Thursday, November 10, 2011

Repealing the pedestrian safety ordinance

UPDATE: @Homeless Dave (see comment number 3) has informed us that the latest draft text is somewhat different:
The draft added today to the agenda, reads in relevant part: "stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way if a pedestrian is stopped at the curb or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian approaching or within a crosswalk, without regard to which portion of the roadway the pedestrian is using."

This sounds a lot better. It removes much of the ambiguity present in the original law.

Gentle readers, I received an email last night from occasional Damn Arbor contributor, Joel Batterman. Joel asked me to help spread the message about the proposal tonight to amend/repeal portions of Ann Arbor's pedestrian safety ordinance

Here are my thoughts on the current ordinance. Generally speaking, it's a good law. It makes it safer to be a pedestrian and forces drivers to yield to pedestrians wishing to cross at designated crosswalks. This provides an incentive to walk by making it easier to cross in many places. Since the "education" and enforcement period for the law began, for example, I have had a much easier time crossing Observatory at Washington Heights. That said, I am still confronted by cars that do not yield even once I am have entered the crosswalk.

There has been a lot of complaining (take for example, the comments on this article) about how dangerous it is for drivers to yield to pedestrians approaching crosswalks because they might be rear-ended by the cars behind them. This has been especially true for Plymouth Road where the speed limit is 45 mph. Let's keep in mind something we all learned in driver education, if you are following another car, it is your responsibility to maintain a safe following distance. The driver in front of you should be able to slam on the brakes with out you rear ending them. If you do, it's your own damn fault. Failure of drivers to maintain safe following distance on busy roads is not the fault of the pedestrian crossing ordinance.

That said, I think there were issues with how this law was implemented. First, on busier roads with higher speed limits, it might have been good to build HAWK Walks at some of the crossings. Second, the City did a pretty poor job communicating the specifics of the pedestrian safety ordinance. We need to keep in mind that Ann Arbor is a regional center with tens of thousands of commuters coming into the city every day. I think some signage about the ordinance at crosswalks and at major entrances to the city could have helped people adapt to the new status quo more easily.

Ultimately, I think it will be a reactionary step backwards if the ordinance to amend/repeal the pedestrian safety ordinance. There has been far too actual data about the impacts of this law in the debate. If you feel strongly about the ordinance (I don't really care if you agree with me or not, please email your city council person.

Here is Joel's email in full:
At tomorrow's Ann Arbor City Council meeting, two members of Council will put forward a proposal to repeal the City's pedestrian safety ordinance, which requires cars to stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street at crosswalks without traffic signals.

During the three months since education and enforcement began, the ordinance has already changed Ann Arbor's traffic culture dramatically. Rates of drivers stopping for pedestrians have increased by a factor of five. Unfortunately, sensational media coverage of rear-end crashes - especially on Plymouth Road - has some calling for a return to the days when people had to put themselves in harm's way to get across the street (video).

We can't let that happen. We need to fix problems at places like Plymouth - where two UM students had to die before crosswalks got installed - with better engineering and education, not by going back to the law of the jungle.

There's no time to waste. E-mail City Council today. Thank them for their leadership in unanimously adopting this ordinance; urge them to table the misguided repeal proposal; and ask them to make the streets safer for everyone through engineering and education. Their e-mails:;;;;;;;;;;

Two minutes of your time can make a huge difference for safe streets in our community. Please see the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition Facebook page for updates and more information, and spread the word to your friends in any way you can.

Many thanks,

Joel Batterman
UM Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Vice-Chair, Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition

Keeping crosswalks in perspective
Much ado about crossing


  1. Thanks for sharing, Joel & Ben. I just emailed the Mayor & the Councilmen from my ward.

  2. Here here. Just emailed them myself.

  3. I think the characterization of one of the drafts as a "repeal" is unfortunate. It's not an accurate way to describe the elimination of two-words in a multi-section ordinance.

    If you review the "original" ordinance against the changes made back in 2010, there are essentially three elements the council added to the existing pedestrian safety ordinance at that time: (1) "stop" versus "slow down" (2) elimination of mention of roadway halves (3) "approaching" versus "within."

    Of those three elements, the draft placed initially (on Wednesday) placed on Thursday's agenda would have amended out number (3).

    The rest of the wording changes don't have a substantive impact, but rather attempt greater precision and clarity of what was already intended by the language as it stood after the 2010 revision.

    The draft added today to the agenda, reads in relevant part: "stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way if a pedestrian is stopped at the curb or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian approaching or within a crosswalk, without regard to which portion of the roadway the pedestrian is using."

    This language, in my view, is an improvement over the relatively vague "approaching" language:

    (1) "if a pedestrian is _stopped_" offers the same clarity that the council previously achieved on the question of cars "stopping" versus "slowing as to yield"
    (2) "if a pedestrian is _stopped_" places an equitable burden on pedestrians to exercise caution before entering the crosswalk. You can't reasonably expect to walk along without ever breaking stride.
    (3) "if a pedestrian is _stopped_" places a fair and reasonable burden on every user of the crosswalk, because it does not require that a crosswalk user do "something special" like raise their hand, something that disabled people might not be able to do easily.
    (4) "at the curb or ramp" offers similar flexibility to the "approaching" language, because it does not require that someone be exactly, for example, "within the area of the sidewalk defined by extending imaginary lines of the cross walk past the curb" or some such weirdly (but precisely) defined area.

  4. @HD Thanks for the info. I agree with you regarding the wording of the draft added today.