Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Non-Motorized Transportation Plan nearing completion

23. May 2005 • MarkDilley
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A comment left in the Contact us section:

The Sunday (5/22/05) Ann Arbor News ran a story on bicycling on the front of the Connection Section (which may indicate how serious they are about it). Anyway, it’d be great to hear it discussed on Arbor Update. Thanks. – Al Braun

Ann Arbor is one of the safest places to bicycle already, but improving it to one of the top bicycling communities would be great.

p.s. it would be good to include links ;-)

  1. Ann Arbor bicycling seems pretty haphazard to me. For example, not too long ago, bicycle lanes were painted on Plymouth from Green Road to Murfin/Upland, but stop there. What the city intended cyclists to do at that point is unclear. Also, getting across the Broadway Bridges is pretty, um, exciting since the bridges are not really wide enough to accomodate both motorized traffic and bicycles. Perhaps planners intended cyclists to ride on the bridges’ sidewalk, but that is not a good solution.
       —tom    May. 23 '05 - 07:03PM    #
  2. Be that as it may, I still need to get a bike. This city, with all its problems, still seems like a pretty decent place to ply one’s hobby (if that’s what it is), compared with other places.
       —Lazaro    May. 23 '05 - 08:00PM    #
  3. Tom, I also find the Broadway Bridges lacking as far as bike traffic is concerned. I only rarely get up the courage to use the vehicle lanes on my bike, and the sidewalks basically force you to get off and walk your bike through the maze of crossings and islands on the western end of the bridge. I suppose the ped arrangements are as good as can be expected for a six-way or so intersection, but it’s still a pain on a bike.

    Also, it looks like the paint for the bike lanes along Plymouth is wearing off at a fantastic rate. Is that a problem with the condition of the road surface?
       —Murph    May. 23 '05 - 08:10PM    #
  4. Have you tried to bike along Geddes, between Washtenaw and Gallup Park? A disaster. The bike path/sidewalk is probably the most dangerous in the city. But because its bordered by a couple of township islands, no one seems to bother with it, even though dozens of bikers use it as the route to work and back.

    It’s kind of typical Ann Arbor – let’s build some new bike paths rather than keep up what we have. Just like m – let’s make more parks, even though we can’t afford to maintain the ones we have.
       —JennyD    May. 23 '05 - 08:19PM    #
  5. This summer I have to focus more and more on riding on the streets. Now that I have pedals that won’t try to kill me…

    I have to agree with Tom’s haphazard bike lanes comment. I often see them fading away at intersections for no reason whatsoever.

    And don’t get me started on the Broadway Bridge. Whoever designed the south east side should be fired—how do they expect people to follow a traffic pattern like that? But I believe that there is plenty of room for bikes and people on the bridge, much more than the standard sidewalks.
       —Matt Hampel    May. 23 '05 - 10:45PM    #
  6. (Mark: I took the liberty of tacking a title on your post . . .)
       —Murph    May. 23 '05 - 11:35PM    #
  7. Alas, my knees have been bugging me and I haven’t been riding much recently. When I did ride, I took the old Broadway bridges daily, in the traffic lane. That’s what I still do on the more rare occasions that I ride to work. It’s easiest if you take the lane instead of trying to ride in the gravel at the edge of the lane with cars whipping by your left shoulder. With two lanes in each direction, people can pass you in the other lane easily enough.

    This makes navigating the intersections on either side much simpler. Since intersections are where most accidents happen, that’s a good thing. And you can really go fast—especially if you get up a good head of steam coming down Division first. Fun!

    Bicycling Street Smarts is a pretty good manual for this sort of thing.
       —Bruce Fields    May. 24 '05 - 01:51AM    #
  8. Thanks for the improved title, Murph.

    Obviously, biking is a tremendous form of recreation, and there are a lot of opportunities to enjoy it in Ann Arbor. But living where we do—just north of Packard and Eisenhower—I tend to load up the bikes and drive them to where we’ll ride them.

    Biking as transportation isn’t facilitated enough for me to give it serious consideration. If I want to go downtown, there’s no way I’m riding up Packard, unless it’s on the sidewalk. I could ride through the neighborhoods, but that’s circuitous.

    It seems to me that if we were considering bicycles as transportation that we’d be looking at the various destinations, and asking ourselves how we’d get between these on a bike. I’d think we’d also be looking at how to maintain these routes in the winter. Are these thoughts just too far out to even consider?

    It seems to me that we shouldn’t speaking in terms of non-motorized transportation, as though motorized transportation is the natural order of things. It might be better to be talking about human-powered transportation. Obviously, for most humans, human-powered transportation is all there is.

    And what about walking? I’ve never understood the discontinuity of sidewalks in Ann Arbor. What an indignity to those who are pedestrians by necessity to have to walk in the road, or through the dirt and grass.

    Imagine Packard, Eisenhower, Main, State, Plymouth, Jackson, and Stadium with occasional three-block patches of unimproved dirt. How much would people drive in Ann Arbor? In my opinion, seeing biking and walking as recreation while paying lip-service to it as transportation kills the substantial use of human-powered transportation and all of its benefits.

    I’m hoping that those of you with planning backgrounds will share broader visions of making human-powered transportation viable and substantial in Ann Arbor.

       —Al Braun    May. 24 '05 - 02:37AM    #
  9. The transportation committee of the city’s Environmental Commission made extensive pedestrian policy recommendations (some of which also apply to biking) to city council last year. They’ve been held up for various reasons, but our chair, Ken Clark, is looking into it. Public support for them would help move them along. I’ll get a link and report it here soon.

    Our next committee meeting is coming up soon (date TBD—I’ll announce here, too.) We’ll be meeting with the city’s new transportation coordinator, Eli Cooper. The meetings are open to the public.
       —Steve Bean    May. 24 '05 - 02:54AM    #
  10. Al,

    I’ve been biking Packard a lot lately. (I start at Stone School and Ellsworth, usually stopping in the neighborhood around Stadium, but also continuing downtown or cutting off towards campus through the neighborhoods.) Are there certain parts you find especially bad? I think it’s not bad for a road that doesn’t have a bike lane for its entire length. There are a few stretches where you’re biking along with one lane in each direction, which is a bit unnerving, but there’s good visibility, and except for the occasional moron, the drivers seem fairly considerate.

