PALM Day Five: Road Funding and Complete Streets in Michigan

Author’s note: Due to technical difficulties, this blog post for Thursday, June 27, 2013 was delayed in posting online.

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Great road surfaces heading out of Grandville!

Every day during the ride this week, I’ve tried to focus on road and traffic conditions, and how they affect bikeability in Michigan.

“Every legislator should have to ride a bike across the state before they can vote on road funding,” said Ellie Knesper of Ann Arbor, a longtime PALM staffer who’s ridden in the tour for the past 29 years. She said it as we were riding alongside each other on a bombed-out stretch of pavement in Monroe County, notorious for its deteriorated road surfaces. My fingers ached from gripping the handlebars, and I could feel the constant jarring up through my elbows and into my shoulders and neck. I wasn’t the only one. At dinner that night, it seemed to be everyone’s favorite topic of conversation.

The memory was also still fresh of riding south and southeast away from Manchester. Traffic was heavy but in many places the roughly patched asphalt made it dangerous to ride far enough to the right to allow them to pass in the same lane. Not a happy scenario for the cars or bikes.

Roads this bad affect every user, not just cyclists. But even many “good” roads lack some of the elements that make a Complete Street that is fully functional, safe and accessible for all users, including pedestrians, assistive devices and bicycles.

About 100 Michigan communities have adopted local Complete Streets policies. The end result won’t look the same everywhere, of course. A city or village in an urban area might add designated bike lanes, paved curb cuts, signaled crossings and traffic islands in the middle of multi-lane roads. Another community might develop a comprehensive network of nonmotorized pathways. Even something as simple and straightforward as wide paved shoulders on a rural county highway can make all the difference in making a cyclist feel safe and drivers more able to maintain a safe passing distance.

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Retired Pontiac teacher Dottie Delehanty a few days after her road accident.

Even seemingly minor road engineering details can be treacherous in the right situation. In May 2012, Dottie Delehanty, a retired Pontiac special education teacher, was cycling to the post office from her Indian Village home when her front wheel was caught on the lip of a newly paved driveway that was not smoothly joined to the road. She woke up when they were loading her onto an ambulance. She suffered a concussion, severe bruising and abrasions to her arms and legs, and needed stitches to close the gash next to her eye. If she hadn’t been wearing a helmet, a much more serious head injury would undoubtedly have occurred. The homeowners have since shaved down the offending edge.

Dottie Delehanty at PALM 2012, about a month after her accident.

Dottie Delehanty at PALM 2012, about a month after her accident.

Last week the Michigan Legislature adjourned until September without voting on future transportation funding. Maybe this is a good time to write to your representatives in Lansing, and let them know what you want to see in the future for Michigan’s roads.