A2 Crosswalk Repeal: To Be Vetoed

After  a lengthy public hearing and considerable debate, the city of Ann Arbor crosswalk law was modified on a 6-4 vote by the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 2, 2013 meeting. But immediately after the vote, mayor John Hieftje indicated that he would be exercising his power of veto on the change. The veto would leave in place a crosswalk law that requires motorists to stop, not just yield to pedestrians. And it further requires that motorists extend the right-of-way not just to pedestrians within a crosswalk, but also to those waiting at the curb or curb line of a ramp leading to a crosswalk.

The council had given initial approval to a complete repeal of the ordinance at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting – on a 9-2 vote, though some councilmembers at that time indicated that they would not be likely to support it on the final vote. The 6-4 final vote to amend the law without repealing it came at the council’s Dec. 2 meeting. But even that “compromise” version – offered by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) at the start of deliberations – is something that Hieftje announced immediately after the vote that he would veto.

The  compromise approved by the council left intact the existing language about motorists stopping, not just yielding. But the compromise limited the right-of-way to just those pedestrians within a crosswalk – that is, it did not extend the right-of-way to those standing at the curb.

The compromise reflected the wording of an ordinance used by Traverse City:

When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right-of-way to every pedestrian within a marked crosswalk …

The Ann Arbor local law, which has been in force for the last two years, differs in two ways from the state’s Uniform Traffic Code. First, under that  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 do not have the option to yield to a pedestrian by merely slowing down; instead, they are required to yield by stopping.

So here’s what the law will continue to say, when Hieftje vetoes the council’s Dec. 2 action:

10:148. Pedestrians crossing streets

(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian 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.

(b) 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.

(c) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway. (Corresponds to UTC rule 706)

For more detail on the evolution of the local law, see “Column: Why Did the Turkey Cross the Road?

Representatives of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, who advocated against repealing the crosswalk ordinance, contended that Traverse City police enforce “within a crosswalk” by including the curb. When The Chronicle interviewed Traverse City code enforcement officer Lloyd Morris by telephone, he indicated that a pedestrian merely standing at the curb, not in the roadway, would not be considered to be “within a crosswalk.” But he allowed that Traverse City enforces the language to mean that a pedestrian who is approaching the crosswalk with a clear intent to enter the roadway should be given the right-of-way. At the Ann Arbor city council’s Nov. 18 meeting, assistant city attorney Bob West had indicated that he didn’t interpret “within a crosswalk” to mean anything except the roadway.

At least some of the community debate on the topic has included the question of whether Ann Arbor’s ordinance is unique. On a national level, the ordinance language used in Boulder, Colorado includes more than just those pedestrians within a crosswalk:

A driver shall yield the right of way to every pedestrian on a sidewalk or approaching or within a crosswalk.

And in Seattle, a similar effect is achieved by defining the crosswalk to extend from the roadway through the curb to the opposite edge of the sidewalk:

‘Crosswalk’ means the portion of the roadway between the intersection area and a prolongation or connection of the farthest sidewalk line or in the event there are no sidewalks then between the intersection area and a line ten feet therefrom, except as modified by a marked crosswalk.

The council’s Dec. 2 meeting featured a public hearing on the topic lasting about 90 minutes, during which 38 people spoke. The council deliberated about an hour on the question before taking the 6-4 vote. Dissenting were mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Margie Teall (Ward 4) was absent.

For a detailed report of the public hearing and deliberations, see the crosswalk section of The Chronicle’s live updates filed during the Dec. 2 meeting.

Immediately after the vote, Hieftje announced that he’d be using his veto power.

The power of veto is somewhat unusual for a council-manager form of government like Ann Arbor’s – which employs a professional city administrator to manage the city’s affairs. The office of mayor is more akin to an at-large city councilmember, elected by all of the city’s electors, not just those from a single ward.

That Hieftje has never exercised his veto power is a common belief – one held even by many long-time political insiders. But based on city council minutes from early in his tenure as mayor, Hieftje once vetoed a change to the ordinance that regulates the city employees retirement system. The change involved a calculation of final average compensation. The council subsequently overrode that veto. Minutes indicate that the council voted for the ordinance change on April 16, 2001, the mayor vetoed it on April 23, 2001, and the overriding vote came at the council’s May 7, 2001 meeting.

At the Dec. 2 meeting, Hieftje indicated he’d file the veto well within the required time frame. That’s three days after the clerk presents him with the official proceedings of the council meeting, which must within come three days after a meeting of the council. From the city charter:

Within seventy-two hours, exclusive of Sundays and holidays, after a meeting of the Council, the Clerk shall present the record of the meeting to the Mayor for approval. Except in cases of appointment or removal of officers by the Council, the Mayor may disapprove, in whole or in part, any action taken by the Council by resolution, order, or otherwise. The Mayor shall file the disapproval and reasons therefor, in writing, with the Clerk within seventy-two hours, exclusive of Sundays and holidays, following presentation of the record to the Mayor. Such disapproval shall be reported by the Clerk at the next regular meeting of the Council or at a special meeting called for consideration thereof. Council action disapproved by the Mayor shall be of no effect, unless re-affirmed by the concurring vote of at least eight members of the Council within thirty days from the time such disapproval is reported by the Clerk.

The veto exercised by Hieftje in 2001 was overridden, but it’s very unlikely that this one would be. That would make it the first effective veto that Hieftje has cast in his entire tenure as mayor. He’d threatened to veto one of the votes required to approve the construction of the new police-courts building in 2007, but did not follow through on that.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.