Dan Burden in Southwest Detroit
In July, MDOT brought Dan Burden to a number of Michigan cities for walkability audits. Burden is from Glatting Jackson and is acknowledged as among the leading authorities on improving streets for walking and biking.
One visit was in Southwest Detroit. The audit was on Vernor Avenue from Clark to Livernois. We were joined by a couple city of Detroit traffic engineers who are looking to improve pedestrian safety along this specific stretch of road.
Some of Burden’s ideas included painted bike lanes (painted as in the entire lane, e.g. blue or green), a couple minor roundabouts (to slow traffic), and improved pedestrian crossings. And he also emphasized the need to change the facades. Too many of the buildings have covered or blocked their front windows. It would be best if these were unblocked so that there are more “eyes on the street” and adding to the pedestrian comfort levels.
Burden also visited Hamtramck. Model D Media has a coverage of his Detroit visits.
Dan Burden on Woodward
Next, Burden headed over the Woodward Avenue and stopped in communties between Birmingham and Ferndale. Some of his suggestions were noted in a Free Press article (no longer on-line):
City planners could revive Woodward Avenue with bike lanes, slower traffic, 100,000 new trees and big improvements at pedestrian crossings.
And that’s just the start of a vision that consultant Dan Burden shared last week with local officials, road engineers and residents, as he led what he calls walkability audits in Pontiac, Birmingham, Royal Oak and Pleasant Ridge.
To attract “the creative class” that can jump-start a region’s growth: “You start with paint. You put in bike lanes and get trees planted, and that brings the speeds of motorists down, and then the buildings start to come back, and with that, the tax base. That lets you redesign the streets,” he said.
Some of Burden’s suggestions were simply no-brainers. While auditing the crosswalks at 13 Mile and Woodward, we noted that MDOT had placed a sign that blocked the pedestrian walk signal. Another Don’t Walk signal was barely working.
Near Pasquale’s, there’s a sign telling pedestrians not to cross there. Burden correctly deduced that these signs are put up by cities when pedestrians are killed, rather than fix the problem. In this case, using a signalized crosswalk would require more than a half-mile of walking, which is completely unrealistic.
This isn’t Burden’s first visit to the area. Years ago Burden had advised Ferndale to narrow 9 Mile, which led to a huge turnaround and improvement to the area.
Unfortunately this time around, not all the communities were as receptive.
During a walking audit in Pleasant Ridge, Burden told local officials, “I can’t help you if your community wants to be auto-dependent.” Burden suggested they convert some of their mostly unused (and often inaccessible) green space into high density, mixed-use development. Sure, trees are “green”, but it would be more “green” if their residents could walk or bike rather than drive to nearby coffee shops, an ice cream parlors, or convenience stores.
Woodward: Next Steps
But there’s more momentum to improving Woodward for biking and walking than these audits, as evidenced by this press release:
The Woodward Avenue Action Association is pleased to announce that in partnership with engineering firm Giffels-Webster, we are closer to finding ways to make Woodward more pedestrian & bike friendly. The Woodward Avenue Non-Motorized Plan will focus on Woodward between 8 mile and Maple will identify ways for communities to plan and zone safer routes for non-motorist users of Woodward. Some of the elements being looked at for this plan include reducing speed limits, developing landscaped buffer zones and more countdown times at crosswalks.
This study was prompted by the city of Royal Oak, who is now doing a non-motorized study for the entire city. Other cities who have become examples of getting non-motorized plans right include the city of Ferndale. Since the early 1990′s the city has transformed its downtown which sits squarely along Woodward, from desolate streets into a thriving bustling district. Improvements such as parking lots developed behind stores, reduction in traffic lanes and lowered speed limits have all contributed to the economic boos Ferndale is currently experiencing. For more information on this program please contact, Nicole Klepadlo, WA3 Program Manager.
The Oakland Press recently ran an article that also discussed Woodward Avenue and this planning effort.
Of course beyond the communities that are dug in and ready to defend status quo, there’s MDOT. They’ve been willing to listen to these sorts of efforts but haven’t been overly interested in any plans that they think would reduce Woodward’s level of service.
That’s a level of service for motorists, of course.
However, they have acknowledged that the vehicle counts on Woodward have been declining. They should drop even further once Woodward gets light rail north of Eight Mile.