Categories
Complete Streets Policy Safety & Education

Pedestrian Safety in Michigan

Late last year we were interviewed for an article on the dramatic rise in pedestrian and bicyclists crashes in Michigan. That article was published (Michigan pedestrian deaths rise, safety laws questioned) but most of our input didn’t get included.

Our views on safety don’t align well with the status quo. As the safety numbers for bicyclists and pedestrians get worst, it’s clear that the current approach pursued by others hasn’t worked. That’s reflected in our complete answers.


Do you think the state pedestrian safety laws (i.e. yielding to peds in crosswalks) are sufficient? Why or why not?

There are very few state pedestrian laws. Unlike other states, the Michigan State Police (MSP) has put most of the pedestrian law language in a PDF document and asks the nearly 2,000 local government entities to adopt them by reference. That law language is based on the Uniform Vehicle Code model laws that all states use. However, MSP has modified the language in at least a couple instances to reduce protections for pedestrians and bicyclists. Is it sufficient? That may not be the right question when it’s unclear that law enforcement across Michigan have been properly trained on these laws. When reading the crash reports that law enforcement gives to the media, it seems there’s not a comprehensive understanding of the current pedestrian laws.

What you do think about the cities who have ordinances with stronger pedestrian laws, i.e. Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, etc? Should more cities follow suit? Should the legislature follow suit? What should the legislature do?

It seems the one benefit (perhaps the biggest) of stronger local pedestrian laws is that law enforcement is more likely to be aware of them. 

The Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) provides grants to select cities during Pedestrian Safety Month for pedestrian safety enforcement efforts where motorists and pedestrians are given warnings and citations. Is this a step in the right direction? Should this be expanded on? How could it be expanded? 

We do not support OHSP pedestrian or bicyclist enforcement efforts. Such enforcement is a largely temporary and often ineffective method for improving road safety. In fact, nationwide organizations such as the Vision Zero Network are explicitly removing enforcement as a strategy for improving safety. We are members of the Transportation Equity Caucus that is working to prevent federal safety funding from paying for enforcement efforts such as this. 

Like many others (including the FHWA and NTSB), we believe Safe Systems is the best approach for improving road safety for everyone. Safe Systems has a heavy focus on improving roads so that motorists drive safely without the need for enforcement. 

Is Michigan more motorist friendly than pedestrian friendly? If so, how can we make changes? What changes are already happening?

Most Michigan roads are designed to be motorist friendly — and the conditions are getting worse. There were 175 pedestrian deaths in Michigan last year, a 17% increase. In 2010, 14% of all road fatalities in Michigan were pedestrians. That’s now over 16%. Despite this, MDOT only focuses 1.4% of its federal Highway Safety Improvement Planning dollars on pedestrians. (It focuses zero on bicyclists.) That will change with the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure bill which will force MDOT to spend a minimum of 15% on improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety.

And if I haven’t asked the right question yet, please feel free to tell me whatever is topmost on your head and/or agenda regarding pedestrian safety in Michigan.

It seems two biggest factors affecting pedestrian safety are:

  • Road design that prioritizes motorist speed over pedestrian safety (and encourages speeding.)
  • Vehicle designs that have larger, higher, more blunt front ends; are heavier and faster; and encourage driver distraction.

I would also suggest looking over the 2020 OSHP Annual Evaluation Report, if you haven’t already done so. They substantially increased pedestrian and bicyclist fatality goals for 2019. This shows how ineffective they see themselves in reducing fatalities and their unwillingness to commit to Towards Zero Deaths. 

