Ann Arbor Crosswalk Ordinance Mess Gets National Attention
by P.D. Lesko
On The Atlantic’s web site, writer Micki Maynard quotes David Askins of The AnnArborChronicle.com explaining how the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance mess has gotten so out of hand. Askins, with a straight face one presumes, sums up the political pile up thusly: “The basic idea that ‘I’m smarter than you’ is one that I think defines the character of Ann Arbor.”
AnnArbor.com, in a slightly more blunt summation, called those who had backed the ordinance, including politicos, as well as members of the Washtenaw Walking and Biking Coalition, “smug,” and called for significant changes to the law as quickly as possible. Smug is exactly the word to describe how Council members have responded to vociferous criticisms of the ordinance.
On October 13, 2011 Carsten Hohnke told AnnArbor.com:
“Anytime when you’re going through change in traffic engineering and traffic policy, there’s greater vulnerability to unintended consequences. You see the same thing when you put up stop signs at four-way intersections that used to have yield signs.” Hohnke noted similar pedestrian safety ordinances have been successful in other communities, including Boulder, Colo. “There’s always going to be this period of adjustment. But if you look at other communities in which these same or very similar ordinances exist, you see overwhelming evidence of communities being able to adapt to those changes.”
Two weeks later, on October 25, 2011, First Ward Council member Sabra Briere told AnnArbor.com “as far as she’s been able to determine, there’s been only one rear-end accident so far that’s resulted from a motorist stopping for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. She called that ‘not too bad’ considering neither driver was from Ann Arbor.”
Briere, one hopes would not have been so thoughtlessly cavalier had she been speaking directly to the resident who, in November, was involved in a a three-car crash in which she was slammed into from behind and propelled into the SUV in front of her—while stopped at a crosswalk. In speaking to AnnArbor.com, that resident called the crosswalk ordinance “poorly thought-out.”
By mid-November, after City Council members asked police to step up enforcement of the year old ordinance, there had been eight reported rear end crashes directly related to the crosswalk ordinance, and in December the readers of The Atlantic were chuckling over the sheer stupidity of elected officials who, Maynard took a moment to point out, govern in “the smartest city in the country – at least according to a new study by The Business Journals.”
Like Hohnke, who took pains to point to Boulder, Colorado’s implementation of a similar ordinance, John Hieftje has been using Boulder as an example, as well, of why resident should “adapt” to the ordinance.
Maynard takes the facile argument apart easily. She writes:
Supporters of Ann Arbor’s law, including the city’s mayor, contend that the ordinance in Boulder, home to a branch of the University of Colorado, was a good model for the home of the University of Michigan.
But Ann Arbor’s situation has some unique characteristics.
For one, Michigan law requires only that cars stop for people who have already entered a crosswalk, something generations of students have learned in driver’s education.
For another, Ann Arbor is a city whose streets are frequently populated with out of town visitors, whether students at the University of Michigan, their parents or the tens of thousands of football fans who descend for games at The Big House.
As it turns out, Hieftje and Hohnke have to share credit for the political car wreck that is now giving people nationwide a good laugh at Ann Arbor’s expense. City staffer Eli Cooper, transportation program manager for the City of Ann Arbor, told the Michigan Daily in September 2011 that he “began the planning process for the ordinance last fall, when there was a Pedestrian Forum led by the Washtenaw Walking and Biking Coalition.” Cooper went on to predict what would happen when enforcement was stepped up. He predicted in September 2011 that, “Over time, the Ann Arbor community will continue to provide awareness and future targeted enforcement activities in order to really raise pedestrians’ comfort as they enter crosswalks.”
Hardly. Three months later, City Council members and John Hieftje are scrambling to clean up the mess.
Pete Bigelow, who jumped ship from AnnArbor.com several months ago to write for Changing Gears, posted a piece on December 2, 2011 about Ann Arbor’s crosswalk law. He writes, “Now comes another story, perhaps of once city’s overreach in an earnest effort to become more friendly for pedestrians. Council members in Ann Arbor, Michigan passed an ordinance last year that mandated motorists stop if they think pedestrians are approaching the street, even if they haven’t yet entered the road. The change doesn’t jibe with state law, and has resulted in confusion, a fierce backlash and, in at least eight cases, rear-end crashes at crosswalks.”
Micki Maynard, it turns out, is a senior editor at Changing Gears, and lives in Ann Arbor. She summed up the multi-car pile up that has been John Hieftje and Fifth Ward Council member Carsten Hohnke’s pedestrian crosswalk ordinance in The Atlantic thusly: “The ordinance might seem like a trivial matter in a place where 72 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees. But the debate may exemplify John Fowle’s view that duty largely consists of pretending the trivial is critical.”
Of course, when you think you’re smarter than everyone else, duty can be seen as a triviality.
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