Posts Tagged ‘Michigan’

A cycling perspective on the Detroit Consent Agreement

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

With a 5-4 City Council vote, it appears the City has at least temporarily kept Governor Rick Snyder from appointing an emergency finance manager.

That vote was for a “historic” consent agreement, according to the Detroit Free Press:

In the historic consent agreement between the city and state over the management of Detroit, the city agreed to give up — at least temporarily — a good deal of sovereignty over its financial affairs.

So aside from the hope of future solvency, what does Detroit get in return?

A modest amount of increased state spending — and an array of promises.

The 53-page agreement does keep City Council in charge of policy, which is a positive for our Complete Streets efforts. Detroit’s road money is separate from the general budget. We’ve argued that our Complete Streets ordinance wouldn’t add to the city deficit. It just divides up the road funding pie in a slightly different way.

The agreement also contains some state promises which affect Detroit cyclists to varying degrees.

The Positives

The state vows to:

  • Improve public lighting by working with the city to create a separate authority to manage and finance streetlights.” Working street lights can reduce crashes.
  • “Move ahead with the New International Trade Crossing project.” The bridge plans do include a bicycle pathway.
  • “Invest in a regional, multi-modal system including BRT, bike paths and walkability.” We’re not sure if this means more state investment or just continued funding.
  • “Assist the market in applying for a federal TIGER grant to create a seamless trail system from the Riverfront through the Eastern Market, Brush Park, and Wayne State University areas.” It’s a little late. Detroit already applied.
  • Riverfront – Develop the Globe Building, expand Milliken State Park, dedicate a new launch for citizens near Riverfront Park and assist DEGC with resources and talent to transform Hart Plaza.” The latter likely refers to an expansion of Hart Plaza over land that was previously used for the Ford Auditorium.
  • Belle Isle – Create park funding for Belle Isle while ensuring continued City ownership by designating Belle Isle as a part of a cooperative relationship with Milliken State Park. This would include a long-term lease that would accrue the cost of the park’s maintenance and improvements out of the Park Endowment Fund. We will partner with Belle Isle Conservancy and the City to implement a master plan for the Island.”

The Belle Isle item is among the more interesting. Unfortunately the Free Press already got it wrong with an article titled, “Belle Isle likely won’t be free anymore.

If the island is managed like other Michigan State Parks, there will only be an annual $10 fee for arriving by motor vehicle. One can walk or bike into state parks for free and the same would likely be true with Belle Isle.

While some cheer that this small fee will keep out the less desirable elements, those elements won’t disappear. They’ll find another location, just like they do now when the island closes at 10pm. A fee is not a total solution.

The Big Negative

It can’t all be positive for Detroit cyclists, right? The state vows to:

  • “Accelerate a capacity improvement project for I-94 from I-96 to Conner Avenue, supporting more than 13,000 jobs between 2012 and 2020.”

This outdated, mostly unnecessary MDOT project will wipe out 9 bridges over the expressways, including some pedestrian bridges, Third Street, and John R. It effectively widens the I-94 scar through the community.

The Governor needs to get involved in this project since the cost/benefit numbers just don’t add up. It’s “benefit” is from a 1980′s frame of reference that put a priority on reducing rush hour congestion irregardless of the effects on the local community.

Fortunately some local activists are started to pull together some project opposition.

Bicycles are not vehicles in Michigan

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

The city of Ann Arbor web site says, “Ann Arbor and Michigan laws classify bicycles as vehicles and requires them to follow the rules of the road.”

That’s not correct.

Despite what you may read or hear, under state law bicycles are not vehicles in Michigan. Yes, this differs from some other states, but that is what Michigan law says.

And cities such as Ann Arbor adopt the state law definitions for vehicles and bicycles.

Not convinced? Here’s the state law:

257.79 “Vehicle” defined.

“Vehicle” means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices exclusively moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks and except, only for the purpose of titling and registration under this act, a mobile home as defined in section 2 of the mobile home commission act, Act No. 96 of the Public Acts of 1987, being section 125.2302 of the Michigan Compiled Laws.

We’ve highlighted the key point. If you’re human powered, you’re not a vehicle in Michigan.

There are many traffic types defined by state law. We’ve put together this graphic which shows the relationships between them.

Bicyclist rights to the road

If bicycles aren’t vehicles in Michigan, how are we granted access to most of the roads?

That’s handled by this state law:

257.657 Rights and duties of persons riding bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, or moped or operating low-speed vehicle.

Each person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, or moped or operating a low-speed vehicle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to the provisions of this chapter which by their nature do not have application.

Again, we’ve highlighted the key point. A driver is a person “in actual physical control of a vehicle.”

Bicyclists are do not have the same duties as an vehicle owner. We don’t need to register and license our bicycles with the state.

And as the definition shows, there are exceptions. As we’ve said before, those “same roads, same rights, same rules” stickers are simply wrong.

Why can bicycles ride on sidewalks?

It is against most Michigan municipal ordinances to drive vehicles on sidewalks under the Uniform Traffic Codes. So why isn’t bicycling always illegal on sidewalks?

State law makes an exception:

257.660c Operation of bicycle upon sidewalk or pedestrian crosswalk.

(1) An individual operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk or a pedestrian crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.

(2) An individual shall not operate a bicycle upon a sidewalk or a pedestrian crosswalk if that operation is prohibited by an official traffic control device.

(3) An individual lawfully operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk or a pedestrian crosswalk has all of the rights and responsibilities applicable to a pedestrian using that sidewalk or crosswalk.

