Posts Tagged ‘MDOT’

TAP grants fund local bicycle and trail projects

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

The current Federal Transportation bill made many changes to how we fund non-motorized projects. One major change was the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) functionally replaced the old Transportation Enhancements (TE) program. The bill also required MDOT to share that TAP funding to groups like SEMCOG that would make grants within their seven county region.

At the national level, this sharing was considered a “win”. In Michigan, MDOT did a fair job with TE funding, so this may be a negative since it adds complexity and requires advocates to monitor two separate granting programs.

Either way, the first round of SEMCOG TAP grant funding has been announced — a total of $6.3 million in grants:

  • City of New Baltimore, Connection to the County Line Rd. Path, $183,016
  • City of Monroe, North Dixie Highway Median, $80,000
  • City of Auburn Hills, Opdyke Pathway Gaps, $267,475
  • City of Auburn Hills, Downtown Riverwalk Squirrel Ct Improvements, $194,589
  • City of Ferndale, Livernois Complete Street, $118,094.40
  • City of Ferndale, West Nine Mile Streetscape Improvement (Livernois to Pinecrest) Phase IV, $590,134
  • City of Novi, Metro Connector Trail, $741,200
  • City of Rochester, Safety Crossing, $99,970
  • St. Clair County Road Commission, Bridge to Bay Trail on Desmond Landing, $211,339
  • City of Port Huron, Bridge to Bay trail – 10th Street to Military Street, $250,614
  • Ypsilanti Twp (Road Commission for Washtenaw County), Grove Road trail reconstruction, $763,000
  • City of Allen Park, Ecorse Road Streetscape, $626,883
  • City of Dearborn, Proposed Rouge River Greenway Extension Project- UM Dearborn Connection, $242,830
  • City of Dearborn, Rouge River Gateway Trail Extension Phase I, $302,000
  • City of Detroit, West Vernor / Woodmere to Clark Streetscape, $1,000,000
  • City of Detroit, Congress Streetscape, $636,310

Our favorite? Ferndale’s Livernois Complete Street project will provide bike lanes and more to improve the cycling connection between Ferndale (at 9 Mile) and Detroit. The city of Detroit is also looking at improvements to Livernois south of Eight Mile. When completed, this will provide a nice route between the University District/Sherwood Forest neighborhoods and downtown Ferndale.

We also like Dearborn’s extension of the Rouge Gateway Trail from Andiamo’s Restaurant and westward. Ending in a restaurant parking lot on a busy Michigan Avenue is far from ideal. Continuing the trail to the nearby neighborhood and park is a great idea.

Many of the other projects are wide sidewalks and sidepaths along roads. With the exception of Novi’s project (which connects two MDOT trails), it’s disappointing to see these projects funded from a limited source. We think the cities should pay for sidewalks and sidepaths, especially since in so many cases they less safe and more costly than other options.

Will M1 RAIL become an M1 FAIL?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

The opinions expressed here are those of the m-bike blog, but you already knew that right?

Bikes, walkability and good transit are keys to forming an effective urban transportation system.

The shortcomings of Detroit’s transit — built on the DDOT and SMART buses systems and People Mover — are well documented.

We wish the M1 RAIL would be complement, but from all that we know to date, it won’t be. In many ways, it will diminish the urban transportation system.

Huh?

First, let’s make one clarifying point. The Detroit Woodward Light Rail project from downtown to Eight Mile was a good one, but it didn’t connect enough Detroiters to jobs nor tap into the more millage-rich surrounding counties. Governor Rick Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing, and U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood changed this project into a Bus Rapid Transit system that would connect Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties with a high-speed regional transit system. It’s a great solution and we support. This is exactly what this region needs for better transit.

But, once this project was no longer running on rails, the M1 RAIL investors restarted their 3-mile streetcar design — something that even they admit is a development project rather than a transit project. Development? Yes. studies show that permanent transit solutions like streetcars spur transit-oriented development along their routes. Guess what? So does Bus Rapid Transit.

