So why do less than one percent of Michiganders commute by bicycle?
One big reason is that trail corridors are absolutely fabulous for recreational biking â€“ but very few of us are lucky enough to both live and work along a trail corridor. So most would-be bicycle commuters must brave the real roads to get from Point A to Point B.
And to be painfully honest, most of those roads still lack some of the things that make road bike travel feel truly safe and accessible for the average, garden-variety cyclist. In fact, it can be difficult if not downright hazardous in many areas. According to the most recent figures available on the Office of Highway Safety Planning online database, Michigan had 1,895 bicycle crashes â€“ 24 of them fatal â€“ in 2011 alone.
Progress is being made. Michigan is currently ranked #12 among bike-friendly states, due to such assets as having a Complete Streets policy, dedicated state funding for bikeability, an active state advocacy group, a Share the Road campaign, bicycle education for police, and a bicycle safety emphasis in Michiganâ€™s strategic highway safety plan. Right now in Michigan about 100 local governments have adopted Complete Streets policies. But much of those Complete Streets transformations are still in the planning stage. It also leaves hundreds more municipalities that have yet to adopt such policies, and hundreds of bike-unfriendly road miles between them.
Highlighting all this is largely why I plan to ride in the 32nd annual PALM (Pedal Across Lower Michigan) tour from June 22-28. (Okay, yes, Iâ€™m also doing it because it will be fun!) I will join more than 800 other bicyclists ranging in age from a few months to 70-plus years as we spend six days riding from Norton Shores in Muskegon County on the Lake Michigan coast down to Luna Pier southeast of Detroit on the coast of Lake Erie just six miles from the Ohio border.
Hereâ€™s the basic daily route:
(including minimum daily mileage to optional maximum daily mileage)
Saturday: Norton Shores
Sunday 46-56 miles: Grandville
Monday 47-68Â miles: Lake Odessa
Tuesday 58-72 miles: Dansville
Wednesday 51-105 miles: Manchester
Thursday 40-54 miles: Petersburg
Friday 27 miles: Luna Pier
Each night weâ€™ll tent camp on the grounds of a middle or high school thatâ€™s graciously agreed to host the PALM group. Each morning, weâ€™ll pack up and toss our gear onto a truck that will meet us at the next nightâ€™s campsite.
In between, 800-plus people will ride alone or in groups, fast or slow, cycling across the state on roads that many of us may have never traveled before, visiting some of Michiganâ€™s unique small towns and experiencing the stateâ€™s landscape from a bicycle’s point of view.
Along the way for those six days, I plan to blog and tweet my adventures, highlighting the good (and not-so-good) aspects of bikeability in Michigan. I also hope to share impressions of the communities we cross, and will keep an eye out for examples of great placemaking ideas being put into action in unique and interesting ways.
So please plan to join us by following along via:
The Leagueâ€™s Placemaking blog http://placemaking.mml.org/
@eshawatleague on Twitter, using twitter hashtag #palm2013
The Michigan Municipal Leagueâ€™s facebook page.
And for a little pre-ride food for thought, hereâ€™s what the League of American Bicyclists suggests to make Michigan more bike friendly:
â€¢ Adopt a safe passing law with a minimum distance of 3 feet to address bicyclist safety.
â€¢ Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for a motorist that injures or kills a bicyclist or pedestrian.
â€¢ Adopt a statewide, all-ages cell phone ban to combat distracted driving and increase safety for everyone.
â€¢ Adopt performance measures, such as mode shift or a low percentage of exempted projects, to better track and support Complete Streets/Bike Accommodation Policy compliance.
â€¢ Adopt a policy requiring state office buildings, state park and recreation facilities, and other state facilities to provide bicycle parking.
â€¢ Since arterial and collector roads are the backbone of every transportation network, it is essential to provide adequate bicycle facilities along these roads.
â€¢ Hold a bicycle ride sponsored by the Governor and/or legislators to show their constituents that their elected officials support bicycling.
â€¢ Adopt a statewide bicycle plan that addresses each of the five â€œEsâ€, has clear implementation actions, and performance measures to gauge success.
â€¢ Adopt a mode share goal for biking to encourage the integration of bicycle transportation needs into all transportation and land use policy and project decisions.
â€¢ Michigan has a high number of bicyclist fatalities. Ensure that bicycle safety is a major emphasis in all transportation projects, programs and policies to address this issue.