Issues Of The Environment: Enhancing Non-Motorized Transportation In Washtenaw County

Sep 29, 2021

Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition board member Larry Deck
Credit Larry Deck

Many Washtenaw County residents prefer their bicycles instead of cars as a means for transportation. In fact, the popularity of non-motorized transportation continues to grow. Larry Deck is on the board of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition. He joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss  work being done on the Border-to-Border Trail and the Campus-to-Campus path. 


Overview

  • The Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition is advocating for a Campus-to-Campus (C2C) Bikeway, and closing two problematic gaps in the Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail. The C2C bikeway would better connect UM’s North and Central campuses in a continuous way that is safer and more accessible to all skill levels of cyclists, especially novice bicyclists that aren’t used to sharing narrow roads with vehicular traffic. 
  • As Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County advance toward their carbon neutrality goals, it is clear that non-motorized transportation must increase to make a dent in the regional greenhouse gas emissions load. Transportation currently accounts for approximately 36% of GHG emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 
  • Larry Deck, Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition - board member, writes, “Making progress toward the city's A2Zero goals will require substantial increases in biking and walking.  The report of the U-M President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality says (on page 107) that "U-M should create a workable and safe Central-to-North Campus bike route."
  • There is abundant demand for a seamless biking route between North and Central campus, but presently, no continuous or safe route between the two. Heavy traffic at intersections, the need to cross the railroad tracks and the Huron River are problematic. 1433 UM students, faculty, and staff responded to a 2014 transportation survey about their intercampus travel. 58% of those surveyed travel between campuses at least 3 days per week, but only 5% bike more than half the time. 90% of the commuters said they would prefer to bike at least some of the time. The survey report states, “The biggest barrier to biking, according to 58% of students, is the lack of a convenient, safe route. Students believe that a faster route (75%) and separation from auto traffic (72%) would help them bike more.” 
  • The Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition has prioritized tackling a few troublesome and incomplete sections of the nearly completed Border-to-Border trail that currently are not only a headache for avid cyclists traveling though Ann Arbor, but also create an impediment to biking for many less experienced students and commuters. Although the C2C bikeway and B2B trail are separate undertakings, finishing these projects is mutually beneficial to both.
  • Larry Deck raised concerns about the failure to take into account a city council resolution that called for “the city to complete trail improvements in Fuller / Maiden Lane / East Medical Center Drive area before or concurrently with intersection improvements.” He expressed the concern of the WBWC about RFP’s being considered for this project without this. 
  • Larry Deck, Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition - board member, points out that Washtenaw County has a remarkable network of interconnected biking routes (which rely heavily on the B2B trail and many other bike lane improvements of the past decade) that currently allow seamless travel between Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, Concordia University, and the University of Michigan campuses. Fixing the problem areas in the city of Ann Arbor is the next step in making the county truly bikeable. Larry offered a Sierra Club-sponsored zoom presentation and bike tour of the proposed routes to anyone who was interested earlier this month (September 21, 22, 2021), and he is open to another tour if there is interest.

Larry Deck - September 20, 2021 comment to city council

Fuller/Maiden Lane bridge and underpass area - A City Council resolution passed on June 15, 2015 calls for the city to complete trail improvements in Fuller / Maiden Lane / East Medical Center Drive area before or concurrently with intersection improvements. 

Current situation

WBWC, and probably much of the community, was unaware until a few days ago of the plan described in this proposed contract.  I believe that the community has strong interest in using this opportunity to improve bicycling and walking in this area.  If I understand the Request for Proposal and the "Scope of Services," they appear to predetermine the bridge design before there has been public input.

Background

A City Council resolution passed on June 15, 2015 calls for the city to complete trail improvements in Fuller / Maiden Lane / East Medical Center Drive area before or concurrently with intersection improvements.  Completion of the long-planned trails in this area will give continuity to the Border-to-Border Trail, improve access to it, and improve its functionality.  Making progress toward the city's A2Zero goals will require substantial increases in biking and walking.  The report of the U-M President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality says (on page 107) that "U-M should create a workable and safe Central-to-North Campus bike route."

