Discussion at Monday night’s City Council meeting became heated over a proposed amendment to the city’s controversial crosswalk ordinance.
The proposal would have amended the ordinance’s current language, which states that drivers are required to stop when a pedestrian is approaching a crosswalk, by adding the phrase “if the driver can do so safely.” The change would mean drivers are no longer required to stop for pedestrians nearing the curb if they deem stopping unsafe.
The Council ultimately voted to postpone a vote on the amendment, which was sponsored by Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3). The postponement passed with a 6-5 margin.
During discussion of the ordinance, tensions flared and the dialogue quickly escalated once the Council considered postponing the vote.
Kunselman, who opposed the delay, said the ordinance required immediate changes, citing accidents caused by pedestrians who walk into the blind spots of cars and expect them to stop.
“Stopping for the pedestrian at the curb is not about them being endangered,” Kunselman said. “It’s about being courteous for them to cross. They’ve never been in danger standing at the curb. It’s the pedestrians that step into the road is where the danger begins.”
The city’s current ordinance was enacted in response to the death of a University student, who was hit by a car while crossing Plymouth Road last year.
“Every accident that has taken place in the community since this ordinance has been changed, it has been pedestrians (putting) themselves in a position of danger because somebody was nice to stop for them,” Kunselman said. “Partly, that stopping was because we created a law that mandated driver courtesy.”
After a discussion among the councilmembers that was closed to the general public, Mayor John Hieftje (D) rebutted some of Kunselman’s arguments.
“There is no evidence to say that anyone has been damaged or hurt because our ordinance is slightly different,” he said.
Kunselman also sponsored legislation last year to amend Ann Arbor’s crosswalk legislation. The ordinance passed through the Council but was vetoed by Hieftje, who told the council during the discussion in December that “Changing the ordinance, I just don’t see a way how that can possibly help. I think the city is safer for pedestrians now than before.”
Hieftje, who was a vocal supporter of postponing the vote Monday, said he wanted to see what the state or the Council’s Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force would recommend.
“I think we should stop fiddling with this until some further action by either our Pedestrian Task Force or by the state,” he said.
Councilmember Sally Hart Petersen (D–Ward 2), who also supported delaying the vote, has been involved with State Rep. Adam Zemke’s (D–Ann Arbor) efforts to alter the state’s crosswalk rules. The Michigan Uniform Traffic Code requires drivers to stop or slow for pedestrians walking across a crosswalk, not pedestrians approaching the crosswalk.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to try and redo our ordinance again only to have it changed at the state level, and perhaps the state will come up with something that we can all agree on,” Petersen said.
She said she would like to see Ann Arbor wait for new state rules before approving another amendment to the city’s ordinance.
“What I would not want is for the city of Ann Arbor to again superimpose its own rules over the state’s rules,” she said.