Pedestrian Safety a Hot Topic in Dexter

The crossing at Kensington and Ann Arbor streets. photo by Lonnie Huhman

By Lonnie Huhman,

Dexter Mayor Shawn Keough said the topic of pedestrian safety and motorist awareness is an important one that needs a community discussion.

In his report at the Dexter City Council meeting on Dec. 26, Keough said, “Over the past several months, the subject of pedestrian safety has been brought up several times.”

“My goal in discussing this topic in my report is to initiate and encourage others to initiate some education about pedestrian safety in our community,” Keough said.

The developments of the roundabouts on Baker Road as well as the recent school district decision to cancel the bus route service to Morning Star Child Care has led some Dexter parents to grow even more concerned about potential issues involving their children walking to and from school.

Keough said the city, “has received comments from the school district specifically related to four midblock crosswalks (Baker Road between Creekside and Bates, Dexter-Ann Arbor Road at Kensington and two locations on Dan Hoey) in the city.” 

In a follow up email interview with Dexter Community Schools Superintendent Chris Timmis, who has been on medical leave for the past two months, said he was not exactly sure what Keough had to say, but he did give the school district’s take on the issue.

“We currently do not feel that it is safe for our students to cross at several key points throughout the district,” Timmis said.

He said Baker Road, with the roundabouts, “no longer has natural break in traffic; Dan Hoey has the same impact. Dexter-Ann Arbor and Kensington is also very difficult to cross.” 

“We discussed concerns with the city over the past year and, at their request, commissioned a study by traffic engineers who advised us that rapid flashing beacons (like what we have on Shield Road at the bridge) are warranted at four locations (Baker road between Bates and Creekside, two locations on Dan Hoey, and Kensington). The traffic engineers we commissioned have been in conversations with the city’s engineers over the past two months,” Timmis said. 

“We cannot install rapid flashing beacons or hire crossing guards,” Timmis said. “That is a city responsibility. If it were up to us, we would have installed them already.” 

Timmis said, “We need to have safe crossings for our kids. Currently, we discourage our students from crossing at any of the intersections I shared above. The city is quite small and it would greatly benefit kids and all city residents if safer crossings were installed.” 

Keough said each of these locations (Baker Road between Creekside and Bates, Dexter-Ann Arbor Road at Kensington and two locations on Dan Hoey) is an uncontrolled location. 

“In other words, these crosswalk locations do not have a traffic signal or a stop sign at them that requires a vehicle to stop,” Keough said. “The school district has requested Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) at each of these four locations. When the city reviewed the current guidelines available for recommending when to place a RRFB, none of these four locations met the requirements identified in the guidelines.”

Keough said he was also aware, “that this topic has been discussed on various social media sites and groups.” He said he was recently approached by Doug Marrin of WeLoveDexter and asked to provide comments on behalf of the city regarding pedestrian safety. 

“I told Doug that I believe education on this topic is needed in order to clarify several misconceptions,” he said. “Pedestrian safety is something that the city of Dexter has taken very seriously for a long time. The city takes pride in being a walkable, accessible community and we have worked hard over the past 20 years to make the town safe and pedestrian friendly for all users.”

He said the downtown streetscape was the first example of a project aimed at improving pedestrian safety. 

“Over the years since the streetscape, we have expanded our focus to enhance the crosswalks by making them more visible, creating shorter crossing distances, adding advanced signage at designated school crossings, and adding lighting,” Keough said. “We have also made the crosswalks ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. We continue to look for ways to enhance pedestrian safety in the community.” 

He said most recently, in 2014, “we worked cooperatively with the schools to add the crosswalk island on Baker to minimize the number of lanes pedestrians have to cross. We have also added sidewalk to our “grid” to enhance connectivity.” 

“My goal in discussing this topic in my report is to initiate and encourage others to initiate some education about pedestrian safety in our community,” Keough said. 

As a starting point, he said the city has met with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office, “twice over the past several weeks to discuss our crosswalks and the rules regarding “who has the right of way” in a cross walk.” 

He said, “Our pedestrian system needs to be compliant with state law and we need to follow approved guidelines whenever we implement an improvement to the system.”

Keough provided some information regarding crosswalks, driver responsibilities, pedestrian responsibilities and who has the right of way that the city believes needs to be shared across the community, which was shared with the city by the WCSO:

1. Unlike crosswalks at intersections, the State of Michigan has no law related to mid-block crosswalks, whether they have a flashing light or not. What this means is midblock crosswalks do not provide any additional protection from a legal standpoint. 

2. Pedestrians cannot enter the roadway into the path of a vehicle. If they do, they are not automatically protected by state law. Conversely, if a pedestrian is crossing the road, a driver is required not to hit them. These two points are important to understand because they are based upon the notion of who (vehicle or pedestrian) was in the cross walk first. These two points establish “who has the right of way”. 

3. While a yellow light at a signalized intersection means caution, a yellow light (flashing or steady) at a mid-block crosswalk is just a light. In the case of a crosswalk that has an RRFB, what this means is that a motor vehicle is not required to stop. 

Keough said pedestrians need to walk defensively whenever they are approaching or planning to use a crosswalk. 

“Driver behavior is unpredictable,” he said. “It is my hope that through increased education on this topic that we will encourage more and more drivers to stop when they see pedestrians waiting to cross the street, but pedestrians need to understand that not every driver may stop to let a pedestrian have the right of way.”

He said there, “is a misconception in our community that a vehicle has to stop at a RRFB just because the lights are flashing. While a flashing light is intended to provide enhanced driver awareness that a pedestrian may be crossing, the input from our Sheriff’s office indicates that the pedestrian should not assume that the flashing light requires a vehicle to stop.”

“This point needs some emphasis across our community,” Keough said. “As a parent, I feel it is my responsibility to teach my kids this and I would like to encourage all parents to talk to their kids about crosswalks, and driver and pedestrian responsibility at crosswalks.”

He said the city has a new RRFB at Grand Street and Baker. 

“The RRFB is appropriate at this location because the crosswalk is across three lanes of traffic,” Keough said.

In a city email update on Dec. 14, Keough said they issued the following messages for this RRFB: If you are a pedestrian, please check for traffic before using any crosswalk. Walk defensively and make eye contact with the drivers to ensure that they see you (before you cross). Never assume that you are seen or that a motorist will yield. Don’t leave the curb or go into the path of a vehicle which is so close that the driver can’t yield. Drivers must yield to pedestrians within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is in or near the same half of the street as the driver. Drivers can choose to stop at a crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross the street, but it is not required regardless of the presence of a beacon. 

In concluding his report, Keough said, “I thought it was important to touch on this issue as part of my report. Hopefully, we can all help encourage responsible driver and pedestrian decision making.”

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