Of the many issues discussed by Saline City Council Dec. 5, the one generating the most discussion from citizens and business people was the plans to repair the problems created by the high sidewalk on the west side of North Ann Arbor Street near Michigan Avenue.
The walk ended up being raised to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it created a hazard for walkers and an obstacle to accessing stores along that stretch of road. The issue was previously discussed in a Council work session a month ago.
City Manager Todd Campbell, speaking for city staff, recommended that a 42-inch-high decorative railing be constructed along the raised walk from where it rises above street level on the south end near Michigan Avenue extending north to the driveway at Hartman Insurance. He also recommended that there be two openings in the railing where stairs would permit access from street level to the sidewalk.
The southernmost opening/stairway would be near the doorway to the former Drowsy Parrot and would be five and a half feet wide. Further north, in front of the Law Offices of Patrick M. Carmody Jr. would be second opening, 10 – 11 feet wide.
Bill Stolberg, owner of Bill’s Barber Shop (101 and 103 N. Ann Arbor Street) and Jill Durnen, owner of the buildings at 107 and 111 N. Ann Arbor Street, came forward to speak about the sidewalk problem. Both argued for better access to stores, especially at the south end.
“I guess I’m just asking for stairs as close to the barber shop as possible,” Stolberg said. “If I could get them by every doorway on North Ann Arbor that would be cool, but whatever you guys can do to help would be great. We’re having a little issue getting people into the barbershop.”
Durnen suggested that there should be three openings with stairs, saying, “I’m a stickler for symmetry.” She asked that the third opening be installed close to the door to the barbershop.
“One thing that we’ve been getting a lot of comments on is that the steps are designed to go where the parking is, but in front of Bill’s place and probably whatever comes into the Detroit Dog space even though there is no parking space there, a lot of people will pull in and drop people off there,” Durnen said.
Another resident, Scott Cannell, also spoke on Stolberg’s behalf. He said it would be unfair if the steps were not installed near the existing businesses. He also complained that although he was happy with the streetscape in general, “that slab of concrete is just ugly.”
Campbell explained that while he understood Stolberg’s concern, he was concerned about potentially increasing the city’s liability by encouraging jaywalking.
“Jaywalking, as long as you don’t impede traffic, is allowable to do,” Campbell said. “However, the concern that we have is that we don’t want to encourage people to walk into traffic.”
As council members discussed the issue it became clear that they were not so worried about the liability issue. In fact, all six and the mayor supported adding a third opening near Bill’s Barber Shop.
All of them were also in favor of the decorative railing design suggested by Campbell. The railing choice was guided by input at the earlier work meeting and recommendations by the Saline Main Street Design Team.
In spite of the obvious safety issue, Campbell said “the code does not require a railing.” Nevertheless, the plan is to have it extend the entire length of the raised sidewalk and turn down the stairs at the openings.
In response to a suggestion by council member Jack Ceo, Council decided that all three openings should be the same width, that is, five and a half feet. The more southerly third opening would be approximately in front of the barbershop windows.
“Instead of looking at it as an opportunity to jaywalk, I look at it as an opportunity for access from parking on the street level right there,” Cannell said during the second public comment time.
Because of trees and shutoff valves in the area, the places where openings and stairways can be built is limited. Campbell will go back to the staff and develop revised plans which include three openings/stairways of equal size.