The Ann Arbor City Council met at Larcom City Hall Monday evening to discuss a new contract for widening the East Medical Center Bridge and the designation of the house of Robert Hayden, a Black American poet, and Erma Hayden, a Black American concert pianist, as a Historic District.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a local activist who regularly attends City Council meetings, spoke during the public hearing section continuing to call on the city to pass a resolution boycotting Israel. During the Public Commentary section of the meeting, Mozhgan said a recent protest led by University of Michigan students demonstrated an urgent need to pass the boycott resolution.
“I come here often to talk about the rights of Palestinians people,” Savabieasfahani said. “I wonder if Mr. Mayor heard the voices of (U-M) students protesting outside the Auditorium, saying ‘Not another nickel, not another dime! No more money for Israel’s crime!’”
Councilmember Jen Eyer, D-Ward 4, responded by showing a printed copy of a digital poster attached in an email sent to City Council and Mayor Christoper Taylor Saturday morning from Savabiesfahani. The email, which has been obtained by The Michigan Daily, included a digital poster with caricatures of all current City Councilmembers wearing leashes chained to a personified representation of Israel. Eyer said the email had racist undertones.
“The reason I get up often when these people are speaking is when someone is compared to a dog, or dehumanized, I will get up and walk out in solidarity with my colleagues, and in solidarity with my Jewish neighbors across the city,” Eyer said. “This needs to stop.”
Following her criticism of the protesters, Eyer then ripped up a physical copy of the picture which was handed out at the council meeting.
Next, Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, expressed her condolences for the victims of the Los Angeles shooting. The shooting, which killed 10 people, occurred in during a local Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park.
“(Monterey Park) was known historically as being a place that’s majority Asian American, a place to shop and eat and feel safe and welcome,” Song said. “Our community also has extended family and loved ones there. It’s been really heartening to see folks come together to make sure that family and friends are okay in the area, but I think it’s also a moment of reflection. It’s Lunar New Year. This is a time when we reflect on where we come from (and) who we are, and share trauma and histories. The hope is that we would have a healthier, happier, more prosperous New Year.”
Song invited Ann Arbor community members to attend two events this Sunday in celebration of the Lunar New Year, lion dancing and tea hour.
“I hope you come up with your children and loved ones,” Song said. “And then I’ll have a tea hour extending a Lunar New Year celebration with traditional crafts at Travorwood from 3:30 to 5 p.m.”
The council then voted to amend and later postpone the passing of CA1, a resolution to approve the construction contract with architectural firm C.A. Hull to rehabilitate and widen the East Medical Center Bridge. In February 2022, City Council approved a contract with the architectural firm DLZ Michigan after the University requested to widen the East Medical Center Bridge, a route near the University Medical Center connecting Central and North Campuses.
Ann Arbor City Administrator Milton Dohoney said the recent contract renewed discussions between the city staff and the University concerning biking and pedestrian safety. The discussions also addressed the cost-sharing concerns associated with the University’s original plan to widen the drive lanes and the sidewalk on the east side of the bridge while narrowing the sidewalk on the west side.
The most recent version of the contract increases the University’s cost sharing from 50% to approximately 75% of the estimated expense of the project. In addition, the contract will widen the east sidewalk of the bridge as originally planned while decreasing the width of the west sidewalk from 10.5 to just 10 feet. The plan approved last year would decrease the width of the west sidewalk to eight feet.
“This evening represents several conversations that we’ve had with the University to arrive at what you have for your consideration,” Dohoney said. “I would be remiss if I didn’t express appreciation to our staff and to those at the University for that many sessions we had to come up with.”
Ann Arbor resident Larry Deck is a member of Walk Bike Washtenaw, a community organization advocating for pedestrian and biking safety, spoke during the Public Commentary section raising concerns about the costs listed in the contract.
“The contract authorizes $2 million to widen the bridge by two feet as I understand,” Deck said. “We were talking about a year ago that it was estimated to cost about half a million dollars to widen it by five feet because of the need for extra support. So it seems we’d be paying more for less.”
Councilmember Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, asked city engineer Nick Hutchinson about the reason for the increased cost. Hutchinson said it was primarily due to rising labor costs and that the previous estimate was produced at the earliest planning stage.
“The cost estimate of widening the bridge from last year was a very, very rough estimate, before consultants even started designing projects,” Hutchinson said. “And over the course of that time, we’ve also seen massive increases in construction costs as well. So it’s a combination of those two things. We’re seeing higher prices, and it was an estimate done with very little information to start with.”
Councilmember Ayesha Ghazi Edwin, D-Ward 3, said she initiated an amendment to the resolution to reiterate the city’s commitment to making streets more accessible.
“Our commitment to and prioritization of safety and accessibility of non-motorized users was in accordance with our Vision Zero-based comprehensive transportation plan,” Ghazi Edwin said. “I think it’s important that it’s there and it’s written down in black and white.”
Councilmember Dharma Akmon, D-Ward 4, said she also added an amendment to indicate the city’s support for 10.5 feet of sidewalk on the west side of the bridge and a barrier-supported path to maximize the potential benefits for pedestrians and cyclists.
“I think the barrier protection is important for the level of traffic that goes through, given the fact that it’s on a bridge and right up against a roadway,” Akmon said. “And then, as I said before about the width, I think it’s important that we maintain at least the width that we have now on the west side. I want us to try to get as much space as we can for pedestrians and cyclists.”
The amendment passed 10-1, with Taylor voting against it. Briggs motioned to postpone the agenda to the next meeting so that the city staff and the engineering firm could provide more details on the implications of the amendment’s language. The motion passed unanimously.
The council also unanimously passed C-1, the first reading on an ordinance to designate the house of Robert Hayden and Erma Hayden as a Historical District. Robert Hayden was a renowned poet and U-M alum, as well as the first African American faculty member in the U-M English Department. He was twice given the Hopwood Award, a scholarship for outstanding graduate and undergraduate students at the University.
In the 1960s, Hayden moved to the Ann Arbor Lower Burns Park neighborhood, which was highly segregated at the time, and lived at 1201 Garner Avenue until he passed away in 1980. Erma Hayden was a concert pianist and the first African American to serve as the supervisor of music for the Nashville Public School System. The Haydens lived together in the house throughout the 1970s.
Daily Staff Reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org