Monday, July 15, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: July 15, 2019

Damn Arbor logo by Jon Wilcox

Gentle reader, it's Council Night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda for all you #a2council-heads out there. There is some good stuff on the docket tonight including several sidewalk assessments and a potential mayoral veto override. Let's take a look, shall we?

The agenda kicks off with an 18 item consent agenda. CA-8, Barton Dr. Sidewalk Special Assessment Resolution 1, is the first sidewalk item of the evening. Of late, lots of sidewalk items have been pulled from the agenda, so if I were a betting man, I would guess this might get pulled tonight. This item would appropriate $25,000 from the General Fund Balance for staff to prepare plans, specifications, and cost estimates to fill sidewalk gaps along the north side of Barton Drive from M-14 ramp to Starwick Drive.

After the consent agenda we have 4 public hearings. PH-1 is on the second reading of the ordinance to amend the city's rules for purchasing, contracting, and selling. PH-2 is resolution no. 4 confirming a single lot assessment for a sidewalk along the south side of Argo Road. The Property at 1425 Pontiac Trail would be assessed. The owners of the property are arguing they should not be assessed for the sidewalk. PH-3 is resolution no. 4 for a sidewalk special assessment for properties along the south side of Scio Church between 7th and Main. PH-4 is resolution no. 4 to establish a Special Assessment District for the Dhu Varren Sidewalk Improvements Project. See, lots on sidewalks.

In the ordinance first readings, C-1 is a conditional rezoning of 325 E Summit from C1B (Community Convenience Center District) to C1A (Campus Business District). This is to allow for a 4 story apartment building called The Garnet.

The spiciest chili pepper on tonight's agenda is DC-3, a resolution to override the Mayor's veto of r-19-325, which would have put charter amendment before voters to change Ann Arbor's elections to non-partisian.

Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Zero Vision: Ann Arbor's Promotion of Driver Convenience Over Pedestrian Safety

A pedestrian cautiously crossing Plymouth Rd at a mid-block crosswalk
A pedestrian crosses Plymouth Road at an RRFB-controlled crosswalk

In 2010 the Ann Arbor City Council, led by Mayor John Hieftje, enacted an ordinance requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians entering the crosswalk. Soon after, Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons (RRFBs) began to appear at major mid-block crosswalks, alerting drivers that a pedestrian was entering the roadway. It was a first bold step towards making Ann Arbor the most progressive city in Michigan in terms of prioritizing pedestrian access. Now, with many new faces on City Council, some of that progress is in danger of being reversed.

Bypassing Local Control

On March 18th 2019, City Council Members Kathy Griswold and Elizabeth Nelson proposed to change the local ordinance. The new ordinance would require pedestrians to enter the roadway before cars would be compelled to stop. Council voted to send this change to the disability and transit commissions, where it was roundly criticized by both local disability and pedestrian advocates. Under pressure from the community, the proposal was pulled from consideration.

After failing to pass the proposal locally, CM Griswold sought the help of State Representative Ronnie Peterson (D-Ypsilanti) who recently introduced HB 4738.

HB 4738 mirrors the earlier proposed city ordinance - it would be a statewide law that requires drivers to stop and yield to pedestrians who enter the roadway (cars are already required to yield under current law). If passed, it would supersede Ann Arbor's current local ordinance, and legally bar other local Michigan municipalities from adopting similar pedestrian-friendly laws in the future.

Muddy Data, Illusory Safety

All of the elected Council Members say they have the best interests of pedestrians at heart, but there is obvious disagreement on what actions the city should take to make pedestrians safer. Some of their arguments are based on data and evidence, but many are not.

CM Griswold claimed in the June 2019 issue of the Ann Arbor Observer that Ann Arbor pedestrians are distracted, and walking blindly into oncoming traffic due to a "false feeling of security." This kind of assertion has been frequently and repeatedly shown to be victim-blaming at best, and treating a systemic problem as if it were the result of the individual actions of a few bad apples. In a 2010 study it was shown that the most common cause by far of pedestrian-involved crashes is driver inattention. We can trust that statistic has continued to rise as smartphones have become more ubiquitous.

CM Eaton claims pedestrian safety is worsened by our crosswalk law
CM Eaton's claims could not
 be substantiated by the data
In a July 19th Facebook post, Council Member Jack Eaton stated that vehicle-pedestrian incidents have increased in Ann Arbor since passage of the pedestrian ordinance in 2010, and worse, that the rate of increase in Ann Arbor is greater than the national average. CM Eaton did not produce any data to support his claims that our 2010 pedestrian ordinance caused a spike in traffic-related injuries and deaths. As for his claim that the new law will become part of driver's training in Michigan, it essentially already is. "Sharing the Road" is Chapter 6 of What Every Driver Must Know, the manual used in Michigan Driver's Education. In the section on pedestrians, there is the advice that "even if you have a green light, you must yield to people crossing the street or intersection."

