A Veto, A Bully, and Irony

(Please read a previous post  “To cross or not to cross, that is the question”  for background on the topic.)

At the Dec. 02, 2013 Ann Arbor City Council meeting there was a motion to no-longer repeal, but to now just amend the crosswalk ordinance due to all the controversy surrounding it.  The discussion included many memorable statements that clearly showed the petulant, curmudgeon-like attitude of the  councilmembers who are in favor of repealing/amending  the crosswalk ordinance.

Amending instead of Repealing

CM Kunselman began the discussion saying that he no longer wanted to outright ‘repeal’ the ordinance, but now only wants to ‘amend’ the language.  He declared this a compromise where the language is changed but Ann Arbor still will keep a crosswalk ordinance.  Here is the language he wanted to change.

10:148. Pedestrians crossing streets.
(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.
(b) A pedestrian shall not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into a the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is would be impossible for the driver to stop and yield.
(c) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

Basically what this does is duplicate the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code. The language that Kunselman wants changed is the language that made our crosswalk ordinance unique-pedestrians standing at the curb had the right-of-way.  Our ordinance now will just repeat what is already in State Law.  It might not be an out and out repeal, but by duplicating language that is already in state code while eliminating the words “pedestrians at the curb”,  it is basically repealing the intent of our local law.  There is no compromise here at all.  It is effectively a backdoor repeal.

The end result is that a pedestrian who is standing at the curve no longer has the right of way; the pedestrian must now step into the crosswalk to have the right of way.

sign-EdinburghMany drivers who have been upset with the ordinance believe that if there is a repeal that they no longer will have to stop at crosswalks.  Oh, so not true. Our council does not have the power to trump state law. They only have the choice to enforce or to not enforce the state law.  Drivers still must stop and yield the right away to any pedestrian who is already in the crosswalk. The local ordinance is just the scapegoat that the drivers are using to try and deny responsibility for ignoring a law that they should have been following all along.

The new council majority who I will now be calling the Petulant Six1 (when they band together over truly non-partisan issues) were pushing for a pedestrian to now step into the street to get the driver to stop….and they were pushing this in the name of safety!?!

Huh??  It is safer to step into traffic than to wait for traffic to stop?

As the Petulant Six1 said their piece about ‘pedestrians being responsible for their own safety’, ‘how pedestrians should wait for a gap in traffic’, ‘how it is impossible for drivers to know intent’,  yadda, yadda, yadda……you got the feeling that they actually think this is an “Ann Arbor only” issue.  That this is a novel idea and drivers could NEVER adapt to such a thing.  Well drivers do adapt and stop for pedestrians in crosswalks all over this country and now in an increasing manner in Ann Arbor.

Take a listen to CM Briere describe her thoughts on this:

The Petulant Six’s rhetoric about safety just didn’t match what they were asking for-, which was asking for a pedestrian to step into the street to get cars to stop (as specified in the Uniform Traffic Code).  Their explanation was that it was safer for a pedestrian to never step into the street (even though the Michigan Uniform Traffic code [MUTC] says they can) and that they should wait for traffic to clear. Their assumption is that drivers cannot be educated enough for it ever to be safe for a pedestrian at this time. They don’t want to make it safer for a pedestrian to cross the street, they want the pedestrian to be ‘safe’ by not attempting to cross the street at all.  Changing the language to force the pedestrian to do something that is more dangerous that what you are replacing just seems peculiar.

CM Briere said it perfectly, “As more cars stop for pedestrians, more cars will stop for pedestrians”.  There is a learning curve involved.  It can be safe.

