Ann Arbor crosswalk ordinance aims to make roads safer for pedestrians

BY MELISSA MARCUS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 14, 2010

A recently-implemented safety ordinance aims to give Ann Arbor pedestrians more rights on the road.

The ordinance requires vehicles to stop fully at crosswalks with no traffic control signals, instead of only yielding as they were required to do in the past. Currently, about 15 percent of Ann Arbor residents walk to work or school, and pedestrians often encounter problems when it comes to the safety of crossing streets, according to a press release from Ann Arbor city officials last week.

Vehicles must now stop for those not only currently on the crosswalk, but those approaching it as well. This aims to provide pedestrians with a greater sense of security when approaching a busy intersection or crosswalk.

But the ordinance dictates that pedestrians can’t enter a vehicle’s path when the driver is unable to respond in the proper fashion. Also, if a pedestrian does not cross at a crosswalk, then they must take it upon themselves to yield to vehicles.

Eli Cooper, transportation program manager for the City of Ann Arbor, began the planning process for the ordinance last fall, when there was a Pedestrian Forum led by the Washtenaw Walking and Biking Coalition. Cooper served as a panelist for the session, as did individuals from the city and community at large.

Cooper said the forum aimed to figure out ways to enhance pedestrian safety. City Council members spoke about the types of outreach elements that could be conducted to improve the relationship between pedestrians and vehicles, specifically in city crosswalks.

“My work is fully supportive of types of changes that have occurred,” Cooper said.

The individuals involved with the ordinance began to outline an education program to get the word out to motorists and pedestrians through brochures and media releases. The members were also hoping to have additional signage in various areas of the community that will provide notice to vehicles that they must stop for pedestrians in those areas, Cooper said.

Council member Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5), who, has also been a strong advocate for increased pedestrian safety, said he’s already seen the success of the ordinance. Hohnke added that he’s been working with attorneys offices and the Ann Arbor Police Department for over a year to make sure the ordinance is enforceable.

“All ordinance changes take some time to impact the community,” Hohnke said. “I have noticed more and more cars stopping for people at unsignaled crosswalks.”

Over the summer, Cooper and the Ann Arbor Police Department conducted a targeted enforcement campaign at two intersections using changeable message signs and messaging in the vicinity of two crosswalks. The messages announced that the local law was to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Police then observed the motorists’ interactions with the pedestrians and determined that the new ordinance was necessary for the safety of pedestrians. Cooper said the intent of this targeted enforcement wasn’t to purposefully cause a driver to receive a ticket, but to raise public awareness of the rules.

There was a press release that made drivers aware of this targeted enforcement as well as the visual presence of police that resulted in no citations, but more public awareness.

“Everyone walks, so this ordinance affects all. Every trip begins or ends with a walking segment,” Cooper said. “I am pleased to see the community that I work in take pedestrian rights seriously. Providing these protections will create a safe environment for those of us already walking in the community.”

Hohnke added that he believes the ordinance will provide a more comfortable walking experience in the campus and downtown areas.

“I hope this ordinance will make students’ walking experience around campus more pleasant and safer,” Hohnke said.

Nancy Shore, a University alum and program director of the getDowntown Program in Ann Arbor, which aims to reduce the number of drivers in Ann Arbor, said she hopes the ordinance will encourage people to use public transportation and not drive.

“I think the ordinance is a good idea because Ann Arbor should be finding ways to make itself more pedestrian-friendly,” Shore said. “A pedestrian-friendly community attracts young professionals who are interested in living in a nice, attractive community.”

Cooper added that he has already seen changes in drivers’ behavior. But he said it is still important that students still create person-to-person contact with motorists, and are respectful and aware of the changing laws.

“There is a different mindset that is beginning to exist in our community and the intent is acknowledging all pedestrians,” Cooper said. “I hope (University students) feel more welcomed as pedestrians with these changes.”

Cooper and Shore both acknowledged that this ordinance is not the only method of increasing public awareness about pedestrian safety.

Cooper added that over time, the Ann Arbor community will continue to provide awareness and future targeted enforcement activities in order to really raise pedestrians’ comfort as they enter crosswalks.

Shore said the ordinance is the first step in increasing awareness of pedestrian issues.

“Even if we have the ordinance, if it is not promoted in the community, it is hard for people to know what is happening,” she said. “People can come around to understanding, they just need more information.”