There are some key points to keep in mind with the M1 RAIL. It starts at Larned and goes to Grand Boulevard. It runs mostly along the Woodward’s curbs except at the ends. Remember that Lego video that showed how curb running is slow and unsafe? The U.S. DOT’s Woodward Light Rail environmental review concurred as did the majority of the public comments.

Curb-running streets cars will run as slow as the slowest vehicle on the road. Streetcars can’t go around a stopped bus, a slow bicyclist, a parking car, etc. Even without anything in their way, the streetcars are expected to travel at 11 MPH — roughly equivalent to a beginning bicyclist.

This is a linear People Mover, but slower and is projected to carry fewer passengers.

Of course Detroit’s original street car system was center-running.

When asked, a M1 RAIL representative has said the curb versus center running was a “religious argument” among their investors.

If better transit was the goal, the M1 RAIL investors would have put money into level bus boarding stations and pre-sale ticket systems like NYC has. According to NYC’s transportation commissioner this was the best way to improve bus service reliability. It could have been implemented far more inexpensively. This would be a fix-it first strategy that relies on bus rapid transit to deliver transit-oriented development.

One other thought: why do you design a transit system that doesn’t directly connect with the Rosa Parks Transit Center or Cobo Hall or the Ren Cen?

Not Complete Streets

The reason for covering the transit issues first is to make clear that this is not an anti-transit article. We did not want this to read like bicyclists’ sour grapes. It’s not.

However, there’s another reason the Woodward Light Rail concluded that center-running operations was best rather than curb running. Curb running is significantly hazardous for cyclists. Bicycle wheels get caught in streetcar tracks causing serious injuries, and in some cities, lawsuits. This is why most cities don’t build curb running systems, or at least put them one side of one-way streets.

A very recent study found bicycling on streets with curb-running streetcar tracks is 300% more likely to cause a crash over a regular street like Woodward.

A center-running design would be a Complete Street. Putting the M1 RAIL at the curbs makes Woodward Avenue less Complete.

Now if you’ve following the recent Detroit Works Project unveiling, you’d have seen Complete Streets touted as a priority in Detroit.

According to the national experts, streetcar systems should design for safe bicycling from the start. MDOT and M1 RAIL did not. In fact, years ago MDOT’s Tim Hoefner said solving the bicycle safety issue was at the top of their to do list. Apparently they never got to it.

But its a public road

To date, MDOT has shown mostly indifference to this project’s negative impacts on bicycling. In exchange for a significantly less safe state-owned road they offered to put up some directional signs along a couple miles of Cass Avenue. Seriously.

MDOT has also said cyclists can use the sometimes parallel street, John R. Of course MDOT is removing the John R bridge over I-94 and in that project’s environmental review they said cyclists can use Woodward.

MDOT has been quick to deflect blame to others such as the Federal Highway Administration, but it’s a public road, they own most of it, and they have a Complete Streets policy. Why are they allowing a less-safe design based on some investors’ “religious argument?”

U.S. DOT’s role

From what we can gather in speaking with other sources is that the regular process rules are off the table. Secretary LaHood is so enamored with the investors’ commitment that he’s directed his staff to make it happen. And it’s Detroit — a laggard in the public transportation world.

That might explain why he’s giving the M1 RAIL group $25 million before the supplemental review process (which determines if it should be built) is even completed.

Other issues

And this discussion hasn’t gotten into other more significant issues like social equity. How do the investors justify building a redundant transit system when Detroiters and Detroit school children struggle to find mobility options with the current bus system? That is a far greater travety than any bicycling safety issue.

And where has the media been on this reporting? They’ve certainly covered the happy talk but so far have shown an unwillingness to look any deeper.

Now, what happens when Bus Rapid Transit comes to Woodward? At its ends, the M1 RAIL runs in the center where the Bus Rapid Transit will go. According to one transportation expert, M1 RAIL may have to get torn out.