If the Petulant Six truly wanted to make it safer for pedestrians they would support the crosswalk ordinance and encourage enforcement.  Instead they chose to describe crossing the street as dangerous and to be feared.  The crosswalk ordinance was supposed to just do the opposite of that.  It was supposed to give the pedestrian a right of way that is RESPECTED by drivers, not TAKEN from drivers.  Those aren’t just words, they have meaning and intent behind them.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not 100% behind the crosswalk ordinance on busy, wide roads.  I think it does need to be tweaked for these larger, faster roads.  I think that these crosswalks on the larger roads are problematic and need adjusting in some way…how we do that I don’t know. A better fight on behalf of safety would be to fight over the crosswalks on major, faster roads vs. trying to get rid of the entire ordinance.

A compromise in my eyes would have been the removal of some of the more dangerous crosswalks on the fast roads such as Plymouth, Washtenaw, and Huron Parkway etc. while leaving the crosswalks in place everywhere else.  That would allow the city to have a real discussion on what to do with the problem areas.  How to fix them and how to make them safer.

I truly believe that most people in Ann Arbor are generally in favor of the crosswalk ordinance with the words “standing at the curb”, but cringe every time they drive down Plymouth road (or another main road) in anticipation of the crosswalks.  I know that I don’t like it.  The real problem that I think needs to be addressed is how to engineer a crosswalk on a road that is 5 lanes wide with a speed >35mph.  This issue is clouding many’s view of the ordinance as a whole.  They want to repeal an entire ordinance that only has one area that is problematic.

I do have one addendum to my thoughts on this though.  The Mayor mentioned at the meeting about how the jaywalking on Plymouth road has decreased since the installation of the crosswalks.  I had not thought about that.  Do I want pedestrians darting out into traffic or controlled at a crosswalk with a flashing beacon?  Obviously I want them at the crosswalk, but maybe just fewer crosswalks on Plymouth rd.

Nonetheless, if given the choice between repealing /”amending” the crosswalk ordinance and leaving it alone, I chose to leave it as is with the hopes of tweaking it in the future to address the issues on the larger, faster roads.  Repealing it completely does nothing in the name of safety and does nothing to educate drivers in the state law that they are still required to follow.  The motion does not result in the desired outcome of safer streets for pedestrians.  Insisting the pedestrian to wait until all traffic clears, which may never happen, is not the safer solution but rather the simpler solution.

The Veto

vetoAfter the so-called motion to amend the crosswalk ordinance passed, Mayor Hieftje surprised us all and said that he was going to veto the crosswalk changes.2  Now Mayor Hieftje has only used the veto once in his entire term of office since 2000, so it was completely unexpected.  I was totally surprised. This was a good thing because the justification of why councilmembers wanted to change the ordinance did not match up to the result of what the change would do.  They wanted to change the ordinance in the name of safety by making it less safe for pedestrians.  It was contradictory.  Here is the text of the veto letter filed on Monday December 9, 2013.

Veto of Ordinance NO. ORD-13-31
Walkability and pedestrian safety are of fundamental importance to the quality of life in Ann Arbor. Ordinance No. ORD-13-31 would reduce both by requiring pedestrians to put themselves in harm’s way before obtaining the right of way. By way of this transmittal I, therefore, veto the Ordinance to Amend Section 10:148 of Chapter 126 Traffic of Title X of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Ordinance No. ORD-13-31, as amended) that was approved by City Council on December 2, 2013.
Referred to as the “Crosswalk Ordinance,” existing Section 10:148 in the Ann Arbor City Code differs from Rule 702 of the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code (“UTC”) in that it explicitly requires drivers to stop, if they can do so safely, for pedestrians stopped on the curb, curb line or ramp. Although both the City ordinance and the UTC put drivers on notice to anticipate being required to yield to pedestrians in unsignalized crosswalks, Section 10:148 is unambiguous where UTC Rule 702 is less clear.  Pedestrians enter crosswalks by stepping off the curb or ramp. By explicitly referencing pedestrians on the curb, Section 10:148 clearly and succinctly gives drivers notice to anticipate being required to stop and yield to pedestrians who are in the crosswalk and to pedestrians drivers should anticipate will enter the crosswalk. At the same time, both the City ordinance and UTC Rule 702 provide notice to pedestrians not to place him or herself in harm’s way by suddenly leaving the curb or ramp when a vehicle “is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.” The capability of a driver to stop depends on the distance the vehicle is from the pedestrian and the vehicle’s speed.
No data has been presented indicating the need for a change in the existing Crosswalk Ordinance. Indeed, the available data show more and more drivers are stopping for pedestrians stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp and that pedestrians are safer in Ann Arbor than in three out of four other Michigan college towns included in the data set.
In cities in Michigan that have adopted the UTC without a change to or replacement of Rule 702 as was done by Ann Arbor, drivers must yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. In Ann Arbor, under the existing language of Section 10:148, pedestrians are able to stop safely on the curb or ramp until vehicle drivers have recognized their presence and come to a stop. Pedestrians do not have to place themselves at risk before knowing whether or not their right to cross has been recognized by motorists.  This is far safer than the provisions of UTC Rule 702, particularly when the UTC is not a statewide law, has not been adopted by all municipalities, and it cannot yet be said that there is a statewide culture or practice of Michigan drivers stopping for pedestrians waiting to cross at a crosswalk, even in locations where the UTC has been adopted by ordinance.
John Hieftje – Mayor of Ann Arbor

