The Ann Arbor City Council attempted to come one step closer to solving the city’s evident pedestrian safety issues Monday night.
The city council approved the first reading of the ordinance to repeal the city’s crosswalk ordinance, which has been criticized for conflicting with the state traffic code.
Only Mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) and Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) voted not to approve the first reading.
The ordinance differs from the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code in that Ann Arbor’s code adds that a driver must stop at a crosswalk even if a pedestrian is on the curb waiting to cross a street. The state code explains that drivers should yield the right-of-way when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching closely from the opposite site of the freeway
Should the ordinance pass, the driver of any vehicle would no longer be legally obliged to stop at pedestrian crossings or yield to pedestrians waiting to walk. It would mean that drivers must stop only when a pedestrian is actively crossing in a crosswalk.
Craig Hupy, the city’s interim public services area administrator, told the council that the repeal would not change where and how they place crosswalks, but it would change how signs around crosswalks are marked, as well as how they mark the crosswalks themselves.
The repeal is currently sponsored by Councilmembers Sally Hart Petersen (D–Ward 2), Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3). The original resolution to repeal the ordinance was backed by Hieftje, but he later rescinded his sponsorship.
Lumm echoed the sentiments of many on city council, as well as of many residents, noting the confusion between the standardized traffic code for the state and Ann Arbor’s.
“By having a local ordinance in Ann Arbor that’s unique in Michigan,” Lumm said. “We are asking for trouble and placing folks at an unnecessary risk — risk caused in part by the confusion caused by having a unique ordinance coupled with a pedestrians-rule mindset that creates a false sense of security for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Petersen said the average number of pedestrian crashes significantly increased between 2009 and 2012 the current ordinance’s passage. While that may not be due to the ordinance, she said city council should be able to agree that safety did not increase under the ordinance as it was supposed to.
“It is too dangerous to arm pedestrians with the notion that they rule,” Petersen said. “It just hasn’t worked.”
Taylor responded to the argument that the two might be related, stating that nothing is inherently unsafe about the current language of the ordinance.
Kailasapathy said the problem with the proposed solutions to the traffic issues is that they often ignore the need for a larger police force — something she hopes the council will consider that option in the future.
“Whenever the issue of hiring more police comes up, we always seem to hear that level one crimes are down, and there’s really no need for more police hires,” Kailasapathy said. “This just shows that there are other quality of life issues involved here such as pedestrian safety and making sure that speeding limits are enforced.”
Kailasapathy further noted that the repeal of the ordinance is simply step one, and that other steps will need be taken to ensure safety through means of infrastructure and enforcement.
Safety on Seventh, a group founded by Ann Arbor resident Chris Hewett, is composed of residents that attempt to inform other residents of the traffic problems and pedestrian safety issues in Ann Arbor. Hewett and his group argue that most of the safety issues stem from a lack of enforcement of traffic laws, mainly speeding.
Hewett told the council Monday night before the vote that the lack of respect for pedestrians has become alarming and will continue to be a problem —regardless of the council’s decision on the ordinance.
“The fact is the city of Ann Arbor still has major traffic and pedestrian issues that must be addressed,” Hewett said. “Personally, I find it disgusting that Ann Arbor continues to allow pedestrians to be hit and cars to drive at speeds upwards of 70 miles per hour on our neighborhood streets.