You might also consider the letter FHWA sent to the MDOT director in April of 2020 about their safety performance. It’s on page 51 of MDOT’s Highway Safety Improvement Plan

Based on the review of your safety performance targets and data, it appears that Michigan has not met or made significant progress towards achieving its safety performance targets. The below table provides a summary of the target achievement determination

Federal Highway Administration letter to MDOT Director, 2020
Categories
Complete Streets Greenways Policy

Our Work: More important than ever

  • Climate change is making flooding events more severe and more common
  • Transportation in Michigan is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change
  • Investments in infrastructure that increase biking and walking are the most efficient way of decreasing transportation emissons

The pandemic prompted the question: What priority are greenways and Complete Streets+ in light of the health needs of Detroiters? While they’re certainly not an immediate priority like health care, they do have a role in building a healthier, safer city and residents.

We saw use on the Dequindre Cut rise 55% as people sought safe outdoor activities and transportation options. We learned that walking, biking, and other exercise improved immune system response, not only to COVID but the vaccine as well.

However, one negative pandemic outcome was a drastic increase in speeding, which led to a 67% increase in Detroit road fatalities in 2020. Pedestrian fatalities rose 46% while bicycling fatalities quadrupled. The need for Complete Streets (to deter speeding) and separated bike/walk facilities is apparent from a public safety perspective.

Now Flooding

Detroit’s recent flood events have brought the discussion of infrastructure priorities to the forefront. The discussion has mostly been about addressing critical short term impacts.

While that is critically important, we also need to look to the near future and the expectation for substantially worse flooding.

“What you would call a 100-year event of 5 inches of rain, our climate models are now projecting that 5 inches by 2050 could be anywhere from 5 inches to 14 inches of rain,” said Amy O’Leary, executive director of SEMCOG.

Close to ‘crisis mode’ — Here’s how much infrastructure improvements could cost, WXYZ

“Researchers warn that unless and until greenhouse gases are controlled, expect more of the same, only worse, in the years ahead.”

Floods in metro Detroit bear hallmarks of human-caused climate change, scientists say, Detroit Free Press ($)

It seems the crisis at hand is keeping us from discussing longer term issue of climate change, where transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We just can’t keep building bigger sewer pipes.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than Governor Whitmer holding a press conference on a flooded I-94 where she said we must do “everything we can to address climate change.” Just to her east, MDOT will be adding travel lanes that add more impervious surface while inducing more vehicle travel and more carbon emissions. MDOT’s long term plan is more of the same.

We are encouraging everyone to comment on MDOT’s Michigan Mobility 2045 long range plan. The draft plan ignores the role Michigan’s transportation has in greenhouse gas emissions. They need to hear that this plan cannot ignore the significant impacts it will have on climate change. It cannot ignore the Governor’s carbon neutrality pledge.

Public meetings are being scheduled for August 3rd and 4th. Comments can also be submitted online.

Reaching Carbon Neutrality

Last September, Whitmer pledged to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050. It’s a significant commitment that requires significant changes to our transportation system. It’s more than electrifying vehicles. It’s going to require major reductions in vehicle miles travelled (VMT).

That means the Michigan’s transportation funding should no longer be largely prioritized based on pavement surface quality. It needs to be prioritized for increased safety, reduced VMT, and additional green stormwater management. “Fix the damn roads” can’t focus on potholes. It needs to abruptly shift towards building a safe and sustainable state transportation network.

Greenways and Complete Streets encourage more biking and walking, perhaps the two most effective means for reducing VMT while adding green stormwater infrastructure. Improved clean public transportation is also a necessity.

This is why we’re on the Governor Whitmer’s Council for Climate Solutions Transportation and Mobility Workgroup. We making the ambitious push for real policy change along with Transportation Riders United (TRU) and others to ensure the carbon neutrality pledge becomes reality. (Comments can be submitted to the workgroup.)

Categories
Newsletter Policy Safety & Education

End of the Year 2020

End of Year Donation

First, we want to thank everyone that generously donated to our Giving Tuesday fundraiser. These donations are a key funding source that keeps us at the table and advocating for better bike and trail investments across Detroit. We couldn’t do this without your help.

If you haven’t already done so there’s still time to donate on our website via PayPal. There’s an added incentive for donating before this year is over. Under the CARES Act, “taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions may take a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to qualifying organizations”. The Detroit Greenways Coalition is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.


