Friday, October 10, 2014

More Bikes Lanes Please

I love a good bike lane. And good pedestrian spaces. And public transit. Let's be honest - I'm a fan of anything that takes lanes away from cars. Enough with all the lanes. It makes me crazy. I get it - not every place gets it right. Here in Lansing they took away a lane of the way too wide Saginaw Street for a bike lane. The lane is a touch awkward and ends a bit abruptly, but it's about 100 times better than an unnecessary traffic lane. I'd love to get rid of another lane on Saginaw and plant trees...or add on-street parking...or build out the bike lane so it's more effective. ANYTHING to reduce all these unnecessary lanes.

I've heard people complain that bike lanes in Michigan are useless because it's too cold to use them much of the year. I'm calling BS. Places with cold weather - places like Minneapolis, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto - have vibrant biking cultures. When we were in Montreal, the bike lanes were legit. There were stop lights specifically for bikes. The bike lanes were separated from the cars with actual dividers. People bike in Montreal year-round despite the cold weather. Maybe we should get out of our cars and look alive people. 

A common misconception is that we need to build more infrastructure. STOP. THE. MADNESS. We don't need more traffic lanes - particularly here in Michigan. We need a culture shift away from the "cars are the only way to move around" mentality. Let's discuss US-23, a road I take frequently while heading to our Ann Arbor office. US-23 is a two lane road in each direction, and it's backed up many mornings and evenings. I've heard so many people say it needs to be widened. I haven't heard a single person suggest that perhaps they should carpool. Maybe we need to have a serious discussion about a rail line between Lansing and Detroit (that goes through Ann Arbor). Maybe we don't need hour-long commutes. Those discussions aren't happening. Let's just widen the road. Boom. Problem solved. 

This is what they've done in places like Atlanta, and it's gone just beautifully. Traffic volume is so much better. Do you see what I did there? Sarcasm. It we widened US-23, the extra lanes would be clogged with traffic. It would not solve the problem. A culture shift and different modes of transportation would solve the problem. We are not even having those preliminary conversations on a broad scale here in Michigan. That, my friends, is a problem. If I've learned anything from new urbanist texts like Jeff Speck's Walkable City it's that adding more car infrastructure isn't the answer. Period.

Multi-modal transportation options aren't just important to ease congestion and road rage, but they're critical to attract and retain talent. Millennials want to have multi-modal options to choose from. They don't want to drive to work. I mean maybe they do, but they want to have flexible options. Here in Michigan the options are few. As long as that's the case these kids will continue to move to Washington, DC, Chicago, Toronto and Minneapolis because transportation options are important.

The attitude toward the bike lane on Saginaw Street in Lansing is a symptom of a bigger problem. I won't disagree that from a design perspective the bike lane could use some work. But it's a start. Maybe we should start having a different conversation too. We want people to stay here and move here. If the conversation doesn't change, we lose. Let's not be losers, okay?

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