Categories
Greenways Safety & Education

Detroit going “Zero-to-sixty” on protected bike lanes

Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue
Livernois protected bike lane under construction near Michigan Avenue

Yes, “Zero-to-sixty” is a car term unless you’re a really fast cyclist and thinking in metric. However, it was used by city staff and it’s certainly accurate.

Detroit has three of the nation’s longest protected bike lane (PBL) projects under construction now. Four more significant projects are planned for construction in 2017. With only 0.3 miles of PBL completed today, Detroit is ranked #78 among US cities. We expect it to be in the top ten by the end of the year and in the top five next year.

We’re jumping from one end of the bell curve to the other.

While this is really exciting it also brings concerns about how this rapid change affects the users.  Whenever you add new designs to the roads (e.g. roundabouts), it takes education and time for people to adjust. It’s not just motorists. It’s bicyclists, pedestrians, public transit users, DDOT drivers, law enforcement, delivery vehicles, street sweepers, snow plow operators, local businesses and more.

The good news is there’s a group meeting to discuss safety and education programming with some likely funding behind it. We’re working with MDOT on updates to their “What every motorist must know about bike lanes” brochure since it doesn’t include PBLs. It’s going to take time.

In the meantime, here are four suggestions for all of us:

  1. Be Careful & Considerate — Don’t expect everyone to instantly know how to operate around the new lanes, but especially if the planned two-way PBLs for Downtown get installed as expected. This is a major change for everyone. (Imagine the Dequindre Cut being routed on Downtown streets!) If you’re ever unsure, just be especially careful, go slow, and watch out for others. Remember that next year, Detroit Bike Share should get more people on bikes that may not be as experienced.
  2. Be Patient — As much as the city is trying to get PBLs designed perfectly from the start, they may need to be tweaked over time (see the next suggestion.) In some cases what’s wanted in the design is not yet approved by MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. That could take additional time.We also need to step up education on motorists and where they should be parking. Motorists have been parking against the curb for the past century. Until we get to the next phase and start replacing the PBL separating posts with raised curbs, it’s going to look odd parking in the street. It’ll take time getting this message out to everyone.Lastly, sweeping and snow removal maintenance is a work in progress. The city is investing in special equipment that fits in the narrow PBLs. In some case they’ll be maintaining the PBLs on MDOT roads. They need to coordinate snow removal so that they’re not pushing the white stuff back and forth between the vehicle travel lanes and PBLs — or blocking the sidewalk. It’s going to take some time to get this working well.
  3. Provide Feedback — Please document your concerns and send them to us, info@detroitgreenways.org. We’ll share them with the city. We’ve already heard about drivers opening passenger car doors in the E. Jefferson lanes. Those buffer areas are much narrower than what’s typical due to the lack of space between the curbs. On the new projects, most of the buffer areas between the PBLs and parked cars will be twice as wide.
  4. Be aware of your options — PBLs are intended to create a safe riding area for less experienced and less confident bicyclists. That may not be you. State law doesn’t require that you ride in PBLs (or any bike lane for that matter.) If you’re going fast or riding in a large group, it may make more sense that you stay in the other travel lanes. We’ll educate local law enforcement on this legal option.

We will vouch that the city and all the stakeholders are putting a great deal of effort into this. There’s a huge learning curve for everyone. We’ve seen nothing but the best intentions from all involved to get over that curve.

As more Detroiters feel comfortable biking in PBLs (and we have the data to prove it), we can expect more investment in them. Over time, those white plastic posts can be enhanced with planters or replaced raised curbs. It’s going to take time, effort, education and bit of discomfort, but working together, we can adjust and improve — and get a whole lot more people feeling comfortable riding bicycles in Detroit.

Lastly, with this rapid change, we expect the national bicycle organizations won’t have a choice but to start acknowledging Detroit’s bicycle friendliness. Add in the nation’s most diverse bicycle culture and they’ll realize we’re the role model they’ve been looking for. The spotlight is coming. Let’s make sure we’re ready for our closeup.

Categories
Greenways

Open host to discuss proposed Michigan Ave protected bike lanes

Press Release from the City of Detroit (includes corrections to earlier copy):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2016

CONTACT: Vince Keenan, City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods, 313-236-3523, keenanv@michigan.gov

City of Detroit to host Open House with MDOT to discuss proposal to add protected bike lanes on US-12 Michigan Avenue from Cass Avenue to Livernois

WHAT:
An open house-style meeting to gather public input from interested parties about the proposed changes to US-12 (Michigan Avenue) to add protected bike lanes to Michigan Avenue between Livernois and Cass Avenue. Michigan Avenue is a State highway and the City of Detroit is working with MDOT and community groups throughout this process.

WHEN/WHERE:
Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016
4 – 7 p.m.

UAW Local 22
4300 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48210

WHO:
City of Detroit Department of Public Works & Traffic Engineering
City of Detroit Planning and Design Department
City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods
Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)
Residents and interested stakeholders

Accommodations can be made for persons with disabilities and limited English speaking ability. Large print materials, auxiliary aids or the services of interpreters, signers, or readers available upon request. Please call 313-236-3523 to before meeting date.

BACKGROUND:
As part of ongoing predestination efforts, The City of Detroit and MDOT are proposing a pilot project to add protected bike lanes on US-12 (Michigan Avenue) from Cass Avenue to Livernois. The change would connect the Livernois bike pathway and the planned Cass Avenue bike path. Existing bike lanes adjacent to motor vehicle travel lanes would be moved inside the parking lane to allow bike riders to travel next to the curb. Areas without bike lanes would be added.

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Categories
Greenways Policy

Updates on Belle Isle’s streets and sidewalks

20150416_113940Last Friday the DNR called a meeting to address the concerns we’d outlined in a previous post about the construction and conditions on Belle Isle related to the Grand Prix. The meeting also included MDOT representatives, State Representative Stephanie Chang, and Michele Hodges from both the Belle Isle Conservancy and Belle Isle Advisory Committee.

This meeting was mostly about information gathering. The DNR is hiring a planner soon and will host public listening sessions this summer to discuss these issues further with a much wider audience. We’ll let everyone know when those listening sessions are scheduled.

Three MDOT issues seemed to rise to the top.

  • MDOT took a small portion of the $4 million road funding for project management. The remainder went to the Grand Prix, who designed and built the Belle Isle roads. There were no public meetings and MDOT thought that listening to the DNR was sufficient stakeholder input. We don’t believe this follows their Context Sensitive Solutions or Complete Streets policies.
  • On portions of the new road, they will paint a pedestrian lane. This is not a sidewalk, but a pedestrian lane next to the curb and in the street. A bike lane will be next to this walking lane. An on-street walking lane does not follow AASHTO guidelines even though that was a design requirement. Also per AASHTO, “sidewalks, provided on both sides of a street, are the preferred pedestrian facility.” We learned that the initial Grand Prix design removed more sidewalks, so perhaps this was a compromise. We are waiting to see the road design cross sections from MDOT. However we do know these designs were not reviewed by MDOT’s bike and pedestrian coordinator.
  • On some new sections of road, no sidewalks were installed despite the MDOT Complete Streets policy. MDOT ‘s explanation was that they typically assume local governments will add them,  or in this case, the DNR. While local governments can be asked to contribute to adding sidewalks, MDOT cannot assume others will keep them compliant with their own Complete Streets policy.

One frustrating point that others made was that the sidewalk was in poor condition and that this somehow justified it being removed. However there was no evidence of its poor condition in Google Streetview. We passed around photos showing that. Besides, under this logic, the road was in poor condition. Why wasn’t it removed? That logic has no place under a Complete Streets policy.

Grand Prix impact on other park users

The other major concern discussed was the impact of this year’s Grand Prix event set up on other park users. The DNR inherited this event permit from the city of Detroit and we were told there are some gray areas within in. Seemingly unbeknownst to those at the meeting, the Grand Prix had a different interpretation of the permit requirements and set up earlier than expected.

The DNR will discuss this with the Grand Prix to make improvements for 2016. They plan to update the permit when it expires after next year’s event.

As a means for overseeing all this activity, Michele Hodges will add this entire topic as a standing agenda item to the Belle Isle Advisory Committee meetings.

We look forward to addressing all these issues and keeping Belle Isle as a great place to bike and walk.

Categories
Greenways Safety & Education

Complete Streets? MDOT removes sidewalks at Belle Isle

MDOT has undertaken $4 million in road “improvements” at Belle Isle State Park where they not only failed to build sidewalks that were missing — they removed existing sidewalks.

