Tag Archives: complete streets

When & why road diets might not work sometimes

In my last post I questioned Ann Arbor City Councilman Mike Anglin’s votes on a couple of transportation-related items at City Council’s April 2 meeting.

For the vote on parking minimums in the Downtown Development Authority’s district, Dave Askins helpfully summarized Mr. Anglin’s objections in a comment.  Meanwhile, the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition shared a link to the an AnnArbor.com story on the proposed road diet for Jackson Road.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link and scrolled down to see what the site’s commenters were saying.

I’ve found the commenters on AnnArbor.com, as with most other mainstream news sides, are predominately right-leaning in their politics, which in turn carries with it a bias toward single-occupant driving and against alternative forms of transportation.  As I anticipated, there were plenty of commenters who, like Mr. Anglin, opposed the road diet for various reasons.  The strongest argument against was one I hadn’t considered — namely, that this stretch of road is a bus route, so traffic would no longer be able to pass on the left in either direction when the buses stopped, as they do frequently.

Depending on the frequency of the bus, I thought that was a pretty reasonable objection.  While I ride the bus myself, I drive Washtenaw Avenue often enough to understand the significant delays drivers experience when driving behind a bus.   It turns out the Jackson route, the #9, only runs every half hour during peak weekday & Saturday traffic hours, and only hourly on Sundays.  On this schedule, a road diet would probably be disruptive to 9-5 weekday commuters, but minimally so for drivers during the rest of the week.

Conceivably, this could be a feature of the road diet rather than a bug:  that some rush-hour drivers, frustrated by the delays, would be able to switch to alternate routes or schedules, reducing the congestion.   Even more likely, the addition of the bike lanes could make people more likely to consider cycling along this route and leaving their cars at home.   However, if you are the kind of person who spends a lot of time commenting on AnnArbor.com (i.e. an older person who considers himself a “conservative”), you are also likelier to depend entirely on driving to get around, and hence will not be convinced that you’d benefit from these alternatives.

An alternative to bike lanes that popped up on the comment thread was the idea that cyclists should ride on the sidewalk in the absence of a bike lane.   I’ll devote my next post to recounting my own philosophy on that topic.

Cycling as activism

I started biking home from work last fall, & this spring I started making it a round trip.  It’s about 3.7 miles each way, & a year ago, the thought of making that trip twice each day would have been overwhelming to me.

Now I can’t imagine living any other way.  It’s possibly the best decision I’ve made all year, and one of the most significant & rewarding lifestyle changes I’ve made in several.  It’s been key to helping me control my waistline and finally start to lose weight, not to mention build stronger legs.  It’s made it easier and safer for me to make it home after a beer or two (not advocating drunk cycling, of course!).  And it’s helped me become a safer and more conscientious cyclist.  I’ve even decided to try biking into the winter months this year, purchasing a cycling cap at REI to wear under my helmet when it gets cold for that very purpose.

In light of the many benefits that biking has bestowed upon me, I want to give a shout out to a few organizations and colleagues:

  • Tour de Troit, which my man* & I are riding in for the second year in a row this coming Saturday.  It’s one of an ever-increasing number of organized rides taking place in Detroit.  My first time around last year, it was the longest ride I’d undertaken to that point and it helped show me I could not only ride that far, but enjoy it too.   In every neighborhood we passed through, the residents universally gave us an enthusiastic welcome.  It’s a great way to see the city, including parts many of us would probably never explore on our own, and I can’t wait to do it again.
  • The Washtenaw Bicycling & Walking Coalition, which has an active listserv I recently subscribed to.   It’s filled with insightful commentary and plenty of debate.
  • The Streetsblog Network, which serves as a clearinghouse for the interests of pedestrians, cyclists and anybody else who values safe streets and alternatives to motor vehicle transport.  Streetsblog tirelessly publicizes these issues on the national level and by helping to alert and engage readers in advocacy, most recently when Senator Coburn briefly (and, in part thanks to Streetsblog, unsuccessfully) held the federal transportation funding extension hostage solely for the purpose of stripping funds for bike and pedestrian safety projects.
  • Local blog M-Bike.org, which does a great job of publicizing and promoting rides in southeast Michigan.  It also offers diligent political advocacy similar to Streetsblog’s but focused on the state and local level.
  • And, last but not least, this blog’s dear colleagues at Damn Arbor, who introduced me to the novel genre of bike porn.  (Speaking of which, I can attest that there is nothing that drives pageviews through the roof more than casually including the word “porn” on your blog from time to time.  This was by far my most-visited post until my Richard Florida piece.)
There are plenty of people who hate cyclists and resent our presence on the roads.  I’m impressed by how effectively we are mobilizing and educating ourselves & others in response.  It’s one of the few bright spots of popular activism in today’s USA and has truly transformative potential for public health, transit, our economy, and the environment.  I encourage all able-bodied readers who aren’t already biking to take the plunge and start incorporating it into your daily routine, whether it be to work, to school, or for errands, and everybody else to check out the blogs and groups I’ve mentioned above.   I suspect that, like me, you’ll be glad you did.

*I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge my boyfriend, who first suggested we get bikes and register for Tour de Troit.  Without his encouragement all those months ago, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

School busing in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Public Schools’ proposed cuts to busing has provoked lots of parental whining on AnnArbor.com.

Raising the cost of getting kids to school is one of the many costs of sprawl that are not factored in when our elected officials subsidize development in outlying areas.   Nobody ever thinks school busing might get cut next time there’s a downturn.  The homebuyers don’t think about it when they buy the place, and the realtors never suggest they think about it.

