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
Newsletter Policy Safety & Education

News from the Trail — May 2020

Staying Healthy, Events Cancelled

We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during these challenging times. Our thoughts go out all that have lost friends, family, and club members during this pandemic.

We have been updating our COVID-19 page based on information from federal, state and local government agencies. They advise everyone riding, walking, and running to social distance from others, and to wear a mask in places that make social distancing difficult to maintain, eg. RiverWalk.

There are reports of more motorists speeding given fewer motor vehicles on the roads. Please be extra vigilant and walk/ride/run defensively. 

As for events, we obviously could not hold Bike to Work Day this year. We may consider doing something this fall, but it’s too early to make any commitment. We have cancelled our Joe Louis Greenway fundraiser ride scheduled for next month.


New Website

The Stay-at-Home order has provided a good opportunity to completely overhaul our website, which we rolled out this week. All of the web pages have been brought up to date. We’ve also taken the information from our printed bike/trail map and safety brochure and put it on the site. This includes


UMSI Crash Analysis

Also on the new website is a bicycle and pedestrian crash analysis — a report, slidedeck, and interactive mapping. This was just produced by a team from the University of Michigan School of Information. The team took state crash data, cleaned it up, and analyzed where the crashes were occuring. From the report:

Our data analysis led important discoveries around the existing safety issues per counsel district, specifically, how bikers are currently being impacted with districts. District 4, according to the data, had the most instances of biker injuries. It’s also worth noting that when a bike lane is present, accidents happen at a frequency a fraction of the time compared to instances of no bike lane with the point of contact being in the roadway.

Thanks to the team for this project and we look using this data to justify great investments that make Detroit streets safer for everyone. 


Other Updates

  • Please join us in welcoming two new board members: Beverly Kindle-Walker and Ryan Myers-Johnson. Beverly is the Executive Director for Friends of the Detroit City Airport CDC, a Legislative Assistance to County Commissioner Tim Killeen, and a board member for the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative. She’s done a great deal of work on the Eastside, including with the Conner Creek Greenway. Ryan is the Founder and Executive Director for Sidewalk Detroit.  You may have met her if you attended any of the Joe Louis Greenway Framework Planning meetings where she was a project consultant.  She’s also been involved in parks and planning in Northwest Detroit, including Eliza Howell Park. 
  • Detroit Council President Brenda Jones proposed an ordinance last year requiring all bike lane projects to have an additional vote by Council. That ordinance wasn’t feasible, so it was incorporated into an ordinance requiring Community Engagement for planning projects, including bike lanes and streetscapes. We strongly support effective Community Engagement! We’ll continue working with her office and suggesting improvements to the ordinance language so that it gets more Detroiters engaged in deciding how their streets look and who they serve.
  • MoGo Bike Share expansion is underway this week with stations being installed north of Eight Mile. We look forward to seeing those new stations automatically popup on our map. 
  • Make sure you complete your census! Michigan cities receive road funding based on their census populations. State road funding will already be lower in the near future with the reductions in fuel purchases. We don’t need to see it drop further.

Categories
Complete Streets Safety & Education

What are the requirements for a bicycle friendly road?

We received these questions from a Danish Landscape Architect. We thought we’d shared the answers here and get your thoughts as well.

I am working on a project in Detroit and I am interested in understanding how you have decided which roads are bicycle friendly roads and which are not? What are the requirements for a bicycle friendly road?

There are many ways to look at this, but let’s work through some different perspectives:

Infrastructure

The City of Detroit is designing and building roads that are comfortable to use for those from 8 years old to 80 — and for people of all abilities. Whereas initially the City built more traditional bike lanes and bike routes, now they’re looking at biking infrastructure with more separation from moving motor vehicles as a minimum design feature for major roads. This includes separated (or protected) bike lanes and off road trails.

However, Detroit hasn’t added much separation at intersections. We expect to see more of that in future projects.

Many cities are doing this across the U.S., so this answer is not unique. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) provides guidance on how to design streets for all users based on the type of road. Detroit is working on a strategic transportation master plan which we expect will incorporate similar principles.

We would add that some of the designs that accommodate slower, less confidant riders aren’t fully embraced by the faster, more confident riders. That’s a trade off in order to get more people riding. Still, the new infrastructure calms motor vehicle traffic, so riding in the roadway becomes a better option for higher speeds or group rides. State law gives bicyclists the right to use most roadways (freeways being an exception.)

