The results are in.
Dexter Community Schools (DCS) commissioned a study to determine how safe four street crossings are for children. The civil engineering firm, Midwest Consulting LLC of Ann Arbor, submitted their report to the district late last fall. The district turned the results to the City of Dexter in December for consideration in hopes they will approve enhancing 4 specific locations with Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) crosswalk signals.
The study is available online in its entirety on the DCS website. Here are a few of the highlights.
Midwestern Consulting, LLC (Midwestern) analyzed these 4 locations of concern:
- The existing Baker Rd. mid-block pedestrian crossing between Creekside Intermediate and Bates Elementary.
- The existing marked crosswalk on Dan Hoey Rd. at Dongara Dr. at the Walkabout Creek development.
- The existing marked crosswalk on Dan Hoey Rd. at the access roadway serving Mill Creek Middle School.
- The existing marked crosswalk on Ann Arbor St. at Kensington St.
From the Executive Summary
“This study concludes that improvements are warranted at all four intersections. It acknowledges appropriate crosswalks do exist at all four locations, but concludes they do not provide adequate safe crossing opportunities (gaps) for school aged pedestrians to cross safely without full time crossing guards at each location, based upon direct observation of all crossings during both daily peak use periods, gap studies and other appropriate analysis recommended within MDOT approved procedures for crossing studies.”
The study confirms that theoretically, as the City has maintained, all four crossings meet minimum formulaic requirements for pedestrian crossings at these locations.
But the inquiry has also confirmed what DSC has been saying for years. The crossings are not safe for school children and should be enhanced to ensure improved safety for the kids. The school has been requesting the City to install RRFB signals at these locations. Up until now, the City has been reluctant.
Midwestern also supports the City’s idea that RRFB signals alone won’t improve safety. They have to work in tandem with crosswalk awareness and education.
“This study recommends that RRFB devices would significantly improve safety at these crossings for both children and adults given appropriate educational efforts, such as those introduced when the Shield Rd. RRFB was introduced 4 years ago at DHS and more recently within the community after successful introduction of roundabouts along Baker Rd.”
Observations and recommendations of the study include:
- RRFB’s are warranted and appropriate at all four intersections and this conclusion is supported by all appropriate MDOT and Federal crossing guidelines, including direct observation and gap study analysis included in this report.
- These gap studies show that children do not have adequate time to cross safely at all four intersections.
- The City of Dexter controls the intersections and it is entirely within the legal authority of the City of Dexter to implement RRFB’s at these intersections. It is noted the City has recently made similar conclusions as to RRFB’s, in their recent RRFB installation at Baker Rd. near Grand St.
District v. City
The District and City have been in disagreement over how crosswalk safety for children is determined. DCS takes the approach of “best practices for improving pedestrian safety for school aged pedestrians as they make their way to the DCS campus.” The District isn’t settling for what’s “good enough” as determined code. The study was commissioned to determine what is within our reach to make things safer than required for our children.
In an earlier article, Board of Education President Michael Wendorf stated, “I must admit that I struggle to understand why the City of Dexter feels adequate or minimum compliance is good enough when it is clear to everyone, including the City, that more and safer enhancements are available.”
The City uses guidelines described in the pamphlet “Guidance for Installation of Pedestrian Crosswalks on Michigan State Trunkline Highways” for determining crosswalk design. While technically, as the Midwestern study states, “There are no state trunkline highways in the City,” Mayor Keough interprets the criteria applicable to Baker Rd. in Dexter as it applied to M-52 passing through Chelsea.
If the “State Trunkline” guidelines are literally applied, not street in the City of Dexter would qualify for any enhancements beyond the most basic pavement markings. This is problematic for the City’s argument against RRFB’s since they recently installed one on Baker Rd. from the Grandview Commons construction to Mugg ‘n Bopps. This RRFB was installed about ¼ mile north of the Baker Rd. school crossing.
The Problematic Grandview Commons RRFB
As the study states:
“The traffic volumes at the Grand Street crosswalk installation are similar to those at the school crosswalk. The Grand Street RRFB was required of the private developer, yet under similar traffic conditions and far greater pedestrian activity, there is resistance to allowing DCS to install an RRFB on the same street ¼ mile to the south.”
