The video “was just horrifying,” says Erica Briggs, membership chair of the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition. Shot by coalition members, it shows schoolkids darting across South Seventh as cars zip by, ignoring the crosswalk they’re trying to use. A lone kid waits at a crosswalk on Stadium near Pauline–and again, no cars stop. A legally blind woman holding a white cane tries again and again to cross Plymouth. When a car finally does stop, it’s almost rear-ended by the car behind it.
When the WBWC showed the film to city council member Carsten Hohnke and mayor John Hieftje, they too were appalled. Hohnke learned that city law required cars to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, but only after they’d stepped into the street–forcing them, in his words, “to risk one of your limbs before you have the right-of-way.” So he and Hieftje talked to fellow council members Marcia Higgins, Margie Teall, and Tony Derezinski, and together they worked with the police department and city attorney’s office to change the law. The new law, which takes effect this month doesn’t apply to signalized intersections–but everywhere else, it requires drivers to “yield the right-of-way to every pedestrian approaching or within a crosswalk.”
To spread the word about the new law, “we’ve got broadcast media, ads in the [city recycling periodical] Waste Watcher, flyers in with the water bills, postcards, posters,” says city transportation manager Eli Cooper. “I’ve even been on the Lucy Ann Lance show!” But Briggs figures it’ll take more than talks and posters to dent drivers’ assumption that they rule the road. “The good thing is that this is an enforceable law, so the police can do targeted enforcement,” she says. Forewarned is forearmed.