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Michigan Moving on ‘Complete Streets’Print

Thriving Communities | June 14, 2010 | By Brian Beauchamp

Complete Streets legislation pending in Lansing would make it easier for communities to include sidewalks and bike paths in their road and street systems. Photo courtesy m-bike.org.

This week a state House committee will review two bills aimed at supporting “Complete Streets” initiatives across Michigan.

If you like to walk or bike, the bills, HB 6151-6152, deserve your support. They would help communities and road agencies design streets and reconstruct roads so that everyone can use them-walkers, bikers, trucks and cars. In case you haven’t noticed while driving around in recent years, biking and walking are gaining popularity as gas prices increase and more people look for alternative modes of transportation.

The League of Michigan Bicyclists’ John Lindenmayer, one of the main leaders of the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition, even argues that the bills are potential boosters for Michigan’s lagging economy.

“Not only do complete streets make roadways safer by reducing accidents and making it easier for walkers and bikers to share the roads with cars,” Mr. Lindenmayer said, “they also stimulate economic growth by increasing property values and facilitating development.

“It’s the wave of the future,” he added, “and in cities across the country it’s also an indicator of healthy, sustainable development.”

So far Lansing lawmakers have heard from a wide and diverse range of organizations supporting the bills, including AARP, the Michigan Environmental Council, and the Michigan Municipal League.  While there is great support for the bills, one state agency is standing in the way their passage.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) wants to make sure that these bills don’t end up creating unintended consequences for road builders.

But supporters of the bill point out that there’s more than a little irony in that concern.

Tim Fisher, of the Michigan Environmental Council, said that, “the unintended consequences of the current system makes it often unsafe for pedestrians.  If we can avoid injury and other types of unintended consequences caused when bikes and cars collide, then we are making progress.”

Mr. Fisher points out that the Complete Streets bills leave room for communities to decide how to design roadways that accommodate all users of all ages. It’s a way to ensure that pedestrians, cyclists, and cars are able to share the right of ways with out creating dangerous circumstances for each other.  The idea is to facilitate better working relations between the state transportation department and the communities it serves.

Traverse City’s mayor points out that the communitywide sentiment documented by the Grand Vision planning project makes the bills particularly important in that region.

“The Grand Vision talks about an overwhelming desire for streets that serve all uses because that’s what the citizens want,” Mayor Chris Bzdok explained. “Most of the main thoroughfares that cut through our region’s cities and villages are state roads, making it really important for a Complete Streets approach.

“Whether we are talking about Division Street in Traverse City, M-22 in Suttons Bay, or M-131 in Kalkaska,” he added, “these are state-owned roads that run through our neighborhoods. Completing these important roadways is vital to our region’s economic prosperity.”

Over the last 50 years Michigan residents have moved further away from their jobs and commercial centers and, as a result, planners and engineers have struggled to accommodate more automobile traffic on city roads.

Traditionally, the solution has always been wider roads with more car lanes. But not only have more lanes failed to relieve congestion, they have actually harmed communities: Too often, people cannot walk or bike safely along or across these multi-lane barriers, which harms property values and diminishes quality of life.

This legislation will help shift road designers’ emphasis away from an “autos only” mindset and toward inclusion of pedestrians and bikers as legitimate users of our public roadways. It’s a win for everyone.

That is why MLUI strongly supports passage of these bills.

The bills could be voted out of committee this week, so groups around the state are encouraging citizens to contact their lawmakers by phone or email and ask them to support it. After the committee vote, if it’s successful, the bills will move to the floor of the House of Representatives for a full vote.

Here’s a list of the members of the House Committee on Transportation and Commerce, who will decide whether the bill can move forward:

Please drop a line to as many of them as you can and let them know your thoughts on having Complete Streets in Michigan!

Brian Beauchamp, a policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute, bikes to work even when it’s raining. Reach him at brian@mlui.org.