For now the crosswalk ordinance will remain as is.  Many of these councilmembers were in favor of funding pedestrian improvements throughout the city in order to make them safer.  We shall see at budget time if they follow through with it.

A Bully

No_Bully_ZoneA few days after the meeting. There was an article in The Ann Arbor News3 that talked about how Erica Briggs felt bullied by CM Kunselman in their discussions over the crosswalk ordinance.  It was because of CM Kunselman’s own petulance that this became news.

When I was watching the meeting I was quite surprised to see a councilmember chastise a resident (Erica Briggs) for something that was said at a public hearing by a few speakers.  Kunselman said (at the council meeting) that the conversation was misconstrued and used for propaganda.  He took issue with the comments made by many speakers at the public hearing that referred to:

 ‘Kunselman stating that he believed no data was necessary to overturn the city’s crosswalk ordinance and that he preferred to “use emotion” to guide his decision-making because data just “intellectualizes” the conversation.’

For years we have had local activist on all sides of an issue speak with council and at council meetings about issues. Many times these activist speak to data collected, spout misinformation and at times have outright lied (including some sitting councilmembers IMO). But past councils have never called out activists/residents by name at the council meeting to try and discredit them on a personal level or publicly intimidate them. Previously, they were ignored or the misinformation was corrected, but never was it pointed out so directly or personally. Until now.  It was petulant and uncalled for.

Because CM Kunselman brought this up so publicly, this is now news.

Erica Briggs in the Ann Arbor news article said this:

“Briggs said she was astonished by many of the things Kunselman said to her over the course of their two-hour conversation. She said it seemed he was trying to use his power as a council member “to try to bully and intimidate a representative of a citizen group into accepting his amendment language.””

In a follow up comment she says:

However, with regards to the comment I made to Mr. Stanton about “bullying” I also continue to believe it is inappropriate for a council member to tell a citizen group that Council will no longer support any of the issues an organization brings to the table (ex. Border to Border trail expansion) unless they support his amendment. We did not believe the proposed amendment was a “compromise”, because it differed very little in substance from a full repeal.

Kunselman of course denies it all.

I believe her.  I believe she was threatened.  Whether Kunselman actually meant it so harsh is the only question.  CM Taylor, at a previous meeting, referred to downtown business owners being bullied over the DDA issues by some councilmembers.  It appears to be a pattern now for the new Petulant Six to act this way.  So yeah, I think he meant it that harsh.

The definition of bullying is this:

use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

A sitting councilmember who chastises you in public or private in order to make you go along with his “compromise” is bullying, especially when it is not a compromise but a backdoor repeal.  Plain and simple. The only reason to continue doing it at the council table is to make it a warning to others that ‘this too will be done to you if you disagree with me’.

