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Posted on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials speak to pedestrian safety ordinance, sexual assaults at Old West Side forum

By Kyle Feldscher


Police Chief Barnett Jones talks to a crowd about their crime concerns. The Old West Side Association met with the fire chief, police chief, fire marshall and UM's police chief for a public safety forum Wednesday night at Bach Elementary School.

Jeff Sainlar I

Ann Arbor residents are worried about public safety funding, the investigation into the sexual assaults this summer and other safety issues.

However, the issue that occupied the most discussion time at a public safety forum hosted by the Old West Side Association Wednesday was the new pedestrian safety ordinance the city began enforcing earlier this fall.

A panel consisting of Ann Arbor police Chief Barnett Jones, Ann Arbor fire Chief Chuck Hubbard, Ann Arbor Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain and University of Michigan police Chief Greg O’Dell answered questions about each of their departments and various situations facing each of them at the meeting.

However, the lengthiest discussion came when a resident asked about the new pedestrian safety ordinance.

Jones passed the question along to Mayor John Hieftje who said the city’s new ordinance is literally a step further than the state’s pedestrian law, which requires vehicles to stop for any pedestrian in a crosswalk.

The city’s ordinance requires vehicles to stop for anyone about to enter a crosswalk. Hieftje said the city wrote the ordinance that way so people wouldn’t have to physically get in front of a car to make them stop.

“There is an effort to make the city more pedestrian friendly, and the police have been cooperating on that,” he said.

One resident told the officials that he had stopped at a crosswalk for a child who was heading to school. However, a driver going in the opposite direction did not obey the ordinance so well and nearly hit the student. The resident said he was concerned that the community would not buy into the ordinance change and it could lead to a disastrous situation.

Jones said officers have written nine tickets since officers began enforcing the ordinance last month and have been mostly been giving warnings.

He agreed with the resident that a culture change was needed. Jones said his officers could probably sit at an intersection all day and simply write tickets for people who don’t obey the ordinance, “but that’s not how we do law enforcement in Ann Arbor.”

Jones also gave an update on the investigation into the so-called “Ann Arbor rapist,” who police have been searching for since a string of sexual attacks began in July.

Jones told the crowd of about 20 people that the investigation is still open and police are investigating more than 650 tips that they have received. He said even though two composites of the potential attacker were developed, police believe they are only looking for one suspect.

“We all knew and believed that there’s only one,” he said.

He called the situation a police officer’s worst nightmare and said the Ann Arbor police are working closely with the University of Michigan Public Safety Department.

He emphasized that since the attacks began in July, the police have caught every copycat criminal or person who has sexually assaulted someone on Ann Arbor’s streets.

“For people that started or thought about doing this type of crime since this person revealed himself, we have caught them,” he said.

The discussion at the forum also covered how police are working to educate people to protect themselves from crimes, what neighborhood watch programs are in effect, how firefighters decide to enter a burning home and the possibility of combining the Ann Arbor Police Department and Ann Arbor Fire Department into a public safety department.

In addition to Hieftje, new City Administrator Steve Powers and City Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, who used to live on the Old West side, were in attendance at the meeting.

Hubbard spoke about the effects that cuts to public safety funding have had on his department. Two years ago, there were 111 employees of the fire department and now that number is 79, he said.

He said the department has had to send more trucks to incidents, such as an accident at the construction site of the underground parking lot in downtown Ann Arbor, because there are fewer firefighters on each crew.

“That’s economics,” he said. “We have to learn how to work with less.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 5:46 p.m.

Are we going to have any reporting on what Ann Arbor Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain and University of Michigan police Chief Greg O'Dell discussed at the meeting?


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 6:07 p.m.

Thanks, Mr. Feldscher.

Kyle Feldscher

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 5:51 p.m.

