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Issues Of The Environment: Winter Bicycle Safety And Increased Sustainability In Ann Arbor

Mikael Colville-Andersen

As more residents in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County take up winter cycling, safety is becoming an even greater issue.  In this week's 'Issues of the Environment,' WEMU's David Fair and Ann Arbor Transportation Program Manager Eli Cooper discuss winter and year-round road safety and where the city is headed with its programs. 


  *   There were some fatal bike/vehicle collisions in Washtenaw County at the end of 2016, prompting discussion about bike safety, bicycle light giveaways, and a possible tax increase to promote bike and pedestrian safety in Ann Arbor.

  *   Eli Cooper is the Transportation Program Manager for the City of Ann Arbor.  He says an uptick in accidents often occurs when fall and winter weather conditions are mild and more and less experienced cyclists are on the road during dark hours due to shorter days.

  *   Cooper says Ann Arbor is known as a bike-friendly mecca, and the city will continue to encourage bicycling as a safe form of sustainable transportation.  He says pedestrian and bike travel can be made safer through education (of drivers as well as cyclists and pedestrians), utilizing new technology to enhance safety on the streets, and enforcement of traffic codes for bikers and drivers.  

Recent Bike Accidents

Dusk is a peak time for bike accidents.  According to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, “[In Michigan], The peak hours for bicyclist involvement in crashes were from 5:00-5:59 PM... The peak hour for bicyclist fatalities was from 9:00-9:59 PM.“ 

Both of the bike fatalities in Ann Arbor in 2015 occurred after dark, without bicycle headlights, and both riders were commuting. In December, Jeffrey Jurek, 54, was killed in a crash at about 6:54 p.m. on Dexter Avenue near Wildwood Avenue in Ann Arbor. Police said Jurek had a reflector on the back of his bicycle but did not have the required headlight.

Michael Curley, a 26-year-old Pittsfield Township man, was killed in a hit-and-run crash on Washtenaw Avenue near Brockman Boulevard in Ann Arbor in the early morning hours of Oct. 28.  Police said he had a red light on the rear of his bicycle, no headlight, and he was wearing a red jacket that was non-reflective.

Improving  Safety

There are three primary ways that cycling (and walking) can be made safer: education and outreach to riders, walkers, and drivers about sharing the road safely; enforcement of traffic codes for riders and drivers by law enforcement; and by enlisting the most effective new technology to enhance non-motorized safety.

Following the recent fatalities, Ann Arbor City Council elected to budget $1000 for free bike lights, and the getDowntown Program, housed at the Blake Transit Center, has distributed lights, reflective vests and ankle wraps to about 200 downtown employees, and the city of Ann Arbor has taken requests from another 300 people.

Enforcement-The Michigan Vehicle Code requires a bicycle operated on a road between a half hour after sunset and a half hour before sunrise to be equipped with a white light on the front that's visible 500 feet away, and a red reflector on the rear that's visible from 100 to 600 feet away when directly in front of a motor vehicle's headlights. A red light that's visible 500 feet to the rear can be used in addition to the red reflector.  

Engineering – Cooper says there are technological improvements the city might consider investing in to enhance bicycle safety.  He says if money were allocated by council it would likely go toward improved technology, such as new signage and state of the art flashing signals. 

Bike Friendly Ann Arbor

  *   In Ann Arbor, 15.6% of residents walk to work, 3.5% commute by bike, and 8.9% commute by public transit according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey 2006-2010 five year report.  This is up from the 16.5% of residents who walked, 2.4% who biked to work, and 6.9% of residents who commuted by public transit in 2000.

  *   The City of Ann Arbor added over 4 lane miles of bicycle lanes to city streets in 2012.  This increased the total to 71.8 lane miles of bike lanes. 

  *   There are over 900 bike parking spaces in downtown Ann Arbor, including 431 bike hoops, 6 on-street bike racks accommodating 16 bikes each, and 26 secured bike lockers. Bicycle parking is required in new developments.

  *   The City of Ann Arbor has over 400 miles of sidewalks and 57 lane miles of shared-use paths, and was named a Gold-level Walk Friendly Community by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

  *   Auto travel within the City of Ann Arbor has been on the rise.  According to the WATS travel demand model, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for the City of Ann Arbor will increase by 0.65% from 2010 to 2015, from an estimated 2,393,600 to 2,409,200 miles.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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