    I do have to say though, that I’m coming from a different place. I lived in San Francisco before here. On one hand, there were bike lanes or otherwise reasonable roads pretty much everywhere I wanted to go. On the other hand, it was uphill both ways.

       —kelli    May. 24 '05 - 07:30AM    #
  11. Kelli,

    I’m 51, with a couple of small kids. In years gone by I’ve been hit by a car twice on my bike, and have been lucky enough to have been relatively unhurt. Frankly, I’ve got a low tolerance for danger.

    I think of myself as someone who would ride for transportation a lot if I felt safe. I ride my kids the couple of blocks to and from school every day. This winter was harder than last, but we’ve rode on days when the sidewalks were free of snow and ice.

    I think there are a lot of people who—like myself—would ride if the conditions were right, but who are easily stopped by our haphazard system.

    BTW- When I lived in the city (Noe Valley), I never biked. I guess some of us are made of stronger stuff than others…
       —Al Braun    May. 24 '05 - 10:32AM    #
  12. those of you with planning backgrounds will share broader visions

    Al, I don’t know what better there is to say than what you already said. Right on.

    I spent my undergrad years totally carless, and can definitely point to some deficiencies in this town. I just moved down from the Plymouth / North Campus area, which features numerous township island, and therefore sidewalks picking up and disappearing on alternate sides of the street every 40 feet, and streets with no shoulder whatsoever on hills, making bike or foot transportation a cross-country slog in the middle of town. (Plus, everything nearby is either suburban strip mall and office park along Plymouth, or the parks belt running along the river, so nearby attractions are somewhat sparse, considering the difficulty of human-powered travel.)

    On the other hand, I’m skeptical of ideas, for example, to narrow Jackson/Huron to three lanes with bike lanes on either side. Even if it were built that way, I certainly wouldn’t bike it. It seems like a better idea to make the parallel streets bike routes instead . . . except the streets don’t run parallel – Miller and Liberty skew off at angles, making navigation / shortest-distance travel annoying.
       —Murph    May. 24 '05 - 12:25PM    #
  13. I frequently bike to my office at 1st & Washington from my home at Warren & Nixon. I ride on Traver, which more or less parallels Plymouth, is much easier on the nerves than Plymouth, and is more scenic. I still have to deal with the Broadway Bridges, which are a pain. Bruce Fields says he takes the traffic lane, but that just scares the bejesus out of me during the rush hour.
       —tom    May. 24 '05 - 01:15PM    #
  14. One of the big problems in Ann Arbor with using bicycles as transportation is the expectations and behavior of both the bicyclists and the motorists. Motorists don’t pay attention to or share the road with bicyclists and bicyclists around here rarely follow the rules of the road (or the sidewalk). I think there needs to be more education and enforcement of the traffic laws for motorists and bicyclists so everyone is more aware and knows what to expect when sharing the road.
       —Juliew    May. 24 '05 - 01:39PM    #
  15. Also, Al, (tragically) motorized transportation really is the natural order of things in this country. And not even just “motorized”, but “single-occupant vehicle” – transit is generally lumped into “non-motorized” by merit of not being a car. Ann Arbor is certainly not exempt from being auto-dominated.

    To take another crack at it, if I had to express a broader vision for transportation in this town, it would read something like,

    “Automobile ownership should be optional for the vast majority of Ann Arbor’s residents. People should be able to live their daily lives without feeling constrained by the lack of a personal vehicle. Travel to work, school, play, and shopping, travel to other towns in Washtenaw and other cities around Michigan, and travel to destinations across the country should be available to all residents, regardless of car ownership.”

    A few of the concrete steps required for this goal:

    * Place destinations close to each other and close to users. Destinations need not be large, as long as the mixture is finely-grained.
    * Sidewalks on both sides of all streets throughout Ann Arbor in good condition.
    * Forbid parking lots (and “landscaped berms”) between sidewalk and front door in all parts of Ann Arbor.
    * Remove minimum off-street parking requirement from zoning throughout Ann Arbor. Create maximum allowable off-street parking code.
    * Allow on-street parking on all streets, within present street width.
    * Reduce minimum setback and lot size requirements to historical levels (e.g. Old West Side / Burns Park).
    * Require secure bicycle parking in all commercial and multi-unit housing development sufficient to serve all users.
    * 24 hour transit between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
    * Transit through Ann Arbor until at least midnight every day (until 2 am Thursday-Saturday).
    * Pedestrian and transit preemption of all traffic signals.
    * Provide transit connection to DTW, at least hourly.
    * County-wide Transfer of Development Rights system ensuring that all growth happen within present urbanized area or immediately adjacent, and consistant with these people-centric design guidelines.
    * Provide transit connection to Toledo, esp. Amtrak station, at least 3-4 times/day in each direction. (In 45 minutes, not the 2 hours that it currently takes by Amtrak’s bus.)
    * Fast commuter transit into Ann Arbor from Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Saline, Brighton, and Plymouth.
    * Eliminate free parking at all schools; ensure all students, staff, faculty have reasonable non-car transportation to schools.

    (Do I think about this much? Why, no, not at all – what makes you think that?)
       —Murph    May. 24 '05 - 01:43PM    #
  16. Murph, this sounds like a great non-motorized transportation plan as it stands. So, how ‘bout that City Council spot in the 4th Ward …
       —Juliew    May. 24 '05 - 02:22PM    #
  17. You got my two votes, Murph. (Quirky and outdated part of State Constitution allows all Ann Arbor brewers to vote twice. Kinda like how the Springfield Town Charter granted Chief Wiggum a roasted pig each and every month).
       —todd    May. 24 '05 - 02:39PM    #
  18. Todd, how do brewers get to vote twice?!

    Juliew, I’m still not much more interested in a Council seat than you are. If you can convince Teall to nominate me to Planning Commission, though, I’ll go willingly. Note that this plan requires representation on Planning Commission, City Council, School Board, the AATA Board, DDA (ahem, Leah?), Parks Advisory – and that’s just the part within Ann Arbor proper. Lots of work to be done.

