During our Twitter Town Hall, we explored the many facets of sustainable and balanced transportation planning.  First we identified the goals of transportation planning, in addition to transporting cars efficiently, from pedestrian safety to biking infrastructure to alternative transportation development.  Then we discussed the issues and obstacles that make effective transportation planning complicated and difficult, and some ideas behind resolving them.  In today’s post we recap the various solutions ways to get involved.

There are many different organizations and coalitions across the country working to make the transportation planning process easier to navigate for all street users.  For example, three of our panelists – Angie, Stefanie and Jess – were with us as experts on the subject, and they represent three organizations doing great work in the area.

Streetsblog is a daily news source connecting people to information about sustainable transportation and livable communities.

The mission of the ULI Rose Center is to encourage and support excellence in land use decision-making. By providing public officials with access to information, best practices, peer networks and other resources, the Rose Center seeks to foster creative, efficient, practical, and sustainable land use policies.

The National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America is based in the belief that the streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities.  Complete Streets policy ensures that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind – including bicyclists, public transit vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

A key element to balanced street design is that local leaders and planners need to work with community stakeholders, and collect meaningful input that informs a vision.   Citizen engagement is vital to any project in the public realm, for everyone involved – road engineers, government officials, transportation agencies, and alternative transportation or complete streets advocates.  Placemaking principles remind us that the community is the expert – and when it comes to their neighborhood street, they are the ones that know best what it is they need.

In the same way, it is important for community members to get involved.  Finding ways to participate can seem daunting to people without planning or policy backgrounds, but there are many options.  Go to the stakeholder meetings your local leaders are hosting, and bring your neighbors.  Keep yourself up to date on conversation, and informed of the possibilities.  There are many resources, like “Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach,” which was created as a how-to which illustrates best practices for creating more complete streets.

This information is not just for planners – get informed and use it.

Other resources:

Also, groups like Transportation for Michigan and The Greenway Collaborative are testing out alternative ways to gather community input, like online editable maps and phone applications.  This helps widen the net since not everyone can attend meetings or audits.

The next step is to identify a location within your community that needs improvement.  Good planning data is important – but experience is extremely valuable.  Getting out and experiencing firsthand the road as a pedestrian and cyclist will bring insight and help identify problems.  One method is conducting a walking audit – an assessment of the walkability or pedestrian access of an external environment.  Walking audits are a great way to literally explore issues, and also to get your neighbors engaged.  It is an opportunity to bring together everyone involved in the process, and more so, for these groups to identify problem and opportunity areas together.  Request that your elected officials join you too, so that they get outside to walk, bike or take transit, and then they too will see where the problems are.

When considering the options for a road in your community, look at the various issues at play.  How do cars move through, and what are the traffic congestion factors?  How easy is it to cross the street at different times of day?  How much are those seconds your saving for car commuters worth compared to other goals in your community?  What are the sidewalk conditions?  These things can be explored through observing and also through engaging the people that work, live and play along the street.

If you deduce that a road could be downsized, ultimately, you have to have an engineer evaluate the situation to know if a road diet will work.  Road diets are defined by the Federal Highway Administration as narrowing or eliminating travel lanes on a roadway to make more room for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Generally, four lane roads that have 20,000 annual average daily traffic (AADT) or less are good candidates to become a road with one lane in each direction with a central turn lane; the leftover space can be used for a variety of things like bike lanes or parking.

While there are many reasons to want more complete streets, sometimes the issue lies with convincing others of the benefits.  People who do not walk or bike may not see a reason to care, but it is important to remind people that complete streets have many more benefits than just safe walking and biking.  Luke Forrest of the Michigan Municipal League participated in the conversation via twitter, and pointed out the strategy that many cities have used successfully: planning corridor redesign as part of an economic redevelopment strategy.  Healthy streets draw people – to walk around, socialize and shop – and strengthen the economic vitality of the area.  Additionally, this could be a way to bring business owners into the process, prioritize the project, and secure funding from non-transportation related sources.

