When Emily George was hit by an SUV in 2006, she wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. In fact, she looked both ways before crossing Lake View's Belmont Avenue to catch a cab.
But when a car jumped out from behind the stopped taxi, crossed into the oncoming traffic and tossed George 15 feet down the street, her perception of life as a pedestrian was changed forever.
"I am so lucky that nothing else happened to me," she says. "I'm a runner by nature, so if I broke a leg, who knows?"
The dance between drivers and pedestrians is in the crosshairs of Chicago police. Beginning this week, plainclothes police officers are patrolling crosswalks in areas that have high rates of pedestrian accidents and giving tickets to scofflaws.
It's part of the city's Safe Streets program, and the crosswalk patrol was instituted last summer.
Today, on the city's Far North Side, officers staking out the intersection of Peterson and Nagle avenues issued more than 15 tickets to drivers, some of whom barely missed hitting the pedestrian police. Officers positioned further down the block issued citations, which range from $50 to $500.
“We’re not trying to trick anybody. We’re not trying to create revenue for the city," says Chicago Police Sgt. Mark Van Giesen. "It’s all about safety."
The program began last year, and uses a $117,000 Illinois Department of Transportation grant.
Van Giesen says it is designed to raise awareness following a rash of pedestrian deaths, including the 2006 death of a 4-year-old girl, who was hit by a car in Lincoln Park.
George, a 26-year-old Ravenswood Manor resident, says she is still jumpy about crossing the street, three years after she was hit.
"I am absolutely gun-shy about it, even now," she says. "In Chicago, people cross [the street] all over the place, and I am definitely more careful now."
Drivers, she says, are unpredictable.
"Even when I did get hit, traffic was stopped," she says. "There were no cars coming whatsoever in the lane I was in."
Pedestrian accident figures are down in recent years. Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele says the 56 fatalities in 2008 are about 20 fewer than in 2003. But there is still concern that drivers barrel through intersections with little regard to pedestrians.
The Illinois General Assembly is considering a bill that would require drivers in the state to come to a full stop when pedestrians are present, rather than simply slowing. The bill is in the Senate Transportation Committee.
Police officers are conduting the crosswalk patrols in areas where CDOT has identified numerous traffic or pedestrian accidents. Many of them are near schools or senior centers.
Van Giesen says drivers need to know the law when it comes to pedestrians.
"The drivers should be aware that it’s their responsibity to yield to pedestirans in marked crosswalks," Van Giesen says. Drivers must stop when pedestrians enter their half of the street.
This morning, it is almost certain drivers were getting the message. Officers issued more than 15 tickets, and cars were visibly slowing down. Whether that was because of the efforts of police or a gaggle of television cameras remains to be seen.
The operation is set to continue throughout the summer.
Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.