Ann Arbor’s controversial pedestrian ordinance that some members of the community have attributed to several recent car accidents may soon be amended.

At the Ann Arbor City Council meeting last night, Council members Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) introduced a resolution to amend the city’s current pedestrian ordinance that was passed in July 2010.

The current ordinance requires that drivers stop for any pedestrian “approaching” a crosswalk, when no traffic signal is present. The proposed amendment would refine the ordinance to require that drivers stop if a pedestrian is “stopped at the curb or ramp leading to the cross walk” or in the crosswalk as already noted in the ordinance. The amendment also proposes some minor changes to a section of the ordinance that defines when a pedestrian may be impeding traffic.

The amended ordinance passed on first reading. Following a subsequent work session and a vote after a second reading, the ordinance might become law.

Taylor said many of his constituents have expressed concern that Ann Arbor is not pedestrian-friendly, and the amendment addresses those concerns.

“I believe that it advances public safety by providing pedestrians with the right of way without obligating them to enter the crosswalk, but it also provides drivers with much-needed clarity as to when they’re obligated to stop for pedestrians,” Taylor said.

Council member Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5) noted that the original ordinance was drafted as a result of a two-year research project and public input. He advised the council to be careful when altering the law.

“It’s useful to make sure that we keep in mind what we’re trying to accomplish here, which is … to ensure the safety of pedestrians,” Hohnke said, adding that pedestrians should not be asked to risk “life and limb” to use a crosswalk.

Hohnke said he wasn’t sure if the amendment addresses citizens’ concerns. He said he wants to leave the text of the ordinance unchanged.

“I’m much more confident in the language we earlier had, and it’s not clear to me that this addresses any particular challenge that we have,” Hohnke said. “We’re simply shifting the burden of discretion to the weaker party to which the heavier machines should be yielding.”

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said he believes the amendment offers clarification of the ordinance.

“We may have thought that ‘approaching’ was a term that had been used in other places and was working well,” Hieftje said. “Obviously not everyone considered it that same way.”

He added that input from community members has been particularly helpful to determine how to alter the ordinance.

While answering questions from council members last night, Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones noted that from Sept. 18 to Nov. 1 about 30 accidents in Ann Arbor involved pedestrians or bicyclists using a crosswalk. Though many residents have attributed several rear-end accidents to drivers’ confusion regarding the ordinance, Jones said pedestrians are not at fault for such collisions.

In the public commentary section of the meeting, Architecture and Urban Planning graduate student Joel Batterman, vice chair of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, praised the current pedestrian ordinance.

“The ordinance is working,” Batterman said. “A few months of education and enforcement will dramatically increase the proportion of folks stopping for pedestrians on our streets.”

Batterman, also a Michigan Daily columnist, said local media outlets have attributed rear-end crashes on Plymouth Road near North Campus directly to the ordinance. He noted, however, that pedestrian safety has been a long-standing problem. He referred to an accident in 2003 in which two University students were killed when they were hit by a pickup truck while attempting to cross the five-lane thoroughfare.

Batterman said while he believes the ordinance will protect pedestrians’ rights, drivers will need to embrace the changes for the ordinance to be effective.

“What’s been needed on Plymouth for years is greater awareness and better facilities,” Batterman said. “Not backpedaling on our commitment to pedestrian safety.”’

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