Where Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

A recent Facebook post by the Lowell Police Department (LPD) regarding the cross walk over M-21 by the Showboat caused a flurry of responses and discussion regarding pedestrian crossings over state highways.  Lowell is unique in that a state highway is also the main road through the city.  This means the Department of Transportation (MDOT) maintains jurisdiction when it comes to changes regarding the road.  According to City Manager Mike Burns every item which pertains to the road must have approval from MDOT, including parades.

Do State Laws Hamper Safe Crossings?
Although cross walk lines can be found at certain intersections in the Downtown District, it is not required for vehicles to stop for pedestrians.  And mid-block crossings are not called for in the Motor Vehicle Code which Burns referenced.  He also mentioned section 612 which requires yielding to pedestrians at intersections where a traffic light is present.  

While MDOT has put white stripes across M-21 at certain locations in the Downtown District, they can be cause for confusion on the part of pedestrians and drivers.  Who has right of way?  Are the laws different because the road in question is a state highway?  The short answer for the last question is yes.  White cross walk lines across the road indicate pedestrians might be present but they do not have right of way.  

On a state highway, drivers are not required to stop for pedestrians.  In fact it’s technically illegal to come to a stop on a state highway.  Should an accident occur, it would be up to the LPD to determine “fault” and whether or not a ticket should be issued.  They could technically write a ticket to a driver who stops for pedestrians along M-21 but typically do not issue them for minor infractions.  Most of the routine traffic stops result with just a warning as evidenced in LPD’s monthly reports.  

Law of the Land
As many in the community know, it took years for a left hand turn signal to be installed at Main Street and Hudson for vehicles traveling north and south.  MDOT’s procedure is to analyze traffic and make a determination on any changes made to state roads.  Regarding the traffic light as vehicles travel along M-21, MDOT studies resulted in not enough traffic to warrant a left hand turn signal for drivers going east and west.  

Of course many in the community think otherwise.  The City of Lowell can only ask so much so often.  And although those who travel along M-21 on a regular basis are likely to question what standards are used when determining the need for a left hand turn signal or allowing for safe passage across a busy street, state law trumps local law.  

Burns has a solution in mind for the mid-block cross walk near the Showboat.  A High Intensity Activated CrossWalK beacon, or HAWK.  “They are the ones where people press the button when they want to cross the street and yellow lights flash on the sign.  Vehicles always stop for that.  We replaced those signs I spoke of with this in my former community and they worked great.” he explains.  But the reality of such a system happening still depends on government higher up the food chain.  First, state law regarding state highways which go through downtown districts would need to be changed.  Second, MDOT would have to feel it’s in their best interest to install a HAWK system on a road they control.  

The Voice of Change
What can residents of the community or even those who come to visit do to start an effort to install a second left hand turn signal or change state law making it easier for local municipalities to address issues such as pedestrian safety?  It will take action on the part of those seeking a change.  The hope is if enough action is taken changes will at least be considered if not put into place.  

Regarding adding a left hand turn signal on M-21 at the Hudson intersection MDOT can be contacted directly by calling 517-373-2090.  Voicing an opinion about making changes to the Motor Vehicle Code so state highways running through downtown districts fall under different rules can be made to State Representative Thomas Albert or State Senator David Hildenbrand.  


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