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MichiganChange Region > comments
Ann Arbor adopts pedestrian safety report, sets goal of zero fatalities by 2025
on October 08, 2015 at 5:40 AM, updated October 08, 2015 at 9:17 AM
A 5-year-old girl leaving a Rosh Hashanah celebration in Ann Arbor was struck by a car while crossing Geddes Avenue in September last year.
There was no crosswalk and no traffic light where the girl and her family were crossing about 7:45 p.m. on a Friday.
The girl died five days later.
In the middle of an August afternoon two years ago, a 20-year-old University of Michigan student was struck by a car in a crosswalk on Plymouth Road.
She died less than two days later.
Early one evening in November 2012, a 70-year-old woman was hit by a truck and killed while crossing Ann Arbor-Saline Road near Oakbrook Drive.
There was no crosswalk there at the time, but the city has since installed one in hopes of improving pedestrian safety.
While the circumstances of each crash are different, each ended with someone killed, and those deaths weigh on the hearts and minds of many, including city leaders.
Joining a global movement known as the Vision Zero Initiative, Ann Arbor is making it an official city goal to have zero traffic-related fatalities on city streets by 2025.
That goes for pedestrians trying to cross the street, bicyclists, and all other users of Ann Arbor's motorized and non-motorized transportation network.
"It's a longer-term vision of creating a transportation network that is safe and usable for motorized and non-motorized transportation," Mayor Christopher Taylor said of the resolution the City Council unanimously approved this week.
"I'm hopeful and expect that over the years we will make important and useful changes to our transportation infrastructure. It will take a while for us to improve it in a systemic, broad-based way, but we are committed to doing so."
Ann Arbor has seen an increase in pedestrian-involved crashes in the last four years, with an average of 58 per year since 2011, and about 45 per year before that.
Some of the key principles behind the Vision Zero philosophy are outlined in a new report from the city's Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force, which the City Council voted unanimously to accept at its Monday night meeting.
At the core of the Vision Zero movement, which has spread to several cities across the U.S., is the belief that death and injury on city streets is preventable.
One key principle is that human life and health are paramount and should take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system. In other words, don't jeopardize safety for the convenience of moving people more quickly.
Additionally, the Vision Zero approach says that humans are not made to travel at high speeds, and they make mistakes. So, from a safety standpoint, the new report says the road system should be designed to account for human fallibility and minimize both the opportunities for errors and the harm done when they occur.
The council-appointed task force's report is the result of a year and a half of study and public engagement, and now the City Council has formally voted to accept the task force's recommendations, even if not quite ready to implement many of them.
The report contains dozens of recommendations ranging from reducing driving speeds to increasing traffic enforcement, filling sidewalk gaps, rethinking crosswalk designs and confronting distracted driving, including banning cellphones while driving and cycling.
The report also recommends stricter rules for snow and ice removal on city sidewalks in the winter, though the City Council decided this week it isn't ready to embrace going to a bare-pavement standard, preferring to keep a one-inch threshold for now.
The new report identifies five underlying issues to address related to pedestrian safety and access in Ann Arbor:
- Too often, walking is not an available, safe, comfortable or convenient choice
- Unfamiliarity and misunderstanding of traffic laws and local expectation
- A disconnect between roadway user expectations and physical conditions
- Failure to consider the perspective of all transportation system users
- Distracted roadway users
The report also identifies the following five objectives, which are reiterated in the council's resolution:
- Improve pedestrian access and encourage use
- Improve understanding of traffic laws and local expectations
- Improve the physical conditions of the roadway and pedestrian environment to reflect best practices for pedestrian safety
- Address the safety and access for all users
- Reduce distractions and minimize consequences
The council has directed the city administrator to review the task force's recommendations and program them in a manner consistent with the budget priorities set by the City Council beginning this year.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Taylor and Council Members Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, and Chuck Warpehoski, D-5th Ward.
"We have established Complete Streets as a policy," Briere noted, referring to action the city took in recent years to make it official city policy to take into account all users of the roadway, including pedestrians and cyclists, when designing streets.
"We've been working for a number of years to improve bike access," she said. "We're now trying to address sidewalk gaps in a variety of locations. There's a lot more work to be done, but the goal is now and must continue to be to reduce traffic fatalities, and then to reduce traffic accidents. That requires that we improve street design, improve pedestrian-access design, improve bicycle-access design."
Briere said it's not going to be fast, and city officials must recognize that what looks good on paper might not turn out to work as well as they imagine, and other times what looks scary on paper might turn out to be brilliant in practice.
"To get to a goal -- and not a guarantee, but a goal -- of zero fatalities, requires really addressing infrastructure," Briere said.