There are many, many good people involved in the M1 RAIL and we all feel very passionate about doing the right thing for Detroit, but this project as currently designed doesn’t work. It’s a project heavy with investors and light on collaboration.

We need to do better.

Incomplete Roundabouts

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

We’ve noticed two tendencies when roundabouts are discussed in the transportation world.

Not all the same

First, they’re often all treated the same. But just like roads, we can’t make gross generalizations about all roundabouts. Some roundabouts are pleasant one-lane affairs that are easy to navigate by bicycle. At the other end of the spectrum are multi-lane, multi-roundabout disasters.

It seems some road agencies building roundabouts to handle a much greater vehicle capacity. That means simple one- or two-lane roundabouts turn into bigger monsters. An example of this is at W. Maple Road and Farmington Road. Both are two lane roads that expand to 5- and 6-lane roads before entering a triple-lane roundabout. Not only is it not bicycle friendly, it’s not designed to let cyclists easily transition on the adjacent pathways to avoid it.

AASHTO‘s latest bicycle design guidelines say roundabouts should not be built like this. They should be designed for current needs and made easily expandable for future needs.

Single‐lane roundabouts are much simpler for bicyclists than multilane roundabouts, since they do not require bicyclists to change lanes, and motorists are less likely to cut off bicyclists when they exit the roundabout. Therefore, when designing and implementing roundabouts, authorities should avoid implementing multilane roundabouts before their capacity is needed. If design year traffic volumes indicate the need for a multilane roundabout, but this need isn’t likely for several years, the roundabout can be built as a single‐lane roundabout, and designed to be easily reconstructed with additional lanes in the future when and if traffic volumes increase. In 1 addition, where a roundabout is proposed at an intersection of a major multilane street and a minor street, consideration should be given to building a roundabout with two‐lane approaches on the major street and one‐lane approaches on minor streets. When compared to roundabouts with two lanes at all four legs, this design can significantly reduce complexity for all users, including bicyclists.

MDOT even made a video of an apparently overbuilt roundabout and suggests bicyclists would want to use it. Of course they fail to show bicyclists having to move to the center lane in order to exit at other intersection legs.

Ignoring Bicyclists

The other major roundabout issue is bicyclists as well as pedestrians are often ignored when they are designed and discussed.

We Are Modeshift recently wrote this fine article on this topic.

When roundabouts are placed appropriately, they increase traffic flow and provide motorists with well-documented safety benefits. However, for non-motorized users — bicyclists and pedestrians, and especially those with disabilities — roundabouts present unique challenges to safety and accessibility.

Speaking of safety, a recent survey from a Wayne State/MDOT roundabout study found that 47% of bicyclists and almost 50% of pedestrians found them “very unsafe”. Interestingly enough, 57% of all the survey respondents had purposefully avoided a roundabout.

An example roundabout design that ignores bicyclist and pedestrian safety is on the cover of MDOT’s How to Use a Roundabout brochure (see photo). How are pedestrians supposed to use this facility? There are no sidewalks, even on the bridge. The pedestrian instructions inside the brochure fail to address the roundabout design on its cover. As for bicyclists? They have to cross over a travel lane that becomes a entrance ramp to I-75. Though it’s not shown, there’s another roundabout on the other side of I-75 with the same lack of accommodation. If bicyclists want to avoid this roundabout, there are no sidewalks available.

This is not a Complete Street nor a Complete Roundabout. It’s not something we should continue to build much less highlight.

MDOT’s office of Research and Best Practices shows the same incomplete intersection under the title, “Roundabouts: How to get around a safer intersection.”

Apparently they forgot to add, “So long as you’re in a car.”

 

 

Bicycling between Detroit and Windsor by bridge & ferry

Monday, October 1st, 2012

The push continues for a means of getting bicyclists between Detroit and Windsor. The two preferred routes are a planned ferry service and the new bridge.