This new council majority is treating council like a political campaign, as if any one who disagrees with them should be smeared by name so that the public will be on their side. Look back to other appointment confirmations to see this tactic.

The Irony

thAll of this would not seem so frustrating if people would look at the problem and try and find the solution for THE PROBLEM…not find a solution that actually avoids the problem and makes it go away.

The problem is that it is difficult for pedestrians to cross the street safely in crosswalks on busy, wide roads because drivers don’t stop due to apathy or because they don’t understand the intent of the pedestrian to want to cross. The term pedestrians includes adults, children, disabled persons (in wheelchairs, with canes, blind etc.).  We have a problem because of the actions of the drivers.

The solution is that we engineer crosswalks to make it easier for drivers to stop and for pedestrians to relay their intent to cross to drivers.  The solution is to educate drivers and pedestrians and to have strict enforcement of the crosswalk ordinance.

The Petulant Six’s solution is to insist that pedestrians stay out the way of drivers in the name of safety.  Drivers have the right-of-way, pedestrians don’t.

Now go back and read the problem again.

Problem  simplified….help pedestrians safely cross streets, drivers need to stop.

Petulant Six’s solution….previous status quo, don’t help pedestrians cross street safely drivers have the right-of-way.

And the Irony is:  they are doing this in the name of safety for the pedestrian.  Pedestrians are safer when they don’t cross the street, when drivers have the right-of-way. It is illogical.  Wrong solution for the actual problem.  Their solution nullifies the problem.

CM Warpehoski picked up on this at the meeting.  He made the best comment of the night.  Watch him here:

“I like my irony, like I like my coffee…. bitter.

-CM Warphowski

 Many residents from the disabled community came out and spoke at the public hearing on this issue.  The  day after the meeting was the Intl Day of Persons with Disabilities. Council was considering amending the crosswalk ordinance to make it harder for disabled persons to cross the street on the eve of the Intl Day of Persons with Disabilities.

 

More irony

irony-bird1_thumb[1]More irony came from our newest councilmen Jack Eaton who unseated Marcia Higgins in the primary last year.  CM Eaton made the statement (paraphrased) ‘although he appreciates all the residents who came out to speak, that he was voting based on what he heard from many residents when he was campaigning. He was going to vote no against the crosswalk ordinance based on that.

This made me laugh out loud.

Jack Eaton was a regular at council public hearings, speaking mostly against development issues. Sometimes he spoke with a small group ( a couple people) against an issue other times a large group ( 2o people).  I don’t fault him for speaking whatsoever.  However, when Marcia and/or Margie voted based on what people in the community said to them, Jack Eaton and his anti-development crowd would cry foul.  There were cries of conspiracy and the ‘will of the people’ being ignored.   It is the primary reason he ran for office in the first place.

The one thing that was different at this public hearing is that the speakers were not the usual suspects.  They were new voices.  Voices that were upset.  Voices that have never spoken at a council meeting before.  Voices that he ignored.

Is CM Eaton now ignoring the ‘will of the people”…the 40 people who spoke at council?

Has CM Eaton realized that there is more to community input than just the 40 people who actually show up to speak at the council meeting?

I am not criticizing his vote just the reasoning he used to justify it.

Hypocrisy…irony at its finest.

irony

 contraria contrariis curantur

-MOTL

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1 Petulant Six is made up the following councilmembers: Mike Anglin, Stephen Kunselman, Sumi Kailasapathy, Jane Lumm, Sally Peterson, and Jack Eaton.  This descriptive term will be used when the issue they are opposing as a majority is of a non-partisan nature.

2Ryan Stanton, “Ann Arbor mayor using veto power to block crosswalk law changes”.  Ann Arbor News, December 3, 2013.

3Ryan Stanton , “Ann Arbor council member accused of behind-the-scenes bullying on crosswalk issue”.  Ann Arbor News, December 6, 2013.

cropped-crosswalk1.jpg

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