In the July 1st 2019 City Council meeting, CM Griswold claimed that the number of pedestrians struck in Ann Arbor has increased 40% in the past ten years, much greater than the Michigan average, while other communities like Grand Rapids have seen a decrease in pedestrians hit in the same time period.

But the data from Michigan Crash Facts, a University of Michigan data project, do not support the arguments of either CM Eaton or CM Griswold. In fact, the data suggest that pedestrian-involved crashes have been on the rise since at least 2004, well before the 2010 ordinance. That trend continues today, and similar, if not worse, trends appear to be true for other Michigan cities with similar populations and density, including Grand Rapids. The rate of increase between 2007 and 2017 for Ann Arbor is about 2%, a far cry from the 40% claimed by CM Griswold.

Life and Death in the Streets

Nationally, the numbers are far bleaker. The number of pedestrians killed on American roads has risen dramatically since 2004.

It's not pretty

Ann Arbor, in comparison, has relatively few fatalities per 100,000 residents compared to the national average, both before and after the 2010 crosswalk ordinance. We also have fewer fatalities per 100,000 residents than the Michigan average, despite our local "unsafe" crosswalk ordinance.

Ann Arbor has lower pedestrian fatalities every year since 1996

But even one death is too many, which is why we should continue to seek to improve.

Distraction from the Big Picture

Distracted driving enforcement:
not a priority in A2 or elsewhere
CM Griswold has been effective since joining Council in bringing attention to the inadequate lighting that many of Ann Arbor's sidewalks suffer from, and she should be applauded for that. High-contrast lighting is indeed part of the solution - the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report on pedestrian safety in 2017, in part recommending better lighting and adopting Vision Zero.

But the GHSA also recommends localities step up traffic enforcement, increase separation from motor vehicles, and implement road diets and traffic calming. These are evidence-based measures that have proven again and again to save pedestrian lives.

In a 2017-2018 Western Michigan University study, the Ann Arbor Police found that increased enforcement caused the percentage of cars stopping for pedestrians to skyrocket from 28 percent to 65 percent. Even at intersections where there were no police present, drivers stopped for pedestrians at significantly increased rates during the enforcement period. Changing driving culture and improving pedestrian safety through enforcement has been shown to be effective, even locally.

And yet, with national pedestrian injury and death rates steadily climbing, Ann Arbor's City Council has chosen instead to focus on brightly lit crosswalks and limiting pedestrian rights, rather than evidence-based measures like increasing enforcement for distracted driving. Overlay the rates of smart phone use, distracted driving, and pedestrian deaths in the United States and you start to see a causality trend that makes a little more sense than one local crosswalk ordinance passed in 2010.

Distracted driving and resulting fatalities: increasing dramatically

Strange Allies

Multiple Ann Arbor City Council members, including CM Griswold and CM Jane Lumm, have accepted donations from James C. Walker, a lobbyist for the National Motorists Association. Walker and local attorney Tom Wieder have in the past threatened lawsuits against Ann Arbor in order to increase local speed limits.

argues for increasing speed limits
The NMA does not believe in reducing speed limits,
an evidence-based approach to pedestrian safety
The NMA is an NRA-style driver's rights group dedicated to fighting for increased speed limits, opposing Vision Zero, road diets, traffic calming, and even drunk driving standards. Why would the lobbyist for such a group donate to a self-professed "pedestrian safety advocate" like CM Griswold?

To be clear, the votes of CM Griswold and others on City Council are not being "bought" by some powerful automobile lobby. But when a lobbyist chooses to donate to a politician, it is a good indication they are donating to someone who shares their beliefs and values, a person who represents their interests.

Next Actions

Ann Arbor's current ordinance allows a pedestrian to wait safely on the curb and cars must yield the right of way. If HB 4738 is adopted, pedestrians, including children and those using wheelchairs, will be forced to put themselves into harm's way by entering the street before a vehicle is required to stop.

This law will not address a single factor that evidence shows to make a difference in pedestrian safety. Drivers will continue to access city streets designed for maximum car velocity rather than pedestrian safety. Ann Arbor's current City Council will likely continue to deny road diets and traffic calming measures. Enforcement of speeding and distracted driving will continue to be a low priority, and in the end, our most vulnerable users will continue to be struck and killed in our crosswalks at increasing rates.