Of course municipalities can locally prohibit bicycles from sidewalks.

This leads into another subject. The false notion that bicycles can impede traffic while operating legally.

That’s something we’ll cover in a future post.

Transportation key to young staying in Michigan

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The Detroit News ran a commentary last month written by members of the Millennial Mayors Congress, which is “a partnership of city officials and rising leaders working together to address regional issues.”

Michigan’s transportation system is not getting young people where they need to go.

As citizens under 35, we know that not all of our peers can afford the $8,500 a year it takes, on average, to own a car. Some of us are looking to reduce our carbon footprints. Whatever the reasons, young people want to see a transportation system that gives everyone the freedom to get around, with or without a car. Unfortunately, failed transportation policies have been holding Michigan back.

Every year thousands of us leave for places that have functioning transit, safe biking and walking conditions, and convenient transportation between cities.

They also give support to Complete Streets.

We need to adopt a truly comprehensive “complete streets” policy, so Michiganians do not have to risk their lives to walk or bike.

It’s worth the time to read the entire opinion piece. It focuses mostly on public transit, which is expected since it was released during the recent Detroit light rail/bus rapid transit news.

Still widening highways

One minor correction? It speaks about MDOT widening highways in the past tense. MDOT is still widening highways.

Where did a majority of the transportation stimulus money go in Michigan? Widening an expressway. MDOT plans to spend well over a billion transportation dollars in Detroit over the next 20 years… to widen an expressway. Widening roads are still a funding priority for MDOT and many Metro Detroit municipalities.

Want to lose faith in Metro Detroit’s transportation decision makers? Take some time to review the road projects in SEMCOG’s transportation improvement plan (TIP).

Let’s look at the Road Commission for Oakland County’s 2012 TIP projects. They have $30.7 million in projects of which $21.8 million involves road widening.

Road agencies, SEMCOG, and others don’t like to publicize road widening projects because at the same time, they’re asking for more transportation funding.

They need the funding to continue building sprawl, but that’s not a good sales pitch — especially to millennials.

The Millennial Mayors Congress is also on Facebook.

Michigan Infrastructure Dashboard

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Michigan has a performance dashboard that gives some very high level indicators which try to convey a sense of whether we’re improving or not.

The indicators are grouped into five main categories: infrastructure, Michigan, education, health and wellness, and talent.

There aren’t any indicators showing how we’re doing with respect to walking or biking, so we suggested two additions to the Mobility section of the Infrastructure dashboard.

For walking, we suggested a count of the number of Michigan cities given a “Very Walkable” rating or better from walkscore. com. Currently no Michigan cities have that rating but Hamtramck is very, very close. Given that no Michigan city is considered very walkable, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll appreciate this suggestion. We wouldn’t be overly disappointed if they lowered the bar so that some cities are counted. That would be better than nothing.

For biking, we suggesteded a count of the number of Bicycle Friendly Communities within the state. Currently that’s 7.

Why not use the number of Complete Street policies? While the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition lists a map with “Complete Street policies”, it really isn’t. It lists communities that have passed ordinances and resolutions, some of which we know have little to no intention of having a Complete Streets policy. And some are co-opting the Complete Streets definition.

Similarly, some communities have “non-motorized plans” which are merely sidewalk or trails plans. What is and what is not a proper non-motorized plan is subjective. And just having a plan doesn’t mean it’s being implemented any time soon.

For these reasons, we think using the third-party evaluations for walking and biking make much more sense.

One more benefit? These evaluations are consistent nationally. If Michigan is to compete with the rest of America, we need to measure ourselves accurately against the other 49.

We’ll let you know if we get any response from the state.

Bicyclists don’t pay their share of road taxes

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Some have vehemently claimed that bicyclists don’t pay road taxes and therefore shouldn’t benefit from good roads. Oh, and cyclists are arrogant.

Sounds like 2011? Try 1893.

The Michigan Legislature was about to pass the County Road Law which, upon a vote of the people, would amend the State Constitution to allow counties to levy taxes and construct roads. Some anti-tax farmers from Genesee, Michigan would have no part of that. [Ed. emphasis ours]

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Michigan, Lansing, Michigan:

We, the undersigned, farmers of the county of Genesee, Michigan, learning that there is a bill now before your honorable body the object of which is to repeal our present system of highway laws and enact in its stead laws making all highway taxes payable in cash, thereby depriving us of the privilege of paying a portion of our taxes in labor, and looking to large and expensive improvements on the highways of this State, would most respectfully and earnestly remonstrate against the passage of such an act. We as a class feel that our present system is sufficient for all practical purposes, and being a class of citizens upon whom the taxes of our State fall most heavily, do most earnestly protest against the passage of this or any other law that will tend to increase the taxes of the hard worked and already tax-burdened farmer, for the benefit, as it appears to us, of a comparative few non-taxpaying, arrogant wheelmen. And your petitioners will ever pray.

Linden March 2, 1893

The farmers didn’t win the argument. County Road Law of 1893 passed and the people amended the Michigan Constitution in 1894. This law was passed with leadership from the Good Roads movement, including Detroit bicyclist Edward N. Hines.

And as for today’s cyclists, yes, they do pay their share of taxes for roads. A recent Pew Charitable Trust study found that fuel taxes and vehicle license fees paid for 51% of road costs. The remaining 49% comes from other sources such a general funds and millages, which cyclists pay. That doesn’t include the external costs of motor vehicles which is borne by the general population.

Arrogant cyclists? Some. Freeloaders? Not at all.

Further Reading: The History of Roads in Michigan