Legislative Updates

The current Michigan legislative session is wrapping up. Bills that didn’t pass the House and Senate are dead as everything starts over in the next session. Here are three bills we watched. None of them made it to the Governor:

  • HB 4733 — This is the Speed Limit bill which clarifies that local governments have  modest flexibility in setting speed limits besides basing them only on the 85th fastest motorist driving under ideal conditions. The original bill language was flawed and we successfully worked with the bill’s sponsor and others to fix it. We supported this new bill, which made its way out of the House Transportation Committee but died in the Ways and Means Committee. We expect this bill to be reintroduced next session.
  • SB 892 — We call this the Robots on Sidewalks bill and it was largely being pushed by FedEx and Amazon. We opposed this bill and felt it was very flawed not only from a sidewalk safety aspect, but it largely removed local governments’ ability to manage this disruptive transportation option. Nonetheless, the bill passed the Senate but was not not taken up by the House Transportation Committee. During this time, a similar Senate bill was introduced that would allow these robots on sidewalks at 10 MPH and in bike lanes at any speed! Both bills died in the session, but we expect them to be re-introduced — and we’ll be watching.
  • HB 5369 — This bill takes the local Detroit streetcar ordinances and makes them state law. The language is not clear how or even when bicyclists can safely ride on Woodward when the QLine is operating. As a local ordinance without proper signage, it was unenforceable for bicyclists. This bill would change that and be enforceable. As of this writing, it appears to have died on the Senate floor. 

Three Opportunities for Input

  • Michigan Avenue in Corktown — MDOT is still seeking input on how to redesign Michigan Avenue through Corktown. They are using Streetmix which lets you drag and drop various road design features. It’s an interesting way to visualize the road design you want to see in the no-so-distant future.
  • FerndaleMoves.com — The City of Ferndale has released draft recommendations for their Ferndale Moves mobility plan update. They are seeking feedback on those draft recommendations using this interactive webmap before January 9th. They have also posted the recording and slides from their December 9 public meeting.
  • Gratiot/7 Mile Framework Plan — If you missed the most recent neighborhood planning meeting, you can still take participate in the prioritization poll exercise.  This will be available until the end of the month. “Community input is essential to the success of creating a plan to improve your neighborhoods.”

Virtual Bike Tour Video

We previously wrote about Council members Scott Benson and Roy McAllister’s bike tour back in August. This tour went through Ferndale (with Mayor Melanie Piana) and Pleasant Ridge. SEMCOG has made this great video showing the highlights along the tour route.

Riding Livernois through Ferndale

Additional Reading

Categories
Complete Streets Greenways Newsletter

News from the Trail — December 2020

Giving Tuesday

Two Ways to Give

We have a fundraiser on Facebook. Facebook is matching the first $7 million in all donations starting on #GivingTuesday at 8 AM.

If you prefer, you can setup your own Facebook fundraiser with the Detroit Greenways Coalition as the beneficially.

We also have a donation page on our website with payments handled securely through PayPal. There’s the option for regular monthly or annual donations as well.

There is no better time to make Detroit a more walkable and more bikeable city. We’ve seen COVID-19 affect our family, friends, and communities. We’ve been unable to do many things we enjoy doing while experiencing the added stress of social distancing.

As a result, many of us have been spending more time outside, at the parks and trails, on our bikes, in our kayaks, running, or walking. It’s helping keep us physically, mentally, and socially healthy, while strenghening our resistance to potential illness. For many it’s also providing an alternative safe travel option with good social distancing.

Others are discovering these outdoor options as well. We’ve seen trail usage increase by over 40% on the Dequindre Cut this year. We’ve also see a growing momentum to make Detroit a more convenient, safe, and fun place to walk and bike — a place with more trails, more Complete Streets (e.g. better sidewalks, bike lanes, speed humps), and more greenspace.

