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Posted on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

Pedestrian crossing improvements considered for Plymouth Road and Washtenaw Avenue

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council is expected to vote tonight to direct staff to explore pedestrian crossing improvements on Washtenaw Avenue and Plymouth Road.

The resolution is being sponsored by Mayor John Hieftje, who is pushing for new pedestrian-activated crossing signals to help improve safety conditions on busy city streets.

Specifically, the resolution calls for exploring options along Washtenaw Avenue near Tappan Middle School and on Plymouth Road near the intersection of Beal Avenue.


Ann Arbor residents Erica and Pike Briggs struggle to get motorists to stop for them at a crosswalk on Plymouth Road earlier this year.

Courtesy of Aaron Kiley

The resolution authorizes the city's staff to make recommendations for improvements to crosswalks throughout the city "when advanced technologies are available and where appropriate." It gives staff a rough deadline of Dec. 12 for presenting its findings and recommendations for pedestrian crossing improvements on Plymouth near Beal.

"Pedestrians on Plymouth Road experience a challenging environment when crossing the street," the resolution states.

It also directs staff to begin the process of working with the Michigan Department of Transportation for pedestrian crossing improvements on Washtenaw near Tappan.

The proposal comes at a time when concerns are high about the city's new pedestrian safety ordinance, which is now being enforced.

Under the new law, the penalty for not stopping for pedestrians within or approaching a crosswalk in Ann Arbor is a $100 fine and two points on a driver's license.

Hieftje told earlier this month he was interested in working with the state to get more HAWK signals in place at certain crosswalks, including on Plymouth Road. HAWK is an acronym standing for High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacon.

A HAWK signal can be activated by pedestrians with the push of a button. A flashing yellow light alerts drivers that a pedestrian is preparing to cross, followed by a solid yellow light alerting drivers to prepare to stop. The signal then changes to red, allowing pedestrians to cross.

That was the solution for the intersection of Huron and Third streets just west of downtown. Prior to the installation of a HAWK signal there last year, otherwise able-bodied seniors living at Lurie Terrace were taxied across the street to work out at the YMCA.

The resolution on tonight's agenda mentions HAWK signals as well as what are called Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons or RRFBs as options for improving pedestrian safety.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 14,340 pedestrian fatalities and 193,000 pedestrian injuries resulting from pedestrian-vehicle crashes nationwide during the 2004-2006 period. RRFBs are intended to reduce those kinds of crashes at unsignalized intersections and mid-block crossings.

RRFBs are user-actuated LEDs that supplement warning signs. They use an irregular flash pattern similar to emergency flashers on police vehicles and can be activated by a push button or passively by a pedestrian detection system.

According to city officials, Washtenaw Avenue near Tappan Middle School is a four-lane street with high-demand for school children's street crossing. It's also considered an I-94 business loop, a state corridor where 20,000 automobiles per day travel.

Plymouth Road is another major corridor that sees more than 22,000 automobiles per day. The resolution on tonight's agenda notes the proximity of the University of Michigan North Campus, private residential apartments, the Islamic Center and small businesses in the area.

A spokesperson for the Ann Arbor Police Department said on Oct. 14 that a total of nine tickets had been written so far under the city's pedestrian safety ordinance. is awaiting a response from the police department to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking copies of police reports for recent rear-end accidents near crosswalks.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

One improvement that would help a lot is to not locate bus stops right at the cross walk. When someone is standing at the bus stop it's difficult to tell if they are waiting to cross the road or waiting for a bus. Examples of bus stops located directly at a cross walk abound on Plymouth and Fuller, for example.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 3:57 a.m.

I stopped my vehicle at the crosswalk pictured, today, to yield to an adult and child waiting to cross. NO other car stopped, and as six plus cars whizzed past and around me, I started to fear a rear-ending. I then wondered if this ordinance only applied to downtown. While driving on our express ways, I see numerous drivers weaving about while they play with their phones; what would stop one of them from rear-ending those of us following this new ordinance? At least a hawk light would be more eye catching for the driver distracted by their phone. And is there clear wording that drivers from out-of-town can somehow quickly read so that they know to yield at crosswalks? Although intentions are probably positive, this ordinance seems *really* dangerous in practice.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 2:54 a.m.