Wide streets with little traffic

Detroit’s street network was built for nearly 2 million residents. It built out a freeway network that then pulled motor vehicles from the surface streets. Over a million residents (and countless businesses) left.

What they left behind were wide roads with very little motor vehicle traffic, especially outside of peak travel periods. These roads are very bike friendly to moderately skilled riders without any specific infrastructure treatments.  It’s these conditions that make large group rides like Slow Roll more doable.

The caveat is this doesn’t make the street safe for everyone.

Safety in Numbers

Some roads are bicycle friendly for those riding in a group but not necessarily for those riding solo. We hear this often, especially with female riders. Many feel safe riding busier roads if they’re with a group, but they wouldn’t ride them as individuals.

This reflects the feeling safety that these bike groups share. Everyone is looking out for each other. Everyone is more visible and it’s less likely anyone is going to “mess with” the group. This is likely one reason why Detroit has more bike clubs than any other U.S. city we know of.

What do you think makes a road bicycle friendly?

Categories
Complete Streets

The Community decides on Complete Streets

Photo from Alexis Wiley’s Twitter feed

Mayor Mike Duggan led a community meeting to discuss four streetscape options for W. McNichols just west of Livernois. The first was to rebuild what already existed, a two-lane road with on-street parking on both sides. The second and third options added landscaping and bumpouts. The fourth converted one side of the on-street parking into a two-way bicycle lane.

After a couple hours of community input and discussion, the group voted. It came down to options 3 and 4. While business owners preferred the additional parking in option 3, the city had created an off street parking lot for 88 vehicles — and could add more.

The vote was 39 to 12 in favor of adding the bike lanes. Project construction will begin later this year.

Approaches to Advocacy

Some bicycle and Complete Streets advocates take more adversarial approach (e.g. the War on Cars.). Some bring an intellectual elitism that is willing to belittle local decision making in communities they know little about. We don’t partner with these groups.

We have confidence that Complete Streets can help solve existing community issues like speeding, pedestrian safety, blight removal, access to parks, economic development, etc. The key is to bring all the information to a pragmatic discussion and let the community decide. They may not always support bike lanes and other Complete Streets designs — and advocates may have to live with that.

Certainly there are voices opposing Complete Street designs. While there are valid concerns, most aren’t well support by data. We’ve heard bike lanes emphatically called “the most dangerous thing in Detroit.” We’ve heard bike lanes blamed for causing one persons car crash. (They didn’t. We pulled the police report.) We heard our electronic bike counters on E. Jefferson were wrong because some only saw about three bicyclists in a month. We’ve heard that bike lanes being built for white suburbanites despite the very visible, growing Detroit #bikelife movement.

What have we not heard many say publicly (at least not directly)? That they want to continue driving faster than the speed limit and be able to pass traffic in the curb lane. Bike lanes help curb those unsafe practices. It’s one of the major benefits to bike lanes. They reduce speeding and reduce crashes among everyone: motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Bike lanes are not just for bicyclists’ benefit. They especially improve pedestrian safety in a city with one of the nation’s highest pedestrian fatality rates. They’re like speed humps for major roads.

There will nearly always be opposition any time changes are proposed. There was opposition to the Dequindre Cut before it was built. Once it was a success, the change was embraced, which helped open the door for future greenways in Detroit.

Successful Complete Streets can do the same.

Additional Reading

Categories
Complete Streets

NoMo-vember: Detroit Bike & Trail Project updates

  • Bike lanes were removed from recent safety funding projects: Warren & Mack
  • Downtown Bike Network implementation on hold due to downtown construction. Focusing on east-west connectors now.
  • Equipment breakdowns have affected bike lane maintenance
  • Caitlin Marcon is the Deputy DPW Director of Complete Streets

Detroit’s quarterly non-motorized facilities meeting was last week and there were many updates we want to pass along.

Safety Projects

Grant funding is available in the federal transportation bill to redesign streets with high crash rates. Detroit has many high crash roads and has been successfully receiving this funding through MDOT. Traffic Engineering does Complete Streets designs on these high crash roads, which always includes better walking facilities (e.g. crosswalks, countdown Walk/Don’t Walk timers) and often bike facilities (e.g. bike lanes). These projects typically receive minimal community engagement — usually a public meeting.