What is needed

  • Adding at least 5 feet to the west sidewalk on the East Medical bridge (increasing the sidewalk's width from about 10 feet to at least 15 feet) would greatly improve the safety of the proposed Campus-to-Campus Bikeway by allowing room for bidirectional bike lanes and a pedestrian lane.
  • Building the planned trail connections to the concrete pad below the bridge is needed for the Campus-to-Campus Bikeway.
  • Widening the existing concrete pad under the bridge to better accommodate the planned trail connections, as proposed on page 8 of "Scope of Services," is beneficial.

This is the ideal time to build the trail connections and widen the west bridge sidewalk.

Action requested

Please don't approve this contract until these issues are addressed.

Summary of September 21 Zoom presentation

Larry Deck discussed what needs to be done to fill two gaps in the Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail in central Ann Arbor and how this work will facilitate the creation of a bikeway between the U-M’s Central Campus and North Campus. The B2B Trail projects, which are near the Fuller / Maiden Lane intersection, have been in Ann Arbor plans for over 30 years and are straightforward to build. The Campus-to-Campus (C2C) Bikeway will use existing and new facilities to provide a safe and efficient way to bike between the campuses. Larry will discuss how these projects relate to city, county, and U-M climate goals.

A2Zero sustainability/climate goals as related to the trail projects

  • Power the grid with 100% renewable electricity
  • Switch appliances & vehicles to electricity
  • Improve energy efficiency
  • Reduce vehicle miles by 50%!
  • Try to reduce upstream & downstream emissions (Scope 3)
  • Invest in people & places
  • Buy offsets

Overview of WBWC

The Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition proposes the construction in Ann  Arbor of the Campus-to-Campus (C2C) Bikeway and the filling of two gaps in the  Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail, together with short adjoining connector trails. Most of  these B2B segments have long been in the city’s Non-motorized Transportation Plan and  Parks & Recreation Open Space Plan. These plans recognize the trail’s benefits for  health, sustainability, safety, park accessibility, non-motorized travel, and quality of life.  The C2C Bikeway will use parts of the B2B system and a short cycle track to create a  needed way to bike safely and efficiently between the U-M North Campus and Central Campus. 

Key to maps 

The keyed maps on the following pages illustrate the following segments of this system: 

C2C overview -- The C2C segments illustrated on the following maps.

1. Route from the Central Campus Diag to the Medical Center at Zina Pitcher.

2. Three-block two-way buffered cycle track along the east side of Zina Pitcher and the north side of Catherine between Huron / Washtenaw and West Medical Center  Drive / Glen, with photos of examples of cycle tracks elsewhere. 

3. Use of West Medical Center Drive to climb or descend the hill, also showing an  alternate but less desirable route on the east Glen sidewalk. West Medical has  low traffic and a gradual grade and is away from the congestion, pollution, noise,  and dangerous intersections on Glen. 

4. Planned B2B and connecting trails at the Fuller / Maiden Lane intersection. The trails use existing underpasses to avoid the traffic and delays at the intersection. The  B2B route on the north side of Fuller avoids the hill at the intersection and links  via a planned bridge to the trail that continues through Riverside Park. In a  resolution on June 15, 2015, the Ann Arbor City Council called for the  construction of these trails before or concurrently with any improvements to the  intersection. 

5. Linkage to the existing underpass where Fuller crosses the Huron River, providing a safe crossing of Fuller for both the C2C Bikeway and the B2B Trail.

Larry Deck

Larry Deck has been a leader in creating trails and greenways in Michigan. He led the creation of, and chaired, the organization that has evolved into the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. He initiated and served as the Project Director of the Southeast Michigan Greenways Project, which developed a constituency and vision for an interconnected greenway system in southeast Michigan. Before leading these statewide and regional efforts, he co-founded and chaired in the 1980s the Friends of the LakeLands Trail, a group that promoted the rail-trail between Hamburg and Jackson, one of the first rail-trails in Michigan. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.meetup.com/Sierra-Club-Huron-Valley/events/280287460/?rv=me1&_xtd=gatlbWFpbF9jbGlja9oAJGVlNzA2Mjg3LWUyZDAtNGVlYy04YzAzLThhMWU1NjRhODU4YQ)

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and there are so many ways in which our communities are becoming more connected, and among them are bike paths and trails. I'm David Fair, and this is Issues of the Environment. It's a weekly series you hear every Wednesday. Our guest today is Larry Deck. Larry is a board member of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition. And we're going to take a look at efforts to further enhance walking and biking along the Border-to-Border Trail and between the college campuses in Washtenaw County. And, Larry, thank you so much for the time today. 