    What’s the low-hanging fruit here? I’m guessing maybe eliminating the minimum off-street parking requirement and instituting a maximum; the minimum is already waived (I believe) in the DDA’s district, and (Planner) Jeff Kahan would probably jump at the chance to draft such an ordinance revision. Bicycle parking requirements are also easy to do from a zoning code point-of-view.
       —Murph    May. 24 '05 - 03:13PM    #
  19. “Place destinations close to each other and close to users. Destinations need not be large, as long as the mixture is finely-grained.”

    This is the one thing that’s been most annoying for me living in Ann Arbor without a car. Especially having moved from Portland, Oregon, where there seemed to be supermarkets, department stores, etc., in walking distance of anywhere you lived (including built-up downtown areas).

    In the 11 years I’ve lived here Ann Arbor has just gotten worse in this respect: we’ve lost a supermarket at the south end of Broadway, a department store on Main, a drugstore on State, a hardware store on Liberty, etc., etc.

    I’d really like to understand whatever mix of regulation and economic forces it is that causes this.
       —Bruce Fields    May. 24 '05 - 05:25PM    #
  20. great comments, everyone.
    Juliew, I wholeheartedly agree with what you said about motorists AND bicyclists needing better behavior and education. I think this ties in well with the comments about cycling for transportation versus recreation.

    To cycle for transportation requires a definite mental leap beyond that of recreational cycling. One must behave like a vehicle, follow the vehicular traffic rules, signal, and watch out for oneself (wear a helmet), knowing that there are plenty of insensitive car drivers out there. I find that if one behaves consistently and carefully, car drivers are less likely to “freak out” and behave aggressively as they often do when confronted with a cyclist who is not following the traffic rules. The trickiest part is balancing that grey area between “vehicle” and “non-motorized”: at some times bikes have the right to take up a “car space”, and at other times they are to stay to the right. And where the official “bike lane” IS the sidewalk, it’s like being temporarily reclassified to pedestrian. One cannot pick and choose either; stop signs and traffic lights are for bikes, too.

    Don’t forget AATA as part of cycling for transportation. The racks are great and for some routes taking the bus is a nice way to get through less bike-friendly roads.

    Here, here, for Murph’s list. I’d especially like to see pedestrian/bike paths over all freeway. People renting on one side of I-94 cannot walk safely to Meijer or other retail despite the proximity. (Of course, the whole area is poor urban design, so I leave that to the planners.) I’ve also noticed with concern the rapid fading of the new bike lanes on Plymouth.
       —Chris F    May. 24 '05 - 05:32PM    #
  21. So who’s been keeping tabs on TEA-3, the renewal to ISTEA-21? It sounded like Tom Harkin was working to get a more regular set of federal, state, and local guidelines for streets/bikes/walkers put in.
       —Dale    May. 24 '05 - 08:47PM    #
  22. Thanks, Murph!

    Your broader vision and list of concrete steps was just what I was hoping you’d offer. In response, there are so many thoughts and questions that come up for me, that I hope it’s ok if I just park on your vision statement first. If I might make a couple comments:

    The statement seems to be directed toward people who either don’t have a car, or are already inclined to use it less. I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of Ann Arborites are happy driving (alone), and to them your vision would look to benefit just others.

    Your vision only speaks about transportation for people, but not for things. This may be a bit far out, but it seems to me that if I were to go shopping, that I’d be a lot happier biking if there were some reasonable way of getting my purchases delivered.

    At the risk of putting a lot of words in your mouth, and perhaps being totally over the top, I restated your vision as:

    “The citizens of Ann Arbor can create a smoothly integrated transportation system that dramatically reduces our dependence on automobiles. This system would facilitate walking and biking, as well as include shuttles, buses and trains as convenient and comfortable alternatives for most people, and as viable substitutes for others. The system must emphasize intra-city, as well as regional and global links. Our system will vastly improve the mobility of all citizens, but especially young people, and those without cars. Including some human-powered transportation, our system will improve our health and fitness, while saving money and making our city safer, cleaner, quieter, more congenial, and less dependent on oil. Boldly looking to the future, Ann Arbor can provide a model of transportation for similar-sized cities around the world.”

    Obviously, this could be more concise and it doesn’t address transporting things either, but what I’m attempting to illustrate here is the possibility of fostering broader agreement and support for a significant departure from our existing approach. I think if we park here on the vision thing we can hope to make more significant change than we could otherwise.

    Murph, I’d love to see how you’d rewrite this.

    Anyone else want to do a rewrite?
       —Al Braun    May. 25 '05 - 02:26AM    #
  23. I can’t suss out the link, but I remember reading an article recently where a city added cargo cars behind their street cars that could then be used for intra-city transport of cargo…
       —Scott T.    May. 25 '05 - 02:53AM    #
  24. Al, I’d definitely see a universal courier / delivery service as a part of a car-optional city – but I’d hold out hope for that happening in the private sector, while I was aiming to list the things that would have to happen at the governmental level. (Or pseudo-governmental, like the DDA, School Board, and AATA.)

    I can understand the desire to not make the average unquestioning driver uncomfortable, but I’ll agree that your rewrite is, yes, a little over the top. “Boldly looking to the future,” is a little wonkish.

    One change I’d make is to “improve the accessibility of all citizens” rather than the mobility. Mobility generally involves moving around more, and requires fast modes of transit – I’d rather move around less (and more slowly) but have access to more things in the process.
       —Murph    May. 25 '05 - 03:59AM    #
  25. Murph, Personally, I’m interested in a vision that includes public, semi-public and private sectors, as well as both transportation and land use. I know that’s more difficult, and superficially less pragmatic, but we need something to draw people toward a sustainable future, and partial visions introduce uncertainty, if they aren’t patently flawed.

    Starting with our current infrastructure, what can we envision that’s sustainable and attractive to the vast majority of people? Not having been trained as a planner, my guess is your teachers emphasize sticking to issues that you (planners) can do something about. Yet my guess is that what planners have within their power, without popular interest and support is very limited.

    We need a vision to inspire the “motoring public” to support changes that will eventually get them out of their cars. This vision needs to be informed by all that planners have learned, such as the distinction between mobility and accessibility.
       —Al Braun    May. 25 '05 - 01:59PM    #
  26. Frankly, all of you need to talk to city council members more. People who don’t share their feelings with city council are the biggest part of the problem.

