More than 100 Ann Arbor residents gathered at the Ann Arbor City Council meeting to lobby for improved safety measures for pedestrians, particularly children on their way to school.
The crowd, mostly composed of parents whose students are enrolled in Ann Arbor Public Schools, was protesting the city’s response to the recent death of 16-year-old Huron High School student Justin Tang. Many community members have expressed their ongoing belief that the city has not taken sufficient action to improve pedestrian safety, which they link to the car accident that resulted in Tang’s death.
Ann Arbor resident Stephanie Preston, who is the leader of local advocate organization A2SafeTransport, said to the council that the resolution they passed Thursday night would not be enough to address the safety issues facing community members.The resolution would prioritize the installation of streetlights at the Fuller Road Crosswalk at Huron High School and study crosswalks near Ann Arbor schools where improvements to lighting could be made.
“Further study is not what we need right now, we need a commitment by the city to prioritize pedestrian safety in the city budget,” she said. “We would like to see school speed zones installed at all Ann Arbor schools, facilitated by city staff, with the paperwork, added street lighting at crosswalks and crossing guards assisting students until permanent solutions arrive.”
Several council members encouraged community members to continue attending council meetings to voice their concerns.
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), said the presence of the crowd was a sobering reminder of the council’s tendency to respond slowly on issues of pedestrian safety.
“I think it must be obvious by now that we are all very concerned with pedestrian safety for a number of years, and moving incrementally slowly and sometimes terribly slowly to accomplish our goals to improve pedestrian safety,” she said. “I certainly wish that what brought you out tonight was to cheer us on rather than to remind us that we have failed to do it in a timely fashion.”
Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) echoed Briere’s message, and said community participation was important in keeping the council on track and hold it accountable for its mistakes.
“This is really an essential expression of the community’s sense of our failures,” he said. “We are all on board now but you need to continue to keep watch on us because we do fail to move forward when we are not watched.”
Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) spoke on passing the resolution, highlighting how it would move the two proposed Fuller Street light installations from tier two priority to tier one, a movement which would mean the city administrator would be granted the authority to install the lights “as expeditiously as possible,” rather than waiting to see if there is funding leftover from the installation of tier one lights.
“The co-sponsors and I believe that that’s the appropriate step for us to take right now,” she said.
Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) said spending on streetlights is prioritized by the council, despite the budgetary strain it causes.
“We have spent over $2 million per year on our streetlight system on a general fund budget,” he said. “It is a very large portion of our discretionary spending. Even at that $2 million dollar level, that is not sustainable from a capital perspective.”
Taylor noted how it would be valuable for the council to consider exploring other avenues for funding new improvements to street light and crosswalk systems, including community support.
“These are areas of profound importance to the residents of Ann Arbor, and frankly I believe that if we ask the residents of Ann Arbor, will you with us step up and support these functions to improve these systems, to improve our streetlights, to improve our crosswalks through additional funds — I believe that the residents would say yes because it is a matter of profound importance.”
The resolution was unanimously passed by the council.
The remarks made by Taylor, suggesting a new tax imposed on residents to support street lights, angered some residents, including Kathy Griswold, who said she was satisfied until Taylor’s remarks.
“When the mayor mentioned that the citizens were going to join in funding, he’s hinting at a tax increase” she said. “We have enough money, so there is no way we should have to increase our taxes.”
Following the adjourning of the council meeting Taylor responded to a question about the possibility of a new tax. He noted that there is no official plan to implement a new city tax, though suggested the possibility should not be ruled out as a funding avenue.
“There is no firm proposal,” he said. “To accelerate improvement, both in quality and quantity, more funds will be necessary, and we have a limited number of ways of obtaining funds.”