The city can make walking safer and more convenient by changing the design of streets. Curb extensions and raised medians help by shortening the distances that pedestrians need to cross. In places where there are many pedestrians, but no space for curb extensions or medians, the city should install pedestrian activated stoplights.
Other techniques, like unsignalized crosswalks and the recent crosswalk ordinance, have drawbacks. They only work when drivers choose to brake for pedestrians. Unless cars in every lane stop, pedestrians have to wait until there is a gap in traffic, which defeats the point of having a crosswalk. In my experience, it is rare for cars in every lane to stop on wide roads with fast speeds. Unfortunately, these are the places where pedestrians need the most help.
For these reasons, I do not support the recent crosswalk ordinance or unsignalized crosswalks generally. Instead, I support increased funding for medians, curb extensions, and pedestrian-activated stoplights.
There are also ways the city could make cycling more convenient and safe, such as fixing potholes and plowing snow from bike lanes.
- 1 Summary
- 2 Walking
- 2.1 Problems
- 2.1.1 Streets with multiple lanes and fast speeds are difficult to cross.
- 2.1.2 The crosswalk ordinance does not solve these difficulties.
- 188.8.131.52 There is no statistical evidence that the ordinance prevents accidents.
- 184.108.40.206 The ordinance is not very helpful on streets with more than two lanes.
- 220.127.116.11 The ordinance creates a visibility problem on streets with more than one lane.
- 18.104.22.168 The ordinance makes unsignalized crosswalks appear more effective than they are.
- 2.2 Solutions
- 2.1 Problems
- 3 Cycling
Streets with multiple lanes and fast speeds are difficult to cross.
In 2009, before the city passed the crosswalk ordinance, the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition released a video of people crossing streets in Ann Arbor. The video shows some general patterns of how people walk across streets.
Examples from video:
- .37 Children running across one lane of traffic twice, using a pedestrian island that is under construction.
- .49 A woman with her dog walking across one lane of traffic twice at the same pedestrian island.
- 1.13 A boy walks across one lane of traffic to a pedestrian island, and then runs across another lane. He then runs across a crosswalk marked by a raised path.
It is usually easy for pedestrians to cross a single lane.
When people need to cross a single lane, they only need to check one direction for oncoming cars. They usually find a gap in traffic and cross quickly. People who are slow or encumbered wait for a larger gap. When people are eager to cross, but the gap is small, people run across the intersection.
The video implies that people who look both ways to find a gap in traffic have a “visceral sense of fear,” but I think this is an exaggeration.The fact that people look both ways, and then run across a street, does not mean that they are afraid. If people actually felt fear in their gut, they could avoid running by waiting for a larger gap in traffic, or by walking to a signalized crosswalk. Instead, many people choose to jog, so they don’t have to wait as long.
It is harder to cross streets with multiple lanes and faster speeds.
Examples from video:
- .21 A young man jogging across three lanes of traffic at an unmarked crosswalk.
- 1.08 Two middle schoolers walking across 3 lanes of traffic in the middle of the block without a crosswalk.
- 1.30 A boy crossing 2 lanes of traffic twice, using a pedestrian island with a marked crosswalk.
- 1.47 A woman with a cane for the blind standing at the curb, and then attempting to cross 2 lanes of traffic twice, using a pedestrian island with a marked crosswalk.
Crossing multiple lanes is more dangerous. People need to predict the paths of multiple cars at once. Cars move faster on wide streets, so they cannot adjust to pedestrians as easily. Drivers who are going fast usually do not stop for pedestrians even when they are in crosswalks, and instead drive around them. For these reasons, people need to wait longer to find a gap in traffic.
The crosswalk ordinance does not solve these difficulties.
In 2010, the city changed its rules for crosswalks without traffic signals. Previously, drivers had to yield to pedestrians who were within crosswalks and near the driver’s side of the road. This rule was consistent with Michigan’s Uniform Traffic Code.
The 2010 rules were stricter. They required drivers to stop and yield to pedestrians approaching crosswalks. In 2011, the city slightly loosened its policies. The current rules require drivers to stop for pedestrians who are stopped at curbs leading to crosswalks. These rules do not seem to make walking more convenient or safe.
There is no statistical evidence that the ordinance prevents accidents.
The State of Michigan’s Traffic Crash Facts collects pedestrian crash information. The new pedestrian rules went into effect in 2011.
There is not enough data to determine the effect of the new rules. The total amount of accidents is small, the relevant time period is short, and there are confounding factors, like street design improvements that occurred in the same period. Because statistical evidence is lacking, my arguments below rely on my own experience, the pedestrian taskforce report, and conversations with other people. If you have had different experiences, I’d like to hear about them.