Chief O'Dell spoke a little bit about his department and how it operates and also discussed some measures he and other AAPD officers took to stop drug dealing and vagrancy issues in the Liberty Plaza when he worked for the department in the 1990s. He discussed how his department worked with the AAPD and briefly into the investigation on the sexual assaults. Kathleen Chamberlain talked about high-rise buildings that are going up around the city and the fire codes they are being held to and how her area of the department is working on making sure buildings are up to code. Much of the night's discussion was led by Chief Jones and Chief Hubbard, which is why the story focused mostly on what they had to say.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 4:05 p.m.

If they're just giving away warnings most of the time for this stupid pedestrian law, that's really going to be a motive for people to stop more?

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

this is fabulous... that the UofM/City public safety officials met with the public. Nice! communication, collaboration... good stuff.

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 6:49 p.m.

Surprising isn't, not one overture or any sort of communication or collaboration. Unreal!

Paul Epstein

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

One big problem with the 'pedestrian safety' ordinance is that instead of emphasizing pedestrian safety, the focus is on motorists stopping. Sounds like a "control issues" problem here. Unless time of day is written into this measure, we will lose sight of any type of common sense that says (at times when heavy traffic is not a mobility suppressant) "the car goes by, the pedestrian then walks across the street, and everybody's happy". I just see the need for stopping traffic when there are few opportunities for those on foot to get across safely and confidently. And when I walk I strongly prefer that a lone car gets out of my way first. It aggravates me to no end when they slow down "out of respect for me" when I'd really rather not have to break my stride for this silly homage to my sanctity. I expect to break my stride, however, when there is a car approaching, for I understand that it is far more difficult and time-consuming for them to do so instead of me. There is nothing about this that is not about gratuitous control. The ordinance needs very badly to be repealed. And this is coming from a "far-left" liberal.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

I think your analysis makes too much sense (common sense, that is) to be taken seriously by those in favor of this ordinance.

hut hut

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

Chief Jones missed his calling. He should consider taking up preaching, because that's what he did. He just spouted the party line... and did it, as he said, with passion.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

First off, the new pedestrian law needs to be repealed. All folks (pedestrians and drivers) just need to be respectful and responsible taking care of one another. Staffing for AAFD and AAPD should be brought back up to what it was several years ago. Take away the public art fund and DDA and the city could definitely afford to do that. And, please don't tell me that the art fund can't be used for anything but "art" -- the fund itself was established by taking funds away from other "bucikets" that supported sewers, parks, etc. Re: The city of Ann Arbor has more artists and art available that most cities I've visited = which is many. Let's take advantage of our local "great artists."

Ming Bucibei

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

Delete the idiotic "pedestrian safety" ordinance!! Defeat or recall all incumbants!! in the forth coming elections--" Throw the bums out"!! Ming Bucibei

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

A pedestrian safety ordinance? How about a common-sense safety ordinance. I was riding my bike and stopped at a stop sign (as we're supposed to do) and this car THAT DID NOT have a stop sign, stopped and waited for me... to go?! I had to physically wave her on and insisted that she continue to drive on. As she passed me, I noticed that she had a white phone glued to her head. The fallout of this "pedestrian safety ordinance" is clear to me, chaos.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

KJMClark: Hmm, I think it will get worse as confusion mounts and folks become paranoid about getting tickets. You still think people are logical.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:12 p.m.

Maybe you haven't seen this before, but this happens to me at least once a year, and has for the past 20+ years, long before they changed the crosswalk ordinance. Ie., it has nothing to do with the crosswalk ordinance.

Lou Perry

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

Chief Jones is doing a very good job while budgets are cut, number of officers are reduced.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

Jones said his officers could probably sit at an intersection all day and simply write tickets for people who don't obey the ordinance, They could also sit at any intersection all day and write an unlimited number of tickets for running a red light!


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:51 p.m.