When we first learned that substantial taxpayer dollars were allocated to Belle Isle roads, we wrote MDOT and the DNR asking that “All of the park roads, including the MacArthur Bridge, should be designed using Complete Streets principles. The major park roads should have wide sidewalks.” We also asked for other non-motorized improvements.

We were clearly ignored.

Now we can expect to see more pedestrians having to walk in the roadway, and more specifically in the bike lane, forcing cyclists to swerve into the vehicle lanes.

Not smart. This certainly does not follow MDOT’s Complete Street Policy.

The political reality is the Detroit Grand Prix got the $4 million from the state legislature with the intention of improving Belle Isle roads for racing. But these are state trunklines — and in a state park no less — and that same legislative body also passed the Complete Streets laws.

Making matter worse, for at least a month now MDOT has allowed the Belle Isle bike lanes and sidewalks to be blocked and inaccessible. We expect this to last at least two more months until after the Grand Prix finishes.

Neither MDOT nor the DNR are being proper stewards of a state park when public access is compromised for a quarter of the year.

While some may point to the benefits the Grand Prix brings to the island, they must be weighed against the $4 million benefit it got from the Michigan taxpayers.

In the end there must be a balance. This is a state park first and foremost for the people.

UPDATE, April 19, 2015: Through Michele Hodges of the Belle Isle Conservancy, the DNR has stated that the removed sidewalks were in poor condition. That is not true, so we’ve added three more photos showing the very good sidewalk condition prior to their removal. (The replaced road surface looks very good as well.)

Categories
Uncategorized

How MDOT’s I-94 project affects biking and walking

MDOT has plans to modernize I-94 between Trumbull and Conner, including portions of M-10 and I-75. That modernization includes:

  • Widening, primarily by adding six lanes of service drives in some places
  • Removing 14 bridges, including a few pedestrian bridges
  • Removing some roads
  • Elevating some pedestrian bridges that are currently at grade

Many of these design decisions can have a negative impact on biking and walking within this corridor. We’ve documented the proposed changes on this map.

The Detroit Greenways Coalition has been working others, including Wayne State University, Midtown Detroit Inc., the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, SEMCOG, the Henry Ford Health System, the city of Detroit and others to better understand and propose alternative designs that can lessen the impacts.

The good news is MDOT is listening.

It’s too early to say what changes might be possible. Analysis is underway on how the John R bridge could remain. We’ve also highlighted the need for the Ferry Street bridge since the alternative at Warren is a congested and unsafe crossing for bikes and pedestrians.

No one seems to know why the Canfield pedestrian bridge is being removed.

We’ve also aren’t fond of the odd 8-foot bike/bus lanes proposed for the service drive. Does anyone really want to ride on service drives? They’re typically filled with speeding motorists and little else. Their one-way designs also limit their usefulness.

The elevated bridges are not preferred. Having them at-grade makes them more convenient, even if that meanshaving to cross the service drive. We heard from the disabled community that this was important to them , too.

We’ll continue to work with MDOT on this and tweak their design.

Categories
Greenways

Belle Isle bike lane maintenance & snow removal

They’re the oldest bike lanes in Detroit — almost 10 year old.

They were implemented under the guidance of Al Fields in the Mayor’s office. Al now serves as President of the Detroit Greenways Coalition.

But the Belle Isle bike lanes are no longer under city control. They’re not controlled by the DNR either. As part of the Belle Isle lease, all of the roads on Belle Isle, including the MacArthur Bridge are now state trunklines controlled by MDOT. Also as part of the lease, MDOT receives the state fuel tax money for these roads that used to go to Detroit.

Last summer the bike lane sweeping wasn’t the best, but it did seem to improve.

While at a Metro 313 Cyclones meeting last week we heard the snow was being consistently plowed from the bike lanes, so we contacted MDOT.  They said they’ve had some problems getting all the snow removed on the same day.

How well the bike lanes are cleared initially depends on the characteristics of the snow event. The crews may not always be able to clear the bike lanes immediately; they may have to get to them after the main roadways have been made passable.

MDOT had planned to contract the snow plowing but the bids came in too high, so their own maintenance garage is handling it.

What do you think about the maintenance of the Belle Isle bike lanes?