The ordinance is not very helpful on streets with more than two lanes.
Compared to the years before the ordinance was passed, it seems that drivers stop more often for pedestrians waiting at one or two lane crosswalks. However, drivers on roads with more than two lanes rarely stop for pedestrians on the curb. Also, drivers rarely stop for pedestrians at night, or on roads with high speeds. For example, cars infrequently stop for pedestrians at Division and Jefferson, which has 2-3 lanes and fast speeds.
These are the streets where pedestrian improvements are most needed, but they are also the places where the crosswalk ordinance has the least effect.
The ordinance creates a visibility problem on streets with more than one lane.
When a car stops in a two lane road, pedestrians feels pressured to cross immediately, so as not to delay traffic. The problem is that when they step in front of a car in the first lane, cars in the second lane do not always stop. This puts pedestrians in the uncomfortable position of trying to get out of first lane, while cars are driving past in the second lane. Drivers in the second lane do not always see the pedestrians behind the first car, which can be dangerous. At the crosswalk near Rackham on Huron street, I have twice seen drivers in the second lane assume that all the pedestrians are done crossing, when in fact there are more people walking behind the stopped car in the first lane. In both cases, the driver almost hit people.
Update: On January 12th, 2016, I saw a car hit a man using the crosswalk by Rackham. It was daytime. The man was not injured, but the car striking him made a loud sound, and it seemed like the accident could have been bad. I asked the pedestrian what happened. He said one car stopped for him, so he walked into the street, but the second car did not stop for him.
The Pedestrian Safety and Access Task force Report also recognizes this visibility problem.
The ordinance makes unsignalized crosswalks appear more effective than they are.
If drivers always obeyed the ordinance, then pedestrians could always cross wide, fast roads at crosswalks without stop signs or traffic lights. In reality, pedestrians cannot do this, but the assumption that they can makes the need for design improvements less obvious. For example, there is an unsignalized crosswalk on Division near Community High School. To a staff member following city council’s recommendations, it might seem that it is now easy to cross Division, and no further improvements are necessary. In reality, cars on Division rarely stop for pedestrians waiting at that crosswalk (I live nearby). Without the crosswalk ordinance, it would be more clear that an unsignalized crosswalk there is insufficient.
Curb extensions and medians help on fast streets with multiple lanes.
Extensions and raised medians reduce the distances that pedestrians need to cross at one time. This allows pedestrians to cross the street when there are small gaps in traffic. For example, a median allows pedestrians to easily cross North University, even though there are no white lines marking a crosswalk.
If the city uses curb extensions and medians instead of the crosswalk ordinance, then cars will not have to stop for pedestrians waiting at curbs. This means that pedestrians will not feel pressured to start crossing when a single car stops for them. They can wait for a gap in traffic that is comfortably large. The Federal Highway Administration claims that raised medians can reduce pedestrian crashes by 46% and shorten delays for drivers.
Pedestrian-activated stoplights are useful in busy areas.
If a street is so crowded that there are never big enough gaps to cross a single lane, then the city should install a pedestrian-activated stoplight. They give people more certainty that cars will stop for them, whereas drivers often disregard the crosswalk ordinance. This is essential for people who cannot react quickly to cars moving towards them.
Installing full pedestrian-activated traffic lights seems like a more reliable option than installing flashing yellow lights, such as the ones on Plymouth Road. An MDOT study suggests that rapid rectangular flashing beacons are not as effective in Michigan as they are in some other states. However, they are cheaper than full stop-lights. Flashing yellows cost about $20,000 to install, while full traffic lights cost about $200,000. To me, the certainty of a full traffic light seems important enough to justify the extra expense of pedestrian-activated stoplights.
Some people worry that too many pedestrian-activated lights would cause traffic congestion. While this is a valid concern, plentiful medians and curb extensions could reduce the number of people who actually use these lights. Suppose that pedestrian-activated lights are widely available, but medians and curb extensions are also common. People who need cars to stop for them would be able to use the lights, while others would usually find it faster to wait for a gap in traffic and cross using a median, rather than walk to the designated crossing at a light.
To repair potholes and sweep dirt from bike lanes, city staff need to monitor bike lane conditions, and respond to problems quickly. One method of monitoring problems is the A2fixit app, which lets people report potholes and other issues. In order for the city to maintain bike lanes more thoroughly, city council must secure increased funding.
To plow snow from bike lanes, the city must pile snow in lawn extensions and other public spaces, rather than use bike lanes. In some cases, this will require trucking or melting snow. This might be easier if the city takes responsibility for sidewalk snow plowing, so that it can coordinate the plowing of roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks.