Concerned Citizens Speak Out at City Council

Amy Smith speaks to the Dexter City Council on the need for safer pedestrian crossings

A large group of concerned citizens attended the Dexter City Council meeting on Feb. 11 to speak out to Mayor Keough and City Council members encouraging them to improve the safety of pedestrian crossings, especially where kids are concerned.

Worries over pedestrian crossings on Dexter’s roads have increased along with the traffic.

“I cross Baker between Creekside and Bates after school many times a week with my son,” said Chandra Hurd in a printed statement submitted to the city council. “At least 20+ students use this crosswalk after school, and let me tell you, a child will be hurt or killed here in the near future.”

Pedestrian safety is not a new concern. Dexter Community Schools have been striving for better crossings for some time now without success. However, the improved traffic movement resulting from the installation of the two roundabouts last summer has shifted public attention from driving on the roads to crossing the roads, especially for kids going to and from school.

A brief synopsis of the effort thus far:

  • For the past two years, DCS have requested the installation of Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons (RRFBs) at 4 locations: Ann Arbor St. at Kensington, Dan Hoey Rd. at Dongarra Dr. and at Mill Creek, and on Baker between Bates and Creekside.
  • Mayor Keough has been resistance to these signals believing city’s main routes fall under MDOT requirements for trucklines. His argument has been that educating the public, especially the kids, on crosswalk usage and motorists’ right-of-way is the best way to improve safety.
  • In a recent DCS sponsored study by the engineering firm of Midwestern Consulting, the minimal recommendation for “best practices” at these 4 locations is RRFBs similar to the same approach the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County Road Commission are taking in deciding where to install these signals.
  • In response to ongoing public outcry and the new study, Mayor Keough and the City are in discussions with DCS as to how best to move forward at these locations.

Amy Smith has been vocal in calling for safer crossings for kids and has organized a growing group of citizens advocating for safer road crossings for kids, specifically calling for the installation of RRFBs at these four locations.

It is an emotional subject for Amy who tragically lost her brother, Robbie Ridenour, age 10, when he was struck by a van on Ann Arbor St. coming home from Wylie after school. Robbie’s death occurred 23 years ago in 1995 and many improvements have been made to the sidewalks, curbs, and crossings since then. But for those of us living in and around the Village of Dexter at that time, the memory is as vivid as yesterday.

Amy was the first to speak during the council’s unplanned public participation portion of their meeting. She handed out a packet to the council and audience containing her statement as well as statements from another 28 residents most of whom could not attend the meeting to speak in person.

In her statement, Amy recognized and thanked the City for their ongoing efforts to improve pedestrian safety for kids, but also implored them to install the RRFBs.

“Had these flashing lights been available 23 years ago, my brother may be with us here today. I am asking each of you to read and consider this Pedestrian Crosswalk Assessment Report, particularly their Executive Summary, presented by Dexter Community Schools and their engineers, and see that these four RRFBs are within your legal authority to authorize. They are warranted and appropriate, and they are supported by all MDOT and Federal crossing guidelines, including direct observations and extensive study analysis done by Midwestern Consulting.”

Following Amy, people spoke one-by-one for more than an hour on their experiences and concerns about children walking to and from school and school events in Dexter. The group had much to say.

Angie Scott, educator and coach, pointed out to the council that being an adult crossing these busy streets is one thing, being a kid who is inexperienced with traffic and adult driving decisions is quite another. Using her experience of walking to football games she said,

“As adults, my husband and I walk by ourselves and have no problem. We know how the roundabouts work in terms of paying attention to what drivers are doing, but we had to wait quite a while to get across the road. I think a child that doesn’t fully understand the movement of a car, the direction, and all that kind of stuff really does pose a problem.”

Melissa Tippens and her family made the decision to move to Dexter because of its pedestrian friendly look, but were surprised by the reality of the situation.

Residents wait their turn to voice their worries over kids crossing roads in Dexter

“We literally bought our house in Dexter because it looked so walkable. That was before I actually attempted to cross the street with my children…It’s been terrifying and it was something we had so looked forward to.”

Another resident charged the council with, “…if children are the future of Dexter, then we ought to invest in it by making their safety a priority.”

Laurie Higgins, Assistant Director at Morningstar Daycare on Ann Arbor St. near Kensington, told how their teachers lead the kids across the road waving stop signs for traffic. Cars still don’t yield. Jill Boysten also commented on how she has stopped her car for kids crossing the road only to have cars behind her go around her on the shoulder to keep going. Wendy Neiman relayed similar experiences.

Another Dexter resident, who lives at one end of the City and works at the other, makes frequent trips though town. He reported to the council that he sees problems daily. One of the more notable occurrences is that of a young boy riding his bike up to the crosswalk on Ann Arbor St. at Kensington. To get across, the boy holds his arms up like a traffic cop in an attempt to stop traffic so he can cross. “It works only about half the time and then usually for the lane closest to him.”

It goes beyond pedestrian education. People, kids and adults alike, naturally walk defensively. It needs to be emphasized to motorists that they are to stop for pedestrians. The group feels that emphasis comes in the form of RRFB signals.

Referring to RRFB installation and hinting at the group’s determination, Amy Riser stated,

“I think you owe it to, to the citizens that live in the City and to the students that are going to school here to do this. So it’s not if it should be done, it’s what is going to be done.”

Natalie Hoffman pointed out that we are all on the same side and should be working together.

“I really think it needs to be a community effort on all of us – teaching our kids how to cross the street safely, to be aware at the crosswalks, and to also be very cognizant of the different types of drivers. I think there’s also a school responsibility as well in helping in the education part. But I do think that there’s opportunity for you, City Council to make this a broader community effort.”

At the end, Mayor Keough thanked the participants for speaking out and announced that meetings between the school district and city were ongoing regarding the recent study on pedestrian crossings.

The two sides had their first meeting on Jan. 11 at which Mayor Keough offered feedback on their study. The report was reissued with some of Mayor Keough’s modifications included. The study has not yet been included in the City Council meeting packets for other council members although they could view a copy on line if they wished.

“This council hasn’t actually formally seen that report,” Mayor Keough explained to the crowd. “You won’t find it in any of our package yet because the schools are still trying to get to the point where it was considered final. I’ve seen the draft. In fairness to the six members who listened along with me tonight, they haven’t seen that officially.”

Mayor Keough was meeting with the district the next day, Tue. Feb. 12, to continue discussions and expected progress to continue.

“There was good cooperation in the discussion between the schools and a few of us that were in the room at the last meeting in January,” he said. “We expect that to continue tomorrow.”

In an email, Amy Smith was optimistic about the meeting and hopeful for progress to be made soon.

“The City Council seemed receptive to community input at last Monday’s meeting. I understand they also met with the schools last week to further discuss the pedestrian crossing study engaged by the schools.”

Amy and her group plan on attending the next Dexter City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 25, where they are expected to discuss the study.

“I plan to be there to hear how they recommend improving the safety at the crossings near the schools,” says Amy. Certainly I, and a large group of parents, will rally behind swift action to improve these crossings so kids can get to and from school and other activities much safer. We all will be advocating for these improvements to be in place by the time the weather is nice.”

Amy invites anyone who would like to receive email updates on the group, “Dexter Kids Deserve Safe Crossings”, to sign up at https://goo.gl/forms/hAxGkmMi2jz1pHcm2 

“Dexter Kids Deserve Safe Crossings”

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