Our 3rd annual Michigan Transportation Odyssey took us to five unique communities to learn about what they are doing to improve and expand transportation options. As you remember from our pre-Odyssey “What to Expect” post, this year’s Odyssey was all about highlighting the important work that’s being done within Michigan communities to increase accessibility and spur economic development through street design elements that focus on people, not just cars.
Monday night, the official Odyssey kick-off took place in Detroit through a collaboration with Slow Roll. Slow Roll is a large group ride, which takes place every Monday night on different routes throughout the city. Being a part of the Slow Roll , it was clear how the 1000+ person group of diverse and passionate cyclists increase awareness for and about cycling, encourage people to ride and highlight the importance of investing in Detroit’s non-motorized transportation system. It was an inspirational way to start our journey.
Early Tuesday morning, our first official Odyssey stop brought us to Ferndale. During an engaging tour and presentation, we learned that the city’s Complete Streets implementation strategies can truly serve as a model for other communities. As Derek Delacourt, Director of Community and Economic Development, explained “this community really wants us to push the limits when it comes to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.” Their robust system includes buffered and green bike lanes, on-street bike parking, 5-to-3 and 4-to-2 lane street conversions, curb bump-outs, mid-block pedestrian crossings and more.
Carolyn Prudhomme of the Greenway Collaborative, who worked as a consultant on Ferndale Moves, the community’s multi-modal plan said: “Ferndale has been one of the most forward-thinking communities I’ve worked with. They embrace it. Ferndale is trying to do what’s not been done before and they want to tie into the City of Detroit and other communities.” The Greenway Collaborative is a Trans4M member and Prudhomme traveled on the Odyssey this year.
Ferndale residents, businesses and local officials have not only supported, but pushed for this robust system. “We consider this economic development, not just transportation,” Delacourt said of the improvements, which have notably boosted real estate values in the downtown district.
During our second stop of the Odyssey, we were greeted by a large group of local officials, planners, engineers, business owners, advocates and residents who were excited to talk to us about the elements of the City’s transportation system.
Brighton has been slowly making changes over the past two decades which include an extensive trail system in the City’s core (with a tridge!), a pedestrian-friendly roundabout, and most recently, three mid-block pedestrian crossings with flashing beacons and lit crosswalks.
Elected officials admitted that residents haven’t always been supportive of these changes, but the momentum seems to be moving in the right direction as the public engagement process improves and the community continues to progress.
During the final stop of our first day, the assistant executive director of CATA, Debbie Alexander shared with us the agency’s plan for bus rapid transit (BRT) along the Michigan Ave. corridor which aims to revitalize more than just the region’s transportation system. With 28 stops, distinct development districts, and all of the elements of Gold Standard BRT, the project is a major component of Greater Lansing’s overall economic development strategy.
During Debbie’s presentation, she shared the unique ways that CATA worked to connect with residents. An intense, five-day charrette and traditional community open-houses in Lansing and East Lansing, helped shape the project to meet the community’s needs and find solutions to address gaps that already exist.
Andy Kilpatrick, transportation engineer with the City of Lansing, shared the progress of the South Lansing Pathway project, and how the city has worked to transform what was once an almost non-existent community engagement process into a comprehensive, multi-faceted process. The South Lansing Pathway, which will open later this fall, will connect South Lansing and Delta Township to the Lansing River Trail – giving residents and visitors more opportunities to reach focal points in the communities without using a car.
Our day concluded with a self-guided tour of the projects as we envisioned the future for Michigan Avenue and tested out the fresh pavement on the soon-to-open South Lansing Pathway. Paul Palmer, chair of the Michigan Developmental Disability Council’s Transportation Workgroup, lives near the pathway and said he would be attending the ribbon cutting on Saturday, October 11. “I’m excited!” he said.
The second day of our Odyssey began with a tour of the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail. David Waite, Chair of the Midland Non-Motorized Transportation Committee, guided us through a small portion of this 30 mile trail that sees over 200,000 visitors a year. We began at the Tridge, Midland’s iconic three point bridge, and learned about the ways that the community is connected through this paved path. Community members are able to access many businesses and community services from the trail, including the Midland Farmers Market which was selling pumpkins and autumn goodies right next to the Tridge. “This trail is the jewel of the community,” Waite said.
Terri Cady, Community Ed and Outreach Program Leader at Disability Network of Mid-Michigan, also pointed out the accessible spots along the trail for individuals with disabilities. The canoe dock at the Tridge is designed so that everyone can utilize the river for recreation. This design is replicated at multiple spots along the river for ease of use. We also heard from Teresa Sullivan, Northwood University Director of Student Life, about the many ways that the university utilizes the trails, including building a tour of the trail into new parent orientations and sponsoring community races.
This non-motorized path is the only Michigan trail inducted into the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame. Rhonda Romano, of Rails to Trails, traveled the Odyssey with us and was excited to revisit the path.
Sault Ste. Marie
Odysseus encountered so many bumps and detours on his way back home that his odyssey took 10 years. Unfortunately for us, we too were waylaid in our travels. As our bus was on the way to Sault Ste. Marie, we had mechanical issues and never made it to our final destination.
And yet, the show must go on! Our panel of transportation experts presented on the ways that the city is connecting diverse populations through transportation. Examples included the Easterday Overpass, which provides a safe, nonmotorized option for traveling over I-75, especially for students and staff at Lake Superior State University. Wendy Hoffman, Transportation Planner for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, also discussed the many ways that the tribal population is using transportation to connect with the community, and the historical and cultural perspectives unique to their transportation projects.
The 2014 Odyssey was inspirational to all of us as we learned firsthand how investing in our complete transportation system can impact a community far beyond simply creating more options to get around. Our next steps include a series of videos, produced by Tommy Allen Creative, that will capture these stories so that we can share them all with you. And you can participate! Contribute to our Patronicity campaign and help us create and distribute these videos so that we can continue to share information about these great Michigan communities and their innovative transportation projects.
Written by Liz Treutel, MEC Policy Associate, and Laurel Burchfield, Trans4M Coordinator