On September 14th, cycling advocates from Windsor and Detroit helped kick off a Share the Bridge campaign. Their focus is to ensure bike access on the New International Trading Crossing (NITC) being promoted by Canada, the state of Michigan, and others. According to Member of Parliament Brian Masse:

“People want the new crossing to be an asset for the community as well as for the North American economy. By investing in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure on the new crossing we will create a signature feature that can have economic, environmental and cultural benefits for the region.”

A press conference was held along the Windsor side of the Detroit River. Masse led the event where he stressed the need for cycling advocates to make this happen. An excellent video from the event has been uploaded with this quote from Masse:

“We get one chance at this border crossing to do it right, and we don’t want to be like the other communities out there that are having to fight to go back and rework things.”

State Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit was also there with many other political and cycling supporters.

This event was covered by the Windsor Star, CBC, and OurWindsor.

The campaign asks not only for bicycling access on the bridge, but proper connections to the greenways planned on both sides of the border. Those connections are planned on the U.S. side but not on the Canadian side.

U.S. bridge plans

We’d written about this last December and even showed a bridge cross section design. It appears we were looking an alternative design. The final design has two 10-foot shoulders for bicyclists and a separated 5-foot sidewalk for pedestrians — or less confident bicyclists.

This design is what was in the Bridge Type Study Report and Conceptual Engineering Report. Both documents are referenced in the final Record of Decision and recently submitted Presidential Permit application.

We’ve asked for MDOT’s commitment to these plans, but they are unable to directly address them. Governor’s Rick Synder’s office is handling the project communications.

The Canadians are still unsure of Transport Canada’s commitment.

Will these U.S. plans coerce the Canadians into supporting bicyclists? No one seems to know.

Detroit River ferry service

Masse also visited the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority in August. His mission was to ensure that Canadian Customs could use this facility for the ferry service. Under this scenario, both customs would be on the U.S. side as is done elsewhere on the border.

The Windsor Star created a couple videos of the event.

The second video is of Steven Olinek, deputy director of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority.

 

A Cycling perspective on the Belle Isle agreement

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

There’s been a great deal of media coverage on a proposed agreement between the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan to make Belle Isle a state park.

Based on what we know right now, how would such a lease affect bicyclists?

Here are some changes we’ve seen in based on the proposed Belle Isle lease agreement.

  • Belle Isle would remain free if you rode your bike onto the island or brought your bike via a re-established DDOT bus route.
  • If you bring your bike onto Belle Isle using a motor vehicle, you will need to have a $10 annual Recreation Passport starting in April 2013.
  • Six to 12 months after signing the lease, the DNR would meet with MDOT to convert some internal roads on the east end of the island into two-way trails — a concept the current park manager has already put forth.
  • MDOT will assume maintenance on all park roads.

The existing asphalt paths and bathroom facilities would also be improved under the DNR.

One major concern we have is MDOT’s commitment. We want these roads improved, not just maintained. These roads should be made into Complete Streets.

  • We need sidewalks on many of the roads. Without them, people have little option but to walk in the bike lane.
  • The two bike lane cross over points at the entrance to the island need to be improved.
  • The MacArthur Bridge doesn’t require five vehicle travel lanes. We would like one lane removed, the bike lanes widened, and a buffer zone added.
  • The connection between E. Jefferson and the bridge needs to be improved for cyclists. While the entire intersection needs a redesign, that responsibility would remain with the City.

The Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance has submitted comments to Detroit City Council that suggest a change to the proposed lease — MDOT should commit to “preserving” these roads, which would include the above ideas and more.

This is a 30-year lease with two 30-year renewals. If this lease goes forward, do we want these roads only maintained as they are for the next 90 years?

MDOT has a greater commitment to state trunklines within the city of Detroit. The roads on Belle Isle should be given that same level of commitment.