Families planning to have kids would do well to recall this story when they start looking to buy a home.  Lots within the city may be smaller, the homes older, more modest & more expensive, but at least there are sidewalks so your kids don’t have to walk in the street.

Our Fat City: the epidemiology of Metro Detroit’s roads

Another week, another vapid ranking from Richard Florida, in which he proves again that rich cities are healthier, fitter, and more “innovative” than poor, fat, unhealthy metros like Detroit.  Florida never seems to tire of flogging this particular horse.  Pretty much every ranking he produces reinforces that a handful of rich metros are full of innovative, well-educated, secular, skinny, tolerant, creative class people — and that Detroit is not one of them.

Enough already.  I get it.  As I noted before, Ann Arbor does pretty well on Florida’s rankings, when it’s included.  But its metro area, as defined by the Census Bureau, only includes Washtenaw County.  So it rarely make these kind of lists, which tend to be confined to the country’s largest metros.

Unfortunately, another new ranking of metro areas reinforces Florida’s fitness findings from a different angle.  This past week, the nonprofit Transportation for America released a report called “Dangerous by Design,” analyzing pedestrian safety across the U.S. and ranking the 52 metropolitan areas with more than a million residents by how dangerous those metros are for pedestrians.   Detroit ranks as the twelfth most dangerous, the worst outside the Sunbelt by 11 places.

These numbers resonate with me personally, too.  I’ve had two friends in recent years get hit and severely injured by cars while walking.   I’ve had a number of other friends who have been hit by cars while biking, some requiring hospitalization.  Who doesn’t know someone who’s been injured in recent years under these circumstances?  Our legislators and planners are not taking this seriously enough.  It’s a failure most of all of our planners and our traffic engineers, who should be held accountable for designing unsafe roads and intersections, choices that can kill.

There is a connection between Detroit’s place on both the Florida and the T4A rankings, insofar as only 1.4% of metro Detroiters walk to work.  By comparison, the four metros on the T4A ranking that score highest for pedestrian safety have respective rates of 2.4%, 4.6%, 6%, and 3.6% —  nearly double, triple, or quadruple Detroit’s.   Metro Detroit also has one of the highest shares of workers who commute alone by car, ninth among the 100 most populous metros, according to the Brookings Institution.  Slate’s Annie Lowrey reminded us this week of the toll commuting by car exacts on our health:

The joy of living in a big, exurban house, or that extra income leftover from your cheap rent? It is almost certainly not worth it…

(P)eople with long commutes are fatter, and national increases in commuting time are posited as one contributor to the obesity epidemic. Researchers at the University of California–Los Angeles, and Cal State–Long Beach, for instance, looked at the relationship between obesity and a number of lifestyle factors, such as physical activity. Vehicle-miles traveled had a stronger correlation with obesity than any other factor.

Again, it’s a story that the media has documented and reported ad nauseum;  I’ve been reading these studies for years, and have taken the research to heart in a number of ways.  While I’m a big fan of and advocate for the Ride, aka Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, I also am a big fan of not getting any fatter than I can help, though it’s a battle I’ve been losing the past couple of years.  So since winter tapered into spring, I’ve started commuting to and from work by bike.  It’s allowed me to combine my commute with forty minutes of exercise, twice a day, killing two birds with one stone.

Metro Detroit’s planning is killing us, through injury, stress, and obesity.  It is a public health disaster with many symptoms, but one underlying cause:  the region’s leaders allowed planners and developers to shape it around a mid-twentieth century auto-centric paradigm.

The good news is that it’s not at all suburbs-versus-Detroit thing, as many suburbs have preserved or cultivated “complete streets” to degree far beyond anything you see in Detroit itself.  By addressing pedestrian safety, job sprawl, and mode of transit as issues of public health, and by demanding that our planners, traffic engineers, and transportation officials make it safer for non-motorists to get around, everyone can win.

At the very least, shouldn’t we be motivated by the opportunity to lose a few pounds?

Michigan — a leader in road diets?

A bit of much-needed good news on the Michigan transit front:

Recent preliminary research… suggests that Michigan could be the national leader in road diets and having road diet supportive policies in place. Analysis of in-state existing and planned 4 to 3 lane conversions (road diets) yields some early and impressive results:

  • The Tri-County region (Clinton, Eaton, Ingham) has completed 15 miles of conversion from 4 to 3 lanes. An additional 18.5 miles of conversions are planned by 2035.
  • The Genesee County Metropolitan Planning Commission has completed approximately 19.5 miles and released a 2009 Complete Streets technical report that depicts many more by 2035.
  • The Michigan Department of Transportation has completed at least 45 miles of road diets on state trunklines around the state.

Hamilton and Morena have surveyed state DOT’s and regional transportation authorities across the country and found few places that compare to these numbers. Add in that Michigan has adopted Complete Streets laws and also has the highest number of local communities that have adopted Complete Streets policies, and one can quickly come to the conclusion that Michigan is becoming a progressive, national leader in active transportation.

(HT Michigan transit watchdog Joel Batterman)

What’s so great about a road diet, you may ask?  In addition to slowing the average speed of cars, thereby potentially reducing severity of crashes, it allows for the addition of bike lanes and/or adding or widening of sidewalks, making it safer for cyclists and pedestrians.  The name is kind of catchy, too.

I’ve never before heard of the Governors Highway Safety Association…

But it kind of sounds like it is run by idiots.

For more reasons than one.