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Friday, March 6,2009

Hit the pavement!

by Nick Robinson
In Michigan, the leading cause of death isn’t from alcoholism, murder or car crashes. No, the No. 1 way to die for Michiganders is heart disease. That means bacon cheeseburgers, cigarettes and general lethargy.

That’s where Walk and Bike Lansing! comes in. Led by the Lansing Walking and Bicycling Task Force, the group has two major goals: to increase the number of trips done by foot or bike in the greater Lansing area, and to decrease the number of pedestrian and bicyclist accidents and fatalities.

Jessica Yorko and Andy Kilpatrick, co-chairs of the Lansing Walking and Bicycling Task Force, spoke Friday at the monthly Mid—Michigan Environmental Action Council (Mid-MEAC) luncheon to promote awareness of the program and gain some community support.

 “We’re trying to promote smart commuting,” Kilpatrick, also the director of Lansing Transportation and Parking office, said.  “But a lack of safe and convenient networks for bikers and walkers is a barrier to getting people to do this.”

The group emphasized the need to get out and do cardiovascular exercising, which Yorko said could reduce the number of heart disease-related deaths by almost one-third.

Also, cutting down on driving will reduce carbon emissions, one of the causes of global warming. And biking and walking could save money, too, not only for people filling up at the pump but also for governments that have to fix roads.

The crux of the plan would be to make walking and biking safer, so the group wants to urge local governments to incorporate bike baths into future road projects, making them part of the initial cost, not something that’s added at the end. They also want to put local roads on a “road diet” — essentially, does Saginaw Street need six lanes?

“Back when Lansing was booming,” Yorko explained, “we overbuilt the roads, assuming there would be a lot of cars and traffic, but many are too big. There’s about 13 1/2 miles of roads that could be cut down.”

They also want bigger and better sidewalk systems, making it easier to walk around Lansing and get to buses, for those that need them.

This project has had a long genesis since its conception in 2006, and that’s mostly due to Kilpatrick’s insistence on community input before coming up with a final plan.
“We wanted to show that we are really serious about it,” he said.

Some have questioned the plan saying that they don’t see people walking and biking now, so why build new ones if the ones we have now aren’t being used.

But Kilpatrick and Yorko insist that, once built, more people would participate in biking and walking.

“People don’t understand the rights of bikers and walkers,” Kilpatrick said. “A lot of education needs to be done.”

“We’re talking about complete streets,” Yorko said. “They will be multimodal, for cars and bikes and walking and wheelchairs and everything, easily used by everyone.”

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