    As Steve Bean pointed out, the Environmental Commission passed two recommendations from its Transportation Committee. The first recommendation, which City Council ignored, was to set an environmental basis for Ann Arbor transportation planning. The second recommendation was to improve conditions for pedestrians. City Council has also chosen to ignore this recommendation. According to a prominent councilmember, the feeling was that this might result in more pedestrian trips and greater crashes, since having the city encourage pedestrians would be giving pedestrians a “false sense of security.”

    The Transportation Committee would make bicycling recommendations (the city Bicycle Coordinating Committee was working on proposed ordinance changes before it dissolved), but with this track record of consideration from council, what’s the point?

    Those of you who are afraid of biking in traffic really need to get over that phobia. The irrational fear of biking on streets leads to significant crashes on sidewalks. National crash studies have consistently shown that cyclists have lower crash rates on roads, with no difference in crash severity. Biking on sidewalks is two to four times as dangerous as biking on the road.

    The bike lanes on Plymouth are 1’ narrower than the minimum recommendation of the national road engineering organization, and 3.5’ narrower than the Federal Highway Administration recommendation. The lines are wearing off because motorists are ignoring them and driving on the lines and the bike lanes. Since the lines were done with standard road paint, instead of thermoplastic paint, they don’t last long when motorists drive on them. Plymouth is scheduled to be resurfaced in the next few years.

    The Broadway Bridges’ design was worse for cyclists before cyclists lobbied for a change. The original plan called for a narrower road surface and wider sidewalks. The cyclists pushed for widening the road surface to 50’ total, wide enough for four 10’ lanes and two 5’ bike lanes or two 11’ inside lanes and two 14’ curb lanes, with sidewalks narrowed from 12’ to 11’ wide.

    Overall, bike lanes have been cited as a facility that may increase bicycle use, whereas sidepaths and sidewalks are suspected to reduce bicycle use. “Bikepath” is a misnomer, since no one in the US builds “paths for the exclusive use of bicyclists”. True bike paths prohibit pedestrians and have very infrequent road crossings. This is why the city is directing 5% of state gas and weight tax money primarily to bicycle lane construction.

    Finally, the Bicycle Coordinating Committee worked for over 30 years to push for most of the changes you are all talking about. Unfortunately, the mayor decided to stop making appointments to the Committee, and its members recently decided to stop meeting since there were only two of us left.
       —Ken Clark    May. 25 '05 - 06:43PM    #
  27. Bruce Fields wrote: “In the 11 years I’ve lived here Ann Arbor has just gotten worse in this respect: we’ve lost a supermarket at the south end of Broadway, a department store on Main, a drugstore on State, a hardware store on Liberty, etc., etc.

    I’d really like to understand whatever mix of regulation and economic forces it is that causes this.”

    Ann Arbor’s original Kroger store was at the corner of North University and State Street. Most of you will know that as Michigan Book and Supply. The next location for Kroger to the North was the Broadway Kroger, at Broadway and Maiden Lane. Between the closing of the State/North U. Kroger and the Broadway Kroger, the Broadway Bridges were widened to three and then four lanes, and Fuller/Glen was also improved and widened.

    Is anyone surprised that less than a decade after Plymouth Road was widened to four lanes, Kroger decided to move into Traver Village and close the Broadway Kroger store?

    Kresge/Kmart is another example. The original Ann Arbor Kresge was on Main Street. Jackson/Huron was widened to three and then four lanes, and Kmart decided to open the Maple Rd. Kmart and close the downtown Kresge.

    This is where induced traffic demand comes from. Planners (SEMCOG is particularly notorious for this) create population projections that show rural development. Road planning agencies look at those plans and decide they need increased road capacity to prevent future congestion problems. They widen the roads and developers see the wide open roads and decide to build nearby. Retailers see the road capacity, the new housing development, and the population projections and decide to create a bigger store with lots of parking near the development. The new store is more profitable than the old store, so they close the old one.

    If you want to stop that process, a logical first step is to convince the local government to forgoe the road widening. Liberty Road was supposed to be widened to three lanes near Stadium in the recent repair work. The neighbors pointed out that the “need” for road widening was based on population projections for West of town that had not happened. They lobbied City Council to drop the plans to add a turn lane and put in bike lanes instead.

    Finally, let’s go back to our Northside Kroger story. The last Ann Arbor Transportation Plan called for widening Plymouth Road from five lanes to seven from Huron Parkway East. The Northeast Area Transportation Plan dropped that proposal, thankfully. However, City Council has allowed the Engineering Department, Ann Arbor’s road building group, to handle management of the next transportation plan. If they are true to form, the new citywide transportation plan may put those road widenings back in the plan. The next Kroger may be near Plymouth and US-23.
       —Ken Clark    May. 25 '05 - 07:06PM    #
  28. Ken, your data is welcome, but I’d like to call you on two things.

    1. “You all need to get over your irrational phobia of biking on the road . . . The bike lanes on Plymouth are 3.5’ narrower than the FHWA recommendation . . . motorists are ignoring them and driving on the bike lanes.”

    Okay, so which fear was irrational? You can’t use nationwide aggregate data to wish away a specific instance, and I’m surprised you’re calling the fear of riding on particular high-traffic streets “irrational” while you present information showing you know these streets to be out of the norm.

    2. “Frankly, all of you need to talk to city council members more.”

    What makes you think we don’t? I think I pester the Council (and the Planning Commission) about as much as is reasonable already – even without counting the sundry elected officials who are reading this.
       —Murph.    May. 25 '05 - 07:30PM    #
  29. “Okay, so which fear was irrational? You can’t use nationwide aggregate data to wish away a specific instance”

    I’m not sure I understand your argument here. Could you explain?

    “and I’m surprised you’re calling the fear of riding on particular high-traffic streets “irrationalâ€? while you present information showing you know these streets to be out of the norm.”

    He was arguing that a) higher-throughput streets encourage sprawl, and that b) streets are generally safer for cyclists than sidewalks. What’s the contradiction that you see?

