City Council discusses mental health resources, sidewalk safety

Monday, September 18, 2017 - 11:29pm

Ann Arbor City Council met Monday evening to discuss topics including pedestrian safety and crosswalk policies, a millage to fund the Washtenaw County Mental Health and Sheriff departments, and suicide prevention in the city’s parking structures.

Discussion on pedestrian safety began during the public commentary period at the beginning of the meeting. Several local residents brought up concerns about crosswalk safety in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor resident Stephanie Preston, leader of local organization A2 Safe Transport, stressed the need for a new crosswalk near Community High School at the corner of North 5th and Detroit streets. All crosswalks normally utilized in the immediate area are unusable due to construction.

“We’ve been working with the city and with Community High School to figure out a solution,” Preston said. “Currently there’s a DDA (Downtown Development Authority) project in Kerrytown, adjacent to Community … this will promise to be a great project; however, it will take all year. In the meantime, there is no safe way for these students to get to school. … It’s a very tricky intersection, we get that. There’s only one location where they could get across safely and we know that the city can prioritize having some safe options.”

Citizens also raised general concerns about crosswalks. Jared Hoffert, current Ward 2 City Council candidate, voiced his worries that a review of the city’s current pedestrian crossing policies would lead to its abolishment.

“I would like to express my sincere desire that any review of this law is with an eye toward further education of its specifics to the residents of Ann Arbor, both pedestrians and motorists alike,” Hoffert said. “Ann Arbor has always been a city that values pedestrian safety and our laws need to reflect this value.”

Later in the meeting during an additional public comment session Soraya Streeter, Ann Arbor resident and Skyline High School student, and her friend turned attention back to the need for a crosswalk near Community High School.

“We both have friends and my little sister goes to Community,” Streeter said. “We’re concerned because they seem to be the type that wear all black. … My sister has to cross the road. She’s been hit by a car almost twice. We need alternate routes (because) we have to figure out ways to get kids across safely.”

Council eventually went into a discussion of a resolution that would direct the city administrator to review the Ann Arbor crosswalk ordinance. The resolution received mixed reviews from the group. While some felt strongly a review of the process could only be beneficial, others argued it would unfairly and inevitably lead to the removal of the policy.

Councilman Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, is a sponsor of the resolution. He spoke of the need for a review of the process and advocated for a push toward a unified state-wide policy for crosswalk protocol.

“I’m just pointing out that this resolution does not seek to overturn our current policy,” Eaton said. “We need to have this ordinance evaluated by professionals. … People who drive in Ann Arbor are unaware of our policies and how they drive around pedestrians.”

The council generally agreed that pedestrian safety is a necessary priority for the city, but disagreed on whether the current policy accomplished that goal. Councilman Chuck Warpehoski, D-Ward 5, questioned the impact this resolution would have on the crosswalks debate, which Ann Arbor has been having since the current policy was put in place in 2004.

“My question is, if this moves forward, do you see this as a way of laying the controversy to rest?” Warpehoski said. “If this goes forward but the outcome isn’t what you desire, are we still going to be debating this?”

The council passed the resolution with only two council members voting no.

The resolution involved working with the Downtown Development Authority to put barriers up in parking garages around the city to prevent possible suicides that may occur. Councilman Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, was a strong proponent of the resolution, especially considering the fall that occurred in an Ann Arbor parking garage last week.

“This is personally a hard one,” Ackerman said. “For those who went to Burns Park or Tappan or Pioneer or the University of Michigan in the last decade, we lost a good friend less than two weeks ago and it feels preventable. I appreciate the attempt from DDA to try to do this right. … I think the community is more than willing to pay a premium to see some ground resolution. … None of us should hesitate to pass this resolution.”

The resolution passed unanimously.