Sometimes good ideas are not supported by good policy or the original reasons for having such policy just don’t make sense anymore. One such case is a little known 1949 Michigan state law that prohibits angled parking on state trunk lines. With so many of our communities affected, this would be one viable tool to help calm speeding traffic through downtowns.
West Branch, Michigan, is a small community of 2100 people, located about 60 miles north of the middle of the mitten. Like so many other communities across the state and country, they have seen their downtown struggle to survive and compete with drive-by shopping malls and restaurants just off the freeway exits. To lure the visitor past the “I could be anywhere” eateries and shopping, West Branch has been aggressively marketing their downtown, successfully branding and creating a destination through their Fabulous Fridays. With their unique stores and enticing local restaurants, West Branch is enjoying a more sustainable business climate. But they are just getting started.
With the Michigan Municipal League’s help, the city brought in Dan Burden to conduct a walkability audit to get his expert advice and feedback on how to make the trunk line more pedestrian friendly and safe. With a 5 lane state road cutting through the downtown, it is clear who has the wind to their backs – people in speeding cars and trucks. The pedestrian is left to play dodge ‘em cars (and trucks) across the road. To address some of these issues, Burden, with his immeasurable knowledge and experience, led a group of enthusiastic stakeholders and local officials, as they looked at ways to calm the traffic and improve the walkability experience for the pedestrian.
Enter John LaMacchia, the League’s Legislative Associate who works on our transportation and infrastructure issues. Fitting nicely into the League’s policy agenda through our Partnership in Place Plan, LaMacchia worked closely with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) in drafting legislation that would allow angled parking on our state trunk lines. Specifically, the new law will give a community that has a state trunk line the option of front or reverse angled parking, with MDOT’s approval. Although this is only one small piece of the puzzle in calming traffic and making West Branch a more pedestrian friendly community, it’s a big step in the right direction. It not only gives communities another flexible means to grow their communities into more dynamic, livable places, but raises awareness, invites discussion, and elicits ideas on how to make our downtowns once again, premier destinations.
This legislation received strong bi-partisan support and the League would like to thank Rep. Peter Pettalia for sponsoring this legislation and Sen. Tom Casperson, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. We also appreciate the support of MDOT and the cities of West Branch and Howell!