Our panelists shared with us a few examples of places that have used transportation planning strategically.

  • Ferndale’s 9-Mile road diet: Ferndale has become one of hippest, coolest, most walkable areas in state, and has seen an increase in mixed use developments coming in.
  • Boulder, Colorado set a clear vision for its transportation future, and today is among the highest for rates of walking, biking, alternative transit.  See the City of Boulder Transportation Division’s “Transportation to Sustain a Community.”
  • New York City has had tremendous success with road diets, right of way improvements, and implementing bike lanes.  Overall congestion has dropped, retail activity has increased, and in general spaces have improved for everyone – even drivers.

The most important message we’d like to leave you with is to make your voices heard.  Reach out to your friends and contacts, and you can have a very powerful impact on the direction your transportation agencies take.  Utilize the resources available to you to stay informed: read StreetBlog, The Atlantic Cities, Complete Streets and others for inspiration and guidance.  Keep up with organizations like Mode Shift, which provide an important piece to the puzzle.  Get involved in organizations like the League of Michigan Bicyclists and the Urban Land Institute to keep informed and to find ways to advocate for healthy streets.

We all need to remember that transportation is about access to destinations for everyone – not just mobility, not just auto-mobility.  It is about supporting and providing for a shift away from auto-centric goals, and enhancing the benefits for everyone.

Additional Resources:

National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) “Urban Street Design Guide

NACTO “Urban Bikeway Design Guide

Model Street Design Manual

Active Transportation Policy “Complete Streets Complete Networks: A Manual for the Design of Active Transportation

Institute of Transportation Engineers Context Sensitive Solutions

Complete Streets Design from Smart Growth America National Complete Streets Coalition

Many tips on “Implementation” page of National Complete Streets Coalition page


Photo from Jeff Nickerson on flickr.com

Today we bring you the second part of our three-part recap of the twitter town hall we hosted September 17th.  After discussing why streets matter and what goals planners should be achieving with road design, we dove into why the status quo doesn’t usually encourage holistic, integrated transportation planning.

State Representative Jim Townsend identified one of the issues as some planners and legislators feeling their hands are tied – that they must invest the funds they have in road and highway construction, and cannot fund improvements or other infrastructure.  Sadly, sometimes this is true based on policy requirements.  State agencies often don’t have enough flexibility to address other issues, and we should be working to change that, defining an agenda that gives the agencies increased flexibility.  Rep. Townsend said he doesn’t think people understand the antiquated laws that prevent flexibility, and maybe this is one of the most important places for us, as citizens, to work for change.

All of our speakers also noted a needed culture shift if we are truly to make decisions differently.  An adjustment in the priorities of residents towards more healthy and sustainable lifestyles would have a strong impact.  If community members are all asking for the same types of spending and investments – in fixings roads and alternative transportation infrastructure and improvements – then ideally their legislators and local leaders will follow suit.  This could be the starting point for realigning funding priorities towards putting pedestrians first, and changing policies to reflect a more community driven, and sustainable, vision for our transportation futures.

On the other hand, sometimes planners and legislators hands are not tied – they just don’t know that they have options.  It is vital that we, as a community, convey to legislators (and agencies like MDOT) that there are other options, and that we prefer them.

Angie Schmitt noted that there are many places that have found ways to advance these types of improvements.  The state of Colorado already has better policies in place.  A coalition of transit and environmental advocates worked to change a law so that gas tax revenues went from funding only highway and bridge constructions to funding all forms of transit improvements, including streetscape, pedestrian, bike and public transit infrastructure.

Our nation’s capital is among the places where this shift has also made great strides. Washington D.C outlined its goal to become the ‘greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the nation’ in their “Sustainable DC Plan.”  The plan outlines many initiatives with a foundation in alternative transportation, aiming for 75% of commuter trips to be done via alternative transportation within the next 20 years.  The district is looking to add 250,000 new residents in the same time frame, but believes that if all those people drive, the population and job growth would be unsustainable.

