Local pedestrian safety group voices concerns at Ann Arbor budget meeting

Monday, December 12, 2016 - 11:22pm

Monday night, about 50 Ann Arbor residents attended the Ann Arbor City Council’s annual budget planning session, with the majority expressing a desire for increased attention on pedestrian safety. Most of the audience consisted of members of A2 Safe Transport, a citizen’s group advocating for improvements to transportation safety in Ann Arbor.

A2 Safe Transport formed in response to a recent series of accidents that have resulted in the injury and death of several pedestrians –– most recently, the death of Ann Arbor high school student Qi-Xuan “Justin” Tang at a crosswalk on Fuller Road near Huron High School.

A2 Safe Transport member Claire Duvernoy, an Ann Arbor resident, stressed the need for immediate City Council action on pedestrian safety during public commentary.

“My child crosses Fuller Road every single day to go to Huron High School, and Justin Tang was his friend,” Duvernoy said. “We can’t let that happen again.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, multiple other A2 Safe Transport members demanded the council take immediate action by hiring crossing guards and creating “school zones” with appropriate signage.

Last year, prior to Tang’s death, the city’s Pedestrian Safety and Task Force committee introduced “Vision Zero” to the council, a report brought to council for review that presented to goal of completely eliminating deaths and injuries of pedestrians.

However, when the “Vision Zero” initiative was brought up again during Monday evening’s session, City Administrator Howard Lazarus urged caution on such absolute goals.

“There are formal Vision Zero programs, so, if that’s the desire of the council to have a Vision Zero program, just realize what that means,” Lazarus said.

Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) agreed with A2 Safe Transport members that the city’s resources would be better spent specifically in the areas of greatest concern, like school zones.

“I also realize that not every crosswalk will be updated within the first year, but how I would go about prioritizing something like safety is starting from the most vulnerable,” she said. “So for me I feel like children are the most vulnerable and that’s where we start.”

Along with the immediate action suggested by the group, A2 Safe Transport members also touted a longer term measure — increasing driver compliance with the crosswalk law via increased police enforcement. The law currently states a driver must stop for a pedestrian in the crosswalk or waiting to cross. However, Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2) said enforcement of the crosswalk law has decreased in recent years, which has had detrimental effects.

“My concern is that we saw a dramatic increase in compliance at crosswalks during targeted enforcement by the police, and when that enforcement went away, gradually the compliance went down,” he said. “So I think what you’ve heard tonight and what we’re hearing from the public is that there needs to be a sustained effort to give warnings and give citations to drivers who clearly disobey the crosswalk law.”

Jim Baird, Ann Arbor police chief, said Monday he expects the number of officers available for road patrol to decrease due to budgetary reasons, citing the 10 months it takes to hire a new officer and train them fully.

However, A2 Safe Transport member Kathy Griswold said she believes the problem isn’t compliance with the law, but the law itself.

“I do not support the local crosswalk ordinance,” she said. “It’s not based on engineering practices. I do not believe that we should stop for pedestrians on the side of the road, because what it does is it encourages pedestrians to step out in front of moving vehicles.”

Many council members shared the views of the audience members advocating for more pedestrian safety, saying at the end of the planning session that they appreciated the focus on pedestrian safety.

Griswold noted, though, that she was skeptical of their commitment to the issue, stating council members’ concerns were mainly about being reelected.

“I think they’re saying what we want to hear, but the true test is will it be in the budget, and will they act quickly?” Griswold said.

A2 Safe Transport organizer Stephanie Preston also said she appreciated the council’s good intentions, but shared Griswold’s worry that the issue of pedestrian safety would get swept under the rug.

“If very specific items don’t end up getting put into place there’s no check mark in that box,” Preston said. “So we’d like to make sure that pedestrian safety, safe crosswalks, school zones, lower speeds, enforcement are clearly made priorities.”