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Healthy Streets

A belated Covid response re-routes traffic.

by Jud Branam

From the October, 2021 issue

There may be 100,000 people cramming into Michigan Stadium's bleachers each Saturday, but Covid precautions are just now playing out on portions of three dozen Ann Arbor streets, where the city is banning through traffic "to promote safe physical distancing."

Barriers for the "Healthy Streets" program have been popping up through August and September, after contractor delays pushed back implementation of the $215,000 program approved by city council in June. The signs clearly declare "local traffic only," but police are not ticketing drivers who disregard them.

"It's more of an ethos that people should have that space to get outside and that the city is doing things differently than in years past in terms of looking at street usage," says city public works spokesman Robert Kellar. The city isn't monitoring whether pedestrians are actually daring to walk in the streets, but Kellar says citizen surveys show support for the program.

The barriers will be removed in November to allow access for snow plows, and it's an open question whether they will return next spring. "It's something we'll have to wait and see," Kellar says. "I would hope that everyone is vaccinated, and we don't have to do this next spring, but that's not up to me."

With the closures turning through streets into temporary cul-de-sacs, the newly reworked two-way streets and protected bike lanes, and proliferating condos, one Miner St. resident suggests a possible change in the signage: "Just replace the H with a W--Wealthy Streets."     (end of article)

[Originally published in October, 2021.]


On October 9, 2021, Jean Henry wrote:
Let's talk about the last line of this article, particularly this little zinger: "Just replace the H with a W--Wealthy Streets." Why was it chosen and placed as the last word in this brief article about creating temporary pedestrian plazas in some neighborhoods and areas of downtown?

Historically are pedestrian plazas the domain of the wealthy? No. They exist in almost every country, from Greece to Central America, from Scandinavia to North Africa. Our own diag's pathways were built on the footpaths of the first generation of UM students. Pedestrian plazas are a traditional component of humanistic city design dating to the first streets.

Is the healthy streets initiative expensive? No. This year's plan for temporary closures cost $40,000. Other road re-configurations under the same 'healthy streets" banner added 100k but were not the subject of this article.

Are the temporary street closures only implemented in wealthy areas of the city? Nope. In a city in which few middle and lower class neighborhoods still exist, the healthy streets program managed to include quite a few. Since the initiative required neighborhood opt in, it seems city staff made an effort to make the initiative equitable.

So what exactly about the Healthy Streets program warrants being re-dubbed 'wealthy streets.' Most of Ann Arbor's streets are now wealthy with or without temporary closure to through traffic. It's become customary for long time, home-owning locals (like me) to blame other forces for this fate while their own home values rise.

The economic and racial re-segregation of this city has been a long and gradual process. If the Observer wants to explore how we as a city let this happen and failed to live up to our own oft-stated liberal progressive values, that would be a great article.

Until then, maybe hold off on giving the last word to clearly inaccurate, unsupportable local hot takes.

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