The remarkable coincidence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving this year hardly compares with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine a standard child’s turkey joke with a change to a local crosswalk law – which will be considered by Ann Arbor city council at its post-holiday meeting on Dec. 2.
In broad strokes, the Ann Arbor city council first enacted a local crosswalk ordinance in 2008. The law was supposed to explain how motorists and pedestrians should interact at crosswalks. In 2010 the council modified the law, and in 2011 gave it a further tweak. After those revisions, for the last two years, Ann Arbor local law has differed from the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC) rule in two ways.
First, under current local law, motorists in Ann Arbor are supposed to yield the right-of-way to those pedestrians not just “within a crosswalk” but also to those who are “stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk.” Second, when driving toward a crosswalk, motorists in Ann Arbor don’t have the option to yield to a pedestrian by merely slowing down; instead they’re required to yield by stopping.
The proposal the council will consider for final approval would scrap the whole section of the city code, reverting to a reliance on the UTC – which allows slowing for pedestrians, stopping only when necessary, and does not apply to any pedestrians other than those within a crosswalk.
A council majority of six members is currently supporting the repeal – Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – with five of them sponsoring it. According to sources from both groups, backchannel discussion has included the possibility of a compromise on Dec. 2 that would leave in place the requirement to stop, but would still confine the motorist’s responsibility to yield to just those pedestrians within the crosswalk. The regular city council Sunday caucus has been shifted from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. to allow for better attendance to discuss the crosswalk ordinance.
Given the historical background of the 2010 change, I’m not sure that the compromise solution makes much logical sense. And I think that the current words on the page – which extend the right-of-way to pedestrians at the curb – more nearly reflect the kind of community to which we should aspire.
But that sort of compromise might offer a chance for us as a community to stop (not just slow down) fighting about words on the page and to give full gas to education and enforcement. And I’m for that, especially in the context of the pedestrian safety task force that the council established on Nov. 18. Members of the task force will be appointed at the Dec. 16 meeting based on applications received by Dec. 2.
This sort of “compromise” could serve the same function as gravy at a Thanksgiving dinner: You load up a plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and then, when the green bean casserole is passed your way, you take some of that too, because Aunt Dorothy (rest in peace) is looking right at you and it’d be impolite to refuse, even though green bean casserole is flat-out gross, so you ladle that “compromise gravy” over that heap of food, you clean your plate, and everybody can focus on the task at hand – which includes talking about how good everything tastes.
With or without a compromise, and with or without a repeal, the pedestrian safety task force work is going to be informed by a veritable Thanksgiving feast of data on pedestrian crashes. In response to city council requests, staff have compiled all manner of charts, graphs and maps. And that’s the main purpose of this column: to serve up the compilation of all that data. [.pdf of all charts, graphs and maps]
Based on those reports, I don’t think it’s possible to draw conclusions about any impact the current ordinance might have had on safety – good, bad or indifferent. But a lot of insight from these reports can be gained that might help inform the task force’s activity as they work toward a February 2015 deadline for delivering recommendations to the council.
For readers who are not familiar with the joke answer to the question posed in the headline of this column, it’s provided below. That punchline follows a more detailed history of the local ordinance since 2008, several colorful charts and graphs, and a photograph of former Ward 4 councilmember Marcia Higgins wearing a tiara.