Council and Caucus: Pedestrian Agenda

Also: re-vote on parking garage bonds not being considered
 Looking west crosswalk of Liberty at Crest

The crosswalk on Liberty Street, looking west at Crest. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Aug. 16, 2009): Sunday evening’s lightly attended city council caucus reflected a light agenda for Monday. But light as that agenda is, it had not been published in the newspaper – as one caucus attendee pointed out to the three councilmembers present: Mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Even though the agenda itself is dominated with items like perfunctory rezoning – pedestrian in the sense of “ordinary” –  there’s a presentation to be made at the start of the meeting by Sue McCormick, director of public services for the city, that should draw some community interest. She’ll be giving council an update on the East Stadium Bridge situation. The bridge needs to be repaired or replaced.

At caucus, then, residents and councilmembers were free to focus on some items not on Monday’s schedule. And one common theme cutting across two different resident concerns as well as council discussion were pedestrian issues – pedestrian in the sense of folks on foot.

In other brief discussion, councilmembers indicated, in response to a question, that they had not contemplated re-voting the issuance of bonds that would fund the underground parking garage. The legality of the council’s February vote authorizing the bonds has been challenged by a lawsuit filed last week, which contends that the council violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act on the evening it approved the bonds.

Also at caucus, councilmembers gave a public indication that they were contemplating possible council rules changes that would affect how email communications are handled during council meetings.

Pedestrian Issues


King Elementary School Crosswalk

One audience member asked for an update on the installation of a crosswalk at King Elementary School, which she’d inquired about at a previous caucus meeting. Hieftje indicated that he had no new information yet, but did not expect that anything would happen before school started in the fall.

The resident told the mayor that city staff, in conversation with her, had expressed an interest in seeing the Ann Arbor Public Schools take responsibility for shoveling snow off the sidewalk in the winter.

Pedestrian Right-of-Way Ordinance

Another audience member reported having attending a recent public meeting about installation of a pedestrian refuge island at 7th and Washington. He suggested that while refuge islands and roundabouts might help a particular intersection, it would be more effective to think about the broader educational goal of reminding motorists of the ordinance that gives pedestrians the right-of-way. Signs of the kind that Traverse City uses, he said, would be a step in the right direction.

By way of background, the pedestrian right-of-way ordinance in Ann Arbor reads as follows:

10:148. Pedestrians crossing streets.

(a) No pedestrian shall cross a street at a location other than at a crosswalk into which vehicle traffic is then restricted by a traffic control device unless such crossing may be done safely and without interfering with motor vehicle and bicycle traffic on that street.

(b) No operator of a motor vehicle or bicycle shall interfere with pedestrian or bicycle traffic in a crosswalk into which vehicle traffic is then restricted by a traffic control device.

(c) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger, but a pedestrian shall not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into a path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.

The ordinance itself has been criticized in recent months on the Washenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition Google Group for not providing right-of-way to pedestrians in the whole crosswalk. Wrote Matt G.:

Carsten Hohnke is working hard to have our pedestrian ordinance changed to provide right-of-way in the entire crosswalk (anything less is NOT actually a right-of-way). It’s a great place to start. We need to show him support by helping to educate other council members and city staff.

Hohnke is one of two representatives from Ward 5 to the city council.

At caucus, Hieftje said that the 7th and Washington intersection warranted specific attention, but that the broader educational angle was one that the city was also pursuing. He pointed out that the city had allocated $10,000 for non-motorized safety education. That funding was authorized at council’s June 15, 2009 meeting.

Hieftje reiterated what Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, had said at the June 1, 2009 council meeting about one fundamental challenge of motorist education in Ann Arbor:  Half of the drivers on the roads of Ann Arbor don’t live here.

Alley to the east of the McKinley Towne-Hall Centre from Ann Arbor city planning staff report.

Alley to the east of the McKinley Towne-Hall Centre, shown in an Ann Arbor city planning staff report. (Image links to larger version).

Mid-Block Cut-Through

During caucus discussion among councilmembers, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported to her colleagues that she’d had a meeting with Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Ray Detter, who’s president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, and  Steve Kaplan about the alley to the west of the Liberty Square (Tally Hall).

