Monday, October 13, 2014

Pedestrian safety / Roving Reads

Fall break - time to take a breath and write some things. I realized lately that I'm a kind of grumpy blogger and kind of get on a soapbox about things. Although I'm really a quite happy person, I find it hard to write cheery slice-of-life stuff when madness is always going on in this region. So, today I'm going to write about one thing that gets my goat and one super cool idea that I read about.

Walkable Ann Arbor?

The pedestrian and the car

Two weeks ago Ann Arbor saw two vehicle-pedestrian accidents, one of which was fatal and incredibly tragic. In the second, the Ann Arbor police chief exculpated the car involved because the runners in question were not using the crosswalk. This was at Beakes and Fifth, where I've run many a time, and anybody who's been a ped knows that whole area is a death trap, with cars whizzing over the bridge and taking sudden turns. The week before, a fellow urban planning student was clipped on her bicycle - and luckily not harmed - by a reckless right-turner at Glen and Fuller/Depot. In August, someone was hospitalized crossing W. Stadium. And of course, last year saw another tragedy of University of Michigan student killed at a crosswalk on Plymouth Rd.

Much of the (rabid, unproductive) talk on pedestrian safety in Ann Arbor focuses on the utility of HAWK signals, the pedestrian-activated flashing yellow lights above certain crosswalks, and the crosswalk ordinance that requires vehicles to stop for peds approaching crosswalks. Some say these make peds safer, while others claim that they give cross-ers a false sense of confidence. To be sure, I know from experience that cars don't always stop at the lights. and usually don't stop at the normal crosswalks. I encourage all pedestrians to check carefully before proceeding, even if the lights are flashing. I also think that putting the burden on the pedestrian is a little bit of victim-blaming. And most of all, I hope all decision-makers base their positions on empirical data rather than political factions.

I want to know why we don't expand the conversation, especially since three of the four incidents I mentioned above had nothing to do with HAWK signals and two did not involve crosswalks. We know from research that physical design impacts driver behavior and that changes make pedestrians and cyclists safer (see Smart Growth America's Dangerous by Design). We know that in general people will drive the speed that feels comfortable for the kind of road they're on, regardless of the speed limit (Plymouth road is a case in point). Not working like hell to implement these changes is negligent, and it makes Ann Arbor more dangerous.

Example of unsafe design - enormously round curb on North Campus that allows drivers to speed around the bend, into crossing peds.

I find it funny that Ann Arborites are always defensive about not being part of the Detroit area, when in reality so much of their culture, attitudes, and yes, driving habits, fit right in. If the town really wants to be all enlightened and different, here's its chance.

Books and Bicycles - two of my favorite things

I saw this article in the New York times and immediately decided I wanted to replicate it in Michigan. My bicycle is just about my most valued possession, and my store of books is probably second on the list. There are certainly people in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti who wouldn't mind having a free book now and then - both those who are living outside and others. So why not start? I even thought of a perfectly alliterative name: Roving Reads.

Bicycle (plus pumpkin)

Well, I'm in grad school is why not, but I made a small venture last Saturday when I was in A2. My saddle bags were packed with a handful of volumes I could bear to part with, and I talked to the people who talked to me. I gave a dude a dollar outside the former Borders and asked him if he'd like a book as well. He declined, saying he didn't read very much, but he was nice enough. I found success with the fellow outside Nichols Arcade giving out copies of the Qur'an, who in exchange took a book including Walden and "Civil Disobedience" by Thoreau.

"What's this about?" he asked.
"It's this guy a long time ago who decided to go live in the woods by himself for a while and write about it."
"I see. And what's the 'Civil Disobedience' part?"
"Um, I think he didn't want to pay his taxes cause of what they were used for, so he had to go to jail."
"Well you know, at least he had something that he believed in. You've got to have that."

At my third stop, in front of the food co-op,  I bought a Groundcover (whose enclosed coupon then got me $1 off awesome birthday present tea inside) and offered the gentleman a book. He, too, had to pass, explaining that he was legally blind. He used to have a magnifying device, but it was stolen, and he hasn't gotten a new one yet. I told him that once he got it, he could find me and I'd give him a book. I also asked him to smell the tea to see if he thought my friend would like it (he approved).

I might continue with this informal librarification of my bicycle, at least until it gets cold. And if anyone wants to join with me after I graduate to make this a real thing, let me know!

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