Additional Thoughts (Aug 17, 2019) – Informed Decision Making

Aug 17, 2019 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Aug 17, 2019 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section

Additional thoughts…

This week, I’d like to draw your attention to two issues on the agenda, both of them good examples of how Council uses staff reports to inform our decision making.

Agenda item DC-1 is a reconsideration of an issue that Council voted down on August 5. A traffic reconfiguration is proposed for the intersection at Green Road and Plymouth; it is intended to increase safety by reducing and slowing car lane traffic, introducing protected bike lanes. At our last Council meeting, I raised concerns that I noted in staff reports. Ahead of the meeting, I biked to the intersection to see it for myself; the challenges I noticed from my bicycle were also identified in the staff report, which is included as an attachment to the original resolution:

Excerpts from Attachment B_Green Road Diet Memo_20190513.pdf

  • The retail and office spaces have multiple driveways leading to the road segment causing less consistency with vehicle speeds. This could become a source of friction if a lane reduction where implemented.
  • The abundance of retail stores surrounding the road segment ensure a high volume of freight traffic. If lanes are reduced a passenger car driver’s perceived level of comfort may be decreased.
  • There are seven bus stops within the road segment. Their frequent stopping could be another source of friction.
  • There is a high concentration of southbound rear-end crashes at the Plymouth Rd. intersection and CVS parking lot, which may worsen with a lane reduction.
  • Nixon Road could be effected by vehicles avoiding the new lane configuration.

The characteristics listed in this report are framed in terms of the driver’s “perceived level of comfort” but I am actually more concerned about the safety of a cyclist there. I strongly support efforts to make our city safer and more accessible for people who bike. However, I do not support the installation of protected bike lanes in hazardous areas like this, with heavy freight traffic in and out of driveways; it creates a false sense of security. I understand the need for connectivity throughout our city, but we also need to think more strategically about improving alternate routes for cyclists to avoid intersections like this. As a side note, also from the staff report: the possibility of more southbound rear-end crashes at the intersection of Plymouth Rd. and the CVS parking lot seems a poor safety outcome for drivers, as well.

Another item on this week’s agenda (CA-15) is a $161,000 two-year contract for a consultant, in support of the county-wide One Community initiative to advance racial equity in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. City Council passed a resolution last summer (7/16/18), directing our city administrator to implement programs in support of the One Community initiative; the contract in CA-15 is the result of that 2018 resolution:

The contract proposed in CA-15 is for a range of services to be performed by a lead consultant charging $450 per hour, with five additional staff all earning $240 or $330 per hour. The details of this contract are difficult to judge, without context or points of comparison. The city made a Request for Proposals (RFP) for this work and in response, it received six other proposals. However, no information about those proposals (apart from the names of the companies) is included in this agenda item.

Last December, I introduced (and Council passed) a resolution requesting that all proposals like this be presented to Council with “a discussion of method by which the best value determination was made, including the criteria that support of the recommendation, a summary of any numeric scoring used in the evaluation, the resulting rank-ordering of qualified offerors, and the reasons any offerors were deemed to be non-responsive and/or non-responsible.”

I appreciate the important work related to the One Community initiative and I look forward to a thoughtful conversation Monday about best paths forward. I’m also hoping for more complete explanation of how we decided on this particular proposal from this specific consultant, where we identified shortcomings in the other six proposals. I strongly believe that we make better decisions when we have more information.

With the exception of confidential legal advice, all of the information that is available to Council Members is also available to you, via Legistar. Many items on the agenda include history: previous consideration of the issue by our city bodies (such as the One Community initiative resolution), and reports from staff (like the description of Green Road/Plymouth intersection). Additionally, Council has the opportunity— ahead of our meetings— to ask clarifying questions about each agenda item. This Q&A document is also available on Legistar. I use this information to prepare for meetings and to summarize the agenda for these newsletters. However, I encourage everyone to use my newsletters as a springboard to the primary sources— the summaries I write are meant to alert you to issues but also point you in the direction of more complete background and explanation of them on Legistar.