Some background on the alley. At its Jan. 7, 2008 meeting, the city council approved a PUD rezoning for McKinley Towne Centre-Liberty at 515 E. Liberty St.

The planning commission deliberations on the issue included considerable discussion of closure of the alley on the west side of the parcel that was proposed for the PUD by the petitioner.

The planning staff report includes an analysis of the alley on the east side of the parcel as an alternative pedestrian path from Liberty to Washington:

Staff finds that this alley does offer pedestrians a mid-block passage between East Liberty and East Washington Streets, but only for those “in the know.” It does provide a useful function and makes closing the existing alley on the west side of the proposed PUD site less concerning. However, it is not an ideal space to safely convey pedestrians, mostly because of the portion that is the theater loading dock. Staff would be concerned about promoting its use for the general public.

Alley between Washington and Liberty downtown Ann Arbor

Looking north from Liberty Street down the alley to Washington Street. The black posts at the alley's entrance are bollards. (Photo by the writer.)

Briere said there was concern that the bollards that had now been installed would cause people to perceive the alley as not public. She was also concerned that any delivery trucks entering the alley from Washington Street to service the new retail locations would have to back their way out onto Washington.

Briere also wondered if an alley that was lined its entire width with cafe tables – one possible use if the adjoining retail space just built by McKinley houses a restaurant – would be conducive to conveying pedestrians between Liberty and Washington.

The bollards that have been installed can be removed – there’s a bolt visible at the base – but are not the kind that can simply be run over by an emergency vehicle if that need should arise, Briere said.

Parking Garage Bonds

The recent lawsuit filed by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center against the city of Ann Arbor contends that the city council violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act when it authorized the issuance of general obligation bonds at its Feb. 17 meeting. The suit asks for declaratory relief that in part invalidates that council decision:

(c) Enter an order which invalidates City Council’s approval of the site plan for the Parking Garage and the bonding to fund the project which occurred at its meeting on February 17, 2009 ;

At its July 20, 2009 meeting, council authorized a change from tax-free municipal bonds to taxable bonds – the increased cost being more than offset by the Build America Bond Program. The Chronicle had inquired at the July 19 caucus whether that change would require an additional 45-day window, during which citizens would have the opportunity to circulate a petition that – if successful in achieving signatures from 10% of registered voters – would force a voter referendum on the bond issuance.

When the council considered the matter at its July 20 meeting, Briere explained that night that they’d learned no additional 45-day period would be required, because it had been satisfied with the Feb. 17 vote. But what if the council on July 20 had simply taken a new vote on the bond issuance? That vote would have taken out of play the contention in GLELC’s lawsuit that the Feb. 17 vote was not valid.

Council could conceivably re-vote the bond issue even now, as a strategy to take the financial piece of the equation out of jeopardy. So the question The Chronicle asked the three councilmembers present was: Has anyone given any consideration to undertaking such a re-vote?

They had not contemplated such a re-vote themselves, nor were they aware that anyone else had, either.

Possible Council Rule Changes

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who chairs the council’s rules committee, had asked Briere to request that a work session be held on the topic of council ethics and rules. Briere reported that she’d done that.  However, the next available work session would be in October. September’s work session is already committed to a joint meeting with planning commission on A2D2 zoning. October was a long time to wait, said Briere.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated his preference for just putting the rules changes on the agenda for the council’s Sept. 8 meeting and discussing them at the table. Briere said she’d like to get a draft of the proposed rules changes out and available for people to look at as soon as possible. Hieftje said he thought that should be possible as early as next Tuesday.

The rule changes, Briere indicated, would address email, as well as an issue with newspaper publication of notices and agendas. Council will likely eliminate its own rule that requires it to publish its agenda in the local newspaper.  The FY 2010 budget, which council adopted earlier this year, aimed to save $15,000 by no longer publishing the counci’s agenda in the newspaper.

Notices Published in Newspapers

One resident addressed councilmembers on the issue of publication of notices and agendas in the newspaper. She noted that public hearings for the planning commission and the historic district commission had been published in “the Sunday paper, such as we have now,” but that the city council agenda had not been published there.