I live in Northwood and often walk to Kroger, the Traverwood branch of the library, etc., and every time I do I feel like I'm taking my life, that of my toddler, and my unborn child into my own hands. Whether we're talking before or after the new crosswalk law, it is literally frightening to cross Plymouth at any of the crosswalks, even at the Traver/Plymouth intersection, where cars often ignore the red light. I find many of these comments completely ignorant and privileged. All that being said, drivers in this town are so selfish and careless that I don't think putting in HAWK signals will make much of a difference unless there are actual consequences for ignoring them.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 12:10 a.m.

Pedestrian-activated lights are needed on Plymouth Road not only at the Beal intersection but also at the other crossings. They are especially needed at the crosswalk that is between Green Road and Georgetown Road where the traffic flows at speeds way above the posted limit.

Bob Krzewinski

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 11:04 p.m.

I would highly suggest that if you have a problem being vigilant and paying attention while driving, such as looking out for cars slowing/turning ahead of you or pedestrians crossing a road, that you shouldn't drive in the first place. In a car, you are at the control of a vehicle that needs constant attention which is not something to take lightly.

Ashok Gopalakrishnan

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:47 p.m.

Safety is such a basic issue that the research should have been conducted *prior* to putting in midblock crosswalks and passing the ordinance. Why not consult the city of Boulder, which has over 10 years of experience with such a law and crosswalks? Why not find out more about the 3 or 4 different crosswalk treatments they use, depending on the volume of motor traffic? Still, better late than never. With improved high-visibility signage like HAWK lights and RRFBs, changes in driver and pedestrian attitudes, and enforcement, things should improve. Hopefully, the city will continue to invest the necessary resources to make the crosswalks safe for motorists and pedestrians.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:11 p.m.

OMG you made me proud. the city council does listen to the people of ann arbor. the hawk and led are a lot better than what they have now. concret in the middle of the road. lines only which will be hard to see when it snows. you have given me hope that you are not as hopeless as i thought. go with HAWK the heck with the cost. how can you put a cost on a life.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:51 p.m.

I wonder if some of you commenting even drive Plymouth Road regularly. I drive Plymouth Road daily and often I have to make a left turn from the Islamic Center. There is often a huge traffic backup in the Islamic Center parking lot because the traffic on Plymouth Road is traveling so fast and so far beyond the speed limit that nobody has a prayer (sorry, pun intended) of making a left or quite often even a right turn to get out of there. Same goes for making a left turn into the Traver shopping plaza or pretty much anyplace else on Plymouth. In general I have witnessed a lot of aggressive driving on the north side of town in recent months, including speeding, habitual lane changing, red-light and stop sign running, people refusing to stop for pedestrians, people who shoot through traffic circles without any regard for those already in it, people who cut off the opposite lanes while making sloppy left turns, and TONS people cheating on the 4-way stop at Nixon/Green/Dhu Varren. It seems a good start to the "pedestrian problem" would be aggressive police enforcement of speeding and aggressive driving in the area to begin with.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 12:28 a.m.

