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Wednesday, December 1,2010

A non-motorized plan

East Lansing is in the process of adopting a non-motorized transportation plan, en route to a ‘Complete Streets’ policy

by W. K. Green

East Lansing has close to 18 miles of primary road bike lanes, but the future may hold as many as 56 miles, according to a draft of the city’s Non-Motorized Transportation Plan.


The plan outlines a number of potential projects the city can undertake to become more accessible to biking and other methods of transportation beyond automobiles.


“Some of these projects can be completed with minimal amounts of funds, such as re-striping a road to include bike lanes,” said Todd Sneathen, project coordinator for the plan.


But others will be a slower, more costly process.


Sneathen, who also is the director of public works for East Lansing, said simple, inexpensive projects will be the city’s focus for the next couple of years. That means some of the public’s most-cited areas of concern (and most costly) will have to wait — such as adding bike lanes and sidewalks to the Lake Lansing Road overpass at U.S. 127 and the Frandor shopping area. Sneathen said that’s because tax monies are already stretched thin.


However, the latest state transportation budget reflects strong support for the “Complete Streets” legislation signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm last summer. Section 321 of the transportation budget says communities with Complete Streets policies will be given preference for street enhancement grants. And Section 322 includes language that specifies if a university requests it, the Michigan Department of Transportation shall work with them to develop and implement complete streets.


Complete Streets policies ensure that as roadways are redesigned, all users of that roadway are considered. Lansing was the first municipality in Michigan to pass a Complete Streets ordinance, making it eligible to gain preferential status in applying for enhancement grants. East Lansing’s Complete Streets ordinance is in its final draft and awaits the City Council’s approval.


"Complete Streets is a way to get people more active and to reduce the trends of childhood obesity," Sneathen said.


Greenway Collaborative, the consultants hired to develop East Lansing’s Non- Motorized Transportation Plan, hosted a forum Oct. 6 to find out what residents hope to get out of the plan.


Some of the points discussed were what constitutes a project and when Complete Streets components should be considered in road improvements. Also discussed was what exactly a Complete Streets ordinance intends to do for the city, including reducing traffic congestion and fossil fuel use. It should also be adoptable by all agencies to cover all roads and to encourage active transportation for health reasons.


Lansing City Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, who represents the Fourth Ward in northwest Lansing and was active in forming Lansing’s Complete Streets policy, said non-motorized transportation has myriad benefits.


“When people can walk and bike for transportation and recreation, they save money on gas and (vehicle) wear and tear, their employers save money on health care costs, and taxpayers and governments even save money because of the reduced wear and tear on the roads,“ Yorko said.


She added that walk- and bike-friendly cities attract the young, talented people that Michigan needs to start companies and bring in jobs.


"It’s a major component of having a city that is physically and fiscally healthy and fit,” Yorko said.


Rory Neuner, a volunteer with Mid- Michigan Active Transportation Coalition and contender for an at-large Lansing City Council seat in 2011, also believes in the wisdom of making a city more accessible to non-motorized transportation. In addition to the economic, social and community benefits associated with having a more bike- and walk-friendly city, there also is an equity issue to be considered.


“Not having a car shouldn’t exclude someone from the workforce,” Neuner said.


The Mid-Michigan Active Transportation Coalition, whose stated belief is that "active transportation enhances the living environment in our commu nities," is one of many organizations in the area that have worked to make Complete Streets a reality. Other organizations include Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council, the League of Michigan Bicyclists and the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition.


While Complete Streets have more exposure now than ever, the draft of East Lansing’s Non-Motorized Transportation Plan includes years of public outreach and education.


Yorko said that having a walk- and bike-friendly city involves more than just having a non-motorized network.


"There must also be driver awareness and driver conscientiousness, bicycle parking options, maintenance plans (including snow and ice removal from non-motorized facilities) and other land use and zoning measures that encourage pedestrian and bike friendly development,” she said.


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