As of this writing, HB 4738 has been referred to the Transportation Committee. Michigan house TC members include Jack O'Malley, Gary Eisen, Triston Cole, Jason Sheppard, Julie Alexander, Joseph Bellino, Gary Howell, Lynn Afendoulis, Tim Sneller, Cara Clemente, Tenisha Yancey, Jim Haadsma, and Nate Shannon.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article read "In 2010, Ann Arbor's Mayor, John Hieftje, signed an ordinance into law requiring..." We've updated the article to reflect the fact that Council and the Mayor enact ordinances.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Come to Ypsi for First Friday tonight

Tonight is First Friday in Ypsi. I know it's hot, but perhaps you could stop by Go! Ice Cream. They make an incredible homemade whipped cream that goes great on everything. Hope to see you there.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: July 1, 2019

The area plan for the PUD proposal at 841 Broadway.

Gentle readers, it's hard to believe but we are already half way through this season of #a2council. Check out tonight's agenda here. The evening kicks off with a moderate 18 item consent agenda. There are 5 road closures for various races and festivals. There is also a contract for SmithGroup to study affordable housing on the Y-Lot and an RRFB for Eisenhower at Plaza Road.

There are 7 public hearings on tonight's agenda. Three of them (PH-2, PH-3, PH-4) are on the PUD proposed for the old DTE Gasworks at 841 Broadway. This could be a transformative project for a large section of the riverfront that is currently polluted and largely unused.

Another interesting item is DC-3 which would put a proposal in front of voters to amend the city charter to have nonpartisan city elections. This would effectively shift the most important election from the August Primary to November. Notably, this forbids the listing of any party affiliation, so it would not allow a California-style nonpartisan blanket primary where party is listed.

Finally there is the Trinitas settlement, DC-4. This resulted from the city voting against a by-right development. If this is approved, the development is going forward, but will have fewer occupants and parking spaces.

Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: June 17, 2019

Gentle reader, tonight is the second #a2counil meeting of June. I hope you are as excited as I am. Here's the agenda. The night starts off with deep 36 item Consent Agenda. Ca-18, CA-19, and CA-20 are road diets for Earhart, Traverwood, and Green Roads, respectively. If I were a betting man, I would bet these get pulled from the consent agenda. Earlier this year. the current council majority voted to require all road lane reductions to come to council for approval.

Other interesting items on tonight's agenda include: DC-2 a Resolution to Approve the City's Constituent Membership in the Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority (WRRMA). WRRMA would be a county-wide recycling authority. There are also DS-1 and DS-2, which have to do with sidewalk assessments along Dhu Varren.

Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Friday, June 7, 2019

First Friday and Ypsi Pride tonight

Gentle readers, it is a beautiful late spring day. You should come to Downtown and Depot Town tonight to celebrate Ypsi Pride and the June First Friday. It will be tons of fun and all the cool kids will be there.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: June 3rd 2019

Ricewood BBQ on opening day, 2016. Photo by Ed Vielmetti.

Gentle readers, are you ready for tonight's episode of #a2council? Take a peep at the agenda here. The evening kicks off with a 24 item consent agenda. Some highlights: a new Greenbelt purchase (CA-3) and Scio Church traffic calming (CA-18).

There are 4 public hearings tonight. PH-1 amends the zoning code to allow temporary outdoor activities at Briarwood. PH-2 is the rezoning of a township island. PH-3 is the long awaited food truck ordinance. It would allow food trucks in all zones except for residential. PH-4 is the site plan for Bristol Ridge, 2750 Pontiac Trail.

There are a couple of other zoning and development related items on the agenda tonight. C-1 would allow front porches within setbacks. C-3 is the site plan for the Brightdawn Development at 2805 Burton. In exchange for a denser zoning, the developer has offered to build 20 units for households at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI) and 20 for households at or below 60% of the AMI for a period of 99 years. Finally there is C-4, which is a PUD for the old DTE Gasworks which was between the Amtrak Station and the Huron River. The site plan (below) includes 4 residential buildings, a holte, and commercial building. It also includes a park with pavilion and amphitheater space as well as a trial along the south side of the river.

Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

NPNA Yard Sale this Saturday

This Saturday is the first in June and that means it's time for the annual Normal Park Neighborhood Association multi house yard sale. In my (humble) opinion, this is the premier yard sale event of the season. This year looks like it will be great with at least 93 houses participating. This year is especially exciting because there will be a taco truck at the Senior Center in Recreation Park. Past years have featured bouncy houses and face painting.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: May 20, 2019

Buckle up gentle readers, tonight's #a2councl could be a bumpy ride. Here's the agenda. The night starts off with a modest, 4-item consent agenda.

