Illinois DOT to Help Improve Chicago Street Safety

The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation recently signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will help “streamline and accelerate” deployment of safety measures on local roads and state routes within Chicago to better protect bicyclists and pedestrians.

[Above photo by the City of Chicago]

“[This] MOU builds on our partnership and outlines concrete steps that we are taking to address safety, while further enhancing our ongoing collaboration and joint commitment to making roads safer for all users,” said Illinois DOT Secretary Omer Osman in a statement.

Omer Osman. Photo via the Illinois DOT.

“Together, we will continue to work towards our joint goal of zero fatalities and to make Chicago and Illinois roads as safe and accessible as possible,” he said.

“This MOU is an important step forward in creating safer streets for our most vulnerable road users, such as children, people with disabilities, older adults and people walking, biking, and rolling,” added Chicago DOT Commissioner Gia Biagi.

[Editor’s note: In December 2021 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released the second edition of its “Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities,” which provides guidance on the planning, design, and operation of pedestrian facilities along streets and highways.]

The MOU applies to the approximately 400 miles of road that are under state jurisdiction in Chicago, excluding expressways; roads that include some of the most heavily traveled streets in the City. Illinois DOT noted that MOU goes into effect immediately and establishes:

  • A standardized list of traffic safety infrastructure designs routinely submitted by CDOT that will not be subject to comprehensive IDOT review prior to installation. This will allow the city to design and self-certify curb cuts and other sidewalk improvements to make streets more walkable and accommodating for non-vehicular traffic, establishes 10 foot-wide vehicular lanes as the minimum lane width.
  • Clarifies “Design Vehicle” standards to emphasize pedestrian safety at intersections. A design vehicle is the largest vehicle that is likely to use the facility with considerable frequency and its selection can significantly impact a road’s design and geometry. By agreeing to a more appropriate design vehicle for urban streets, certain state routes will be able to add safety features, such as curb extensions and bump crossing distances for pedestrians.
  • Creates an Illinois DOT-Chicago DOT working group to help formulate future agreements and improve upon existing interagency collaboration.

That effort also comes as the U.S. continues to experience year-over-year increases in pedestrian fatalities. For example, a report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association in April 2022 projected that U.S. motorists struck and killed 3,441 pedestrians in the first six months of 2021, an increase of 17 percent or an additional 507 fatalities compared to the first six months of 2020.

Photo by the Illinois DOT

This “troubling projection,” GHSA said, continued what the group called a “decade-long trend” of rising pedestrian deaths on U.S. roadways and comes as speeding, impaired and distracted driving, and other dangerous driver behaviors remain at unacceptably high levels.

Illinois DOT’s efforts to improve street safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in Chicago also mirrors similar efforts being undertaken by state departments of transportation across the country.

For example, in September 2022, a team of researchers from the University of Florida Transportation Institute began working with the Florida Department of Transportation and others to study a suite of emerging technologies that provide more “timely warnings” regarding potential collisions between motorists and pedestrians – with the goal of reducing injuries and fatalities.

Concurrently, in October 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet issued a new version of its “Complete Streets” roads and highways manual; a revision that represents the first update in more than 20 years to the state’s pedestrian and bicycle travel policy.

“Today, our transportation planners and designers approach their tasks holistically, taking the needs of all users into account and building accordingly,” noted Jim Gray, KYTC’s secretary, at the time. “There’s no one-size fits all recommendation as roadway features must be tailored to fit the community context.”

Also in October 2022, University of Connecticut Professor John Ivan received a $200,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Transportation to investigate the safety of a proposal to improve the “uniformity” of pedestrian crossing signals statewide.

Related articles