The State ordinance requires the pedestrian, initially, to assess the safety of entering into a crosswalk. Once that person elects to enter it, a car must stop. This puts the burden onto the pedestrian to not jump blindly into a crosswalk without first making sure it is sufficiently clear for him to enter and that cars will have time to stop. The Ann Arbor ordinance is designed to have cars stop first and then let the pedestrian enter. That makes sense. The problem is in the ambiguity of the word "approaches". What they could do is paint a zone at the curbside on the walk. When a person is in that zone, it means the person intends to cross. All cars should then stop. This would help clarify the intentions of a person and also avoid sudden stops when one person sees someone moving towards a crosswalk but not quite near it. There is a need to balance against danger to pedestrians and unexpected rear-end collisions that result from sudden stops.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:29 p.m.

The "pedestrian safety ordinance" is a sad joke. If you really want safety you can do one of two things. First, install pedestrian traffic lights. That way a pedestrian can push a button that will result in a clearly visible red light and cross safely. Second, where traffic lights are impractical do it like Toronto does. Pedestrians at clearly marked (with paint) crossings simply stand at the edge of the street and raise their hand to signal their intention of wanting to cross. This removes any doubt about pedestrian intentions and is an easily understood signal for traffic to stop. Note that the second method is best for low traffic areas.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

@KJMClark - your "fairly painful flashing lights", as you describe them elsewhere, "pointed at oncoming traffic" are an ineffective strategy.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:43 p.m.

"Pedestrians at clearly marked (with paint) crossings simply stand at the edge of the street and raise their hand to signal their intention of wanting to cross. " As I've noted several times now, I do this twice every morning, with flashing lights in my hand pointed at on-coming traffic, in a well-marked crosswalk with good visibility for at least a football field away, on a two-lane minor arterial, while I'm standing *in* the crosswalk (in the bike lane), and about half of the motorists ignore it anyway. You're kidding yourself if you think that would work. Nothing short of traffic signals (that we can't put up by traffic warrants) or enforcement is going to work.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:32 a.m.

unless you ban cell phones talking in the cars . cars will not stop at a crosswalks. i say and just guessing that the majority of those whom go thru the crosswalks are on phones. i have seen lots of them driving and running yellow lights etc. so you want it to work and save a life. use HAWK and forget the cost of them. once again you cannot put a dollar amount on a life of a person. want to be the best then support the best system to be the best. take money out of the art fund. we can do without art for a year or two. which is more important art or safety.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:48 p.m.

@KJMClark - your "fairly painful flashing lights", as you describe them elsewhere, "pointed at oncoming traffic" are an ineffective strategy.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

Creating *another* new law won't solve the problem. Whether someone's on a cell phone or just willfully not stopping, it doesn't matter. Enforcing the current laws and teaching drivers the rules are the only ways to get people to stop for pedestrians. It's a process - unfortuanlte, there's no quick solution.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

Start enforcing the jaywalking ordinance! That would give ample funds for Hawk!


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:55 a.m.

Excuses, excuses. I've seen some of the ones who won't yield to me on Pontiac Trail, and they aren't talking on cellphones. They just don't want to stop. Maybe they should write tickets all day for people who don't yield, and use *that* money to pay for HAWK signals.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:28 a.m.

The mayor was not on the panel but he was at the meeting and did answer several questions. In fact, our public officials (and the UMich PD head chief) did a great job reaching out to the community. The OWS Association did a great job hosting the meeting. The meeting was held at a great location (Bach School) because AAPS cooperates with neighborhood associations. The community did a great job expressing concerns about the pedestrian ordinance and the potential need to make adjustments. All in all, this is a good news story about how our community works.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:07 a.m.

People seem to have a hard time understanding this, but Ann Arbor really is the best-run city in Michigan. When you're in a Depression, city revenue drops like a rock. That's the what happens in Depressions. Find one city in Michigan that hasn't had to deal with massive budget cuts in the last five years. I asked the detractors of the crosswalk ordinance how they would write it to say that the first motorist who could stop for a pedestrian waiting to cross, will stop. I didn't get any takers. The goal is to safely get everyone where they're going. Just because we've always ignored crosswalks in Michigan, that doesn't mean we should ignore them forever. If nothing else, the budget cuts at the school district (yes, due to the Depression) are forcing a lot more kids to walk to schools and bus stops.


