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Complete Streets Policy Safety & Education

Pedestrian Safety in Michigan

Late last year we were interviewed for an article on the dramatic rise in pedestrian and bicyclists crashes in Michigan. That article was published (Michigan pedestrian deaths rise, safety laws questioned) but most of our input didn’t get included.

Our views on safety don’t align well with the status quo. As the safety numbers for bicyclists and pedestrians get worst, it’s clear that the current approach pursued by others hasn’t worked. That’s reflected in our complete answers.


Do you think the state pedestrian safety laws (i.e. yielding to peds in crosswalks) are sufficient? Why or why not?

There are very few state pedestrian laws. Unlike other states, the Michigan State Police (MSP) has put most of the pedestrian law language in a PDF document and asks the nearly 2,000 local government entities to adopt them by reference. That law language is based on the Uniform Vehicle Code model laws that all states use. However, MSP has modified the language in at least a couple instances to reduce protections for pedestrians and bicyclists. Is it sufficient? That may not be the right question when it’s unclear that law enforcement across Michigan have been properly trained on these laws. When reading the crash reports that law enforcement gives to the media, it seems there’s not a comprehensive understanding of the current pedestrian laws.

What you do think about the cities who have ordinances with stronger pedestrian laws, i.e. Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, etc? Should more cities follow suit? Should the legislature follow suit? What should the legislature do?

It seems the one benefit (perhaps the biggest) of stronger local pedestrian laws is that law enforcement is more likely to be aware of them. 

The Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) provides grants to select cities during Pedestrian Safety Month for pedestrian safety enforcement efforts where motorists and pedestrians are given warnings and citations. Is this a step in the right direction? Should this be expanded on? How could it be expanded? 

We do not support OHSP pedestrian or bicyclist enforcement efforts. Such enforcement is a largely temporary and often ineffective method for improving road safety. In fact, nationwide organizations such as the Vision Zero Network are explicitly removing enforcement as a strategy for improving safety. We are members of the Transportation Equity Caucus that is working to prevent federal safety funding from paying for enforcement efforts such as this. 

Like many others (including the FHWA and NTSB), we believe Safe Systems is the best approach for improving road safety for everyone. Safe Systems has a heavy focus on improving roads so that motorists drive safely without the need for enforcement. 

Is Michigan more motorist friendly than pedestrian friendly? If so, how can we make changes? What changes are already happening?

Most Michigan roads are designed to be motorist friendly — and the conditions are getting worse. There were 175 pedestrian deaths in Michigan last year, a 17% increase. In 2010, 14% of all road fatalities in Michigan were pedestrians. That’s now over 16%. Despite this, MDOT only focuses 1.4% of its federal Highway Safety Improvement Planning dollars on pedestrians. (It focuses zero on bicyclists.) That will change with the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure bill which will force MDOT to spend a minimum of 15% on improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety.

And if I haven’t asked the right question yet, please feel free to tell me whatever is topmost on your head and/or agenda regarding pedestrian safety in Michigan.

It seems two biggest factors affecting pedestrian safety are:

  • Road design that prioritizes motorist speed over pedestrian safety (and encourages speeding.)
  • Vehicle designs that have larger, higher, more blunt front ends; are heavier and faster; and encourage driver distraction.

I would also suggest looking over the 2020 OSHP Annual Evaluation Report, if you haven’t already done so. They substantially increased pedestrian and bicyclist fatality goals for 2019. This shows how ineffective they see themselves in reducing fatalities and their unwillingness to commit to Towards Zero Deaths. 

You might also consider the letter FHWA sent to the MDOT director in April of 2020 about their safety performance. It’s on page 51 of MDOT’s Highway Safety Improvement Plan

Based on the review of your safety performance targets and data, it appears that Michigan has not met or made significant progress towards achieving its safety performance targets. The below table provides a summary of the target achievement determination

Federal Highway Administration letter to MDOT Director, 2020
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Complete Streets Greenways Policy

Our Work: More important than ever

  • Climate change is making flooding events more severe and more common
  • Transportation in Michigan is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change
  • Investments in infrastructure that increase biking and walking are the most efficient way of decreasing transportation emissons

The pandemic prompted the question: What priority are greenways and Complete Streets+ in light of the health needs of Detroiters? While they’re certainly not an immediate priority like health care, they do have a role in building a healthier, safer city and residents.

We saw use on the Dequindre Cut rise 55% as people sought safe outdoor activities and transportation options. We learned that walking, biking, and other exercise improved immune system response, not only to COVID but the vaccine as well.

However, one negative pandemic outcome was a drastic increase in speeding, which led to a 67% increase in Detroit road fatalities in 2020. Pedestrian fatalities rose 46% while bicycling fatalities quadrupled. The need for Complete Streets (to deter speeding) and separated bike/walk facilities is apparent from a public safety perspective.

Now Flooding

Detroit’s recent flood events have brought the discussion of infrastructure priorities to the forefront. The discussion has mostly been about addressing critical short term impacts.

While that is critically important, we also need to look to the near future and the expectation for substantially worse flooding.

“What you would call a 100-year event of 5 inches of rain, our climate models are now projecting that 5 inches by 2050 could be anywhere from 5 inches to 14 inches of rain,” said Amy O’Leary, executive director of SEMCOG.

Close to ‘crisis mode’ — Here’s how much infrastructure improvements could cost, WXYZ

“Researchers warn that unless and until greenhouse gases are controlled, expect more of the same, only worse, in the years ahead.”

Floods in metro Detroit bear hallmarks of human-caused climate change, scientists say, Detroit Free Press ($)

It seems the crisis at hand is keeping us from discussing longer term issue of climate change, where transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We just can’t keep building bigger sewer pipes.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than Governor Whitmer holding a press conference on a flooded I-94 where she said we must do “everything we can to address climate change.” Just to her east, MDOT will be adding travel lanes that add more impervious surface while inducing more vehicle travel and more carbon emissions. MDOT’s long term plan is more of the same.

We are encouraging everyone to comment on MDOT’s Michigan Mobility 2045 long range plan. The draft plan ignores the role Michigan’s transportation has in greenhouse gas emissions. They need to hear that this plan cannot ignore the significant impacts it will have on climate change. It cannot ignore the Governor’s carbon neutrality pledge.

Public meetings are being scheduled for August 3rd and 4th. Comments can also be submitted online.

Reaching Carbon Neutrality

Last September, Whitmer pledged to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050. It’s a significant commitment that requires significant changes to our transportation system. It’s more than electrifying vehicles. It’s going to require major reductions in vehicle miles travelled (VMT).

That means the Michigan’s transportation funding should no longer be largely prioritized based on pavement surface quality. It needs to be prioritized for increased safety, reduced VMT, and additional green stormwater management. “Fix the damn roads” can’t focus on potholes. It needs to abruptly shift towards building a safe and sustainable state transportation network.

Greenways and Complete Streets encourage more biking and walking, perhaps the two most effective means for reducing VMT while adding green stormwater infrastructure. Improved clean public transportation is also a necessity.

This is why we’re on the Governor Whitmer’s Council for Climate Solutions Transportation and Mobility Workgroup. We making the ambitious push for real policy change along with Transportation Riders United (TRU) and others to ensure the carbon neutrality pledge becomes reality. (Comments can be submitted to the workgroup.)