A “ghost bike” was placed in the right of way along Woodward Avenue at Forest Avenue, in memory of pedestrians and cyclists who’ve lost their lives crossing the road.

A “ghost bike” was placed in the right of way along Woodward Avenue at Forest Avenue, in memory of pedestrians and cyclists who’ve lost their lives crossing the road.

Photo by Deb Jacques


At a dangerous Woodward crosswalk, residents want city and state to meet in the middle

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 25, 2021

 Joan Schloop, a resident living on Forest Avenue, said she chose her home so she could walk downtown. But she said the crosswalk near her street is too dangerous to use, and she drives across the street as needed.

Joan Schloop, a resident living on Forest Avenue, said she chose her home so she could walk downtown. But she said the crosswalk near her street is too dangerous to use, and she drives across the street as needed.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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BIRMINGHAM — According to the city of Birmingham, officials have reached out to the Michigan Department of Transportation several times over many years about the crosswalk at Woodward and Forest avenues.

There are no pedestrian signal heads at the crossing to indicate when it’s safe to walk. The yield lines painted on the street aren’t visible to drivers at night. The four-lane stretch in either direction is nearly impossible for a pedestrian to judge clearance, since cars pull onto the road from various directions: around the corners of turn lanes, out of commercial lots along Woodward and from side streets.

Each time the city has requested MDOT review safety measures at the intersection, the state has allegedly replied the same way: We’ll look into it.


Taking it to the top
But the process hasn’t moved quickly enough, according to Birmingham Assistant City Manager Jana Ecker. In a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, she noted that while city leaders have been given vague and even conflicting responses from MDOT about improving the crosswalk at Woodward and Forest, two pedestrians have been fatally struck by cars while attempting to cross in just the past 13 months.

“(Offered) ‘solutions’ involve MDOT agreeing only to observe, explore, investigate and evaluate existing conditions and crossing improvements, with no commitment whatsoever to install or implement any permanent improvements,” Ecker wrote to the governor. “The only site change MDOT proposes is to temporarily deploy a speed radar trailer on Woodward.”

She added that MDOT’s other suggestions have been a “deflection of responsibility,” recommending vegetation clearance, lighting improvements and police patrols be implemented before state intervention, though Woodward in its entirety is owned, controlled and maintained by MDOT.

“Four weeks have now passed (since the last pedestrian fatality) and MDOT has not installed any permanent or temporary safety measures at the Woodward and Brown/Forest pedestrian crossing. MDOT officials have not provided any commitment to install or implement any pedestrian safety measures, nor scheduled a Road Safety Audit,” Ecker continued.


Taking it to the streets
City Commissioner Clinton Baller went ahead and installed buckets at the entry and exits of the crosswalk which hold fluorescent crossing flags that pedestrians can carry across with them to improve visibility to drivers, though it’s not an optimal solution.

“We need standardized crosswalks with countdowns. Not just these yellow pedestrian signs and the flags, which we just added on Thursday,” said Baller on the evening of Oct. 17.

He joined Birmingham City Commission candidate Katie Schafer and resident Joan Schloop at the corner of Woodward and Forest to install a “ghost bike,” a white-painted bicycle meant to serve as an attention-garnering roadside memorial to mark where a biker was killed by a vehicle.

Schloop, who lives in a condo on Forest just a block off of Woodward, thought like many that the portion of Woodward that runs through Birmingham is the city’s responsibility. She has approached the commission about the intersection, most recently after the death of a 39-year-old woman crossing southbound Woodward at Brown around 9:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17.

“I’m in my mid-70s, and I moved here thinking one day I might not be driving, and I want to be in a walkable area. I get in my car and drive across Woodward if I want to be (on the west side of the road) because it’s just too dangerous,” Schloop said.

“What we need to recognize is Woodward is the main street through what is probably the most significant urban center (…) outside of Detroit,” Baller said. “We’re trying to get some attention so that this can get fixed. The City Commission has done everything it can, and every time we approach MDOT they brush us off.”


Different takes
The offices for state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, District 13, and state Rep. Mari Manoogian, District 40, also reached out to MDOT about the crosswalk, and they received a statement in response that explained that pedestrian counts had been recorded by the agency Sept. 8-9 for review.

“However, when city officials met on-site on September 22, the MDOT representatives stated they had not conducted any pedestrian counts at the intersection,” Ecker wrote to Whitmer.

Despite claims to the contrary, the intersection “has been a priority for MDOT,” according to Lori Swanson, the Oakland Transportation Service Centers manager for MDOT.

“Since MDOT engineers met with the City of Birmingham officials in September, we have been expediting the design and implementation of a flashing pedestrian crossing sign to install on northbound Woodward at the crosswalk. We would like to bring attention to the crossing and better motorist awareness,” Swanson said in an email to the Eagle.

She confirmed that a pedestrian count had been completed on northbound Woodward at Brown/Forest, and the minimum volume of pedestrians has been met to permit installation of a pedestrian signal.

The plan, Swanson said, is to finalize a location for a flashing pedestrian warning sign and design it in-house, which should be completed towards the end of November. When the sign has been designed, MDOT will turn it over to the Road Commission for Oakland County for installation. The Road Commission indicated to MDOT that they’d be able to install the sign before year’s end.

“MDOT is committed to expediting the design of the pedestrian traffic signal. Realistically, even with an expedited design schedule, the earliest a pedestrian signal would be installed is in 2022,” Swanson said.


Take what they can get
But Birmingham officials were hoping for more. In her letter to the governor, Ecker requested not only pedestrian signal heads for the crossing but also the installation of LED enhanced warning signs and the installation of advance yield lines and signage on northbound Woodward ahead of the crossing — a measure she indicated was recommended in MDOT’s own Best Design Practices manual.

Ecker also requested the installation of additional lighting, with a positive offset, or maybe the installation of a pedestrian hybrid beacon, a traffic signal or a grade-separated crossing. Those options too, Ecker noted, are in MDOT’s best practices manual and Type D crossing standards, respectively.

Until the new year, there are only modest indicators intended to grab the attention of drivers: a few orange flags, a yellow pedestrian crossing sign and a white bicycle leaned against a tree in the east right of way. In lieu of lights and technology, a symbolic tribute will, hopefully, appeal to drivers’ emotions and encourage caution in the area.

“Residents want to see this get done as soon as possible, before there’s another fatality,” Baller said.

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