Chalk one up for the pedestrians after Illinois lawmakers last year changed the state’s crosswalk law, forcing motorists to stop – not just yield – if a walker has already entered a crosswalk.
But with all the other colossal issues facing the state, most Illinois motorists still haven’t heard about the change in the law.
Campus safety officials would like to remedy that.
On the Urbana campus, where managing the flow of pedestrian traffic and protecting students is one in the same, summer was spent changing the signs around campus and preparing to enforce the new law when students return.
Facilities and Services workers replaced 73 crosswalk signs with those prominently displaying a red stop sign at 29 marked crosswalks on campus. There are 21 other pedestrian-motorist intersections in the university district, many of them unmarked.
“The new law required us to replace the signs, but the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is always a top priority,” said Morgan Johnston, sustainability and transportation coordinator for Facilities and Services.
She said just one set of signs, those on Fourth Street inside a sidewalk construction project area between Green Street and Armory Avenue, have to be added. They’ll be erected once the project is completed by the city of Champaign.
Johnston said department officials have tried to communicate the changes with as many local motorists as possible, posting a fact sheet on its website and sharing the information with local media.
But all the information in the world won’t change this about the state’s crosswalk law: It looks good on paper, but in real life, with students bobbing in and out of motor traffic on their way to classes, it can be confusing.
“The crosswalk laws in Illinois can be confusing for pedestrians and motorists,” said UI Police Captain V.G. “Skip” Frost.
Frost’s advice: “Avoid the campus district when possible. If you must traverse campus in a vehicle, you should slow down, abide by the Rules of the Road and expect the unexpected.
“You should show true caution and expect serious delays.”
The conversation about Illinois crosswalk law usually centers around motorist responsibility, but Frost said walkers and riders actually have to exercise more responsibility than motorists – considering any contact with a motorist could be life-threatening.
“Pedestrians often feel that they have the automatic right-of-way so long as they are using a marked crosswalk,” he said. “That is not the law.”
According to the Illinois law, “No pedestrian shall leave a curb or other place of safety as to constitute an undue hazard.”
“What that means is that if a vehicle is approaching at the legal speed limit, and you don’t give them time to react to your presence, then as a pedestrian you are violating the law if you step out into the crosswalk,” Frost said. “You have to give the vehicle time to stop.”
He said the law extends past crosswalk markings and actually gives pedestrians a right to cross at any point on a roadway as long as they don’t impede traffic.
“To be clear, it is not unlawful to cross the street at other than a marked crosswalk,” he said. “The word ‘jaywalking’ does not appear in the Illinois Vehicle Code.”
He said the best pedestrian policy is to pay attention, which includes not texting or talking on the phone while crossing the street, and removing ear buds to better hear oncoming traffic.
“Having the right-of-way will not protect you from a serious injury,” he said. “Just focus on getting from Point A to Point B safely.”
Likewise, Frost said motorists don’t have to stop every time they see one of the new crosswalk signs – only if there is a pedestrian actively crossing.
“Stopping whether there is a pedestrian or not will cause much confusion, traffic congestion and unnecessary delays all across campus,” he said.
Frost said officers will be making traffic stops based on the crosswalk law, though they’ll be as likely to educate as ticket at the start of the new school year.
“Pedestrian safety is one of several top priorities the UIPD is committed to,” he said. “Past tragedies illustrate the need to be aware.”