    If someone wants a commute partner to go over the Broadway bridges with, I’m happy to oblige. Give street smarts a read first….
       —Bruce Fields    May. 25 '05 - 08:20PM    #
  30. Bruce,
    I think what Murph was pointing out is that Ken called fear of riding on the road “irrational”, and then he pointed out that the bike lanes on Plymouth are narrower than national norms, that they are rapidly fading due to inappropriate paint, and drivers are ignoring them anyway. So fear of riding on specifically on Plymouth is not irrational. For myself, I avoid riding on Plymouth not by riding on the sidewalk, but by riding on more or less parallel streets such as Traver or Broadway.
       —tom    May. 25 '05 - 08:53PM    #
  31. Bruce, to summarize:

    “Some of the larger arterials in Ann Arbor are frightening to bike on.”

    “Sure, those particular routes may have inadequate bike lanes and drivers who routinely ignore the bike lanes entirely, but, when you consider all streets, biking on the road is safer than biking on the sidewalk, therefore, it must be the case on that street, and you’re just being irrational.”

    “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    I’m complaining about Ken’s ecological fallacy , is all. My response had nothing to do with either the role of high-volume arterials in sprawl, nor with the general relative safety of street cycling to sidewalk cycling – I agree with Ken on both of those things, and wasn’t taking exception to either, just to the use of aggregate data to refute a single data point. Like I said.
       —Murph    May. 25 '05 - 09:07PM    #
  32. “I agree with Ken on both of those things, and wasn’t taking exception to either, just to the use of aggregate data to refute a single data point.”

    Until someone gets the funding to do a study on, say, the Broadway Bridges specifically, we’re going to have to make do with research that was done on streets that don’t have precisely the same characteristics as the street in question.

    My memory was that some of the research has in fact been done on fairly high-traffic arterials, but I don’t remember off hand. There are some pointers on the page cycle path safety: a summary of research, or you can google around for more.

    “bike lanes on Plymouth are narrower than national norms, that they are rapidly fading due to inappropriate paint, and drivers are ignoring them anyway.”

    Note there’s an assumption here that bike lanes are necessary for safety. I don’t believe that’s true—in fact I doubt there’s even firm evidence that they’re any safer. If they make people feel more comfortable on the street, and encourage more people to cycle, then that will have plenty of benefits (including, indirectly, safety benefits). But a lack of bike lanes isn’t a good reason to avoid using a street.

    On cars’ use of bike lanes—it’s not necessarily a bad thing for cars to use the bike lanes sometimes. In fact, they really should do so in certain circumstances, such as before making right turns. (It’s simpler and safer for them to merge into the bike lane first, then turn, instead of turning across the bike lane at the last moment.)
       —Bruce Fields    May. 25 '05 - 09:33PM    #
  33. People,

    I’ve got to admit, I’m a little disappointed with the way you’re gravitating toward details here. Forgive me for not caring much about sidewalk widths, line paint, etc. I can appreciate that those you work for count on you to handle details.

    I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for 25 years. It was livable when I moved here with almost no human-powered transportation, just as it is now. My guess is that at the rate we’re going—short of catastrophe—there will be negligible human-powered transportation in Ann Arbor 25 years from now.

    If I read the story right, there was a group lobbying the bicyclists’ viewpoint during planning of the Broadway bridge and it’s still not right. And I read that city council ignores you. Why do you think that’s so? Sometimes it’s because you fail to call, but mostly it’s because you represent a miniscule constituency. The motoring public (the vast majority) doesn’t know your viewpoint exists.

    When you write for this blog you are in public. You’re not in the office. The public doesn’t care about paint! Frankly, we don’t care about human-powered transportation.

    Who’s going to make us care about human-powered transportation? If it’s not one of you, it probably won’t happen. Do you want to spend your lives being ignored by city council, or do you want to build a constituency that understands a planner’s point of view?

    It’s the vision thing. Anybody got a vision?

       —Al Braun    May. 26 '05 - 01:35PM    #
  34. Those of you who are afraid of biking in traffic really need to get over that phobia. The irrational fear of biking on streets leads to significant crashes on sidewalks.

    Ken, How old are you? How many kids do you have? How many times have you been hit by a car?

    It isn’t a phobia. It isn’t irrational. It doesn’t lead people to ride on the sidewalks as much as it leads them to drive their cars.
       —Al Braun    May. 26 '05 - 01:57PM    #
  35. Well, Al, the catastrophe cometh. See (go to the Synopsis) for the grim view.

    World oil production is likely to peak in the next year or so. After that, human-powered transportation is going to become very popular if only because it’s cheap. I expect that 25 years from now we won’t be driving vehicles that run on gas. Many of us may not be driving anything. That’s not the catastrophe, of course, but it’s part of the package.

    As for vision, I’d say you and Murph are on the right track. What do you suggest be done with it (that isn’t already being done)?
       —Steve Bean    May. 26 '05 - 02:24PM    #
  36. Al,

    I am 37 years old, I have two kids, 7 and 4 who bike with us regularly, but not on their own bikes yet. I have been hit severely once while biking on a sidewalk and I have had one minor crash while stopped on my bike at a stoplight. I have biked in Ann Arbor and other places in Michigan for about 16 years about 6 days a week, almost exclusively on major and minor arterials.

    Fear of biking on the road is irrational and it is a phobia. Crash statistics make it clear that cyclists are in far greater danger on sidewalks than on the road, and lifetime bike/car crash risks for cyclists are lower than crash risks for motorists measured on a per trip basis (though not on a per mile basis). As the British Medical Journal pointed out some years ago, the health risks from not bicycling are far greater than the health risks from bicycling.

    As Bruce pointed out, there is a tremendous fallacy amongst the public that bicycle lanes are safer for road cyclists than biking on a road without bicycle lanes. Studies of bicycle lanes have not found that they are any safer. The one benefit they have been found to provide is that they encourage cyclists to use the road instead of the much more dangerous sidewalks. The danger of bicycle lanes is that they do nothing to deal with crashes at intersections, which are by far the largest danger for road cyclists.

    Murph claims that I am using an environmental fallacy, but the problem is that others are using the false premise that roads with bike lanes are safer for cyclists than roads without bike lanes. As noted above, there is really no support for this in the research on bicycle safety. Bike lanes encourage people to use bikes because bike lanes help to overcome “hit by car from behind” phobia.
       —Ken Clark    May. 26 '05 - 02:36PM    #
  37. Al,

    You asked for a vision, but the one City Council is using now isn’t too bad, it just needs some nudging in the right direction. It was unprecedented in Michigan for a community to designate 5% of its Act 51 revenue to nonmotorized transportation. The Planning Department pushed through changes several years ago to lower minimum off-street parking requirements and set maximums. Every project going through Planning Commission and Council is heavily scrutinized with regard to parking and nonmotorized accommodations. The City already has off-street bicycle parking requirements. The City has done a tremendous job recently fending off street widening projects. The Mayor stuck his neck way out to encourage the PDR millage, which should help reduce sprawl pressures over time.

