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.