Friday, December 11, 2009

Pedistrian Killed on Michigan Avenue

Remember Wake Up Washtenaw's news note last month? "On average, each month more than 400 pedestrians are killed in America". It wasn't long before the statistical averages hit us in Washtenaw County. According to a report in The Ypsilanti Courier published Monday, December 7, thirty-five year old Shawna Pinson was killed shortly after 7 P.M. on Sunday, December 6. She was trying to cross Michigan Avenue near Wiard Road. There's a little convenience store near Wiard; perhaps she was trying to get something to eat for her three children on that dark evening (sunset was 5:01 PM). Her children are a boy age 14, and girls age 12 and 5. According to the Courier report, Ms. Pinson's family is "very cash-strapped right now and are searching for ways to bury their loved one during the holiday season." Assistance for Ms. Pinson's burial and holiday gifts for the children are being coordinated by her aunt, Kathy Augustiniak, 734-218-5131.

Michigan Avenue is five lanes wide at that point (two lanes in each direction and one for left turns) and the speed limit is 50 MPH. There is no pedestrian crosswalk at Wiard. The teenage driver of the vehicle that struck Ms. Pinson is quoted by police as having said the pedestrian was "suddenly in the roadway". Though the intersection is lit by two streetlights, there is no traffic control device there, and no median pedestrian refuge.

Our news brief on pedestrian deaths last month was based on Transportation for America's article, Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods). Wake Up Washtenaw has proposed making Michigan Avenue through Ypsilanti and Ypsi Township a transit-oriented infill corridor, based on a plan drafted by the Ypsilanti Township Planning Commission in 2001. The recommendation called for three measures to address the observed issues, "High vehicle speeds" and "Unsafe to cross street at intersections":

  • Coordinate with the County Road Commission and MDOT to install safe crosswalks at key intersections and destinations
  • Institute traffic calming techniques to reduce speeds along the corridors
  • Promote a convenient and comfortable pedestrian environment by providing
    connections to neighborhoods and safe places for walking

This tragic death might have been prevented if the plan had been implemented over the last several years. It was approved on first reading by the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees in December, 2001, but according to the late David Nicholson, former Planning Director for the Township, the plan was ultimately turned down because a handful of businessmen stood up and claimed it would be bad for their businesses. (I can't find the minutes of the meeting at which this took place.)

Ypsilanti Township's motto is, "Putting Residents First". I've also heard township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo say, "We're all about jobs!" It's time to start looking beyond "jobs" to "life". Are we between a rock and a hard place financially? You bet. Do we need jobs? Sure we do. Is it acceptable to improve the jobs outlook by letting job-seekers be killed? Absolutely not! I don't know if Ms. Pinson was on the rolls of the job-seekers, but like so many in Ypsilanti Township, she was hard-pressed financially and may have been unemployed. Nobody would support the idea that local jurisdictions should maintain dangerous conditions to improve job prospects, but in effect that's what happened when the 2001 plan was not implemented.

Interestingly, the Township Board actually approved the zoning designations (B-5 and B-6) proposed by the Planning Commission in 2001, but no land was allowed to be zoned with those designations. It's time to revisit the plan and actually assign the new designations to the zones they were planned for. It's time to talk to the County and State about conditions on Michigan Avenue. No improvements will happen overnight, and no funds need be allocated to make it happen. Changes like these take a lot of time and coordination between agencies, authorities, commissions, boards, and landowners. We should have gotten started on this eight years ago, and although it's too late now for Shawna Pinson and her three orphaned children, it's not too late for the rest of us. It's not too late for the Charter Township of Ypsilanti to put residents first - even before jobs.

1 comment:

  1. Even had the plan been adopted, the recommended transportation improvements would not likely have come to pass quickly, since both roads had just received a complete reconstruction/repaving only a few years earlier. However, these roads will be coming up due for milling and resurfacing in a few years, so now may be a very good time to re-consider the old corridor plans....

    The Wiard Rd./E. Michigan Ave. area has been a site of past pedestrian fatalities, mostly due to the concentration of residents in apartments and mobile home park nearby. If the Township were to pressure the WCRC for a crosswalk and pedestrian-actuated traffic signal, I suspect this history would win the day for the improvement.

    FYI - The Ecorse Rd. and E. Michigan Ave. Plan was not brought back for formal adoption because of objections of one or two property owners and intervention by one or two board members. The recommended zoning changes were adopted, but have lain virtually dormant since, as little property has been rezoned into the new districts.

    What the property owners never understood (and this was a communication failure on the planning staff's part, including me) was that the plan and proposed zoning would've made developing and improving property along the corridors much easier, due to reduced setbacks, a better mix of land uses, and the removal of the "split zoning" that plagued parts of the corridors.

    The owners who stonewalled were those with auto-oriented land uses who thought "those planners" were trying to get rid of them. Not so - we created a special commercial zoning district that would allow some of these uses "by right" instead of requiring special use approval (making the development approval process significantly easier and less costly).