Bicyclists Concerned about Rapid Transit Plan

Monday, March 14, 2016, 5:16 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Bicycle advocates in East Lansing are concerned that CATA’s plan for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) does not include more and better provisions for bicycle use in the downtown East Lansing/Grand River Avenue corridor. But City Planning staff told Council last week that CATA it is doing what it can while being hampered by space and funding limitations.

As ELi reported, last week East Lansing’s City Council heard an update on CATA’s BRT plan, particularly as it relates to East Lansing. A major concern discussed at the meeting (but not covered in our earlier report) is how bicycles fit into the BRT plan for the route running from the Lansing Capitol building to Meridian Mall along Michigan and Grand River Avenues.

The current plan for the BRT calls for the bulk of the $133,000,000 funding for the project to come from the federal government. As far as bicycles go, that funding is restricted to replacement of any existing bike pathways disrupted by the BRT construction; it cannot be used for creation of bike lanes or bike paths where none exist now.

Right now, the only section of the BRT route in East Lansing in which bike lanes exist is in the area along Michigan Avenue west of where Michigan Avenue breaks off from Grand River Avenue. The BRT construction would consume those existing, buffered bike lanes, so CATA’s plan is to construct a new bike pathway in the green median in that area, including in the green median that runs from Harrison Road to Frandor.

Because the median has mature trees, the idea is to have a “winding path” for bikes, according to City Planning staff member Lori Mullins. (The image above shows the idea.)

City Councilmember Erik Altmann, who describes himself as a “hard-core bike commuter,” tells ELi that he sees that part of the plan for bicycles as “fine. Doesn’t hurt to be out of traffic.”

But Altmann sees problems with the rest of the plan for East Lansing. For the rest of the area, planners are considering trying to create “parallel” routes for bicyclists, either along Albert Street, north of downtown, or through MSU’s campus.

Says Altmann, “Downtown, the new plan is the same as the old plan, which is to route bike traffic away from Grand River [Avenue]. This doesn't and won't work. It’s basically a permanent detour, and the point of being on a bike is to get efficiently from A to B.”

The City of Lansing and Meridian Township may opt to invest in new bicycle lanes along their part of the BRT route, but East Lansing faces not only severe budgetary problems but also challenges in terms of space along the central corridor.

In downtown East Lansing, the BRT is already set to eliminate one lane of westbound car traffic and about a quarter of the downtown green median. Mullins told Council there is simply not enough space to add conventional dedicated roadway bike lanes downtown along with the BRT.

The Tri-County Bicycle Association (TCBA) shared with ELi its letter to Lansing’s Mayor and City Council expressing concerns about the BRT’s plan, or lack thereof, for bicycle routes, saying the “project seems to be very much up in the air as to how bicyclists will be safely accommodated alongside the BRT vehicles. While we understand that the funding for the BRT may take longer than initially hoped, TCBA requests that the City will work with CATA to insure that there will be safe and convenient bicycling on an eventual BRT route.”

TCBA referred us to the Capitol Corridor report of 2014, which stated that “The bicycle culture in East Lansing is understandably strong,” and named the existing buffered bicycle lanes along Michigan Avenue west of Harrison Road as “popular.”

According to Laurie “Lolo” Robison, Director of Marketing & Public Information Officer for CATA, bicyclists who want to use the bus part of the way will find the BRT easier and safer to use than existing CATA buses: “Because each BRT station will feature a raised platform that is level with the floor of the BRT vehicle, boarding wheeled devices will be safer, more efficient, and more convenient. On-board bicycle securements will allow for the safe transport of bicycles inside the BRT vehicle.”

Asked about how many bicycles can be put onboard a BRT bus at one time, she responded, “At this time, we have not yet addressed maximum bicycle capacity per BRT bus.”