    Frankly, the only thing that City Council is doing wrong WRT nonmotorized transportation is relying too heavily on engineering changes, ignoring automobile subsidies the City provides, and ignoring policy changes that could be done for free that would help cyclists and pedestrians at least as much as the engineering changes. The upcoming Nonmotorized plan discusses these changes somewhat, but since the Environmental Commission Pedestrian Recommendations were part of the recommended changes and Council roundly ignored those recommendations, more pushing from the public would be helpful.

    And finally, nonmotorized transportation in Ann Arbor is far from a “miniscule constituency”. In fact, census figures indicate that about 19% of commuting trips by residents are nonmotorized. (See Successful Bicycle Planning: Adapting Lessons From Communities with High Bicycle Use to Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County) The census figures completely ignore student trips, so the figure is undoubtably much higher. Don’t scoff at the value of student trips; we receive gas and weight tax (Act 51) revenue from the state on the bases of our road mileage and our population, not on the basis of trips or gas usage by residents. Ann Arbor receives between $7 and 8 million per year in Act 51 revenue. Those students are probably worth $2-3 million per year in Act 51 money, and they receive very little for their contribution.
       —Ken Clark    May. 26 '05 - 03:14PM    #
  38. Regarding crash stastistics: Touche, Ken.

    I’m interested to know if when you say crash, you mean injury. Though I’m not surprised to hear that on a per-trip basis there are more car crashes, I’d assume that the injury and fatality rates in bike crashes are far higher.

    And I’m sure the British Medical journal actually meant—if they did not say—the risks of biking were lower than those of not exercising (though I’ll grant you that getting one’s body around seems like a natural form of exercise).

    Though accident rates at intersections may be far higher, I’d also assume that many of those accidents are caused, or are otherwise avoidable by the cyclist. I definitely have the “hit by car from behind” phobia. One of the two times I was hit, it was from behind on an arterial without a bike lane. If I weren’t thrown down a grassy hill, I think I might have been severely injured. My thought is that the people in general are far more willing to accept risks of their own making, than those which they have less power to avoid.
       —Al Braun    May. 26 '05 - 03:45PM    #
  39. Some citations for some of my previous statements:

    The British Medical Journal article I refered to is BMJ 2000;321:1582-1585 ( 23 December )
    “Three lessons for a better cycling future” by Malcolm J Wardlaw. The quote I referred to from this article reads “Even for cyclists on Britain’s roads, the health benefits exceed the risks by a factor of 20.7 The health benefits of cycling are so great and the health injuries from driving so great8 that not cycling is really dangerous.”

    One good synopsis of crash analyses is at the Massachussetts bicycle Coalition website at The Federal Highway Administration provided an analysis of car/bike collisions at

    My favorite discussion of the risks of bicycling is at
       —Ken Clark    May. 26 '05 - 05:58PM    #
  40. Bruce, I think there’s a problem in that a phobia can’t be cured by naming it, or proving it wrong. You can tell people until you’re blue in the face that driving increases the rate of heart attack, and that every minute you spend walking adds more than a minute to your lifespan. You can tell people that driving is the most dangerous form of transportation. You can present all sorts of facts and statistics, and it will make no difference. (Well, it will make one difference: people will think you’re a big jerk for nagging.)

    I think you’re better off with the tack you were on earlier, when you offered a bike commute buddy to anybody who wanted to try biking on Plymouth. It’s a frustratingly slow tactic, but I think that might be psychologically the best approach?
       —Murph    May. 26 '05 - 09:27PM    #
  41. Ken,

    You can turn your references into links by putting the link name in quotes, followed by a colon, and then the URL. So we get:

    ‘Three lessons for a better cycling future’ by Malcolm J Wardlaw

    Crash analyses is at the Massachussetts bicycle Coalition

    Federal Highway Administration analysis of car/bike collisions

    My favorite discussion of the risks of bicycling

    You might want to check out the Textile formatting link below.

    I started to read “Three Lessons…” but was too put off by his walking helmet joke(?) to continue. Boy, am I not a planner.

    I would appreciate it if you’re able to directly address the questions I asked implicitly in comment #38.

       —Al Braun    May. 27 '05 - 01:59AM    #
  42. Regarding the first part of comment #37:


    First let me say that you are a fountain of information. Thank you.

    I’d call what you offer in your first two paragraphs a set of policies. At face value, they seem pretty progressive, and I’m happy to hear of them.

    Murph’s comment #15 includes a list of policies. Now suppose his entire list was enacted/fulfilled today. How would Ann Arbor be different in say, 25 years? How would it look? What would we be doing? How would it feel? We could call that an extrapolated vision.

    Usually, I prefer what we might call a creative vision, where we start with, “How would we like it to look? What would we like to be doing? How would we like it to feel?” Starting there, we may be able to create something compelling enough to change our actions now.

    We can’t overestimate the power of a creative vision. The classic example is Kennedy saying, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving a goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” This creative vision put us on the move.

    So rather than specifying what policies we ought to have, I’m asking you, and the other planners who frequent this site, to design a compelling future—a creative vision—to draw us into a better future.
       —Al Braun    May. 27 '05 - 02:41AM    #
  43. ken,

    “The Planning Department pushed through changes several years ago to lower minimum off-street parking requirements and set maximums.”

    at the risk of appearing lazy, stupid, or blithe (ok, i confess), may i ask what this means?

       —peter honeyman    May. 27 '05 - 02:52AM    #
  44. Gee, Steve. Back in the early seventies, I took Bowie’s ‘Five Years’ to heart, and it freaked me out. Thank goodness his numbers were a bit off. But if we don’t meet with disaster, it won’t be for lack of trying.

    The Die Off synopsis looks like, and has many references to what I think is the better known Hubbert peak theory. I believe there have been similar theories/predictions circulating for about a century. One thing for sure, people would rather debate them, than be moved by them.