The installation of an RRFB at vacant Grandview Commons to Mugg n’ Bopps is a head-scratcher for some. The City approved it for this location still under construction, but just a few hundred yards down the same road with 3-lanes and the same speed limit between two heavily populated schools, the request for an RRFB is refused.
“In very short order, it appears that placing a (RRFB) crossing at Grand and Baker has been put in place for Grandview Commons residents and others in that neighborhood,” says long-standing school board member Dick Lundy.
“I am disappointed and amazed that the District’s concerns for student safety continue to be opposed, but placing a similar safety system for Grandview Commons has been approved quickly.”
The Impact of Greater Student Safety
There are currently 656 elementary/intermediate/middle school students living within a 1.5 mile radius of the school campus who could walk to school. There are 307 high school students living in the same area. As the study states,
“The potential for increased pedestrian activity related to school activities within the DCS campus is very high.”
At a time when childhood obesity is on the rise and parents are encouraged to find ways to keep their kids active, walking to and from school is seen as a significant way to improve both physical and mental health.
DCS promotes and encourages healthy routines, but they do not support walking to and from school. In fact, they actively discourage it. School Board President Wendorf stated to the Board recently, that when they encourage kids to walk and ride to school on an organized day of protected adult supervision, “the pedestrian counts go up dramatically and more than justify the enhancements.”
The District and City have already met to discuss the study results along with input from the City’s engineering firm of OHM. Wendorf explained to the Dexter Forum that in that meeting, “OHM indicated that the report makes it seem as though rapidly flashing beacon lights would solve all the problems of pedestrian safety. For two of the locations, their conclusion is that enhancements beyond RRFB signals may be needed. For example, a HAWK signal which actually puts up a red light.”
Getting kids walking could alleviate a number of concerns including:
- Physical and mental health of children.
- Traffic congestion.
- Busing challenges from a shortage of bus drivers.
But parents and educators have to believe the children are safe for that to ever happen.
Nearby Municipalities & RRFB Devices
The City of Ann Arbor has aggressively installed RRFB devices to enhance pedestrian safety. This is in response to multiple pedestrian fatalities at both regular and school crosswalks. Of the 39 RRFB signals installed thus far, with plans for more, 11 of these installations were not determined by MDOT guidelines but studies similar to the study done for DCS by Midwestern.
“But we don’t want to install RRFB signals as a response to a tragedy,” Wendorf emphatically states. “We’re trying to prevent a tragedy from happening.”
Washtenaw County Road Commission has also adopted a liberal policy of installing RRFB devices at crosswalks. The study reports that, “No current count of the number of installations was available, but visual counts reveal at least 15 RRFB locations near Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Chelsea and Dexter. For all of the WCRC locations, the Road Commissioners relied on traffic engineering analysis …”
Armed with the new information provided by the study, the City and District are meeting to discuss the results and how best to implement them in coming months.
“The reason we were going forward and released this report is that we believe there’s a crisis,” Wendorf told the Dexter Forum. “We do not currently encourage children to walk or ride their bikes to school because we don’t believe it’s safe.”
Wendorf described their first meeting with the City as “very encouraging” and looked forward to their next meeting on Feb. 12. His hope is that the Mayor’s office will present a motion to City Council for RRFB installation at the four locations at their Feb. 25th meeting.
One challenge of city government is being timely and responsive to new information. It is especially challenging in such a dynamic community as Dexter. Upon receiving the report, Mayor Keough visited the four locations and reported to City Council that improvements to pedestrian safety could be made.
In spite of their past differences, and perhaps miscommunications, the City and Schools are now working together to address the ongoing concerns over the safety of children crossing roads that are getting busier and busier with traffic.
DSC receives many concerns from parents regarding the safety of road crossings. While these concerns by no means fall on deaf ears, it is the City who has the authority to modify pedestrian crossings. Residents who wish to make their voice heard over this, or any issue, are encouraged to speak up during the public participation time offered at each council meeting.
Meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month in the Dexter Senior Center at 7:00 pm.