Your donation will help keep pushing this vision forward, not only for us, but for many who will benefit from a safer and healthier city yet are unable to contribute. Your support will enable us to continue our advocacy and technical assistance citywide as we have since 2007.

There an added incentive for donating this year. Under the CARES Act, individual taxpayers can deduct up to $300 in cash donations — even when taking the standard deduction.

We appreciate any and all support.

Stay Healthy,


Todd Scott, Executive Director


Michigan Avenue Improvements

Debris-covered Michigan Avenue bike lanes and sidewalk near the LodgeThere is an opportunity for major improvements to Michigan Avenue’s design through Corktown so mark your calendar for Tuesday, December 2nd at 6pm. MDOT is hosting a virtual public meeting to collect your input. (Meeting details) They need your input!

We’ve come quite a ways from ten years ago when we first asked MDOT to add regular bike lanes to this state trunkline. It was met with a great deal of resistance from both legal and engineering standpoints. We continued to push, find answers to the issues, and was eventually successful. Later those became protected bike lanes.

Now we can push this design forward into something much better, e.g. raised or sidewalk-level bike lanes with curb protection, protected intersections, wider sidewalks, and green stormwater infrastructure. One priority we already shared with MDOT is the need for a maintenance plan. We want a great design that’s also free of debris.

This isn’t just a planning exercise. $20 million in construction funding has been allocated for 2022.

Happening in parallel is the MDOT Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV) Corridor project along Michigan Avenue and I-94 between Detroit and Ann Arbor. They are looking to design “an innovative infrastructure solution that allows for a mix of connected and autonomous vehicles, traditional transit vehicles, shared mobility, and freight and personal vehicles.” We’re on the project’s stakeholder group and really want to ensure that shiny new transportation concepts don’t interfere with the tried-and-true mobility provided by biking and walking. We’re optimistic given that Mark de la Vergne, Detroit’s former Cheif of Mobility Innovation is now leading this project for the contractor, Cavanue.

Of course Ford’s Michigan Central project is along this section of Michigan Avenue. They recently held a public meeting to share more of their vision for the former train station, surrounding campus, and May Creek Greenway. There’s additional information in this Detroit News article, Ford unveils Michigan Central site plan for Corktown.Rendering of the future Michigan Central Station by Ford


Belle Isle Improvements

Central Avenue on Belle IsleThe good news? The Strand pavement near the Coast Guard station has been replaced. The bad news? The last we checked, some sections of the bike lane are in really poor condition here. Still, you should be able to get around them.

Other updates include the reconfiguration of Central Avenue on the eastern portion of the island. It’s now marked for eastbound vehicle travel only with a two-way shared-use pathway. We would have preferred seeing vehicles prohibited altogether from this roadway, but this is an improvement — and the surface has been repaved.

Phase 1 of the new Iron Belle Trail is also under construction from the beach to the Boat Club. This will be a much welcomed trail for all but the faster, fitness-oriented bicyclists who will prefer staying on the road. The DNR also recommended $1.35 million in Land Water and Conservation Funds (LWCF) to build Phase 2 of this trail which will eventually extend this trail around the island.

We are continuing to advocate for safer bike lane designs on the island, but especially for the MacArthur Bridge. Unfortunately we do not have any updates at this time.