    I’d say Murph and I are on the right track in that we’re working to create a vision, but I’d also say that we’re not very far down that track. We need compelling visions that are actually possible. And we need details.

    We haven’t even tried to conceive anything radical yet. Imagine if we had as a criteria for our vision, that it allow Ann Arbor to operate on 75% less oil. Well, that’d make all this talk about set-backs and berms seem a little tepid.

    Or try this one: What if we stopped allowing cars of non-residents to enter the freeway circle around Ann Arbor? And further, we only allowed residents to bring their cars in on a specified path between their homes and the freeway. I’ll tell you, once you get over the shock of this idea, and start imagining the quality of life it’d produce within the circle, it certainly has its attractions.

    Or what if we were—on a national basis—to forbid automobiles to travel on the freeways, and left them to trucks? That’d be a great way of rationing gas, without administrative overhead, or the associated crime.

    Or what if we were to forbid both cars and trucks from using the freeways, and used the infrastructure for very high-speed trains.

    Murph’s comment about accessibility suggests to me that we need to zone for little commercial centers throughout our neighborhoods. Or something. What would that look like?

    Ideas that come out of this kind of speculation may have no practical application today, but may look very attractive if gas were $20 per gallon. And short of that (and what I’m hoping for) is that this exercise might yield possibilities that are attractive right now.

    Discussion along these lines, among people with planning training, would very likely yield some pragmatic and enticing alternatives. During your day jobs you can continue to worry about line paint. But at night, perhaps you can provide some real leadership. “Boldly looking into the future” may sound hokey, but I think it’s what we need.-
       —Al Braun    May. 27 '05 - 04:34AM    #
  45. “Discussion along these lines, among people with planning training, would very likely yield some pragmatic and enticing alternatives. During your day jobs you can continue to worry about line paint. But at night, perhaps you can provide some real leadership.”

    Well, jeez, Al, what do you think I’m doing on this webpage?! :)

    I’ll state, very bluntly, that the idea of forbidding non-resident cars from inside the freeway ring will not, on its own, do anything good. Think “donut”; Ann Arbor would wither and die. Anything so dramatic would require a regional, state, or national change – Ann Arbor can’t do it on its own. Ann Arbor is a very small star – it’s gravitational pull just isn’t enough to hold onto its economy if it starts taking such actions. Pfizer would be gone in months. Briarwood would empty out. Main Street would feature tumbleweed as the primary life form.

    Some optimism a little later – for now, I’m going outside to play in the garden.
       —Murph    May. 27 '05 - 11:12PM    #
  46. “Well, jeez, Al, what do you think I’m doing on this webpage?! :)”

    Well, jeez, Murph, sorry! :) I’d never want to hurt your feelings. Really. Of course, if a certain portion of my ideas weren’t dead wrong, I wouldn’t be having many. But I”m not as dumb (or as insensitive) as I act. And by the way, thanks for not laughing out loud.

    At the risk of being deader wrong, I’d put all the parking structures at the freeway exits. Funny that you should mention Briarwood. I would encase Briarwood in a ribbon of parking structure with a both a beautiful facade and interior.

    Then I’d line outside of the malls’ old exterior walls with moving sidewalks. Then I’d have moving sidewalk spokes that take you to a central point inside the mall. That central point would be the satellite hub for an electric, driverless shuttle, that whisks you non-stop (cleared right of way) to a downtown hub at, say 50-70 miles per hour. The shuttles would need to be flexbly scaled so we could run them every two-to-five minutes with 50% occupancy.

    I’m thinking that rather than one, we could have maybe three or four or five downtown hubs, like Medical Center, Diag (South U), Downtown (Main Street). The satellite hub shuttles would only go to one downtown hub, but one or more of the downtown hubs might have more than one satellite hub.

    Then our urban center would be activity hubs around the shuttle hubs. We’d connect these urban activity hubs with a hub-only-stop inner ring shuttle (like the bus route that failed) that’s also electric and driverless.

    We close all urban core streets to motorized human transportation (we still use machines to carry stuff). We flexably-enclose all of the downtown mainstreets (South U, State, Liberty and Main), and don’t allow any motorized transportation on them, but again have moving sidewalks.

    We tear down all of the downtown parking structures, and build on all of the downtown parking lots, thereby dramitically increasing density without raising building heights.

    We’d have a completely alternate transportation system that’s mostly human-powered for moving both between and about downtown and now-residential portions of the city. If we could totally chuck our cars, we could use (electric) motor transportation for goods only, and have flexibly-enclosed bike paths throughout.

    I can think of a hundred reasons why this might be a dumb vision. I’m an amateur planner. But if this could work, it could be way cool, and Ann Arbor might add tourism to its other exports.

    I’m sure you’ve heard the old story that if the railroads had known they were in the transportation business rather than thinking of themselves as in the railroad business, the same companies would still dominate transportation today. Though this has always been used as a quintescential example of a product orientation, as distinguished from a market orientation in Marketing 200, we, the people most dependent on the auto industry aren’t thinking of ourselves as in the transportation, or the transportation manufacturing, or the transportation design industry. Too big an intellectual leap? Whoa.

    We’ve got to invent a global transportation system. What I mean by that is a transportation system that can be replicated with modifications the world over. A system that both rich and poor countries can afford, and that both rich and poor countries will want. It must strike the perfect balance between human-power and motor-power (with appropriate fuel). And we must invent, test and demonstrate it here in Ann Arbor, and then hope Detroit can get an advantage in delivering it to the world.

    BTW I know you were cringing at all my moving sidewalks. We could put up signs that say “Rush/Handicap Only”. :)

    Yikes. I’m too old for this. If this is all stuff you’re already doing, please forgive me for blurting it out. See ya Thursday.
       —Al Braun    May. 28 '05 - 08:02AM    #
  47. A few comments ago, somebody got to invoke Bowie, and now I get to hit Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll”. Wonderful conversation, this.

    Al, there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I don’t know if I agree wholly with your choices of technology, but I love the intent. I especially like your bit on the railroads and the transportation business. The planner’s way of saying this is, “Transportation is not about moving people around quickly, but about getting them where they want to go.” Accessibility rather than mobility. (MUPs: can you tell I’ve spent too much time around Levine?) Tragically, the folks who hold this view of things are not the ones who are in charge. (And by the time the traffic engineers die off and the transportation planners can take the reins on a wide scale, who knows how bad things will have gotten?)

