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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 9 — The city of Lansing is inching along building out its bicycle network even as it struggles to keep up with its crumbling road network.
After a mistake was made in striping, the bicycle lane on Mt. Hope Avenue disappeared under U.S. 127, setting off alarms for bicycle advocates. The loss of the striping created a hazard for cyclists to merge with car traffic just as they go through the darkened viaduct.
But Lansing Public Service Director Andy Kilpatrick said the erasure of the bike lane after repaving was unintentional and the contractor on the project would go back to redo the paint lines.
Mt. Hope Avenue saw about $2 million in improvements this year, combining funds from the city of Lansing, the Board of Water & Light to repave the road after the utility replaced a water main, and a special state grant that the city won to test the use of recycled tires for pavement.
The recycled tires were used in half of the one-mile stretch of new road between Aurelius Road and the U.S. 127 freeway overpass. Public Service will study which portion of that stretch holds up best, in the hope that it will help dispose of a nuisance waste product and maybe last longer than traditional asphalt.
A separate section is being repaved or has been repaved on the western stretch of Mt. Hope from the Grand River as far east as Bradley Avenue. That stretch was done in conjunction with the city’s decades-long combined sewer and stormwater separation project along with new water pipes.
Kilpatrick said his department is considering a recommendation to install bike lanes on another stretch of Mt. Hope between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Washington Avenue — and then even turning south down Washington to Holmes Road.
Those bike lanes are in the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, but Lansing has been slow to provide a network for bicycles and Kilpatrick wouldn’t promise their final inclusion in his department’s recommendation.
The final striping plan for Mt. Hope will have a public hearing of the Public Service Committee of the lansing City Council tomorrow, before the plan goes before the Lansing City Council. But the new bike lanes could be installed this year if approved.
“There’s some low-hanging fruit for sustainability by painting bike lanes,” said Lauren Cooper, who works at MSU and commutes from her neighborhood near Scott Park along Mt. Hope via bicycle each day.
Cooper said that more bicycle lanes would send a signal to millennials that they’re welcome to put down roots in Lansing while maintaining a smaller carbon footprint. But if you don’t build it, the young cyclists may not come. “People aren’t going to bike if it’s not safe.”
She said too much of city government had outdated views on city streets and was slow to engage the bicycle community. “Nobody’s thinking about it. They’re just doing it the same way they’ve done before.”
But Mayor Andy Schor said that if there’s community support for it, Lansing could work with Ingham County and East Lansing to construct a protected bike lane on Mt. Hope all the way from the River Trail crossing east to Okemos. This type of lane would provide more of a buffer from cars to improve safety.
Given a nudge, the Schor administration appears to be responding.
“We will look at opportunities to install non-motorized options wherever we can, and we have already taken steps to do this in several areas of the city (including the new Eastside Connector),” Schor wrote Cooper in an email. “If we can make Mt. Hope work here, then it is certainly worth looking at.”
Mt. Hope would be a good through corridor for bicycles to cross Lansing’s south side. But the road narrows near Pennsylvania Avenue, and Kilpatrick is reluctant to recommend taking out the center turn lane, which would have to be studied. The city relies heavily on center turn lanes throughout its grid to avoid rear-end accidents. The third lane for cars also helps traffic zip through town faster.
Bicycle activists, however, question sections of streets like Mt. Hope that have three lanes for cars and no lanes for bikes. “Does it really need a center turn lane for block after block?” asked Tim Potter, a sustainable transportation manager at MSU.
Kilpatrick had bad news for motorists and cyclists dodging the chuckholes on Kalamazoo Street — the primary east-west cycling corridor from East Lansing to downtown. The street was meant to be paved this year, but the rising cost of asphalt pushed all bids beyond the city’s budget, canceling the project.
The street now may not be repaved until 2021, having lost its place in the queue behind other streets in disrepair, such as Aurelius, Delta River Drive and Jolly Road — all of which will be redone next year. Pennsylvania Avenue will likely be reconstructed in 2021 as well. There are no plans to repave the rest of potholed Mt Hope Avenue west of Aurelius, except to redo the streets after more pipe work underneath.
If Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican Legislature strike a deal this fall on a transportation package, it would be a boon for cash-strapped cities with aging infrastructure like Lansing, but motorists would likely see little improvement immediately.
Kilpatrick said it can take six months to set the design for roadworks, and its best to bid on construction jobs in winter — before demand and the cost goes up with spring and summer weather next year. Lansing could add some work to the end of its 2020 schedule, but more likely a package would help the city keep up with road maintenance in the new decade.