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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Kids in the Hall

The city’s new bicycle ordinance; talking snow clearing deadlines and coming together against voter access legislation. Also, a public board tells Council the city needs more sidewalk funding.

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, June 4 — It was a big night at City Hall for non-motorized transportation advocates.

A public board told the Council in no uncertain terms that city needs more sidewalk construction and repair money; a public hearing was held on tightening up the timeline for removing snow from city sidewalks; and the city adopted new regulations requiring bicycle parking for certain properties in the city.

First, the legislative action. The Council voted 7-1 to adopt a new bicycle parking ordinance, which requires various degrees of such parking after any of the three following triggers: a new development requires a site plan review; a property owner seeks to rezone land other than residential; or a special land use permit is granted.

In short, the ordinance doesn’t require property owners to erect bike parking tomorrow morning.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood cast the only no-vote (but not the only opposition) tonight, “Not because I don’t support bikes and the ability for people to utilize them in our community — I’m concerned about the mandate on the businesses.” Wood also said that because the city is “trying to entice businesses” into a “number of vacant buildings” across the city, then it’s kind of like enticing them into following this ordinance.

As for the mandate, At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar countered that property owners are required to have a certain amount of automobile parking (“parking mandates”) and that “this ordinance actually alleviates that stressor” because the ordinance offsets the number of car spaces required by city ordinance based on the number of bicycle spaces provided. For instance, a property owner can have the required number of car spaces reduced by one if it provides six more bicycle spaces than required.

Overlay districts and downtown properties zoned G-1 are exempt from the ordinance. The latter of which was one aspect that Council President Brian Jeffries found “disappointing.”

“What we found out, working with, say, the state of Michigan is that we have no say in the ability to regulate those facilities which house vast numbers of our employees downtown. I hope that as this process goes on, that effort will continue,” he said.

A perhaps more accurate vote count is 6 1/2 to 1 1/2, as 1st Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington opposed the ordinance on principal, but ultimately sided with what she believes her constituents wanted. “I’m a biker, I ride the bus and probably walk more than most people. But personally, I’m against this ordinance. I don’t like mandates being put on businesses and I don’t like specific guidelines that have to be followed.” However, citing a statistic that 20 percent of people in Lansing don’t own a car, “In this instance, I have to go beyond my personal preference.”

The required amount of bicycle parking varies based on the type and size of non-residential structures. For instance, “sports arenas and stadiums” are required to have two for every 250 seats with a maximum of 30. Eating and drinking establishments, for example, require two for every 24 seats. Property owners can also apply for a variance if they can prove a “demonstrable financial burden” or a “measurable and demonstrable lack of demand” for the bicycle parking.

In other non-automobile-transportation news, the Council held a public hearing on its two-year old snow removal ordinance. Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko — who was also the drive behind the bike-parking ordinance — is backing an amendment that proposes to cut down on the amount of time residents have to clear snow once it’s been deemed they were notified by the city.

Instead of having 24 hours to clear the snow after property owners presumably receive a letter in the mail from the Public Service Department and have seen a posting on the front of the property, the amendment would reduce that to 16 hours to clear the snow. As Yorko summed it up, instead of having a maximum of five days to clear snow after a “weather event,” property owners would have four.

The amendment is likely to come up for a vote at next Monday’s meeting. However, one uncertainty surrounding the ordinance is whether the closing of the Collins Road postal facility could slow the amount of time mail is deemed received. MLive.com reported last month that the closing, which will happen by February, could slow mail by “up to three days.”

Yorko said she’s unsure what, if any, effect the move by the United State Postal Facility will have on the snow removal ordinance. However, if that is the case and mail would have to be deemed received three days later, “We might want to tweak that” in the ordinance. Currently, the ordinance says mail is deemed received 24 hours after it’s sent.

Finally, in more grim transportation news, the mayor-appointed Board of Public Service told Council that the city is woefully underfunding its sidewalk gap closure program. Board Chairman Ronald Bloomberg (who ironically offered his resignation from the board last week, citing a term expiring June 30 and “family developments”) said sidewalks are an issue “very high on our list.” The citizen board advises the city’s Public Service Department on funding priorities.

In 2005, Bloomberg said, the estimated time to improve all of Lansing’s sidewalks was 15 years, provided a General Fund contribution of $180,000 a year.

While most of the worst-of-the-worst sidewalks were completed by 2010, the General Fund appropriation since then has continued to decline. In the current fiscal year, there was no General Fund money donated to them. A few weeks ago, the Council amended Mayor Virg Bernero’s proposed 2013 fiscal year budget to take $60,000 from the City Council for the sidewalk gap improvement project, which the board “recognized is a step in the right direction,” Bloomberg said. The Council’s sidewalk amendment was one of two that Bernero didn’t veto.

Alfreda Schmidt, who serves on the board, added: “It’s so imperative we do address these issues. Sidewalks are probably deteriorating faster than our streets are deteriorating.”

In other business, the Council unanimously approved — with support from City Clerk Chris Swope — a resolution “encouraging elected officials to vote against bills regulating groups that register voters, impose stricter photo ID requirement for voters, and adds a citizenship check-off to ballot to ballot applications.” The resolution pertains to legislation pending in the state Legislature and notes that the AARP, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters are also in opposition because it would make voting “more difficult and confusing, without improving election security or integrity.”
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