Other Updates

  • Ford Hunger March monumentThe grand opening of the new Fort Street Bridge Park was at the end of October. This park gives recognition to the Ford Hunger March of 1932 with a monument constructed from parts of the original historic bridge. There are additional bridge parts remaining and we’re trying to see if they can be used for a gateway monument to welcome bicyclists and pedestrians entering Detroit via the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
  • We were glad to provide some modest assistance to Council Scott Benson, Greenway Guy Tim Springer, Henry Ford Health System, and others with their Bikes 4 Essential Workers program. It was a great success despite the lack availability of new bikes.
  • The City of Ferndale has a public meeting on December 9th at 6:30pm to review a draft of their updated mobility plan. This is a great opportunity to discuss how to make it easier when biking and walking between Detroit and Ferndale.
  • There’s still time to get involved in the City of Detroit’s Streets for People planning project as well as take an online survey for the Parks and Rec Plan update. Both are very important planning efforts.
  • Detroiter Kristin Shaw is writing a book on women in the mobility/transportation space and she’s looking for nominations of stories to tell — or perhaps your story. Entries are open until the end of the year at www.womendrivenmobility.com.
  • Lastly, Free Bikes 4 Kids Detroit continues to look for volunteers to help them clean, prep, and giveaway kids bikes this year. Their volunteer signup is online.

Additional Reading

Huron-Clinton Metroparks to establish Detroit presence through agreement with Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Crain’s Detroit Business.

Drivers let their focus slip as they get used to partial automation, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Piloting wayfinding to connect community to resource centers in Detroit, Smart Growth America.

Categories
Complete Streets Greenways Newsletter

News from the Trail – June 2020

Unity Ride 4 Justice

We want to thank the Detroit Saints Bike Club for hosting the Unity Ride 4 Justice ride last week. It was inspiring, uplifting, and positive event that reinforced that we are all one family and supporting each other when we ride together.


Virtual Project Meetings

Given the panademic, all public project meetings are now online. Here are some June meetings you may want to check out and provide feedback — 

  • State Long-range Transportation Plan on June 16th at 7 PM and June 17th at 10 AM – Want to help shape how the state of Michigan invests in transportation? MDOT is hosting two telephone town halls to get your input. You must register 3 hours in advance. There’s more information online for this statewide planning project. 
  • Old Redford Neighborhood Link on June 17th at 5:30 PM – This meeting is for sharing your thoughts on community-led activation of public space in Old Redford. This includes public art and cultural programming. Zoom or call in 312 626-6799 with meeting ID 528 771 3400.
  • Parkland Park on June 18th – Wayne County Parks is hosting two public meetings to discuss improvements at Parkland Park in Dearborn Heights, neslted between Rouge Park and Hines Drive: 11 AM – 12 PM (password 630206) and 4 PM – 5 PM (password 003784). The park provides a key connection for the Rouge River Greenway. Please consider joining one of these meetings!
  • Kercheval Streetscape on June 18th from 5:30 PM – The City of Detroit is hosting this meeting to give contruction updates. This project runs from E. Grand Boulevard to Parker and includes improvements for walking and biking. Zoom or call 231 338-8477.
  • Lenox Center/A.B. Ford Park on June 30th at 5:30 PM – The City of Detroit is having a kickoff community meeting for a redesigning project. Zoom, or call  267-831-0333 with meeting ID: 918 1582 7787. They are also gathering input using this survey.

Other Updates

  • Joseph Campau in Detroit is being resurfaced between E. Davison and Carpenter this year. It will be receiving a two-way cycletrack as well since this is a segment of the Joe Louis Greenway.
  • The City of Detroit received the entry-level Bicycle Friendly Community award from the League of American Bicyclists. Like other national awards, it assumes the Census Bureau’s bike to work numbers accurately reflect the amount of bicycling in all cities. That’s not a good assumption in Detroit where bicycling is growing ever popular while its bike to work numbers have dropped significantly.
  • Similarly, People for Bikes ranked Detroit as 22nd among U.S. cities, jumping over a couple hundred other municipalities. Last year Detroit fell over 100 spots in the rankings despite adding more protected bike lane miles than any U.S. city. We don’t place much value in this either since it also makes assumptions with Census data.
  • The planned overhaul of the Detroit zoning ordinances continues, this includes possibly reducing or eliminating parking requirements — something that could lead to denser development that is more walkable and bikeable. We would welcome this.
  • The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Eastern Market, Belle Isle Conservancy, Downtown Detroit Partnership and City of Detroit have developed this Detroit Parks Coloring Book. Download the pages for free and start coloring!