Larry Deck: I'm happy to be with you. 

David Fair: How long have you personally been cycling and walking the trails, paths, and bike lanes through Washtenaw County and southeast Michigan? 

Larry Deck: Well, most of my life, actually, and especially since college, I've been biking and being an advocate for bicycling. I've worked on statewide efforts and efforts in the southeast Michigan region to improve biking trails and biking facilities both on-road and off-road, so that we can try to work towards an interconnected system of bikeways and walkways. 

David Fair: Clearly, the work you've done throughout the region and here locally indicates a true passion. What about it is so enticing to you? 

Larry Deck: Well, first of all, I enjoy biking and I walking and running, enjoy being outside, and interacting with the natural environment. I think the health benefits are clear for people to be out moving themselves, biking and walking. The environmental benefits are clear. Very little pollution is a result of non-motorized mobility and just the quality of life that it helps create in the community to make things more human scale, people can interact on a more personal level. When I'm inside a car, I tend to get, you know, energized in a bad way, like it's easy to get upset when you're driving, but when you're biking and walking, it seems like you can interact in a more human way, and it just makes it a more human community to have that kind of environment. 

David Fair: You make it sound as though it's almost therapeutic. 

Larry Deck: Well, I think it is. I think for people that bike and walk, they know that they feel good when they do it.

David Fair: So, when you talk with people who don't ride or regularly explore the paths and trails and get out in nature as frequently as you may, do you find yourself wanting to entice them and give them reason to explore? 

Larry Deck: Well, I think I and we try to encourage that. There are some people who may not want to bike at all because they have concerns about doing it for health reasons. They may not want to. But I think most people would like to bike and work more if they thought there were facilities that would be safer and more comfortable for them to use. 

David Fair: Issues of the Environment continues on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. And we're talking with Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition board member Larry Deck. Larry, the opportunities to ride and walk our various communities in Washtenaw County continue to improve and expand. How impactful has the Border-to-Border Trail been in enhancing that experience? 

Larry Deck: I think it's very important. It provides a backbone to facilities throughout the county for people to connect communities, connect with destinations. So, I think having a connecting vision like that helps people see what the opportunities are. The trail has been coming together, but there are still some important gaps that we'd like to address. 

David Fair: And I wanted to bring that up. More and more of the county is becoming connected in that way. But where, in your estimation, should the next improvements come on the Border-to-Border Trail? 

Larry Deck: Well, there are countywide efforts. A lot is being done now to the west of Ann Arbor in the Dexter area and towards Ann Arbor. Facilities have been built both north of Dexter and south of Dexter. And pretty soon it should be done--the Border-to-Border Trail--all the way to Delhi Metropark. And we want to close the gap between Ann Arbor and Delhi Park. A lot has also been done in the Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township area and between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. But the gaps in Ann Arbor are some of the key things to help get us both to the northwest and also connect within the city better. 

David Fair: And I'm not sure how many people are aware, but there is the campus-to-campus bikeway that does connect the University of Michigan, Washtenaw Community College, and Eastern Michigan University. Have you made that entire journey yourself? 

Larry Deck: Yes, I've biked certainly to Eastern Michigan and between the campuses on Ann Arbor. However, there are some gaps in the system between the campuses. So, we don't really have a good system right now to get a bike between North Campus and Central Campus. We have some proposals for some relatively modest improvements that would help connect the scattered facilities that currently exist and make it into a truly safe and comfortable experience for people. 

David Fair: [00:04:54] And what would those improvements and enhancements include? 