Totally agree with your assessment of Plymouth Road traffic. As an aside.....The 4-way stop at Nixon/Green/Dhu Varren SHOULD BE a traffic circle.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

"Pedestrians on Plymouth Road experience a challenging environment when crossing the street," the resolution states. A challenging environment? What a joke. I've crossed there many times. Never had any challenges or had to wait a while. Anyway the only appropriate way to do this is to put the stop lights up so that is progress. But I don't see how much the Hawk signals cost. Did I miss it? Too bad you need to file a FOIA for accidents. The PD should gladly offer that info up. I was driving down Miller the other night and ran over a person in the crosswalk because I had to look for people approaching all those cross walks on both sides of several cross streets. Hard to see the people on the sidewalk at night, you have to stare to see anyone standing there or approaching and you can't watch the road when you do that. Okay I didn't run anyone over, but get the point? It's hard to watch the street when you have to watch the sidewalks. Glad to see only nine tickets so far. I hope that indicates the A2PD officers think this is an idiotic law too. Just to confuse things further, I think I will go stand at a crosswalk and when a car stops, I will wave for it to continue on. Can I get a ticket for that, refusing to enter the crosswalk when a car stops? What is the driver supposed to do when I wave him/her on? I hope that doesn't lead to a pedestrian form of road rage. Pedestrian rage. I am going to add this ordinance to


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:17 p.m.

it is very challenging. Every time I cross there, I have to look both ways first.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

For the sparse amount of pedestrian traffic, what's wrong with walking to the signal light, cross and reverse back to your original direction? Oh, I'm sorry, it's an inconvenience for the pedestrian to walk all the way to the cross signal, but, it's ok to halt a busy intersection with 22K cars daily, risk near hit rear collisions for just a few pedestrian that might show up at the cross walk. This just boggles the mind.

C.C. Ingersoll

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 10:46 p.m.

Because there are portions of Plymouth road that are two whole MILES between intersections? That's a bit of a hike to 'walk to the corner and double back'


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

And it's boggling my mind that you only consider that others are just like you with no disabilities and that asking someone in a car to wait 30 seconds is such a huge imposition. Wow. How important you must think you are.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:59 p.m.

Not so easy to do for everyone. How about someone with significant arthritis in their knees, hips, feet or back? How about someone with compromised cardiac and/or pulmonary function? How about someone in a wheelchair? It's not an inconvenience, it's a burden to traverse the hundreds of feet or yards both ways for such people and a significant impairment to their independent functioning.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

As a frequent crosser of Plymouth Road near the water tower, I find that most motorist ignore pedestrians, whether they are at the sidewalk or on the middle island. A flashing yellow light would be sufficient to warn drivers that a pedestrian is crossing and to slow down. Often I have started crossing when motorists have plenty of time to stop, only to have them continue at the same speed switching lanes at the last moment to avoid hititng me. There is no attempt to slow down or stop, despite the sufficient time to do so. i would welcome an additional safety device, even if it were a hand held stop sign.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:37 p.m.

I'm all for safer crosswalks, as long as pedestrians use them. I can't count how many times I've seen people dash across Plymouth wherever they choose.

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

" is awaiting a response from the police department to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking copies of police reports for recent rear-end accidents near crosswalks." It's sad, the Mayor and city government officials are such haters of open and transparent government and you have to file a FOIA request to access information. Hopefully our next Mayor will be more open to the public's right to know.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:33 p.m.

There is no indication here that they HAD to. Maybe they just did because journalism died with the FOIA laws and writers no longer have sources who they can just call up and ask for the information like they did when journalism was a real profession. Does anyone know that there has been any rear end accidents because of this? I would not be surprised there has not been any, but I do agree this ordinance creates that hazard. Also keep in mind that near collisions, where drivers brake and just avoid a collision - is proof of the problem, but is not reported or recorded. So if the city touts that there have been none, that really does not mean this is not a hazardous action by the city.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:41 p.m.

Hopefully there IS a next mayor!


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

What about the cross-walk near the water tower on Plymouth Road. That one is also a death trap. Try crossing it in the early morning hours or during rush hour traffic. You would think that with all the publicity that has been generated about these cross-walks, motorists would notice when pedestrians are trying to cross. I'm assuming that many of these motorist are from out of town and don't know about he ordinance. Its too bad we have a Mayor is completely tone deaf on this subject matter and I too have made up my mind as to how I plan to vote in November and i the future.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 12:20 a.m.

