This summer, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) approved the widening of both I-94 and I-75 despite dozens of protesters speaking out against the plans. In early December, an alliance of community organizations and individuals sent a letter to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration requesting a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the I-94 plans, alleging that the previous EIS is outdated and therefore inaccurate. Then, last Friday (Dec. 6), SEMCOG approved an amendment to fast track the projects, again, despite more public outcry against it.

On the flip side, the City of Detroit is considering downsizing another highway, I-375, a one-mile stretch connecting I-75 and Jefferson along the east side of downtown.  The Downtown Development Authority planned to hire a consultant by Dec. 6th to explore the feasibility of the boulevard option; we are awaiting an announcement.

I-375 opened to traffic in 1964 and is controlled by MDOT as part of the Federal Highway System.  In its current state, needed repair costs are estimated at $80 million–an amount MDOT says they do not have.  MDOT adds that, when investing that kind of money in infrastructure, it is prudent to ensure that the transportation infrastructure plans support the total vision for the city’s future.

Naturally, Michiganders (and others) are already coming out in favor and opposition to the potential plans.

Advocates believe reconnecting of the Lafayette Park and other east side residential neighborhoods and Eastern Market to downtown could have major positive impact on the whole area, improving walkability and strengthening the connective tissue within and between all of the districts.  Cities all over the world have been reversing the highway boom of the mid-1900s, opting instead for density and alternative forms of mobility, guided by the idea that these conditions lead to happier, healthier cities and people in them.  In light of these changing trends, and the shifts taking place because people are asking for more walkable (livable) urban cores, the boulevard option appeals to many.

MDOT Director Kirk Steudle says the boulevard option could open up around twelve acres for development adjacent to Greektown, a lively neighborhood, which could generate revenue for the (bankrupt) city.  As a mended urban fabric may lead to higher land values—it could eventually generate even more revenue for the city.  Proponents add that it would also save the city money over time as repairing the sunken interstate is so costly.  Preliminary estimates at boulevarding the interstate are also pegged at $80 million, but could be partially funded through a public-private partnership, easing the strain on the city.

As the main east side link to nearby freeways, opponents say downsizing would cause congestion; commuter traffic – up to 80,000 cars per day – would need to find alternate routes.  Some locals, too, appreciate the convenience the freeway brings, noting how quickly they can travel to other parts of the city via the corridor.  Opponents also worry that lowering access to downtown venues used for conventions and other attractions could hurt the economy.

To counter the congestion argument, boulevard advocates they say that with the reconnecting of the city grid, and a boulevard in its place, the cars that use I-375 could be dispersed without adding congestion, and that an appropriate design of the boulevard could facilitate easy movement.

The consultant team is supposed to have a proposal next July.

Engage

We are pleased to see mention of “community engagement meetings” and “stakeholders to be consulted” among the details.  But it is not only the responsibility of the consultants and planners.  Everyone in Southeast Michigan should take advantage of the opportunity and voice their opinion.  The best way for this process to result in a plan that will provide a balanced solution for everyone’s needs is for everyone to participate.

Part of Let’s Save Michigan’s mission is to motivate Michiganders to take part in these discussions.  We love seeing citizens stepping forward, and using their voice to express well informed, detailed reasoning as part of a discussion.  We especially love when people put the needs of an entire community at the forefront of their argument, not just their own.

A typical Highway Debate

The debates happening in Michigan right now are pretty typical – typical because ever since we mapped out our American landscape with the highway system, people have been working to resolve the resulting conditions created in our cities.  These decisions frequently turn into the highway debate, and it has gone around in circles countless times in just about every city throughout the country.

We applaud John Gallagher, who in his recent Detroit Free Press article called on us to “raise the level of the debate on the role of freeways in Detroit and other cities.” Instead of repeating the discussion that has happened time and time again, again, let’s reach a deeper understanding and design a transportation system based on the region’s priorities.

 

Photo credit: Bob Allen, Crain’s Detroit Business

Twice a year, Transportation for Michigan organizes Advocacy Day at the Capitol to educate legislators on key policy issues related to transportation.  The day brings together State Representatives, Senators, advocates, and people who feel passionately about transportation’s ability to have more positive effects on our lives, to discuss the future of Michigan’s transportation system.  The agenda seeks to encourage our legislators to embrace transportation alternatives and support a comprehensive, multi-modal transit system that works for everyone.  Transportation decisions affect every Michigander’s life, and it is important for us to get involved in opportunities to advocate with one, strong voice.

Head to Trans4M’s website to see their Top 10 Reasons to Attend Advocacy Day.

The event is free and open to anyone – bring your friends and fellow advocates!

More on Advocacy Day from Trans4M’s Website:

Trans4Mers will educate legislators on key policy issues that facilitate a 21st century transportation network.  Whether you enjoy biking or walking on Michigan’s trail network, cruising along on Amtrak passenger trains, riding your local public transit system, or dream of the day you can travel using high-speed rail, bus rapid transit, or streetcars – Trans4M Advocacy Day is for you!

This is our opportunity to speak with one voice to help advance Michigan’s transportation infrastructure. We hope you will join us in bringing our important message to the Michigan Legislature. Our host location for the day will be at the Michigan Municipal League (208 N. Capitol Ave, Lansing, MI).

This year’s advocacy agenda includes:

Vulnerable User Safety Legislation: Trans4M requests that the Governor and Michigan Legislature establish vulnerable roadway user protections through adopting standards that create enhanced penalties for drivers who injure or kill bicyclists, pedestrians, and wheelchair users.

Performance Measures for Transportation Funding: Trans4M requests that the Governor and Michigan Legislature support merit-based transportation infrastructure through support of a bill to create performance measures to be used when prioritizing and funding transportation projects.

This year’s policy priorities are:

Metro Detroit Regional Transit
Michigan by Rail
Land Use and Transportation Planning
Performance Measures for Transportation Funding
Shared MI Roads

Preparation: 
If you have never communicated with policy makers before, don’t worry. No prior experience is needed to participate in Advocacy Day. We’ll make sure that you are comfortable with the issue priorities and that you get up to speed quickly. Take some time to read over our Advocacy Day Primer.  We will also provide you additional guidance and walk you through the “asks” on the day of the event.

Join Trans4M for a preview conference call to learn more about the issues and prepare, scheduled for Monday, Nov.11 from 6-7PM at (517)999-0409 code 497786#.

Registration: 
Please register ASAP so we have ample time to pre-arrange meetings with both your State Representative and Senator. There is no cost to attend this event.

Transportation for Michigan is a statewide coalition working to create a stronger Michigan through transportation policy reform that will revitalize Michigan’s cities and towns, reconnect its people to opportunity, and spark a healthier economy.  Following Trans4M is a great way to keep up to date on current transportation issues and find opportunities to get involved.

Looking Forward!

We have received a lot of questions about our Highways for Habitats Contest, and specifically what we are looking for.  We would like to emphasize that we looking for an idea which provides a more balanced solution than currently exists where a road runs.  We leave all other factors up to you.  You can include as much or as little information as you choose in whatever style you choose – as long as your idea is clear.  Submissions do not have to be professional quality renderings – crayon drawings, pencil sketches, paper cut-outs and the like are perfectly acceptable.  The idea is what’s important! 

We provided you with a sample entry earlier this week, and we have another one for you today.  Here our intern describes the process use to create this submission:

“I printed the photograph I took, and taped it up on a window with a blank sheet of paper on top to trace parts of the photograph.  Then I added in my design solution.  I used colored pencils.”

Here is the written description of my proposal (350 words or less):

This is a location that I have witnessed problems that I believe could be solved with a bit of simple signage.  We all know that the drivers of cars, and particularly parked cars, have blind spots.  I modify my behavior when cycling (or walking) behind parked cars to move slower and more cautiously, but I would feel more secure knowing drivers also had reminders to modify their behavior.

There is enough space here that cars tend to treat it as somewhere between one and two lanes, so a left turning, parking or un-parking car can cause other cars to swerve.  I placed a bike lane with cautionary “Watch for Bikes” text painted within to remind both swerving drivers and people backing out of parking spots to remember to look.  As an added reminder, I also placed on the sidewalk the same “Watch for Bikes” text on a sign so that as people are approaching from the sidewalk, getting in and turning on their cars, the sign is in their view.

Original Image:

washington 85x11

 

My Solution:

 

Let’s Save Michigan had a ton of fun meeting the residents, artists, and friends of Detroit’s Historic North End when we co-hosted a Detroit Design Festival happening this past Saturday.  “For Whom, By Whom: North End” got people talking about design in their public spaces, and how art and design can participate in the transformation of a neighborhood.

We structured the happening around placemaking, and art and design’s role in it.  One of the most important placemaking principles – the community is the expert – was the foundation of our event.   We harnessed some of the creativity and ideas of the North End’s community members – the experts when it comes to their neighborhood and what a transformation there should entail.

To engage people we chose four sites in the North End ripe for creativity and activation.  We asked attendees questions – like how did the spaces make them feel, what they would like to see happen there, and how could design aid in the process.  We gathered input from attendees in three ways: written responses, sketched designs of the spaces, and conversation; we are working through compiling the input and will share it as soon as it is finished.

We view this engagement with artists, designers, and residents (who are sometimes the same people!) as a first step, and we collected some strong ideas and advice to build on.  It was inspiring to see our guests exploring spatial design, finding ways to strengthen or connect neighborhood assets, and create new ones for the North End.  A bonus was witnessing the connections made between our guests – hopefully for future friendships or collaborations!

We would like to say thanks again to our partners at RogueHAA and Vanguard Community Development Corporation!  We would also like to thanks Cook Lola Cook for the delicious food she prepared!

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!