She said  the public hearings for planning were required by the city code. She’s right – from Chapter 57 of the code for the city of Ann Arbor:

A written notice shall be sent to the petitioner and to the property owners and residents within 300 feet of the boundary of the property not less than 10 days before the Planning Commission hearing indicating the time, date and location of the hearing. A notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation at least 7 days before the hearing. [emphasis added]

And council has a rule that requires the publication of its agenda:

The approved agenda for all meetings of Council, including Work Sessions, shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the City no later than the Sunday prior to each meeting, except those meetings called less than six days prior to a meeting.

The caucus attendee suggested that the reason council did not publish its agenda was because it cost a lot of money to publish it. Based on the budget discussions earlier in the year, that’s in fact the case.

The caucus attendee also pointed out that the definition of what counted as a newspaper required that it have been published at least a year, in order to qualify as “legitimate.” Here’s the state statue statute to which she was alluding – MCLA 691.1051:

The term “newspaper” as used in any statute of this state, except the revised judicature act of 1961 relative to the publication of a notice of any kind, shall be construed to refer only to a newspaper published in the English language for the dissemination of local or transmitted news and intelligence of a general character or for the dissemination of legal news, which

(a) has a bona fide list of paying subscribers or has been published at not less than weekly intervals in the same community without interruption for at least 2 years, and

(b) has been published and of general circulation at not less than weekly intervals without interruption for at least 1 year in the county, township, city, village or district where the notice is required to be published. A newspaper shall not lose eligibility for interruption of continuous publication because of acts of God, labor disputes or because of military service of the publisher for a period of not to exceed 2 years and provided publication is resumed within 6 months following the termination of such military service,

(c) annually averages at least 25% news and editorial content per issue. The term “news and editorial content” for the purpose of this section means any printed matter other than advertising.


  1. By David
    August 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm | permalink

    The intersection of Scio Church and Maple (right before the bridge that goes over 94) is one the city should look at in terms of driver education and possibly other actions. I often cross at this intersection on my way to the Ice Cube or a return trip from the Ice Cube. The drivers at that intersection hardly ever obey the crosswalk or Walk light. The cross walk is in a N-S (or S-N direction depending upon your relative position. There are frequent conflicts with drivers turning right from Scio Church onto Maple or drivers during left from Maple to Scio Church. I have had several close calls and am frequently yelled at by drivers when I attempt to impose my right-of-way.

  2. By Mark S.
    August 18, 2009 at 9:24 am | permalink

    South State at Briarwood is in desperate need of some way for pedestrians to cross safely. Most of the hotels, filled with out of town visitors, are to the east while the mall and most of the restaurants are on the west side. It’s very common at rush hour (5-6:30) to see a gaggle of professionals trying to dodge traffic getting across.

  3. By Duane Collicott
    August 18, 2009 at 9:53 am | permalink

    South State at Briarwood need a complete re-work, not just for pedestrians. The whole traffic pattern there is an afterthought, apparently created through time as it was developed, without any overall plan.

  4. By mr dairy
    August 18, 2009 at 10:10 am | permalink

    The changes to S State and E Liberty intersection have resulted in one of the most dangerous pedestrian intersections in the city.

    With the on street parking, buildings close to the corners and the number of pedestrians in the area makes it very difficult for drivers to get through the intersection with the way the lights are timed.

    The many pedestrians, some oblivious and more of them frustrated by the traffic and poor timing of the lights cross against the light adding to the hazards.

    How much have merchants benefited from the changes they requested when weighed against the hazards to pedestrians and cyclists? How many accidents have happened at that intersection? Do merchants profits outweigh public safety?

    One option there is to have all car traffic stop completely at all three lights for a specified time and pedestrians to use the entire intersection for crossing.

  5. August 18, 2009 at 1:46 pm | permalink

    Now that #4 (Mr. Dairy) mentions the South State Street intersection, I would like to add my support to his points–not only for the E. Liberty crossing but also for the N. University intersection with S. State. I have been concerned about this general area since the traffic pattern was changed. This is a major, major street crossing location for students and many other pedestrians, but the traffic lights are so poorly timed that people are tempted to jaywalk to beat the light rather than wait until the next one. And the cars that turn just as people are crossing, make traversing S. State doubly hazardous. The advantage should be given to pedestrians in this central campus location. I like the option of having “…all car traffic stop completely at all three lights for a specified time and pedestrians…use the entire intersection for crossing.” That would be a forward-thinking plan of action.

