Much research and analysis has been conducted over the years on the numerous harmful impacts from poorly designed highway projects on the fabric of a neighborhood or a community. In some instances, cities have begun the healing process of stitching themselves back together – examples include the Park East Freeway removal in Milwaukee, the Embarcadero Freeway demolition in San Francisco, and the Big Dig freeway replacement in Boston, among others.
Less-detailed information seems to be available on how bad highway design serves as a barrier to the smooth and safe flow of non-motorized transportation across an urbanized region. Here in Mid-Michigan there have been two historic examples of bad design on the east side of the region, one at US 127 and Lake Lansing Road and the other at exit 110 on I-96. While not perfect, the situation at US 127 and Lake Lansing Road was vastly improved during an interchange reconstruction project several years ago. At least now one can walk/bike across the freeway on traditional-width sidewalks to reach the Eastwood Towne Center retail development, but it took a lot of input from the non-motorized transportation community.
Exit 110 on I-96 is a whole other story. This bi-polar exit has tremendous amounts of highway commercial and office development north of the interchange while the world headquarters complex for an insurance company surrounded by fields, farms, and forests on the south side. The problem is, if you want to get from one side of the highway to the other side, unless you have a death wish, the almighty car is the only viable option. While sidewalks are incorporated as a part of the original bridge, there are no approaches to it in either direction from the north or the south. This is despite there being more than 1,000 employees at the insurance offices south of the highway, which is soon to be nearly doubled in size. Equally unfortunate, there is no transit service whatsoever across I-96, leaving those who cannot afford a car to walk nearly a half mile over the freeway (sans any viable sidewalks) and in all kinds of weather conditions from the nearest bus stop located in a separate suburb.
While discussions are underway to resolve this mess at Exit 110, the fact that “sidewalks to nowhere” occurred in the first place is frustrating. As non-motorized transportation advocates, it seems like we must constantly speak up just to get “basic improvements” included in new transportation plans. Furthermore, we must be continuously vocal to get incremental additions which help knit the region’s hap-hazard non-motorized network together. But, why must it be this way?
Why shouldn’t the engineering design plans for every overpass or underpass in an urbanized area always, I repeat ALWAYS, include sidewalks and bike lanes as well as the necessary approaches to access them? Why in the second decade of the 21st century are so many highway projects being designed with so little regard to pedestrians and bicyclists? Like it or not, we are not living in the 1950s anymore, folks!
Far too often, expressways might as well be mile-wide rivers, murky moats, or deep chasms the way they split and divide communities that would otherwise be interconnected. Similarly, there seems to be a discernible chasm of understanding between those who design infrastructure projects and those who try to safely traverse them by means other than an automobile. Despite appeal after appeal, educational initiatives, and concerted efforts by advocates, the same old song and dance seems to continuously get replayed.
I don’t know if achieving the critical mass necessary to foster change will take an all-out insurrection at AASTHO, a changing of the guard among engineering professors at the collegiate level, or the wholesale de-programming of transportation and civil engineers worldwide, but something has got to change. The sad thing is there are some really visionary transportation professionals out there who do see the light. The problem is getting those who still think this is the 1950s to stop wearing blinders and crawl out of their individual silos.
What do you think? Is non-motorized traffic flow in your community impeded by highways? Have your local transportation officials been/become more open to the needs of the non-motorized? Whatever the case, please feel free to send your thoughts and feedback. Cheers!