In May 2015 the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) removed the crosswalk at the corner of Ninth and Huron in Ann Arbor. They now deny that this crosswalk ever existed.
When most of us think of a crosswalk, we think of ADA compliant ramps, zebra stripes or other pavement marking, and maybe some signs or even a RRFB (pushbutton activated yellow flashing lights) or traffic signal.
Legally, however, all that is required is two sidewalks that go up to the curb on each side of the street. "Crosswalk" is defined in the Michigan Vehicle Code (MVC), section 257.10:
Cross-walk means: (a) That part of a roadway at an intersection included within the connections of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of the highway measured from the curbs, or in the absence of curbs from the edges of the traversable highway.
This might seem like a minor distinction, since a crosswalk across Huron with nothing but curb ramps is not very useful. But it's actually quite important, for two reasons. One is that legally, motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. If a car hits you at Ninth Street, it's the driver's fault, and the driver can be held liable for civil and criminal penalties. If the same happens where this is no crosswalk, the pedestrian is liable.
The other reason this is an important distinction is that we were told MDOT would be reconstructing Huron Street. An existing crosswalk that is not useful or is not safe should be fixed, not closed. The whole point of the resconstruction was to fix the problems with the street that had been accumulating over the years. We didn't close Huron Street to cars when it became unsafe, we fixed it.
Fixing a crosswalk doesn't require any bureaucratic hurdles. You simply have the contractor pour some concrete and paint some stripes. Once a crosswalk is gone, however, it's almost impossible to get it back. That's because a new crosswalk requires an engineering study, and some indication of demand. MDOT gauges demand by counting how many people are currently crossing the street at that location. Since it would be stupid, dangerous, and illegal to cross Huron other than at a crosswalk, the "demand" measured by this method is always zero.
Some people will say that if a crosswalk is not safe, it should be removed, so that pedestrians will be safe. This argument only holds if there is a nearby safe crosswalk for them to use. In the case of Ninth Street, no one is going to detour to Seventh to cross the street. They will instead dart out into traffic, which is illegal and far more dangerous than crossing at even a poorly marked crosswalk.
When I asked MDOT about this crosswalk, after they denied that the crosswalk ever existed, they claimed that the intersection of Ninth and Huron is not actually an intersection. In case that isn't obviously absurd, here's the legal definition of "intersection," from MVC 257.22:
"Intersection" means: (a) The area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines, or, if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of 2 highways which join one another at, or approximately at, right angles, or the area within which vehicles traveling upon different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict.
The Ninth Street crosswalk is gone, and it's not coming back. This increases the distance between legal crossings on Huron from 1200 to 1800 feet. That's a twelve minute walk at the federally recommended walking speed (for older people) of 2.5 feet per second. But don't believe them if they try to tell you this crosswalk never existed.
The City has been asking MDOT for a crosswalk at Arbana for over a year. It's been in our Non-Motorized Transportation Plan for longer than that. MDOT claims they will investigate the feasibility of a crosswalk at Arbana after the Huron Street project is finished.
This is nonsense. MDOT has no intention of putting in a crosswalk at Arbana. If they did, it would have been part of the resconstruction project, and would have cost almost nothing (that's based on what the crosswalks cost on Madison Street when it was reconstructed). Putting this crosswalk in a separate project allows MDOT to come along later and claim they don't have the money. But it won't even get that far. MDOT will do an engineering study, decide there is no demand, and reject the Arbana crosswalk.
The Revena crosswalk was removed by MDOT at the request of the City. This one could have been easily made both safe and accessible at essentially no cost. The city chose to remove it because when activated it would have delayed the cars by up to 35 seconds. Now pedestrians must make a three minute detour requiring four crossings, two of them unsignalized, more than quadrupling the risk to the pedestrian.
If we want to make Ann Arbor more walkable, shouldn't we be adding crosswalks, not removing them?Jim Rees