    I’ll pick up on a few of your points as low-hanging fruit.

    * Multiple transit hubs. AATA’s system is the result of quarterly incremental changes on something that was set up, what, decades ago? It just doesn’t serve real land use patterns. We need to take a good hard look at Ann Arbor and redraw the transit system from scratch. Rather than just asking, “Is every part of Ann Arbor within a 1/4 mile walk of an AATA stop?” we need to ask whether, having gotten to that stop, people can actually use the bus to get where they need to go. In my mind, a wholly radial, single-hub, no express routes system is not doing the trick.

    * I am optimistic that we can gradually reduce the parking spaces / use in downtown. (Pulling over from the other thread, where Todd and Ken are agreeing that available parking should scale up close to linearly with increased downtown use.) As more uses are brought together downtown, and a better transit system is supported by them, less parking will be needed per use. We can gradually phase out parking. I think that, in this context, we can all support the general idea if not the exact locations of the DDA’s Three-Site Plan: consolidate the parking we have so that it uses the least possible valuable land, freeing up land currently used for unfortunately necessary supporting use to actually productive use.

    * Express transit lines between core destinations and from peripheral points to core destinations, rather than only having lines that stop every two blocks to load or unload one person.
       —Murph    May. 28 '05 - 03:16PM    #
  48. While we’re talking “vision” ... one vision I’ve enjoyed perusing is the Car Free City website. The guy has a serious Venice fetish, but you it provides a lot of fodder for thinking about planning urban spaces, transit and cargo and has lots of pretty pictures to illustrate the ideas.

    As an aside, I’ve recently been thinking about the implications of the mobile phone as something almost every now has in their pockets, and the fact that getting GPS technology into these wirelessly networked devices. One thing that clicked is this could have an effect on how one might (re)design a transit system to be more dynamic—if people can communicate (easily) their travel intent to the system ahead of time, the system might be better able to adjust service to meet those demands. That’s abstract, but I’m putting a hook into my blog to remember me to flesh this idea out later…
       —Scott T.    May. 28 '05 - 07:36PM    #
  49. A few of the earlier posts on this thread question the function of the sporadically placed bike lanes in Ann Arbor. They don’t seem to have any unified vision behind them. Further down, two sides of the “ride the road, walk the walk” issue are laid out. A third point, made in part by Ken, is that advocacy is an important component of getting bike infrastructure in place.

    It is my understanding that the alternative transportation plan for Ann Arbor does have an initial goal (if not vision) that attempts to increase the advocacy for cycling by using limited funds to increasing the visibility of cycling as transportation in the public eye. The sporadic location of bike lanes are the result of an effort to include new bike lanes on all re-paving road projects. I believe this approach was chosen because it offeres the most “bang for the buck”. Importantly, Don Todd is an advocate of cycling and in a position to include bike lanes in re-paving projects. The intent here is to make a lot of cycling infrastructure visible in hopes that this will make a lot more cyclists visible. The assumption is that there are a lot of cyclists in Ann Arbor, but that it doesn’t look like that way partly because they are not on the road. As Ken and Bruce pointed out, bike lanes do a good job of encouraging cyclists to ride on the street.

    So the bike lane placement is not as random as it may at first appear. And I don’t think it is intended as permanent either. It is an early effort to build a constituency that can push for bigger non-motorized projects. When I spoke to Norm Cox, who wrote the non-motorized plan, he said that it was currently difficult to demonstrate a need for big NMV projects. The first step is to demonstrate the demand.

    If Al is looking for a vision for this stage, I’d say that it is something like: “To have cycling be recognized and respected by commuters, visitors, and residents of Ann Arbor as a normal mode of transportation which is expected and accomodated on the roads and other transportation infrastructure of the city.”

    While there can certainly be criticisms made as to whether this strategy is the most effective and how it fits into larger transportation issues, a vision does exist behind the current operations. It seems to me that it is a good idea to encourage advocacy in the early phase. My impression is that cities with good cycling infrastructure and policy can usually trace the success back to the efforts of a group of committed advocates. I’d point to Madison, Toronto, and Chicago as examples. Note that all of these cities also had support for cycling from a strong political figure.
       —Scott TenBrink    May. 30 '05 - 04:00PM    #
  50. Thanks, Scott TenBrink. I appreciate learning the inside view of Ann Arbor’s approach to cycling. I think it’d be great if we ended up with a better system.

    Friends, There’s a pretty good amount of evidence that our long-term use of the automobile in our current style may require pulling a technological rabbit out of a hat. Setting aside the undesirability of our habits, my fear is that the price of failure might well be as extreme as anarchy or extinction.

    Of course, nobody knows the future, and I’m certainly not predicting a nightmare. But I know we can’t be certain. Debating won’t make us certain. The prudent thing to do is to prepare for more than one possible future. Trying to fit bikes in an auto-centric system is just assuming the rabbit.

    One thing we should all keep in mind is that there’s nobody “at the controls.” There’s no one holding themselves personally responsible for assuring we have enough oil and gas. Even Presidents of the highest virtue are as often as not informed by “experts” whose opinions are corrupted by their smaller interests. There are so many potential points of failure, and the system is so lean, that like the grid, a minor failure could explode into a fatal disruption.

    The question on my mind is whether there’s some way that we can push cars out of our hands before they’re ripped out. If we could succeed at that, we may have energy and systems left for things like earth moving equipment, running water and refrigeration.

    That’s why I keep harping on this thread about the vision thing. I’ve been hoping to find out that planners have a secret conversation that “if we had our way, we’d do such and so.” I’m starting to be afraid not.

    There’s an Upton Sinclair quote that goes, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Detroit has been in this kind of denial for thirty-two years. The stakes are so fearsome, that we hopefully shoot BBs at a charging elephant.

    It’d be good if we had a bike system as nice as Madison’s. But what we need is a transportation (access) system. No one’s promising gas prices will go up gradually. If planners don’t have the secret conversation I mentioned, I hope you’ll start one. Should someone come up with a rabbit, it wouldn’t be so bad to have “wasted” the time.
       —Al Braun    Jun. 2 '05 - 02:08AM    #