In 2017, Warren Avenue from the city of Dearborn (near Central) to Dequindre received funding. The plan included protected bike lanes. Given Mayor Duggan’s concern about removing vehicle lanes to add bike lanes without more public discussion, these have been pulled from the project. The two-way conversion of Warren in Woodbridge was completed. We are advocating that the city does add quality bike lanes on Warren from Trumbull to Dequindre. They would be a great connection between Woodbridge, Wayne State, and Eastern Market.

In 2018, Mack Avenue from the Dequindre Cut to Alter was funded. Bike lanes were not included except for the bridge between St. Aubin and Conner Avenue.

Harper Avenue was selected for 2019. With more community engagement, bike lanes can and should be included in these projects as they are a key design element for building safer streets.

Downtown Bike Lane Network

An earlier revision of the Downtown Bike Network Plan

Downtown has long lacked bike lanes. With MoGo and now motorized scooters, the need for a good bike network is greater than ever. The Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) has been working on a plan, received funding from MDOT and the Erb Family Foundation, but didn’t have enough. With the added mobility staff in both the planning and public works departments, the city has taken a large role in the project.

We learned at the recent meeting that with all of the ongoing downtown construction, it wasn’t realistic to build the entire network now. What the DDP and City are looking to do is build two major east-west connectors through downtown. Those are Adams from Beacon Park to Brush and Michigan Avenue-to-E. Lafayette connector.

Bike Lane Maintenance

Recent equipment breakdowns have affected the city’s ability to sweep the bike lanes. They have been using blowers until they can get the sweepers repaired, or better still, get specialized bike lane maintenance equipment. The latter really is the best solution in the long run and we’re pushing city to make this happen.

Detroit’s Complete Streets Deputy Director

Caitlin Marcon had been leading  mobility planning within the Planning and Development Department. She’s now a Deputy Director at the Public Works Department and in charge of Complete Streets. This is a big deal and should help build collaboration between the two city departments.

It’s a bit hard to believe this has happened. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we started pushing the city to consider building Complete Streets.

Congratulations, Caitlin.

Categories
Complete Streets Safety & Education

Detroit Public Lighting Improvements Reducing Pedestrian Fatalities

  • 48 fatalities in dark, unlighted conditions from 2013-2014; only 2 from 2016-2017

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts report shows Detroit’s 2015 pedestrian fatality rate of 6.79 deaths per 100,000 residents was the highest among U.S. cities with populations over a half million.  This far outpaced the other cities and was quadruple Chicago’s rate.

Nationally, pedestrian fatality rates have “skyrocketed” according to a recent Detroit Free Press article. While they’ve increased 46% since 2009, Detroit’s pedestrian fatality rate has been in decline since 2016. By 2017, the city’s pedestrian fatality rate had dropped nearly 40% to 4.16 deaths per 100,000. We examined the police report data to determine why.

From 2008 to 2010, there were 4.5 fatalities annually in dark, unlighted conditions. By 2013 and 2014, that annual average had jumped to 24.

According to the Detroit Public Lighting Authority’s 2014 report, “Detroit’s street lighting system was broken. Street lights haven’t been maintained for decades and roughly 40% of the existing street lights were not working.” The Authority began rebuilding the system in February 2014, and by December of 2016, had completed the installation of 65,000 new LED lights.

As these street lights were installed, pedestrian fatalities in dark, unlighted areas dropped drastically from 24 in 2014 to just 1 in 2017.  As expected, the data shows an increase in fatalities in dark, lighted areas during this time, however there was still an overall decrease.

We did not see similar decreases in nearby cities such as Hamtramck or Highland Park.

In fact, Detroit’s significant drop in pedestrian deaths is helping mask a dramatic pedestrian fatality increase occurring statewide. According to the Michigan Traffic Crash Facts web site, since 2009 pedestrian fatalities:

  • Within Detroit have decreased by 16%
  • Outside of Detroit have increased by 47%

Based on our analysis, the public lighting improvements appear to be the primary factor behind Detroit’s dropping fatality rate. Certainly no pedestrian fatalities or serious injury crashes are acceptable, but city’s safety data is improving. We expect this trend to continue as additional Complete Streets treatments, such as road diets, bike lanes and other pedestrian infrastructure improvements reduce motor vehicle speeding and pedestrian exposure leading to a safer, healthier, and more walkable city.

PDF of safety data and chart