Pedestrian Task Force Funding Delayed

A proposal to appropriate $197,250 to fund the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force has been postponed by the Ann Arbor city council. Action to postpone the resolution until April 7 came at the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting.

In the meantime, the task force will likely be meeting before the resolution comes back to the council. Indications at the March 3 meeting were that the budget for the task force and the scope of work for staff and consultant support could change considerably.

The total amount proposed to be appropriated for the task force project budget is $197,250. That amount includes an “estimated $122,500” as the approximate cost of the anticipated city staff effort for the project. The total project budget includes $77,400 for a professional services agreement with Project Innovations Inc.

The funds are to be sourced in part from an allocation made during the May 20, 2013 budget deliberations, which appropriated $75,000 for a study to prioritize sidewalk gap elimination. The connection between sidewalk gaps and the task force’s work is based in part on one of the other resolved clauses establishing the task force: “… the task force will also address sidewalk gaps and create a tool for setting priorities for funding and filling those gaps; …”

The pedestrian safety and access task force was established through a council resolution passed on Nov. 18, 2013. Confirmed as members of the task force on Jan. 21, 2014 were: Vivienne Armentrout, Neal Elyakin, Linda Diane Feldt, Jim Rees, Anthony Pinnell, Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Kenneth Clark, Scott Campbell, and Owen Jansson.

Another key resolved clause establishing the group’s scope of work includes the following: “… the task force will explore strategies to improve pedestrian safety and access within a framework of shared responsibility through community outreach and data collection, and will recommend to council improvements in the development and application of the Complete Streets model, using best practices, sound data and objective analysis.”

The responsibilities of the task force include delivery of a report a year from now – in February 2015.

The funding for the task force is in part to be used to pay for the $77,400 contract with Project Innovations Inc. to provide facilitator support to the task force.

According to a staff memo written in response to councilmember questions, the facilitator would assist with an anticipated 18 task force meetings, 24 resource group (staff) meetings, five stakeholder meetings and three public meetings. The facilitator would be “preparing materials and agendas; facilitating the meetings; summarizing the meetings; facilitating communication and discussions between, and among, the task force members and the resource group; and, developing materials for community outreach in addition to the actual public meetings, including content for press releases and web page publishing, and a community survey.”

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, a “team of staff members has identified Project Innovations, Inc. as a firm in the region that has demonstrated skill in task force facilitation and robust community engagement efforts, and is uniquely qualified with the capacity to facilitate the pedestrian safety and access task force’s rigorous work approach within the specified timeframe.” Based on the phrasing in the memo, the work appears not to have been put out to bid and Project Innovations was identified as a “sole source” provider.

Project Innovations is the same firm currently providing facilitation support to a citizens advisory committee that is attached to a sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study being conducted by the city.

The resolution establishing the task force does not explicitly charge the group with a review of the city’s crosswalk law. But the pedestrian safety task force was established in the same time frame as the council was considering an amendment to the city’s crosswalk law. The council ultimately voted to change the language of that law at its Dec. 2, 2013 meeting – so that motorists were required to concede the right-of-way only to pedestrians who had already entered the crosswalk.

That change was subsequently vetoed by mayor John Hieftje. Drawing on the phrasing used in Hieftje’s statement of veto, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) has indicated he intends to bring forward an amendment that would require motorists to stop at crosswalks for pedestrians only if “they can do so safely.” At the council’s Feb. 18, 2014 meeting, Kunselman announced he’d be pursuing such an amendment.

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: [link]