Ann Arbor City Council met Tuesday to discuss proposals regarding the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the healthy streets program and a new solid waste resources management plan.
After an effort to postpone a resolution on the healthy street program failed, council members discussed the pilot program that began as an effort to keep community members safe and distanced in public during the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthy streets initiative has set aside car lanes for pedestrian usage on main roads throughout the city.
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, proposed a resolution to end the healthy streets initiative in specific downtown locations where community members have experienced cars using pedestrian and bike lanes. Ramlawi also criticized maintaining the plan for additional weeks to obtain data about its success.
“I would much rather see this experiment end sooner rather than later, I do believe it’s extremely dangerous on the roads these days … yesterday somebody with a vision disability almost got killed,” Ramlawi said. “I just don’t know how long we’re going to take this for data that, frankly, is only good for pandemics.”
Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, gave an overview of the various healthy streets public safety initiatives in different locations of Ann Arbor. He also highlighted the particular locations in which the healthy streets project is disrupting vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
“We have a variety of healthy street initiatives started, there’s the downtown area which I wholeheartedly support, I think it’s been wonderful, there are the neighborhood streets which I think need to be reevaluated, and then there are the three particular streets that Councilmember Ramlawi’s resolution addressed,” Eaton said. “I think it’s time to pull the plug on those because they are causing more problems than they’re worth.”
City Transportation Manager Raymond Hess said the goal of the healthy street program is to create pedestrian and bike lanes in the street that cars cannot drive in.
“At each intersection there is either a barricade and/or a barrel that is meant to provide clear direction to motorists that they are not meant to be traveling in that lane,” Hess said. “Are there bad behaviours that are happening where cars are dodging in and out of those areas, are cars parking in those areas? They are … my observation has been that those actions have been intentional, it wasn’t that a motorist was driving accidentally in that space.”
Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, expressed her appreciation for the pilot program, recognizing that this is a productive step towards Ann Arbor’s carbon neutrality goal.
“We may be reconfiguring roads in the future to allow for the slowing down of vehicles and ample space for people to cycle and walk safely,” Grand said. “I understand there may be some consequences for traffic, but one of them seems to be that it’s slowing people down, and in some cases I think that’s terrific.”
Ann Arbor resident Michele Hughes spoke in support of the healthy streets program during public hearing.
“Leave those healthy streets in place, those are another thing that is helping people downtown right now,” Hughes said. “It’s helping people who don’t live downtown, who walk to work downtown, who shop downtown, it’s helping us to bike to downtown, and it’s helping us to stay socially distanced during the pandemic.”
The resolution to end the healthy streets initiative in specific downtown locations passed with all council members voting yes except Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, Mayor Christopher Taylor and Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5.
A new solid waste resources management plan was proposed to the council, and council members expressed both disappointment and support.
Councilmembers Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, and Ramlawi are cosponsors of the plan. Lumm said the plan will provide a solution to the issue of garbage pickup downtown by addressing contracts for weekend pickup.
“There are several compelling reasons to act now, not just to address the problems in the alleys, but also to put in place a new contract that addresses a number of the other issues and priorities,” Lumm said.
Several council members expressed dissatisfaction with the downtown elements of the waste management resolution and the lack of commitment towards zero waste, as highlighted by Smith.
“I think the plan is ultimately a disappointing plan for me, largely because we had historically a focus on zero waste and certainly the new A2 zero plan has a focus on carbon neutrality,” Smith said. “I feel that I’m a little bit between a rock and a hard place, that we can’t move the downtown stuff forward without this, I guess I’m just not sure.”
The resolution passed with Taylor and Ackerman, Smith and Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, voting against it.
Initially on the agenda was a resolution to dissolve the DDA, which was removed since members of the public expressed adamant support for this organization.
Sandra Andrade, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, advocated strongly for the DDA, claiming that it would be a waste of city staff’s time to look into dissolving an organization that the city benefits from.
“In March, they bagged meters for curbside pickup and will be extending that until restaurants are at 100% capacity, they paid for businesses’ 2020 sidewalk occupancy permits to help alleviate their financial stress and they handed out free PPE (personal protective equipment) kits to businesses including gloves, hand sanitizer and masks,” Andrade said. “We need for our DDA to continue their good work and unmatched outreach that they have been providing to the downtown community.”
The council held a lengthy discussion regarding a Resolution to Direct the City Attorney to file a Written Public Opinion on Dissolution of the DDA.
Hayner voiced his support of releasing a memo written by the city’s lawyers detailing the relationship between the city and the DDA.
“There’s never been a better time to understand what the people of Ann Arbor have gotten themselves into with 38 years of the Downtown Development Authority,” Hayner said. “I’m not denying that they’ve done good things for the downtown, I don’t think anybody is, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to ask to see how complex, from the city’s perspective, our relationship with the DDA is.”
Taylor voiced his disapproval of publicly releasing the advice memo regarding the council’s relationship with the DDA, explaining that the act of requesting the conversation itself is hostile and “sews uncertainty and creates instability.”
The motion was carried, with the only no votes coming from Taylor and councilmember Grand.
Daily Staff Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at email@example.com.
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