On Nov. 19, Ann Arbor City Council voted 8-3 in favor of repealing the city’s contentious crosswalk ordinance. Under the ordinance, drivers had to stop whenever a pedestrian was at or approaching a crosswalk — regardless of what traffic signs and lights were signaling. While the ordinance attempted to improve pedestrian safety in a town that increasingly pushes drivers to “share the road,” the law has put both walkers and drivers in danger. Though the city council’s decision to overturn this dangerous law is in the best interest of all Ann Arbor’s travelers, it must be followed with substantial improvements to the city’s crosswalks.
In July 2010, the city’s crosswalk ordinance went into effect, stating, “When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right-of-way to every pedestrian approaching or within a crosswalk.” Prior to the ordinance, the city followed state law, which calls on drivers to yield to pedestrians walking through crosswalk on the driver’s side of the road. While the distinction between the local and state laws seem slight, supporters of the ordinance argued that the law, supported by Ann Arbor Mayor John Hiefjte, would give the city’s pedestrians the upper-hand.
But in the three years following the ordinance’s passage, there hasn’t been a significant reduction of pedestrian-vehicle accidents — in 2012, 60 accidents occurred in the city, compared to the 36 accidents in 2006. While it’s not clear if those numbers reflect a more dangerous environment for drivers and pedestrians or simply a rise in commuters, they do suggest that Ann Arbor hasn’t become safe, despite the promises of the ordinances’ proponents.
The language of the ordinance may, in fact, lend itself to more distracted drivers. Under the ordinances, drivers have to watch for pedestrians in a wider area as well as check their rear-view mirrors to make sure they would not be rear-ended should they stop abruptly for a pedestrian crossing the street. Perhaps most importantly, the lack of publicity surrounding the ordinance diminished its potential benefits. Just one year after the law’s passage, Erica Briggs, a city planning commissioner and board member for the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, argued most people are unaware that they’re supposed to stop at crosswalks. The lack of information surrounding the ordinance is an especially dangerous element when out-of-towners are considered. Without clear, uniform signage around all the city’s crosswalks, tourists coming into Ann Arbor are likely to not know about their responsibilities as a driver.
If the city council passes ordinances to improve safety, the dissemination of information is crucial to go along with the passing of these ordinances. City council should also consider improving the existing crosswalks before implementing further pedestrian regulations. Many of Ann Arbor’s crosswalks are poorly lit, if at all, and have limited signage to alert drivers to pedestrian crossings. Increasing lighting, signs and roadway stripes will improve pedestrian safety and alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians.
In December, the city council will bring the ordinance to a vote once again, due to a law that mandates two rounds of voting to overturn a city ordinance. The council should continue to stand against the ordinance while bringing in new safety features for the city.