Thursday, December 18, 2008

The stop sign debate continues

She feels sorry for my future kids?
When someone tells someone, “I feel sorry for your future children,” that’s typically taken as just about the worst thing someone can say to another—-that she thinks the person will be a horrible parent. So it came as a surprise when a close friend not only told me this, but did so in a public forum, in front of my 100+ Facebook friends. That was deeply hurtful. I did not say, “I believe in corporal punishment.” I did not say, “I don’t think children need seatbelts.” I did not even say, “I think tv’s in kids’ bedrooms slow kids’ mental growth.” I stated my opposition to stop signs on major streets, and repeated that opposition even if I were to have children. And for that she feels sorry for my future children?

That’s a serious charge, and I hope she reconsiders her sentiment. There is no evidence whatsoever that stop signs on major streets make the streets safer for children or pedestrians. I have given a number of reasons for my opposition to stop signs on major streets. I’ll reiterate them here:
1. They stop traffic for no good reason, wasting time and fuel and inflicting additional wear and tear on vehicles.
2. Slower traffic and stop signs on major streets encourage drivers to use side streets, where they are more likely to encounter pedestrians and children playing in the streets.
3. Illinois law already requires motorists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. If police enforced this law, we wouldn’t need stop signs to help pedestrians cross major streets.
4. Municipalities often install stop signs to “protect” schools, parks and senior citizen homes that produce pedestrians just a few hours a day. For a school, this is just 180 days a year. Park visitors only use a park in good weather. The rest of the time, the sign stops traffic for no reason whatsoever. This sign that started this discussion is for a school, a whole quarter-mile away (5-min. walk, longer for little kids). No one disputes that the kids are out and using the crosswalk at Touhy just two hours a day on school days. The other 22 hours on school days (180 days), and 24 hours on non-school days, the stop sign stops traffic for…..? One friend suggested, Well, it’s easier to walk to Young Israel of West Rogers Park on shabbos. Yes, it is. And anyone who minds waiting a minute for traffic to stop is being very, very selfish.
5. There is simply no justification for a solitary stop sign within a nine-mile stretch (probably longer—I’ll need to check) of stop sign-free roadway. I’m sure angry residents in Lincolnwood and Morton Grove can come up with a long list of more deserving intersections. But I think there’s an understanding, which alderman have no compunction about violating, that major streets are not to be tampered with.
6. A single stop sign on a major street always draws demands from residents for additional stop signs on “their” intersections. I could give so many examples just off the top of my head of former fast thoroughfares now stop-and-go due to stop signs, just on the North Side alone: California Avenue, Halsted Street, Sheffield Avenue, Clark Street, Sheridan Road, Lawrence Avenue, Randolph Street and Broadway.
7. My friend who fears for my future children mentioned a fatality and “what-iffed” that a stop sign may have saved his life. This is one of those cause-effect relationships that seems logical but doesn’t really exist. Case study: Maya Hirsh obm. Maya was a little girl visiting Lincoln Park Zoo with her family a couple of years ago. As she crossed Cannon Drive, a crazed motorist ran a stop sign, killing her instantly. Authorities determined the driver to be mentally unsound and without a drivers license. (He was also Ald. Stone’s neighbor in Winston Towers.) The stop sign near the Lincoln Park Zoo entrance, which I think should only be in force during zoo hours, didn’t prevent the driver from killing Maya. Funny how drivers prone to vehicular homicide don’t pay too much attention to stop signs.
8. More stop signs reduce compliance among drivers. My friend who fears for my future children may not have visited West Rogers Park lately. The situation is out of control. Almost every intersection has a four-way stop sign. California, once free of stop signs, now has four in 12 blocks in addition to the three traffic lights in that stretch. A T-intersection has a stop sign despite the fact that the cross street that terminates at the intersection is one way “in,” meaning cross-traffic is impossible. (The stop sign “protects” a park.) Of the four high-rise towers on Kedzie Avenue, one inexplicably has a stop sign—the one the alderman lives in. Motorists give up and simply ignore them, making our streets less safe.

Authorities and communities can take sensible steps to make streets and intersections safer without inconveniencing all motorists and their passengers. Enforce crosswalks. Fence off or ban pedestrians from unsafe crossing areas—force them to walk to the nearest controlled intersection. (At Washtenaw, where the new stop sign is, stoplights are one block away in each direction.) Use new technology to highlight pedestrians in crosswalks so vehicles stop for them without forcing vehicles to stop 24-7. More 24-hr. traffic controls (stop signs and lights) are not the answer.


Ken Salkover said...

[From Josh Dorevitch]
Ken, thanks for Bernie's email. I plan on thanking him for that stop sign. Going to/from shul is much easier, and it makes a big difference by car as well when using Washtenaw. Waiting an extra few seconds on Touhy is well worth it.

Ken Salkover said...

[From David Leavitt]
If your kids aren't in the street, then you have nothing to worry about as a parent. Unless, of course, a lack of stop signs encourages people to drive on the sidewalk or on your lawn....

Ken Salkover said...

[From Jonathan Blumberg]
I think the bigger question to consider is, do we live in a society more hostile to motorists or pedestrians? I doubt that one stop sign near a school will tip the scales too much. Anyway, my advice is to just leave home a few minutes early and you'll still get where you need to go.

Ken Salkover said...

I vehemently disagree that waiting a few extra seconds on Touhy is well worth it. As I noted in another post here, it's quite selfish to justify a 24-7 stop sign for three pedestrian roundtrips to shul each week. It's not just "an extra few seconds." The cumulative effect is thousands of dollars in lost time, fuel and vehicle wear and tear per year. As for turning from Washtenaw to Touhy: make a right! Or use Cal!

Ken Salkover said...

Jonathan: In answer to your bigger question: one point I was going to make was how Southern California, the car culture capital, easily meshes vehicles and pedestrians. We don't need to make a choice between "a society more hostile to motorists or pedestrians." One sign near the school actually will "tip the scales that much." Wait and see. More stop signs to come. And as I noted above, the cumulative effect is much more than a few seconds per motorist crossing. Leaving home "a few minutes early" is a cute idea but really beside the point.

Ken Salkover said...

Josh, Bernie's email is readily available at the city's website. I expected that some readers would use it to congratulate or thank him; I'm hopeful that others see it my way.

Ken Salkover said...

[From Tova Cohn Nathan]
Tova is objecting to Ken's objection. That's the greatest stop sign that's ever happened to me!

Tova, I think if you fairly weigh the inconvenience to thousands of daily Touhy motorists, you'll realize the cost-benefit analysis is not in the stop sign's favour.

Ken Salkover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Salkover said...

[From "Dora"]
Yeah, if you had kids you'd feel differently. A boy on my block growing up was killed by a driver going too fast. A stop sign might have slowed the driver down.

Me: No, I wouldn't feel differently, Susan. How does one justify a single stop sign over a 9-mi. stretch of road? Also, as ML deftly points out, too many stop signs make the neighborhood less safe. Drivers just start ignoring them.

"Dora": Well then I feel sorry for your future kids.

Me: [Response in main body above.]