City releases data on driving behavior on Ann Arbor roads

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 - 7:54pm

Ann Arbor recently received finalized results of a two-year research study about the effects on driver-pedestrian behavior on city roads.

Ann Arbor recently received finalized results of a two-year research study about the effects on driver-pedestrian behavior on city roads. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

On Jan. 9, the city of Ann Arbor received finalized results of a two-year research study about the effects on driver-pedestrian behavior related to an increase in crosswalk signs, law enforcement and general awareness of the pedestrian right-of-way laws.

According to the study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there has been an increase in pedestrian traffic fatalities since 2009. The study was originally conducted in Gainesville, Florida in an effort to decrease pedestrian-involved accidents. In large cities, pedestrians account for 40 to 50 percent of traffic fatalities.

To combat this trend, deterrents for ignoring pedestrian-right-of-way laws were expanded. The effects of the Gainesville program were so significant for decreasing pedestrian deaths, a reproduction of the study was done in Ann Arbor to assure it wasn’t an isolated trend.

During the timeframe of the study, stopping for pedestrians in Ann Arbor increased from 28.5 to 65.2 percent where there was police enforcement, and from 34.2 to 53 percent at the generalization sites that did not receive police enforcement. Police enforcement came in the form of warnings and tickets.

Throughout the duration of the entire study, 1,658 warnings and 844 citations were issued by the Ann Arbor Police Department. Some raised the concern that the increase in stoppage came solely from the presence of enforcement, but Raymond Hess, transportation manager in Ann Arbor, stated in a press release that the final report concludes  enforcement alone can’t explain the steady increase in cars that are willing to stop.

“Evidence that the high visibility elements that were introduced in a stepwise manner contributed to the overall success of the program,” Hess wrote in the statement. “If drivers only responded to actual enforcement operations it would be more likely that the effects would be confined to sites that received enforcement.”

Sergeant Bill Clock of the Ann Arbor Police Department shared that the increase in pedestrian safety was not solely due to the increased police deployment, but was a combined effort from many city parties.

“The first year we did it, it was strictly enforcement, but then we went back and did a follow up in 2018,” Clock said. “With more education through city communications department and the traffic engineers, we were not surprised at the improved results.”

Clock said he is unaware of any further police supervision of the crosswalks, but he believes the traffic engineers will continue their work to make  pedestrian crosswalks more noticeable.

“There’s nothing planned for us, in regards to this activity, but we will continue to check crosswalk and follow up on complaints,” Clock said. “But I think the city traffic engineers will use data to make crosswalks more visible to do further improvements.”

LSA senior Ben Harshberger owns a car on campus. Harshberger said he was aware of the law when it came into practice two years ago.

“I have noticed an increase in the yellow pedestrian arrow signs and more road indicators,” Harshberger said. “Two examples that come to mind are on State Street by the Law Quad and on Division Street. There seem to be more physical indicators on the actual crosswalk.”

He also mentioned  it has made him more cognizant of the possibility of pedestrians walking across the street.

“Before, it could be easy to blow through one of the crosswalks not knowing that it was even there, but now it’s impossible to miss,” Harshberger said.

LSA junior Grace Toll said she feels pretty comfortable crossing the roads on her way to class. She even mentioned  cars are now stopping for her in locations in which they did not tend to yield when she was a freshman.

“Right now, I feel pretty sure that if I’m walking a crosswalk, the car will stop for me,” Toll said. “On State Street in particular, I’m confident, maybe too confident, crossing without really looking both ways. But I’ve also noticed that cars have been stopping for me in less bustling areas. For example, near the Intramural Sports Building —  I would not have felt confident crossing easily as a freshman in that area.”

Toll continued to say that pedestrian safety should be a priority for Ann Arbor since it is not only a college town, but also a city with many walkers and bikers.

“Ann Arbor is just known for their bike lanes and accessible walkways,” she said. “I think it’s great that they’re doing studies to increase the safety because it most definitely affects the city in a huge way.”

Hess is excited to see that increased pedestrian safety is obtainable, and wants to use this as a springboard for future studies and data.

“The project shows us that altering driving habits is achievable,” Hess wrote. “The results of the study give us insights on best practices in the Ann Arbor and baseline data for future use.”