Community members came out in droves Monday night to support the current crosswalk ordinance and prevent its repeal, which was being considered before the Ann Arbor City Council. Thanks to a surprise veto promise by Mayor John Hieftje, they’ll get their wish.
The original proposal to repeal the ordinance was altered after Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) requested that Ann Arbor instead adopt the wording of ordinance drafted by the Traverse City, Mich., city council. That vote passed 6-4, but immediately after its passing, the mayor promised to veto the proposal.
“Changing the ordinance, I just don’t see a way how that can possibly help,” Hieftje said to the council during discussion before the vote. “I think the city is safer for pedestrians now than before; I think a good deal of progress has been made. Drivers are stopping for pedestrians at a higher rate now than they were a few years ago.”
Traverse City’s simple ordinance requires drivers to stop and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians who are walking within a marked crosswalk where a traffic signal is not present.
A repeal of the ordinance would have meant Ann Arbor would adopt the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code wording, which requires drivers to stop or slow for pedestrians in the crosswalk, not including pedestrians at the edge of the walk or on the curb as the Ann Arbor ordinance currently states.
The tone for the evening was set during the public comment section of the meeting, when Erica Briggs, chair of the Washtenaw County Bicycling and Walking Coalition, asked for opponents of the ban to stand and raise their hands. The move brough roughly three-fourths of the overflowing chamber guests to their feet. There were so many attendees at the meeting that city employees opened the chamber’s retractable walls.
The turnout may be the result of a request for public support at the meeting that was posted on WBWC’s website.
“You’re placing the blame on the pedestrians for getting hit or killed in crosswalks, not on the drivers who hit them in marked crosswalks,” Briggs told the council, describing the consequences should the law be repealed.
The public hearing before the vote brought overwhelming opposition to the repeal. Ann Arbor residents — including a few University students — passionately shared personal stories and pleaded to the Council to reconsider the shift in policy. Some raised concerns that the council rushed to repeal the ordinance without a full engineering analysis. Others expressed a need for a pedestrian-friendly city and the importance of ensuring disabled people have enough street access without having to navigate oncoming traffic.
Rackham student Lloyd Shelton said the changed ordinance would be exclusionary. He uses an electrically powered wheelchair and said crossing the street without the current ordinance would be incredibly burdensome.
“It’s about inclusion; it’s about having a society that is designed so that everybody has access to everything,” Shelton said.
Still, the councilmembers who sponsored the repeal did not waiver from their stance, supporting the consistency of using the UTC law like the rest of the state.
The initial vote to repeal was sponsored by Councilmembers Sally Peterson (D–Ward 2), Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) and Kunselman, who eventually in favor of the Traverse City language. Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) was the sixth vote in favor.
Kunselman responded to the arguments of limiting the access for the elderly and disabled by mentioning that it hadn’t been an issue before and wasn’t specifically mentioned in any previous wordings. He said he is ready to move forward.
“This has been talked about since well last summer; we heard some former candidates for council who were talking about it as they were out there this last fall,” Kunselman said. “There is a different perception besides just those that are represented by the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition.”
Speakers on both sides of the issue spoke to the need for increased education, enforcement and improved infrastructure, many acknowledging that the wording of the law will not automatically change the behavior of either drivers or pedestrians.
Councilmembers Kailasapathy and Peterson, among others, spoke repeatedly in favor of these efforts, regardless of the law.
“What (tonight) shows is there is a great need for infrastructure, and that’s what I take out of this. There’s a great need for disabled people, older people, younger people to cross the street,” Kailasapathy said in an interview. “What do we do? Put HAWK lights, crosswalks, put lights.”