Pedestrians in Ann Arbor, many of whom are students and young people, are at risk of injury according to a recent study conducted by Ann Arbor officials.

Vision Zero — an initiative endorsed by the city’s Pedestrian Safety and Task Force Committee that strives to eliminate fatalities or serious injuries to pedestrians — was presented to the Ann Arbor City Council Monday night in an attempt to address this issue, along with survey results reguarding pedestrian safety in Ann Arbor. The report included several policy proposals, including improved crosswalks and a ban on using hand-held devices for drivers.

Though Ann Arbor crashes involving pedestrians represent only 16 percent of all crashes, pedestrians account for one-third of the fatalities and one-fourth of all serious crash-related injuries. The study states that Ann Arbor averaged 55 pedestrian crashes per year for the five-year period 2010-2014, which was a 22 percent increase from the previous five-year period.

Council did not vote on the report on Monday, but will continue to consider the proposal at future meetings.

After 17 months of studying Ann Arbor’s road system, pedestrian fatality and surveying the community, the Pedestrian Safety and Task Force created a 59-page document report. Linda Diane Feldt, chair of the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force, said the report was created in an effort to have a cohesive and effective plan for pedestrian safety.

“There was disconnect between the experience of those people walking, those in cars, and of course, distracted roadway users,” Feldt said.

The objectives of the report is to improve pedestrian access, improve understanding of traffic laws, improve the physical conditions of the roadway, address the safety and access for all users and reduce distractions. The task force said their goal is zero traffic fatalities.

The task force surveyed more than 1,000 members of the Ann Arbor community, as well as consulted experts in the field.

“The Task Force wants these recommendations to become reality and hopes that you will work to implement them through creation of a formal Pedestrian Safety Plan that recognizes pedestrian safety and access as an important component of City policy, and practice and one that deserves a level of funding commensurate with its importance to the City and its residents,” Feldt wrote in an opening letter to the Council.

After addressing the statistics, the report then goes on to outline the five underlying issues that Council and the city of Ann Arbor needs to address. These issues include the unavailability of comfortable and convenient sidewalks, as well as unfamiliarity with traffic laws, a disconnect between roadway user expectations and conditions, failure to consider the perspective of all transportation system users and distracted roadway users.

Members of the Ann Arbor community identified a variety of potential causes, including situations where motorists fail to yield for pedestrians, as well as snow and ice accumulation on sidewalks and speeding in residential neighborhoods.

To conclude the report, detailed descriptions of how the city could address these issues. Each solution or recommendation was related back to an objective aforementioned in the document.

Scott Campbell, a task force member, presented said Council should consider different ways to address crosswalks on busy roads.

“One of the biggest issues that we’ve seen is the danger of multi-lane traffic in each direction,” Campbell said. “One thing recommended is to have advanced stop bars, which give a good distance between the stopped car and the crosswalk.”

Anthony Pinnell, another task force member, discussed speeding and distracted driving.

“One idea is implementing local ordinance banning hand-held (devices) and even hands-free devices,” Pinnell said. “More and more states have statewide bans and it’s mostly becoming a topic because using devices is overtaking alcohol accidents.”

Councilmember Jane Lumm (D–Ward 2) raised questions regarding police enforcement of pedestrian laws.

“My sense is that there is no magic and there aren’t officers sitting around doing nothing,” Lumm said. “Additional enforcement would require more officers, or more overtime, therefore some parts of policing may be sacrificed.”  

Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) wanted to know how the task force addressed jaywalking, an element that he felt was missing from the report.

“We have a lot of young pedestrians in the downtown,” Kunselman said.  “It seems like they are the ones that need enforcement, not the drivers that are trying to dodge them.”

Feldt responded to Kunselman’s question by noting that pedestrians are similar in behavior to deer. She said that one of the best solutions to addressing pedestrian safety is for motorists to slow down as they would for deer.

After discussing general pedestrian safety, the task force then addressed snow and ice removal in the city.

“Everyone is demanding higher standards when it comes to snow and ice removal,” Pinnell said. “The current ordinance and its enforcement are inadequate.”

The solution to inadequate snow removal included defining an exact ordinance with standards that are easy to follow and fulfill. The task force also recommended low and no-cost solutions for community members that need assistance.

The task force also empathized to the Council the significant effect of inadequate snow removal on the elderly and disabled citizens of Ann Arbor as another issue the proposal would address.

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