The Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition asked candidates to fill out a questionnaire about their support for pedestrian and cyclist concerns. Here are my replies.
1. Where do you walk and/or bicycle in Washtenaw County, and for what purposes?
I bicycle to work year-round, usually with a stop along the way to drop my daughter off at daycare. Most of our shopping is done by walking or bicycling to the farmers market, People’s Food Co-Op, or other local businesses. My family’s normal Saturday routine is to walk to the Farmers Market to pick up our CSA share and do our food shopping, even in the winter.
2. Do you support Ann Arbor’s pedestrian safety ordinance as it now stands? Why or why not?
For all the controversy around the pedestrian ordinance, I think it’s important to remember that we’re all looking for how to promote safety for pedestrians and motorists. That’s our shared goal, and we should engage different perspectives to figure out the best way to meet it.
I think the concern about safe pedestrian crossings that led to the law is an important one. Safe pedestrian crossing at crosswalks is a real concern. I believe the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition did a great job engaging multiple stakeholders in a collaborative process to create the current pedestrian ordinance, which I consider to be the pedestrian ordinance “version 1.0.”
I do think the regulation needs to be fine-tuned to clarify what “approaching a crosswalk” means and to better address the challenges of crosswalks spanning multiple lanes. I’ve been in the situation where there are 2 lanes of traffic going one way and a car in one lane stops, but the other lane continues. That’s not safe for pedestrians or motorists. By engaging community voices to address these concerns we can come up with “version 2.0.”
Ultimately I think the city should continue to expand built-in pedestrian infrastructure that does not rely on driver compliance. The pedestrian islands on Stadium, the rapid flashing beacon on Washington, and the HAWK signal on Huron are good examples of investments that I see having more impact than signs and ordinances alone.
3. Do you support the planned “road diet” (conversion from 4 lanes to 3 lanes) on Jackson Road? Why or why not?
I live just south of Jackson Road, and when I drive it’s my route to work and to my daughter’s daycare, so I know how bad the traffic can get, how hard it can be for residents to leave the neighborhood, and how unsafe the road is. The ten-foot lanes on that road are too narrow, so buses and trucks are often outside their lanes. No wonder there were 70 accidents on a ¾-mile stretch of road over 3 years.
I have 3 priorities for Jackson Road.:
2. Neighborhood access
3. Traffic flow
1. Safety: Jackson Road is not a safe passage. The ten-foot lanes are too narrow for the large trucks that use the road; in fact, the Michigan Department of Transportation won’t even allow new roads to be built with lanes that narrow. Furthermore, the combination of the lack of bike lanes, a congested, high-speed street, and a hill that increases bicycle speeds makes the motorist, cyclist, pedestrian mix unsafe. We should do better, and I believe that the proposed lane change would improve safety.
2. Neighborhood access: It is already very difficult to make a left turn onto Jackson during the morning and evening rush periods, and for some residents, Jackson is their only choice. Neighborhood access is a key concern that I have not seen addressed well in the coverage of the proposed change, and one that deserves attention.
3. Traffic flow: Jackson is a busy arterial street, especially during the evening rush. I have been one of the frustrated motorists when traffic is backed up past the Fire Station at 5:45pm on a weekday. I see the traffic light at the intersection of Jackson & Maple as the worst cause of these backups. I often find myself caught behind vehicles holding up traffic as they try to make a left turn, so I am not convinced that the lane conversion will significantly worsen traffic issues.
I’ve talked about these concerns with residents who live on Jackson Road and in the surrounding neighborhoods. People who live on Jackson are overwhelmingly in support of the change; people who live just off Jackson tend to oppose it.
I support implementing the conversion and evaluating its impact over a 12-month trial. Such a trial must have clear benchmarks for safety, neighborhood access, and traffic flow created before the change is implemented so that we can measure the extent to which the conversion achieved its intended purposes.
4. What ideas do you have for improving the pedestrian system in Ann Arbor, and how would you implement them if elected?
- Continue to expand safe crosswalk infrastructure: the HAWK signals and rapid-flashing beacons have significantly aided safe pedestrian crossing, as has the expansion of pedestrian islands such as the ones on 7th, Stadium, and Liberty. I believe that the city should continue to expand such safe-crossing infrastructure. In particular, I support the proposed installation of a HAWK signal on Jackson Road near Veterans’ Park.
- Pedestrian safety ordinance version 2.0: The current pedestrian safety ordinance is an important step toward creating a legal structure that ensures safety for all travelers. However, as mentioned above, it needs some refinement. I would support a process of broad stakeholder engagement to identify improvements to the ordinance that will clarify ambiguous language and address the concerns of higher-speed and multiple-lane roads.
- Implement the “complete streets” policy: While Ann Arbor’s overall pedestrian infrastructure is good, we still have many areas where the sidewalks are incomplete or nonexistent (e.g., Plymouth between Broadway and Maiden Lane, Washtenaw across from Whole Foods). While these may create inconveniences for able-bodied pedestrians, they can create insurmountable barriers for people with mobility impairments, especially in inclement weather. Ann Arbor should consistently strive to connect these missing pieces, as called for by the March, 2011 City Council resolution affirming the Complete Streets policy.
5. What ideas do you have for improving the bicycle system in Ann Arbor, and would you implement them if elected?
- Expand bicycle infrastructure: As a seasoned cyclist, I feel fully comfortable riding in the street in our downtown in areas that lack bike lanes. However, I have spoken with many novice cyclists who do not feel comfortable on the streets where there are not dedicated bike lanes. The city should continue to expand our bike lane infrastructure and, when possible, to connect non-contiguous bike lanes (e.g., on N. Division). In areas without bike lanes the city should continue its practice of marking the street with “sharrows” to indicate shared bicycle/automobile lanes.
- Review bike lane design and explore next-generation bike lane infrastructure: As a bicycle commuter I greatly appreciate our bike infrastructure, but some of it does not make sense to me. Why are the bike lanes on 1st Street on the left side of the lane? As the city plans bicycle infrastructure, it should review its functionality with cyclists to ensure practicality. Additionally, there are some exciting bike infrastructure innovations emerging. These can be as simple as adding striping between bike lanes and parking spaces so cyclists don’t ride in the “door zone” to more elaborate separated bike lanes, sometimes with their own signals. The city should stay abreast of these innovations and evaluate whether they would be appropriate for local implementation.
- Expand and demarcate biking and pedestrian access on the Border-to-Border Trail (B2B): Both cyclists and pedestrians complain about the challenges of sharing a narrow mixed-use path on sections of the B2B, especially in Gallup Park. Cyclists feel frustrated by groups of walkers who take up the whole path, while pedestrians complain about cyclists whizzing past in a way that feels unsafe. We should explore ways to ensure that the B2B accommodates all uses. For example, in Madison, WI, sections of nonmotorized trail have a center stripe separating cyclists from walkers.
For both pedestrian and bicycle concerns, I would promote improvements by:
- Contributing to and soliciting citizen and expert feedback for the city’s nonmotorized plan;
- Advocating for the needs of cyclists and pedestrians when reviewing road plans;
- Championing specific nonmotorized transportation initiatives, such as installing a HAWK signal on Jackson by Veterans’ Park.