At the intersection of Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street, where the University of Michigan’s iconic painted Rock resides, residents have reported many dangerous car accidents that put drivers and pedestrians at risk.
Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, a tool developed by the University, compiles queries of accident information across the state of Michigan. According to MTCF, there were 245 crashes within 150 feet of the intersection of Washtenaw and Hill from 2008 to 2017, and 41 of those crashes were in 2017 alone. In fact, the number of crashes almost doubled from 2016 to 2017 with 25 crashes reported in 2016. Information about 2018 has yet to be synthesized.Residents suspect the high frequency of accidents can be attributed to the sloping road, illegal left turns and the high speed limit –– 45 miles per hour.
Holde Dorcherts, a retired University of Michigan library researcher, has lived in a house at this intersection for the last 39 years. She claims accidents have increased since she and her husband have moved into the house.
“I’m saying that for the last 39 years, Ann Arbor has increased in size. It’s becoming a city instead of a cute little town, and we have enormous traffic coming into town –– thousands of cars,” she said. “This intersection is poorly designed. It was fine 50 to 100 years ago, but now it is a major server into town. Because of this increase in population and traffic we have a lot more accidents here, but the intersection design has not changed.”
Dorcherts said it is not an uncommon occurrence to hear an accident across the street shortly followed by the sirens of an ambulance.
“We built over the years a pretty solid hedge, and that hedge takes so much abuse at that corner,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what we plant, it gets demolished from cars.”
A similar event happened to resident Chad Brummett, a professor of anesthesiology at the Medical School, when his iron-rod fence was split in half by an automobile accident a few weeks ago. Brummett said he was shocked by the sheer force needed to dent the fence, let alone break it.
“We’ve lived in this house for almost nine years. We see accidents there all the time,” Brummett said. “We’ve seen a car flipped, a car on fire, we’ve recently had a car come through our fence, and I mean this fence accident is incredibly notable because that is a very sturdy wrought iron fence and is probably set back about 12 feet from the road, well past the sidewalk. So somebody had to really been going through very fast.”
Brummett also said the local police and first responders know this intersection is a common area for accidents to occur, but have no jurisdiction to make changes because it is a state-owned road.
“Our local police clearly acknowledge that this is a common place for accidents, and they express their frustration but say that there’s not much that the city can do because it is a state road,” Brummett said. “What’s been most concerning recently is the severity of the accidents — regularly seeing airbags deployed and major car damage.”
Brummett expressed his concern about the pedestrian traffic on that intersection and worries about what might happen if no changes are made.
“There are thousands of kids that cross that intersection in a given week —coming back and forth from fraternity parties in the night, going back and forth to class,” he said. “I mean that intersection has tons of foot traffic. … We’re just playing a game here until a pedestrian gets hit. And there’s no reasonable excuse for why the speed limit is so high at this place on Washtenaw.”
LSA junior Maeve Stargardt lived a block away from the intersection last school year. She says she was on alert while crossing the intersection during her time there.
“I crossed the intersection every day, usually more than twice a day, and it didn’t feel particularly safe to cross because people turned so quickly from Hill onto Washtenaw,” Stargardt said. “Especially at night it feels really unsafe because it’s not very well lit and people are a bit less careful because the roads aren’t as crowded.”
Angell Elementary School is also near the intersection, and young students cross there often. Angell Elementary Principal Gary Court says student safety is a top priority to them, and has concerns about the intersection as well. Last week, he had thought one of his students was hit, but fortunately that was not the case.
“That particular intersection, Hill and Washtenaw Ave, is subject to frequent accidents. It is not square, (the streets are not at right angles), is very busy and is near the location where there is a major speed limit change,” Court wrote in an email interview. “Last week, there was another significant automobile/pedestrian accident. I was alerted and I initially thought it was one of our students and I ran to the scene.”
The Washtenaw County initiative Reimagine Washtenaw, which is partnering with the city of Ann Arbor and the Michigan Department of Transportation, has goals to change the layout of major parts of Washtenaw Avenue. They have no immediate plans to change the intersection with Hill Street.
Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, said she has been to a couple of the Reimagine Washtenaw meetings, but doesn’t think the intersection is on their radar. She says the most immediate change that can come from the city would be to change the street lights to more modern LED lights, as well as enforce the no left turn rule at the intersection.
“I would like to see the street lights improved," she said. "They’re old vapor lights that are orange, we need to replace them with more modern LED lights. In the meantime, the city could petition Mdot to change speed, because it is a state-owned business route. But pedestrian safety is most definitely one of my priorities.”