Completing Streets Across Michigan
National walkability guru, Dan Burden gives local leaders in Linden a lesson on creating a more pedestrian friendly community and the positive benefits that means for the local economy.
A growing initiative to “Complete Streets” nationwide has Michigan thinking about the value of adopting pedestrian and bicycle-friendly policies and improving the infrastructure for non-motorized transportation. The nationwide movement, which is being fueled by the National Complete Streets Coalition, contends that improving safety conditions and accessibility for walkers and bikers can solve traffic problems, encourage a healthier lifestyle, protect the environment and increase foot traffic to many types of downtown businesses.
In 2009, two communities in Michigan got the ball rolling towards implementing Complete Streets practices. Lansing, MI joined the fray of cities nationwide that have adopted Complete Streets non-motorized network ordinances, and this month they will be the first city in Michigan to present a draft of a Complete Streets network plan. Mt. Pleasant, MI is also utilizing the Complete Streets model in a road reconstruction project that aims to slow down traffic and make town more accessible to walkers and bikers.
The Complete Streets concept has also reached the desks of Michigan’s state legislators, who are considering the value of raising the bar statewide. Proponents of creating more walkable communities and supporting alternatives to motorized travel are working to get a bill passed that would require the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to work with communities across the state to implement Complete Streets best practices.
Communities that accomodate non-motorized transportation not only promote a healthier lifestyle but are also more attractive to the highly mobile 21st century workforce
Completing the picture in Michigan’s Capital
As the Complete Streets model is being mulled over by state legislators, Lansing’s Transportation and Parking Office and the Lansing Master Plan Team are preparing to be the first city in Michigan to present a draft of a Complete Streets Network Plan. The presentation will be held on February 18, 2010, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m, at the Foster Community Center, located at 200 North Foster, Room 213.
Support for a more walkable bike-friendly Lansing grew from grassroots public engagement, spurred along by the Walk and Bike Lansing! Task Force, a partnership between the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council and Michigan Complete Streets community organizers, including the League of Michigan Bicyclists and the Michigan Environmental Council. Proponents of Lansing’s ordinance united under Complete Streets’ mission, arguing for increased safety conditions for walkers and bikers, environmentally-friendly alternatives to motorized traffic, improved traffic conditions and healthier people. More than 100 volunteers collected over 4,500 signatures in order to petition for Complete Streets policy making. In August, 2009, when the ordinance was on table, residents in Lansing were impassioned by the cause - writing letters to Lansing City Council and speaking up at public meetings.
The Lansing City Council adopted the Lansing Complete Streets Ordinance, in an unanimous decision, on August 17, 2009. Required improvements to Lansing’s non-motorized network include “at a minimum, accommodations for accessibility, sidewalks, curb ramps and cuts, trails and pathways, signage, and bike lanes, and shall incorporate principles of Complete Streets and maximize walkable and bikeable streets within the city” according to the ordinance. It also requires, “to the extent financially feasible, future construction or reconstruction of city rights-of-way or any part thereof shall be in conformity with the non-motorized network plan,” according to the ordinance. Lansing will update the plan every five years.
Another significant impact of the ordinance will be an increased minimum requirement for state transportation fund allocation, in Lansing. Michigan law currently requires that a minimum of 1 % of state funds be allocated to non-motorized networks, like bike lanes and sidewalks. Before adopting the Complete Streets Ordinance, Lansing was already spending more than the state required, about 2%. The new plan will raise the bar to 5%.
Increasingly, the vibrancy of a city's sidewalks has been an indicator of the overall well-being of the community and its future prospects.
Making town more pleasant for walking and biking in Mount Pleasant
The city of Mt. Pleasant, MI decided to incorporate Complete Streets principles into the reconstruction of Michigan Street, which is scheduled for the summer of 2010. The decision follows the city’s unanimous decision, on October 2009, to reject MDOT’s recommendation to address a high accident rate and congestion by banning left-hand turns at the corner of Mission and Broomfield streets and putting in “Michigan Lefts.”
Concluding that MDOT’s solution was not the best option for the commercial neighborhood, the city found a solution that they argue is more conducive to their master plan for the city’s design. Improved safety conditions for walkers and bicyclists will include “narrower driving lanes, new bike lanes, ‘bump out’ parking areas (also known as designated parallel parking areas), and wider sidewalks,” in order to slow down motorized traffic and make the streets safer and more convenient for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to the City of Mt. Pleasant.
Taking it to the Streets, and the State
Complete Streets legislation at the state level is being discussed, with advocate arguing in a recent resolution out that “a transportation network that provides active options for people holds many benefits,” including improving public health. Efforts to create Complete Streets legislation, by proponents like Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan, have contended that an “active transportation infrastructure” will support a healthy lifestyle, in general, and reduce childhood obesity, in particular.
Legislative initiatives for Complete Streets is based on the notion that a well-planned non-motorized network increases “safety” for walkers and bikers, “reduces pollution, and holds great potential for revitalizing communities and spurring economic development.”
The implementation of Complete Streets is far from a given. The Let’s Save Michigan campaign with your help, will play an active role in promoting legislation that helps Michigan’s cities embrace more walkable neighborhoods and non-motorized transportation, while recognizing the different needs of different communities. Join our campaign to help us create change in Lansing.
By Jen Eberbach
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