Definitely!! This crosswalk needs the pedestrian-activated light since it is in the section of Plymouth Road that has a HIGER posted speed limit than the other crosswalks further west.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:15 p.m.

If it's a "death trap", it would stand to reason that there are many people dying there. How many fatalities have there been at that spot so far this year?


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:27 p.m.

Really, how long do you have to wait? I have never had to wait an unreasonable amount of time to cross anywhere on Plymouth Rd.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

Hmm. Passing another law so soon after the "Guess what pedestrians are doing?" Ann Arbor local law. Maybe, this wasn't such a good idea after all. It seems like user-activated lights are the answer, but only within reason. You can't add 3 user-activated lights on Plymouth so talk with some experts (not City Council);watch/observe behavior and fix it. And get rid of the "approaching crosswalk law." Currently, bus drivers are having to break this law as they traverse the UM campus. Otherwise, they are stuck in place as there are lots of pedestrians about to/maybe cross streets everywhere.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

Because all the big wigs in this town from the Regents to the City administration think from their Ivory Towers how people SHOULD behave and legislate from that position rather than considering how people ACTUALLY behave. Nor do they care to reconcile the difference.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

I second the compliment, Mr. Stanton, of what appears to be your investigative work on this issue with the pending FOIA request regarding rear end accidents near crosswalks. This kind of follow-up distinguishes you as a true investigative reporter and not a simple transcriptionist of police reports. Keep it up. Regarding this law, I don't have a huge issue with it. While the average adult likely could continue to cross streets safely without this law, certain populations (those with physical limitations that make a speedy crossing difficult or impossible, or children with insufficient experience) would and do benefit from it. The problems I see that should be remedied are that (1) Crosswalks should be sufficiently separated from bus stops so as to not cause confusion to an approaching motorist about the intentions of a person waiting near one or the other; (2) The law should be revised to change the wording "in or approaching a crosswalk" to "in or AT a crosswalk"; and (3) As mentioned in the story above, a light signal (HAWK, RRFB or some variant) should be installed at as many crosswalks as possible, given whatever constraints (probably primarily financial) that may exist.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 5:06 p.m.

I agree, and priority should be given to locations for the HAWK that are in the higher speed limit zones.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 6:23 p.m.

How are the new HAWK systems better than a user activated traffic light? Drives already understand green/yellow/red, why create something new?


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.

Also, they can be installed where no traffic light exists currently. The motorists never have to stop unless the HAWK is turned on by a pedestrian.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

Because they're only triggered when needed.

Guinea Pig in a Tophat

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 6:13 p.m.

" is awaiting a response from the police department to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking copies of police reports for recent rear-end accidents near crosswalks." Thanks for looking into that, I'm curious to know if there's an increase of accidents due to the new law.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

My guess is they are low. Not many people are really stopping. And 9 tickets isn't very many.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

The crosswalks on Huron Parkway near Huron High School are student death traps. Cars regularly travel down hill faster than the 40 mph speed limit. The pedestrian crossing sanctuary there is an illusion!


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.

At 7:30 AM the beautiful Huron Parkway becomes a highway full of traffic. Parts of Plymouth Rd (Plymouth/Georgetown)and Washtenaw ave have these crossings where the speed limit is 45 mph. This makes no sense. Either lower the speed limit or add the pedestrian red light system being considered. If not, we should remove these unsafe crossings.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:24 p.m.

I used to live at Geddes Lakes. There is hardly any traffic on Huron Parkway. And since it is a boulevard, with two one way lanes going in each direction, divided by a wide grass area between the north and south bound lanes, how is that a death trap?


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 6:25 p.m.

Dorchester I almost killed a woman and her little dog at this cross walk, didn't see her until she stepped off the curb without even looking and right in front of my full size work van. She was angry and just pointed at the cross walk sign, I felt bad cause it was my fault, I just wish I had a cemetery to point at so she also could get the messege. I think she was willing to die just to prove in her own mind she was right.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 5:37 p.m.