"As we accept the recommendations, we need to be able to incorporate those recommendations into our Capital Improvement Plan as practical, and begin to really push further to change our infrastructure."
Briere said that includes everything from bicycle buffers to increasing the visibility of crosswalks and the consistency of crosswalk designs.
"We would love to be in a position to be able to include buffered bike lanes in the street design," Taylor said in an interview this week. "We are challenged by the width of our right-of-way in many instances. I've discussed it with city staff, and where it can be done and where it fits, I certainly hope we'll do so."
There have been 504 reported crashes involving pedestrians in Ann Arbor over the past 10 years, from 2005 to 2014, and eight of those have been fatal.
That includes three fatal crashes last year, one in 2013, two in 2012, one in 2007, and one in 2006.
That's according to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, which compiles data from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Overall, not just counting pedestrian-involved crashes, there have been 23 fatal crashes in Ann Arbor over the past 10 years.
That includes six last year, four in 2013, five in 2012, three in 2011, one in 2008, two in 2007, one in 2006, and one in 2005.
So, fatalities from crashes appear to be on the rise.
There also was a fatal bicycle crash in Ann Arbor last year, the first one in several years, though there have been hundreds of crashes in Ann Arbor involving bicycles over the past decade, according to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts.
According to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, Washtenaw County ranks sixth in the state for number of people killed or seriously injured in pedestrian crashes.
City officials weren't able to provide any data on the number of traffic fatalities Ann Arbor is currently experiencing. However, a January 2014 report from the city's administration examined the issue of crashes involving pedestrians.
The report stated that Ann Arbor had an average of 52 pedestrian crashes each year from 2008 to 2012, compared to 54 in Dearborn, 34 in Warren, 26 in Pontiac, 23 in Southfield, 18 in Royal Oak, 12 in Farmington Hills, 11 in Livonia, 10 in Ypsilanti, 10 in Troy and five in Novi. However, the report notes, Ann Arbor also has a significantly higher number of walking commuters than all of those cities.
The city's report cited a 2010 national study that found the greater Ann Arbor area had a "pedestrian danger" score of 7.8, which was by far the lowest compared to other metro areas across the state, including Jackson (32.9), Lansing-East Lansing (33.3), Grand Rapids-Wyoming (44.3), Kalamazoo-Portage (46.1), Battle Creek (67.4), Detroit-Warren-Livonia (98.5), Saginaw (156), Monroe (159.4), and Flint (168.1).
According to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, there were 21 bicyclists killed in crashes in Michigan in 2014, and 24 per year on average for the past five years.
Additionally, there were 148 pedestrians killed in crashes in Michigan in 2014, and 140 per year on average for the past five years.
Of the 148 pedestrians killed last year, 101 were male and 47 were female. Five were between ages 1-10, nine were between ages 11-20, 33 were between ages 21-34, 23 were between ages 35-44, 27 were between ages 45-54, 35 were between ages 55-64, four were between ages 65-74, and 12 were age 75 and older.
There were 2,406 pedestrians involved in 2,280 motor vehicle crashes last year. For each pedestrian killed, about 13 others were injured.
A total of 44 (29.7%) of the deaths were the result of an alcohol-involved crash, and 35 (79.5%) of those pedestrians had been drinking, reports indicate.
Of all pedestrian actions prior to a crash, "crossing not at an intersection" is the most deadly, accounting for 36 (24.3%) of the pedestrian fatalities last year.
The city of Ann Arbor's Non-Motorized Transportation Plan update from two years ago stated that non-motorized trips in Ann Arbor accounted for about 7 percent of all trips and 12 percent of all traffic fatalities and severe injuries.
"Non-motorized modes are not inherently dangerous," the report states. "Communities have been able to significantly increase the non-motorized mode share while simultaneously decreasing the number of non-motorized crashes. Emerging research is showing the single-most important factor for improving bicycle and pedestrian safety is increasing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians."
City officials also say it's a well-known fact that the number of crashes drops with a poor economy and rises as the economy improves and people take more trips.
Council Member Jack Eaton, D-4th Ward, said he hopes implementation of the task force recommendations will be a good part of the city's next budget discussions.
"We're talking about 55 different recommendations in this report," noted Council Member Jane Lumm, an independent from the 2nd Ward.
Lumm agreed it will be wise to include the pedestrian safety recommendations in the City Council's next discussion of budget priorities. The city typically holds an annual budget retreat in December, kicking off a budget process that culminates with council approval of an annual budget in May for the next fiscal year starting in July.
"The task force recommendations are, as has been acknowledged, quite far-ranging, and so it's going to take years, sometimes even decades, for us to get to where some of those recommendations are," said Council Member Julie Grand, D-3rd Ward.
Eaton added, "With each new budget, we could set priorities."
Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at email@example.com.>
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