Rep. Townsend said we have seen change for the positive as communities in Michigan are embracing better road policies, but everything takes time.  Increasing awareness, correcting misinformation, and connecting the right message with peoples’ everyday lives will strengthen the functionality of the system.  As more and more people come to understand that more complete streets will increase their quality of life, the process for implementing such changes will become easier.  He adds that local agencies should participate in this process – discussing with residents the many roles streets play in our communities, from socialization to economic development.

Via Twitter, Mode Shift reminded us of a good example of misinformation: many times we hear the pro-highway argument, “But if we build highways, we will have to maintain them and that means job growth.”  Mode Shift maintains that the money would go farther when spent on much-needed road repairs, which Stefanie Seskin said actually creates more jobs than new highway construction, and even more so when invested in transit projects.  Rep. Townsend went further to say that “our monochromatic transportation policy strangles growth — it’s a job killer.”

RustWire tweeted in that biking and walking infrastructure construction creates more jobs per dollar spent, in part because less is spent on construction materials.  Ensuring that people are aware of the truth and of all the options is vital to creating streets that work for everyone.

Check out Smart Growth America’s reports examining how federal stimulus funds were spent and which methods created jobs and provided the best long-term return on investment.  You may be surprised.


Photo from Complete Streets on flickr.com

Transportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

As our inspiration post notes, Michigan is currently in the midst of a major highway debate, and we are not alone.  In other towns and cities across the country and world, similar conversations are taking place about the future of our road systems and our neighborhoods.

“In our haste to develop we designed a specialized society, separating the elements of the city: New housing went in one place, business offices and shopping and schools someplace else. We could connect them all with highways, since we had decided that everyone would have a car.”

–Robert Fulford, The National Post

Between 1955 and 1966, the elevated Gardiner Expressway was built along Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront to connect the city to the western suburbs. The eastern-most 0.8 miles of the Gardiner were intended to further connect the expressway to the industrial waterfront, but as industry departed, the intended connector became more of a barrier.  Between 2000 and 2002, that portion was demolished, on time and under budget. Traffic now uses Lake Shore Boulevard, which ran directly underneath the Gardiner East; despite fears, there have been no significant traffic increases.

The successful and well-received removal of the Gardiner East led to increased support for removal of the entire Gardiner Expressway.  The Gardiner is showing its age: with maintenance costs running around $12 million annually, a 0.2km portion that might be unsafe for driving by 2018.  Pieces of concrete, large enough to cause considerable damage, started falling from the Gardiner in the summer of 2012.

In January 2013 Toronto’s City Council decided to restart an environmental assessment – begun and put on hold in 2010 – on the future of the expressway.  Though plans to repair to crumbling infrastructure move forward, and construction has begun on one section, to many it seems backwards to invest in the repair of a freeway that might be torn down.

In 2010 the Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto launched an initiative to gather design concepts for the Gardiner, focused on either improving, replacing, or removing the expressway. Their June 2013 Public Meeting details the needs for immediate repairs, a traffic analysis, and the four core principles to be achieved by the solution: removing barriers, building a network of spectacular waterfront parks and public spaces, promoting a clean and green environment, and creating dynamic and diverse new communities.  The six concepts from international design teams were presented, and public input was gathered.  The city and Waterfront Toronto aim to have a solution by March 2014.

To those Toronto residents who want to see the expressway removed entirely, the most exciting motivator is the potential to reconnect Toronto with its waterfront.  As we’ve seen time and again, in cities like Paris and St. Louis, major highways were built along waterfronts in the mid-1900s, and today, in efforts to reconnect cities to their waterfronts, those highways are being downsized, covered over, or removed.


