Platt and Washtenaw traffic light nearly operational 10 months after bicyclist suffered 'catastrophic' injuries
Kyle Feldscher | AnnArbor.com
They never saw each other.
She was riding her bike across Washtenaw Avenue, crossing near Platt Road. He was driving to his father’s apartment after getting off work. And, without the benefit of a traffic light, she rode right into his path.
On Aug. 13, two lives were irreparably changed. Now, more than 10 months later, a traffic light installed at the intersection of their tragic accident likely will keep similar incidents from happening.
A then-25-year-old man, driving a Ford Explorer, was moving at the speed of traffic that day as he neared the intersection. According to the Ann Arbor police report, traffic was heavy in the right lane but moving in the man's lane. As he drove into the crosswalk, the driver said he caught a glimpse of a then-55-year-old woman on her bicycle and slammed the brakes, but it was too late.
It was “like she appeared out of nowhere,” the man told police.
AnnArbor.com revisited this accident as the Arbor Hills development nears completion. The 7.45-acre development will include 15 new businesses — and one important traffic light, including a crosswalk, at the intersection of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road, 230 feet west of the crosswalk’s current location.
Kyle Feldscher | AnnArbor.com
The traffic light is built but is not yet operational. Mark Sweeney, manager of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Brighton post, said the light should be operational in two or three weeks.
“The new signal at Washtenaw and Platt is approximately two to three weeks away from being placed in flash mode (flashing yellow for Washtenaw and red for Platt),” Sweeney said in an email Friday. “After that, the signal would remain in flash mode for about one week, at which time it would switch over to stop-and-go operation.”
That is about 10 months after the driver hit the bicyclist as she crossed Washtenaw Avenue in the crosswalk on her bike.
The bicyclist entered the roadway after being waved in by another woman, who was driving east in the right lane, according to the report. The woman in the right lane told police she saw the bicyclist waiting to cross and stopped, per the city of Ann Arbor’s pedestrian crosswalk ordinance. The woman stopped in the lane checked her driver’s side mirror and didn’t see any vehicles approaching.
“She checked her left side mirror and thought that the traffic she saw in the left lane was far enough back where she thought the biker could have at least made it to the center lane,” Ann Arbor police Officer Steven Dye wrote in the police report, “so she waved to the biker for her to cross the road.”
Other drivers slowed and stopped behind the woman in the right lane. The bicyclist got on her bike and started pedaling her way across Washtenaw. The woman stopped in the lane told police the bicyclist was looking straight ahead and didn’t check for traffic as she rode out into the street.
It wasn’t until the bicyclist was in front of the woman’s vehicle that the woman saw the driver’s Explorer coming.
The driver of the Explorer told police he had just left his job as a home health care provider and turned right from Manchester Road onto Washtenaw. He’d driven Washtenaw many times but didn’t know there was a crosswalk at Platt Road, he said.
He didn’t notice anyone stopping and traffic was moving in his lane. He was alone in the vehicle. He wasn’t on a cellphone. And, he couldn’t see the bicyclist.
“At the speed he was going, he couldn’t stop,” a witness told police.
Police determined the Explorer was going at least 43 miles per hour, two miles per hour below the speed limit, when it struck the bicyclist. Witnesses told police the bicyclist flew about 20 feet before coming to rest on the pavement. The driver of the Explorer immediately stopped the vehicle and got out to render aid, and was extremely shaken up by the accident.
“I would have swerved off the road if I would have had the time,” he told police just after the crash. “I can’t believe this happened, it’s just surreal.”
According to the report, he began crying when he said, “I never want to hurt no one.”
Huron Valley Ambulance responded to the scene and transported the bicyclist to University of Michigan Hospital, where she was treated for injuries that Ann Arbor police Sgt. Bill Clock called “catastrophic.” She survived the crash, but suffered a “massive” closed head injury and fractures to her pelvis, femur and ankle, according to the report.
AnnArbor.com left messages with family members of both the driver of the Explorer and the bicyclist seeking comment for this story. AnnArbor.com is not naming these two people because they did not return those messages.
Both the driver of the Explorer and the bicyclist were assigned hazardous actions by investigators. According to the report, the driver did not stop before entering the crosswalk and yielding the right of way to the bicyclist. However, investigators said the bicyclist should not have suddenly left the curb and gone into the path of a vehicle that was unable to stop.
No criminal charges were brought against the driver of the Explorer. First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Konrad Siller wrote in a statement that there was not enough evidence to show the driver made a moving violation.
“Witnesses reported that he was not driving erratically or in a dangerous manner and that he had no time to stop before the impact,” Siller wrote. “Also, there is no evidence (he) was under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or controlled substance. The available credible evidence indicated that (his) view of (the bicyclist) was blocked or obstructed by the vehicle adjacent to the curb.”
The driver of the Explorer was cited for lack of automobile insurance, the only citation that came out of the accident.
The man was not the only driver in the area unaware of a crosswalk at the intersection.
Another witness who was three cars behind the vehicle that stopped for the bicyclist, told police he assumed the woman in the right lane stopped because of a traffic backup and not a crosswalk. The driver of the vehicle behind the Explorer told police she saw brake lights just before the collision, said she wasn’t familiar with that stretch of road but didn’t see a crosswalk.
“(The driver behind the Explorer) said she did not think a crosswalk would even be on that part of the road,” Dye wrote in the report, adding the woman did not see the roadside signs or an overhead sign that marked the crosswalk.
That problem will be solved once the traffic signal there becomes operational and city officials believe the signal will greatly improve pedestrian safety in the area.
“Having a traffic-control intersection with a crosswalk, where red lights mean all vehicles must stop and they will, it’s clearly going to be a huge safety benefit for pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Eli Cooper, city of Ann Arbor transportation director.
The crosswalk is in its current location because of the hill on Washtenaw Avenue west of Platt. The hill makes sightlines difficult for drivers coming up to the intersection, so the crosswalk was originally placed in the area where drivers would have the best chance of seeing a pedestrian.
Sweeney said a sign will not be posted to notify drivers of the new traffic light.
"When a new signal is placed within close proximity to other existing signals, which is the case along Washtenaw Avenue, a sign is not warranted," he said. "Nor is one warranted along Platt Road because Platt operates currently under stop control."
Cooper said the light would neutralize the effect of the hill and will also allow more flexibility for motorists by allowing left turns from Platt Road onto Washtenaw, which are currently prohibited.
“This is a significant improvement,” he said.