  6. By Trevor Staples
    August 18, 2009 at 3:20 pm | permalink

    The above comments are exactly why I brought the issue to caucus on Sunday. We are constantly concentrating on certain intersections, when the problem for pedestrians trying to cross streets is city wide. We need to have an organized effort to educate the public about the law. Putting up signs would be a good first step. Many communities give pedestrians the right of way and the drivers follow the rules. Ann Arbor (and visiting out-of-town) drivers are smart enough to follow the rules… if they know them.

    If we “fix” half of the intersections in town, we still have half the city with pedestrian crossings that are unfriendly to pedestrians. Let’s try the easiest fix first, which would work city-wide: citizen education.

  7. August 18, 2009 at 3:36 pm | permalink

    All good comments. Council passed a rule a little while ago giving pedestrians the right-of-way at pedestrian crossings, but I am not quite sure how that works. I was almost rear-ended when I first moved here because in California a pedestrian in the crosswalk has right of way. I stopped for some pedestrians and the car behind me barely stopped in time.

    I almost did a stopped-watched item yesterday when I saw this: two mothers with three small children waited for some minutes to cross Beakes near Kerrytown, while cars whizzed past. Finally they put their feet into the road near the curb, and a car coming up actually came to a full stop, inhibiting the rest of the traffic so they were able to cross.

  8. By kay
    August 21, 2009 at 11:07 am | permalink

    I am thrilled to see that there has been some discussion about the issue of pedestrian crossings. I recently moved here from Cambridge, MA, and I was appalled by the rudeness of drivers as well as cyclists in this town. It is next to impossible to cross in a crosswalk that is not at an intersection, and even at intersections I’ve had to jump out of the way of drivers who seem to think that stopping for more than a second is too great of an inconvenience. My boyfriend was actually almost hit by a policeman (who was also talking on a cell phone, I might add) at the intersection of E Huron and Third. Another problem that I’ve had here is with cyclists driving in the sidewalks in the downtown area. I’m not sure what the law is here about cyclists riding on sidewalks (it’s illegal in Cambridge), but even if it’s allowed here, cyclists need to show more courtesy to pedestrians. It’s inconsiderate and unsafe to expect pedestrians to dodge your bike when you could just have easily driven momentarily on another part of the sidewalk. If everyone could be reminded of the rules of the road (perhaps signs at every crosswalk and intersection), it would make the town a safer place for pedestrians and hopefully have the added benefit of encouraging more people to walk – which is both better for your health and better for the environment than driving.

  9. August 23, 2009 at 9:47 pm | permalink

    It used to be illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk here, as it is in many parts of the country, but that law was changed some time ago (maybe 20 years). The law does require bikes on the sidewalk to yield to pedestrians and to sound their bell when passing, but most bikers don’t seem to do this.

    The best solution at State from Washington to William would be to ban cars from this entire area, but I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. Meanwhile, more pedestrian friendly signal timing would help a lot. Cycle times should be kept to 60 seconds max, and pedestrian lights should be green a significant portion of the cycle time (it’s as little as 5% of the cycle now for some of the signals).

  10. By KJMClark
    August 25, 2009 at 8:00 am | permalink

    “Hieftje reiterated what Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, had said at the June 1, 2009 council meeting about one fundamental challenge of motorist education in Ann Arbor: Half of the drivers on the roads of Ann Arbor don’t live here.”

    This is often repeated and utterly beside the point. We don’t enforce our crosswalk laws at all. When was the last time a motorist was ticketed for failing to yield to a pedestrian that wasn’t the result of a pedestrian being hit? How many crosswalk sting operations have the police conducted in the past decade? There is no motorist education, and there is no enforcement either, when it comes to crosswalks.

    If we actually tried enforcement, the word would get out pretty quickly that, like other communities around the country that care about pedestrian safety, pedestrians really do have right of way. What the mayor should have said is that it does no good to change the ordinance, since the police won’t enforce anything other than the status quo.