Photo from Lindsay Reul as lakerlkr8 on flickr.com

Let’s Save Michigan is proud to announce that we are participating in this year’s Detroit Design Festival!  We would like to invite anyone–especially community members from the North End neighborhood and all of Detroit, as well as members of the design community–to participate in a mini-conference exploring how communities can collaborate through design.  We will be discussing public space and art, neighborhood participation, community building, and the way neighborhoods experience change–all within the context of how communities can collaborate to support the restoration of Detroit’s Historic North End.

Many neighborhoods throughout Detroit and Michigan are finding ways, through community groups and coalitions, to identify specific elements of a neighborhood that could be revamped to increase quality of life for that community.  We would like to explore the use of design and placemaking principles to achieve these goals, and gather input that could assist the members of the North End in the restoration of the neighborhood.

We are super-excited to be partnering with Vanguard CDC on this event so that our work is truly informed by the neighborhood.  Come check out what we hope will be a real-live example of quality community engagement around a challenging set of questions: what is the preferred future of the North End, and how can multiple communities collaborate to create it?

Perhaps most importantly, you should know that food will be provided at 5pm.

When: Saturday, September 21st, from 4-8PM  We encourage visitors to plan to stay for at least an hour to participate in the conversation and get creative!

Where: 2871 E. Grand Boulevard – We are sharing the site with “Mene Mene,” an installation for conversation and reflection by RogueHAA.

The event is free and open to everyone.  North End residents, artists, and community members are especially encouraged to attend and participate.

You are welcome to attend without registering, but we would prefer to have enough food for everyone, so registration is highly encouraged. Click here to register.

**If you have any ideas about a specific site located within the North End that you would like to see designed as a public space, or — if you are an artist that would like to get creative in the North End, we can loop you in to the workshop in a formal way, so connect with us:

Please comment below or email sarah[at]letssavemichigan.com.**

Here is our happening listing on the Detroit Design Festival webpage. Be sure to check out the rest of the Festival’s Happenings here.

Hope to see you there!

Join Let’s Save Michigan Tuesday September 17th for a live discussion–via Twitter–with three of the nation’s leading experts on urban planning and design.  The conversation will help you learn all about planning and designing our roads to balance the many demands they serve.

AngieSchmittAngie Schmitt: a writer and activist working for Streetsblog, a national transportation advocacy group, and founder of Rust Wire, exploring urban issues in industrial cities.




SeskinStefanie Seskin: Deputy Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America, assisting in theimplementation of Complete Streets Policies across the country.




JessZimbabweBrickWallJess Zimbabwe: Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute’s Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership and the ULI Center for Cities, guiding education, policy and practice forums on topics in public/private real estate development.




A shift in the culture of our cities towards more multi-modal transportation and livable downtowns has grown an initiative to reimagine our highways.  Throughout the country and world, cities and towns have been redesigning their street infrastructure – from complete highway removal to rerouting, downsizing and improving.  The positive effects generated are clear time and again: strengthening the economic vitality of downtowns, improving walkability and the climate for alternative transportation, enhancing the connectivity of communities, and making streets safer.

To encourage Michigan’s transportation leaders to continue on a path towards transportation alternatives and strategic planning, we are hosting a ‘Highways for Habitats’ Contest for our Michiganders.  We encourage you to redesign a highway to show them that we want more complete streets, and the Twitter Town Hall is meant to help you in this process.

During our Twitter Town Hall, the experts will share examples of successful road designs balancing needs.  They will discuss who to talk to get involved, and give tips for where to start when planning for a more livable city.

To participate in the conversation, follow the hashtag #LSMhighwayscontest on Twitter on September 17th from 12:00 – 1:00 PM EST. You can also follow our Twitter feed @LetsSaveMich.

In the meantime, what questions do you have about street design?  Tweet with #LSMhighwayscontest between now and the event, and we’ll ask our panelists during the town hall.

Let’s Save Michigan would like to give a huge thanks to our sponsors at Detroit Bikes for providing the grand prize – a shiny new bicycle!