Livernois Bike Shop

We want to extend our condolences to the family and friends of Sam Awada, owner of the Livernois Bike Shop, located at the east end of the new Fitzgerald Greenway. Sam’s family says the shop will continue to be open and honor his memory. 

A memorial gathering occured shortly after his passing where many in the community shared their stories of how Sam helped them and others. His nephew mentioned Sam’s adoration of MLK Jr. and how he would play his speeches as the younger kids sat on the floor and listened. Read more about Sam and the shop

Categories
Complete Streets Greenways

Newly proposed I-94 design looks much improved

Riding with MDOT and Planning Director Maurice Cox on a tour of the I-94 project to discuss its impacts on walking and biking

MDOT is reconstructing nearly seven miles of I-94 through the heart of Detroit. The original approved design in 2004 removed many bridges that bicyclists and pedestrians rely on. It also called for new service drives to be added, widening the freeway’s footprint and making the urban environment less walkable and bikeable. The impacts were alarming.

Fortunately there are new design changes being proposed that address these issues — changes that have been supported by the City of Detroit, Detroit Greenways Coalition, and others.

Those changes are in MDOT’s recently released Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the I-94 project.

This DSEIS looks at:

  • Using existing city streets more effectively as local connections instead of building new, continuous service drives adjacent to the freeway
  • Modifying local access ramps to and from I-94, M-10 and I-75 to improve operations and safety
  • Using the “Complete Streets” approach to design bridges and service drives, making them user-friendly for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians
  • Reducing the overall Project footprint to avoid and minimize impacts

The DSEIS did not reevaluate the need for two additional freeway lanes.

Public comments on these design modifications can be submitted through October 28th. MDOT is hosting two public meetings on October 10th in Midtown and on the Eastside. The email address for comments is MDOT-I94comments@michigan.gov.

Our Initial Thoughts

What we like:

  • Iron Belle Trail/Conner Creek Greenway – The separated trail bridge just west of the Conner Avenue interchange is great. It separates trail users from the heavily trafficked road as well as the on- and off-ramp traffic. It adds some parkland, too. This is a major improvement.
  • John R, Canfield & Ferry bridges – These bridges provide key non-motorized connections and all remain in place with the new plan.
  • Complete Streets bridges versus pedestrian bridges – We don’t like narrow, elevated pedestrian bridges with long ramps as proposed in the original plan. All of the pedestrian bridges will now be narrow roads with bike lanes and wide sidewalks. They will provide the shortest travel distance with no climbing, awkward turns, or blind run-outs on to service drives.
  • Re-aligning bridges – The Holden bridge lines up with Holden! It’ll be a straight shot for all traffic and it helps complement a greenway and streetscape project in that area. Also, the Canfield bridge gets shifted south and will not longer terminate at the northbound service drive. Four Tops will connect to Calumet.
  • Reconnecting city grid – Yes, there are still some bridges lost, but there are many got added back in as well as new ones, e.g. Hastings and Harper.
  • Reducing service drive impacts – Many of the new service drives proposed in the original plan have been dropped. They ones that remain won’t be as wide and will have narrower travel lanes to help slow speeding. Some will be converted to two-way as well.

What we don’t like:

  • Losing the Third Street bridge – There’s no real way around this. What we continue to ask for is a better non-motorized connection from Third Street to Second along the north side of I-94. Ideally that connection would avoid the school vehicle traffic on Antoinette.

One area we want to further review is green stormwater management. It is mentioned, but it appears less specific than we would prefer. What’s quite specific is this project increase impervious surface area by 78.55 acres.

It’s also unclear how the new Harper Avenue extension would cross the proposed Joe Louis Greenway routing near the existing rail line west of St. Aubin. (The plan references the previous Greenway routing on St. Aubin.)

While not related to our work, it’s worth noting that the new plan  saves the United Sound Systems building by moving it one parcel north.