Overcoming roadblocks to non-motorized connectivity

Source: 8womendream.com

Source: 8womendream.com

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!


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11 Responses to Overcoming roadblocks to non-motorized connectivity

  1. I don’t think the problem is so much a lack of respect to non-motorized transport, as it is a deficiency on the part of the people in charge to think in terms of “required elements,” to be able to play Devil’s Advocate to find and correct all the possible problems with their design, to be troubleshooters before building anything. I think we’ve seen omissions and errors like this in aspects of built infrastructure which don’t involve non-motorized transport. Or even in that space mission that was ruined because one entity used metric and another English – and they hadn’t ironed out this discrepancy in units when it should have been. D’uh!


  2. Jeff Potter says:

    Good one, Rick! Are new projects being built without regard to multimodal? Would ASSHTO let an overpass be built today without multimodal? Uni coursework omits it? My hope is that multimodal is now part of law. But the problem is retrofitting what’s been done already. My impression is that both 127/Lk Lans and Exit 110 (Okemos/Jolly) were built in the “bad old days.” Fixes must now be patched-in. In the case of Exit 110, I haven’t seen a proposal where engineers could reasonably say “OK, let’s do it” even if they wanted to. Truly a sticky wicket! I wonder if JNL has its own transit service. I have known a few foreign-national workers there who walk to work. Hard to believe! Possibly they can phone for a car from the intersection? I guess I could call JNL and ask. It’s an odd situation in that there is only one main usergroup that might need the multimodal access over that bridge. The other group might amount to a few dozen bikers who’d like more easily to do touring/fitness/commuting on “the other side.” (I’ve heard of a Okemos>Mason year-round bikecommuter!) If such an overpass actually divided a city there’d be huge pressure to resolve it.


  3. larryhogue says:

    Good post, Rick. I’ve seen the JNL building going up on Sandhill Rd. while cycling, and someone had to explain to me what it was, and that it was actually quite close to their existing building. From Sandhill, it seems way out in the boonies. It seems like the initial mistake was zoning anything south of the freeway for commercial development. But once they did that, there should have been a commitment to complete streets (and transit!) over the freeway.
    Another spot that’s always mystified me is the intersection of Edgewood, Cedar, and Pennsylvania in south Lansing. It’s an extension of freeway-like infrastructure into the city for no good reason I can see. It’s dangerous and confusing to navigate in a car, and I would guess near-impossible as a cyclist or pedestrian. Plus it’s a huge waste of space over a traditional grid system. Do you have any idea why that got built the way it did?


  4. Peter Grasse says:

    I-94 on the East side of the St. Paul metro is a literally an impenetrable North/South barrier for pedestrians and bicyclists. In a six mile stretch, there are two decent crossings. The barrier blocks would be bicycle commuters from reaching a major employer and shopping area. MN-DOT had a chance several years ago to remedy Century Avenue crossing of 94 and only made space for the cars.


  5. This is a major problem and not only in North America. In Oeiras, a suburban municipality of 172,000 inhab. -just West of the very pro active transportation city of Lisbon, Portugal- non-motorized traffic flow is impeded by highways and the transportation officials and politicians from Oeiras have shown contempt for the needs of the non-motorized (not to be confused with Lisbon’s open-minded atitude towards non-motorized traffic). This year a proposal for a bicycle path on 5.8km of the main coastal avenue won an astounding victory in the local participatory budget, mobilizing great public support and a record number of votes.
    Regardless of the victory, the proposal was dismissed by the municipality, on unfounded technicalities, but the movement “Ciclovia na Marginal” [ https://www.facebook.com/ciclovia.marginal ] has managed to keep growing with local events, television interviews [ http://sicnoticias.sapo.pt/pais/2014-10-27-Defensores-da-ciclovia-na-Marginal-nao-desistem-do-projeto ], news articles [ http://www.ecf.com/news/portugal-fights-for-coastal-bike-lane/ ], and meetings with various authorities such as the highway authority. Nonetheless, the mayor of Oeiras refuses to receive or meet with the local group.
    Things are sure to heat up as the “Ciclovia na Marginal” group has been gaining consistent public support [ http://www.ecf.com/news/golpe-de-estrada-reclaiming-public-road-space-for-the-people-40-years-after-the-april-25th-revolution/ ], with some interesting plans on the agenda.
    On the other hand, bicycling in the 2.9million inhab. greater Lisbon area increased 100% from 2002 to 2012, and 5 fold in Lisbon from 2004/2005 to 2011. Pro active transportation Lisbon municipality has a major bikeway network and traffic calming expansion underway, plus a comprehensive pedestrian accessibility plan with major implications in sidewalk and pedestrian access conditions, all this bordering pro-car Oeiras.
    Moreover Lisbon is one of the three finalists for the mega-bicycle planning Velo-city 2017 Conference [ https://www.facebook.com/LisbonVeloCity2017 ], up against Stockholm and Arnhem-Nijmegen. That decision will be announced soon, but if Lisbon does win, Oeiras and its lack of accessibility for non-motorized traffic flow will be placed under greater pressure and scrutiny not only from metro area residents who will see the difference up-front, but also from specialists from all over the world.
    2017 promisses for Oeiras, and the rest of the country also, because on one hand it is municipal election year in Portugal, and also the deadline for applying the pedestrian accessibility code with great implications in urban design (for sidewalks, crosswalks, ramps, stairs, etc.) and fines to be applied to those who don’t meet the rules.


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