crashes per 1,000 residents. That analysis does not include the City of Chicago, which has one of the top five highest rates of pedestrian crashes in the United States.

While Rygh and others on the Oak Park police department question that ranking, they appreciate the awareness the study has brought to the crosswalk issue.

“Oak Park is a very walking oriented community,” said Rygh. “People need to get educated. It’s been lax too long.”

There are three components to crosswalk safety- engineering, education and enforcement. The first is done with the intent of clearly defining what and where a crosswalk is, with broad stripes and signage. The second is to inform and educate pedestrians and motorists about the law. The third, enforcement, comes in when the first two are ignored.

Unfortunately, Rygh said, many drivers continue to ignore the law and the posted signs.

“It’s hard not to distinguish that ‘Yield to pedestrians’ sign,” said Rygh, referring to the three-and-one-half foot tall yield signs placed in the middle of crosswalk intersections.

For two hours on June 11, police pulled over southbound drivers who blew through the mid-block crosswalk between Lake Street and North Boulevard. Written warnings were given to 24 motorists. Another three received actual tickets, not for crosswalk violations, but for driver’s license infractions.

“Some didn’t even break,” said Rygh.

Last August, officers took up stations around the same designated walkway. In all, 28 motorists received verbal or written warnings within an hour.

In addition, police have conducted numerous operations designed to catch drivers ignoring crossing lanes by the many schools in the village. Rygh cautions that the time for warning notices is past.

“The next one, we’ll be giving tickets,” he said. “It’ll be soon.”

Those who receive tickets will have the usual three options: plead not guilty and take your chances in court, plead guilty and pay a $75 fine, or attended a regular traffic school.

“We’d prefer everyone just obey the law,” said Rygh.

Pedestrians protected

Illinois is clear that drivers are required to yield to pedestrians at marked and unmarked intersections:

“When traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger,” 625 ILCS 5/1-113a states.

The law doesn’t give pedestrians free reign. According to the 625 ILCS 5/11-1003a, “Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”

Pedestrians must also enter the road way in a safe and reasonable manner, according to 625 ILCS 5/11-1002 b: “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a moving vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

625 ILCS 5/11-1003.1 notes: “Notwithstanding other provisions of this Code or the provisions of any local ordinance, every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian…”

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