As someone who drives, bikes, and walks in this town, this is a serious issue and I'm glad that city is doing something to channel pedestrians to safer crosswalks and ensure that motorists stop for them. Those two things go together, and I've been disappointed to see the knee-jerk replies from people who seem to think that they should have the right to drive through this city without any consideration for those who use a different means of transportation. As they age, or as and if they have children, they may well be glad for the provisions being made for people who walk and bike.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:21 p.m.

I do not mean to be argumentative Arborite. But I bike, drive and walk too. I have to say in my experience, drivers are the most considerate. Bicyclists are horrible, almost all completely ignore traffic control devices. Many ride on the sidewalk and ride on the wrong side of the street. Pedestrians walk right out in front of cars, often crossing when the "Don't Walk" sign is blinking and sometimes they start across the street in front of traffic with a green light. I've seen a lot more inconsiderate travel by pedestrians and cyclists than drivers.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

"I'm glad that city is doing something to channel pedestrians to safer crosswalks " Knee jerk reaction? That's what you are doing IF you think there will be any increase in the amount of pedestrians that will walk an extra 100 yds to use a crosswalk!

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 5:59 p.m.

"People who seem to think that they should have the right to drive through this city without any consideration for those who use a different means of transportation" I haven't seen any of that. What I have seen is concern for the danger this ordinance is causing for both those driving on the road and those crossing the road.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 5:35 p.m.

Why not build walking bridges over or tunnels under the streets. Money does not seem to be a problem with AA City Council, after all it comes from you!

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:39 p.m.

Bridges and tunnels cost too much. We need that money for public "art."


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

I think a a cross over would be the best thing. It is a greener way of doing things than having cars stopping and starting and burning more precious fossil fuels.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 5:14 p.m.

Somehow, it just rubs me the wrong way that the picture used for this article and others in the past contains a person that was instrumental in getting this ordinance on the books. It makes me feel as though we are not being shown a true representation of what occurs at this crosswalk - especially with the cars that look like they are traveling 100 miles per hour. Also, do we really need FOUR crosswalks in less than 1/2 mile in that area of Plymouth Road? What about the section of Plymouth Road near Arbor Springs water where there are apartments on one side and a bus stop across the street? There is no crosswalk there where one is really needed. Poor planning all the way around. I feel pretty strongly that this issue is the straw that has broken the camel's back for many voters in Ann Arbor. I, a life-long Democrat, plan to vote for anyone who is not currently connected to the current administration.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:12 p.m.

Maybe Pike is really, really, really skinny.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 8:09 p.m.

What photo are you guy referring to? I only see a photo with one person under an umbrella. The caption reads: "Ann Arbor residents Erica and Pike Briggs struggle to get motorists to stop for them at a crosswalk on Plymouth Road earlier this year." I only see one person, who I would guess is Erica. Where is Pike? Is Pike in the middle of those cars being smushed? I ask that because it does not look to me like Erica is struggling at all or particularly struggling to get cars to stop. So is Pike off camera doing all the struggling? It looks to me like Erica is following the state law, waiting for traffic to clear. I do not see any struggling in this photo. Did they change photos?


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:51 p.m.

Considering that stretch of road, if you're on foot, those cars are whizzing past (speed limit is 40 thru there, IINM). I don't know if 4 crosswalks are needed but one with a HAWK would be a good idea, I think.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

I live near that area of Plymouth and I'd say that picture is pretty darn accurate. I'm glad the crosswalks are being re-examined as I've seen many near misses already. There are people who don't know the rules and people who don't care about the rules. It's unfortunate but true.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 5:57 p.m.

You make a good point about the photo, and I have noticed that in past articles as well. The photo was obviously taken in a manner to make the cars look fast and scary, and belongs only in the Opinion section.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 4:59 p.m.

Does city council get to work via helicopter? About 30% of the pedestrians in this town actually use a crosswalk! The rest cross when ever and where ever they choose.