Sat, Oct 29, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

KJMClark, the "crosswalk' law is already written at the state level. Allow me to ask you why you think it needs to be enhanced so that it is more confusing, more unsafe, creates more discomfort among drivers, and is in conflict with state law? So many oppose this ordinance and yet our leaders just choose to ignore citizens input and concern. That's not good government.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

Sorry A2 is not the best run city in the state A2 residents have an arrogance that they are better than anyone else. i have lived here since the 60,s this is as screwed up a city as Detroit is now. But that is a whole different issue The problem with this ordinance is A2 never enforced the state law, they now want to but being A2 has to do 1 better than others and add a twist 'stop for someone approaching' is confusing not only to A2 residents but what about out of towners ? how are they to know? as to why you got no response with a crowd of 20 it is not surprising and it was not the topic of conversation. Go to downtown Brighton to see what other cities HAVE been doing for a long time. a well run pedestrian downtown, with Note-no vacant store fronts- A2 could use a lesson in managing a city vs dictating to the residents good day


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

Deb, find the state law. I'm a little annoyed at the Mayor saying there is one, because there isn't. There is a State Police recommended ordinance, which I assume is what the Mayor, the reporter, and others are talking about. A big part of the problem here is that the state of Michigan doesn't have a law about mid-block crosswalks, unlike most other states (are you reading this Jeff Irwin?). And if you mean the state police recommended ordinance, the only difference is the "approaching" bit. Are you saying you'd be happy with the police ticketing motorists for not stopping for pedestrians with one foot in the crosswalk? Because all of the roads with bike lanes now have a relatively safe place for pedestrians to put a foot in the crosswalk. How about we agree to the state ordinance wording, with actual police sting operations (plainclothes officer puts their foot in the crosswalk and we ticket everyone who doesn't yield) like they do in Chicago?

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

deb, the problem is people who refuse to stop. Or who are distracted. Or who claim to be distracted as an excuse to not stop. The issue of whether the pedestrian is approaching or waiting is a small one compared to drivers failing to yield.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

How about scrapping it all together and just going with state law?


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 1 p.m.

"As it's worded now, the pedestrians have to wait for the first car that could stop, but it's clear to everyone that they shouldn't have to wait any longer than that." HOGWASH! What is clear is that no one is willing to take on their own responsibility. Which is to stop , look and listen. And if we can teach that to 1st graders we should be able to expect that from such a well educated populace as everyone would like us to believe resides in Ann Arbor!


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:49 a.m.

Dalex - sure, that's what you should do, no one is questioning that. The question is, how do you write that as an ordinance. And the problem with substituting "approaching" with "waiting to cross" is, how long do they wait? Is 10 seconds long enough? 20? One minute? Two? The reason they changed the ordinance to add the "approaching" was someone showed them a video of pedestrians clearly waiting to cross the crosswalk - standing at the very edge of the road looking toward the oncoming traffic, and waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to yield. As it's worded now, the pedestrians have to wait for the first car that could stop, but it's clear to everyone that they shouldn't have to wait any longer than that.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

You should stop just as if it were a yellow traffic signal about to turn red - if you can safely stop, you must stop. You could also substitute "approaching" with "waiting to cross."

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 10:57 a.m.

"Hubbard spoke about the effects that cuts to public safety funding have had on his department. Two years ago, there were 111 employees of the fire department and now that number is 79, he said." Is the Mayor still 'comfortable' with the cuts? Of course he didn't show up to answer any questions from the public so no one could ask him that question. I'm not surprised. But he was there for the nearly million dollar water fountain debut wasn't he?