There are three public hearings tonight and PH-1/DS-1 is where the agenda starts to get a little spicy. The aforementioned public hearing/resolution is for the Northside STEAM Safe Routes to School Sidewalk Special Assessment. The plan is to fill sidewalk gaps around Northside School so that pedestrians do not have to walk in the street. The way the city pays for filling these gaps is by assessing property owners based on how much sidewalk is going to be built on their property. The city also has grant money to offset some of the costs. Many of the residents on Traver Road, who would be get sidewalks in this program are opposed this portion of Safe Routes to School program. Several residents have signed a petition in opposition to the Traver Road sidewalk assessment and are threatening to sue if it goes through. There is also a vocal group of residents who support the full implementation of the Safe Routes to School program who may be speaking at council tonight.

The other two public hearings are for fairly routine township island annexations. I don't imagine they will be too controversial.

Tonight's second chili pepper comes in a place where you rarely expect it: commission appointments. I think the last time there was a contested commission appointment was Al McWilliam's DDA Board appointment in October of 2013. This is a complex issue that probably deserves it's own article. The gist is that several members of council have announced they will oppose the Mayor's reappointment of members of the Transportation and Planning commissions arguing the need for a greater diversity of ideas. Several of these reappointments will pit the council factions against each other so we should see some sparks fly.

Tonight's third and final chili pepper is DS-3, Resolution to Adopt Ann Arbor City Budget and Related Property Tax Millage Rates for Fiscal Year 2020. There have been a couple of late breaking amendments [ED: it turns out that this is the normal process for the budget amendments to come in in this fashion.]to the budget that would, among other things, decrease funding from climate action and increase funding to hire more police.

Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Friday, May 17, 2019

An interview with What's Left Left Ypsi on the occasion of their launch party

What's Left Ypsi recently published their inaugural issue. The paper is published by a collective based in Ypsilanti. I am very excited about the paper, and eager to see it grow. To celebrate the occasion of the What's Left Ypsi Launch Party, (May 18th, at Ziggy's, 6:30 - 8:30) members of the WL collective were kind enough to answer some questions about the paper and their vision for local journalism in Ypsilanti. What follows is that interview.

Damn Arbor: Could you tell me a little bit about what motivated you to start What’s Left Ypsi?

What's Left: We started what's Left Ypsi to account for the public media desert in Washtenaw County. Current, Concentrate and MLive primarily cater to local government and private sector issues and often fail to adequately address public interests in Ypsilanti. Among other things the lack of media coverage following last year’s local elections, the murder of Ray Mason, and the proposed International Village Development on Water Street, inspired us to create an outlet for local coverage of what’s going on in Ypsilanti. What’s Left is a community response to a community need.

DA: What are your goals for the paper?

WL: What’s Left Ypsi aims to engage Ypsilanti residents and give everyday community members a forum to express issues that are important to them. We want to provide an opportunity for Ypsilantians to participate in gathering the information we need as a collective. It is important to know what is happening behind closed doors in order to share the power necessary to achieve equity, liberation, and self-determination. We strive to feature under-represented public voices and to create a space to deeply explore issues that impact Ypsilanti directly. In the face of rampant income inequality, racial inequity, housing unaffordability and discrimination, we hope to challenge the traditional narrative that because of its liberal/progressive values everything is alright in Washtenaw County.

DA: You have decided to do a print version of he paper. Why?

WL: Sitting with a paper and drinking morning coffee or tea is just so nostalgic—people long to hold a newspaper in their hands. Beyond that, we made a print version so that What’s Left will be as accessible as possible to folks who don't have internet access or that sort of savviness. We will continue to provide free print copies of the paper in locations throughout town. What’s Left’s website will be updated between issues, and features an option to listen to audio versions of many of the articles. In these ways and more, a focus on accessibility is a driving force behind What’s Left.

DA: In your first issue you had everything from obits, to horiscopes to a city council news ticker. Do you hope to have other types of coverage in the future?

WL: In terms of coverage, we plan on always being eclectic and well-timed. We ask for submissions and suggestions from community members in our paper, on our website, and at our events. We hope that folks look forward to getting the latest copy and can depend on walking away feeling informed about local topics of interest while also enjoying the read. We included the City Council Ticker section so people have a way to keep up with the happenings of Ypsi’s City Government, with the hope that residents will be encouraged to engage their local representatives. In Issue 2 we will have an updated City Council Ticker, and plan to continue to feature this section. In future issues we hope to include more photos, street reporting, features/interviews with individuals in the community, creative writing, reviews, memes, and anything else readers might like to see and/or contribute. We so appreciate all the feedback that we’ve received so far! What’s Left hopes to bring more community voices to the table and encourages readers to contact us regarding stories that they would like to see covered.

DA: Is there anything else you would like to add?

WL: We are a team of over 20 people who have volunteered to create Issue 1 of What’s Left. Join us at our launch party to celebrate with us and learn more about the paper!