Larry Deck: One of the important things is at the East Medical Center Bridge over the railroad. This is near the intersection of Fuller and Maiden Lane, which is downhill from the University Medical Center in the valley there. The intersection there is quite busy and complicated for people to cross. We have been proposing and really we're just reflecting a long standing city plan to build a non-motorized system around that intersection, so that people can avoid it by bike and walk and not have to cross with cars turning on red. It's an uncomfortable situation. So, there's some connections to the existing underpasses that were built long ago to connect the trail system in that area. So, that's one of the key things we want to see as a connection to those underpasses to connect the trail system. 

David Fair: When you assess the accessibility of the bike paths and the community connectivity, does Washtenaw County stack up well as compared to other counties in the state? 

Larry Deck: I think Washtenaw County stands up well. Oakland County has done a lot. The Grand Rapids region has done a lot. And the city of Detroit has been doing a lot to create good biking and walking facilities. So, I think Washtenaw County is probably in the upper tier of counties, but there's excellent work that's been happening elsewhere around the state. 

David Fair: Good news on all fronts.

Larry Deck: Yes. 

David Fair: This is Eighty-Nine one WEMU, and our Issues of the Environment conversation continues with Larry Deck from the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition. In the end, increasing availability and accessibility help create greater opportunity for us to better focus on non-motorized transportation. And we're going to need that as Ann Arbor tries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and the rest of the county by 2035. You took note of it early in our conversation, but I want to get more specific. What role do you see the improvements you've laid out playing in greater environmental sustainability in our area? 

Larry Deck: As you mentioned, the city's A2Zero carbon neutrality plan and the University of Michigan's carbon neutrality commitments are going to require to meet those goals and going to require much more bicycling and walking. So, by building these facilities, it helps make it comfortable for more people to bike and walk and not have to travel by car when they could just as well make the journey by biking and walking. For example, biking between the two campuses can be done in approximately 10 minutes, which is not much different from the time it takes to take a bus. Plus, you don't have to wait for a bus. And, currently, the busses are quite congested anyway. So, it's a good opportunity to switch for some of those trips to biking and walking. 

David Fair: There's been a much greater focus on pedestrians and cyclists safety, particularly in Ann Arbor, and that may inspire more to get out and give the county a ride. But, we also know there are political components to advancing the enhancements you've been discussing with us today. How involved is the coalition in helping create the political will to get it all done? 

Larry Deck: We communicate with elected officials and staff at all levels--county, cities--and we participate in public committees and communicate throughout the community, through various social media, and through our website to get the word out and try to build consensus about the type of things that need to be accomplished. So, I think that a group like ours--we're a volunteer nonprofit group--we can help fill the gap in communication and help make things happen and help look at the big picture, countywide and citywide, to see what what needs to be done. 

David Fair: As we look at the big picture, we also understand that these improvements and enhancements will cost money based on what you know today. Is there priority for that kind of spending?

Larry Deck: Well, there's some priority for that. It could always be greater, but I think the key thing, I think, is having the vision for what's desirable, and then the money tends to materialize. And for some of these trail systems, both public money and private money has become available as people see the opportunities. I should talk, too, about the just the background of the Border-to-Border Trail system in that intersection area, because these plans have been made back in the early 1980s. That whole area was planned out, new roads were built, new bridges and paths were built under the bridges for the trail system. But the trails were never installed, even though the roads and bridges were built. So, really, we just want to see implemented something that was planned better than 35 years ago. ]

David Fair: So, what would be the next step, and how can those who are interested become more informed and involved? 

Larry Deck: Well, people can, among other things, contact our organization. They can look at our website, WBWC dot org, and it tells on there how to contact us, if you're interested in providing ideas or have questions or would like to help out by e-mailing info at WBWC dot org. So, working with us, we try to work with public agencies and public officials. People can relay their thoughts also to public officials about what they would like to see. 

David Fair: I thank you for the time and the information today, Larry. 

Larry Deck: I appreciate the opportunity. There's much more that could be said, and there's opportunity in the future.... 

David Fair: There's always more than we can fit in 11 minutes, isn't there? 

Larry Deck: Yes. Thank you very much. 

David Fair: That is Larry Deck, a board member of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition and our guest on Issues of the Environment. This weekly series is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station, Eighty-Nine one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu