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.

One such debate recently ended.  The Inner Loop is a freeway constructed between 1950 and 1965 as a continuous loop that surrounds downtown Rochester, New York’s Central Business District.  Since its completion traffic on the Inner Loop overall has declined.  After over two decades of debate, the fate of Inner Loop East has been decided.  With the award of a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant from the Federal Government in August, the Inner Loop East Reconstruction Project now has the construction funds it needs to move forward.  This is the third time the City of Rochester has applied for the grant, and the $17.7 million is secured at last.

The Inner Loop East, which is two-thirds of a mile of the Inner Loop from Monroe Avenue to Charlotte Street, will be filled in to create a “complete” boulevard.  The city’s goals are to foster sustainable economic growth in the area, and create a more livable downtown.  The plan will strengthen walkability and bikeability infrastructure, to encourage healthier, more active lifestyles.  Plans call for two-way cycle tracks in locations, and include roundabouts at some intersections – something many believe to be a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional traffic light intersections.

The city says support for the project has grown substantially over time.  Proponents say it will reconnect the city grid, bring the business district out of isolations, and strengthen the urban fabric by reconnecting once divided neighborhoods.  They believe it will improve traffic congestion, mobility and local access throughout the area.  It will bridge the gap between the city and one of its major attractions, the Strong Museum of Play, which lies just on the other side of the divide.  Advocates trust that the approximate nine acres of land that will be freed up will benefit the city economically, spurring mixed-use development and drawing residents to the more urban way of life and more livable downtown.

Additionally, Reconnect Rochester, a transportation advocacy group and major proponent, says the project will essentially pay for itself.  Lifecycle costs to maintain a state of good repair of the existing 1960s-era infrastructure are estimated between $19.1 and $26 million – approximately the same cost as the project itself.  Reconnect Rochester also sees real potential in the development of the reclaimed land to provide true connectivity for the city.

While we at Let’s Save Michigan are excited to see how this turns out, there are some Rochesterians out there who are not.  Inner Loop East opponents believe it is an expensive project the city doesn’t need and can’t afford, and that the money should be spent in wiser ways.  Some also believe that the economic development potential has been exaggerated.  Concerns have also surfaced that the project is a recipe for blight in a city with too many vacancies already.

The cost of the project is estimated to be $23.6 million, with the city responsible for $5.9 million. Work is expected to begin in the fall of 2014 and take two to three years to complete. As this project moves ahead, we hope it stays on the right track towards more sustainable and livable communities for all of Rochester.

 

Photo from the City of Rochester Preliminary Design Alignment document.

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.

REGISTRATION:
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!

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.

The East West Highway conflict has been dividing Maine residents since 1937.  Many times the idea to build a highway crossing the state has been proposed and defeated, and it is once again surfacing.  Currently, a 220-mile toll highway connecting the east and west edges of the state is being planned by Cianbro, a Pittsfield-based construction company, and many are speaking out for and against it.  The highway would function as a thoroughfare, rumored to have only six exits along its entire length, providing travelers a faster and more direct route.

The justification for the highway has remained constant for more than 70 years: Maine does not have an east-west freeway, and needs one.  Currently people must travel on local highways, traveling less direct routes on slower moving roads.  Manufacturing businesses that move products long distances, for whom transportations costs are some of their greatest, say their companies would save money with the highway. Truck drivers sometimes feel public roads are made for cars, and aren’t as safe or wide enough for trucks.  Proponents also believe the highway would benefit Maine’s economy, especially the rural communities suffering from the loss of traditional manufacturing and resource-based jobs.

On the other side of the aisle stand some of those rural communities.  128 small businesses – so far – have formed the organization Maine Businesses Against the East West Highway to publicly oppose the project. Environmental groups and organizations are also expressing concerns.

Some discount the economic benefit argument, saying it would instead hurt local businesses by diverting traffic and business off the local roads, and even compromise the small-town community culture of the state. Public roads already traverse the state and the intensive construction of another route is believed to be unnecessary.  Opponents also believe the highway would have detrimental effects on wildlife habitats, destroying land while introducing unnecessary pollution – both during construction, and for the life of the road with vehicular emissions.  It has been said it would be, “the single largest destruction of fisheries and wildlife habitat in the history of this state by a private entity.” They add that destroying the state’s wildlife and habitats is an unsustainable way to boost revenue.

Opponents advocate instead for improving public routes, and transportation alternatives – like rail. A freight line already parallels the proposed route, and enhancing this method instead would reduce vehicle miles traveled and pollution.

Maine residents are now calling for an independent study of the impacts with full public disclosure and engagement.  From what LSM can tell, if there are people living in those rural communities whom indeed welcome the highway, they aren’t being very vocal, and some public support could have an impact on this conversation.

It is hard to dispute that low cost transportation is key to a strong economy. While the east west highway would save money for travelers and companies shipping their goods, it could take business from the more rural areas.  How does Maine find a way to balance these needs, while also considering the other factors?

We’ve seen many projects so far, like in Trenton, New Jersey in which trucks on highways traveling through towns became an issue that needed solving – usually with a new highway elsewhere.  Residents didn’t like the pollution and felt less safe crossing as trucks drove through.  But in Maine, residents are calling to keep trucks on those roads, seeing them as vital to their small businesses.  This calls to mind an important lesson in transportation planning: context sensitive solutions, created with the help of and consideration for all of the communities they affect, are the best solutions.

The important question now is: does the project truly meet the public’s needs?

 

Photo from Portland Press Herald.

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 1957 outside St. Louis plans for an “inner belt expressway” developed and the northern portion was eventually built (I-170).  In the 1990s the southern portion plans were abandoned due to strong local opposition, yet the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and St. Louis County continued efforts to provide a connective element in its place.  Their solution is the South County Connector, and its purpose is to improve connectivity between south St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis, and central St. Louis County, and improve access to Interstates 44, 64, 55, and 170.

The County says the main reason for the Connector is to ease traffic congestion on the streets through increased capacity – a new highway.  Traffic studies say the Connector would reduce traffic compared to a 2040 projection.  Proponents say this will improve vehicular safety.  Opponents believe, however, that the project simply shifts auto traffic from one road to another through the phenomenon of induced demand.

To counter the idea that traffic reduction is a sufficient reason to build the Connector, opponents make the argument that the traffic study was done in 2003 and much has changed.  Automobile use in the U.S. has been on the decline since 2005 and in St. Louis County it dropped 4.5% between 2007 and 2011 (more than the national average).

St. Louis has been addressing these changing trends well: they have expanded their public transit system to meet the growing demand.  An accurate traffic study should take these changes into account, and the outdated 2003 study does not.  Advocates also worry that the highway will weaken the effectiveness of the regional investments in alternative transit already made, creating barriers to further multi-modal development.

As the debate continues, citizen groups and non-profits have come together with many elected officials to end the plan, advocating instead that multi-modal alternatives are the right investment for the future.  Organizations like Trailnet, which advocates for healthy and active communities through promotion of walking and biking, have expressed concern with the project – stating a lack of pedestrian and bicycle systems in the plan.

Opponents believe the estimated $110 million needed for the project would be better spent improving alternative transportation systems – something seeing record demand in the region.  In 1993 St. Louis’ light rail transit system – MetroLink – opened, and has been expanding since; coupled with an extensive bus system they have become a competitive alternative to automobile travel.  Many believe there are alternative travel options that connect the elements the South County Connector is intended to already in place – like the Cross County Light Rail Extension and the MetroLink Blue Line – which make the Connector duplicative and unnecessary.

Opponents also point to the disconnect highways create in the neighborhoods they cut through, dividing and segregating communities.  Residents of affected communities worry that businesses would suffer, navigating traffic right past instead of through.

Managing the many demands our roads serve is a challenging task.  Safely moving people and goods, supporting economic growth, connecting communities without disconnecting others, and providing a comprehensive transportation system to support various methods of mobility are needs that can be difficult to balance.  We hope the St. Louis region finds the right solution for their needs.