Bike Advocates Hoping for More Progress in East Lansing

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016, 12:20 pm
Alice Dreger

Above: the bike lane on Burcham Drive near East Lansing's high school.

Local bicycling advocates are feeling hopeful that East Lansing will become a more bike-friendly community given active interest in the matter by several members of City Council and the Transportation Commission. This week, the City of East Lansing sent out a link to a short survey aimed at finding out what residents think about the current state of bicycling options in East Lansing. The survey asks things like how often you bike, for what purpose, and what you would like to see improved.

The survey is being administered by the League of American Bicyclists because East Lansing recently applied to the group for designation as a “bike-friendly community.” Mayor Mark Meadows has said he would like to make East Lansing the first gold-level designated bike-friendly community in the state. Only eight Michigan communities have a bike-friendly designation from the League, with Lansing holding a bronze-level recognition.

Tomorrow (Thursday, September 1) at noon, Councilmember Shanna Draheim will be kicking off a crowdfunding campaign aimed partly at providing 40 more bike parking spots downtown. The “EL Going Green” campaign will have its launch in the Ann Street Plaza and is co-sponsored by the East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Amcor, the packaging company that has sponsored recycling and refuse containers downtown.

Bicycle commuter and Councilmember Erik Altmann has also been pushing for more attention to bicyclists’ needs. Asked what more he thinks the City should be providing, he named more bike racks downtown and at the Farmer’s Market, specifically “simple, plastic-covered loops that work for all bikes and won’t scratch them. The goal should be to have them within a few tens of feet of every storefront.”

Altmann told ELi, “We need to figure out how best to accommodate bikes along Grand River [Avenue]. We’ve followed a strategy of trying to reroute cyclists to other streets, but that’s never going to work very well, because people like to get close to where they are going and will do that no matter where the lanes are painted.” Altmann told me many roads also obviously need repair, as “they are hazardous for cycling in many places.”

Asked what’s working well now for bicyclists in East Lansing, Altmann answered “the local biking community, which has strong representation on the Transportation Commission and strong links to MSU and will help keep improvements moving. We’ve also had excellent support from City staff in putting together our application for Bicycle-Friendly status.”

Local bicycling advocate Tim Potter agrees with Altmann that things are looking up for bicyclists in East Lansing, particularly with the Mayor’s public commitment to the issue at a recent local conference Potter co-organized. Potter is an Advocacy Committee member with the Tri-County Bicycle Association and is also active in many other bicycle advocacy roles, including as the national webmaster for the Ride of Silence, which honors and remembers bicyclists who’ve been hit and killed or seriously injured by motor vehicles around the world.

Potter told me a number of East Lansing roads were made more bike-friendly about ten years ago, but that there has not been a lot of movement forward since, in spite of a 2011 consultant’s report produced specifically on this topic for East Lansing.

While the four-mile west-east route from Burcham Drive to the Interurban Trail provides a relatively safe path for bicyclists going from East Lansing to Meridian Township, Potter notes that there is a dearth of bike-designated north-south routes in East Lansing. A recent exception, he noted, is on one stretch of Harrison Road which has seen bike lanes added just this summer. (Watch a short video, shot by Potter, showing Harrison Road's new bike lanes.) Years ago, Potter told me, bicycle advocates pushed to try to get a similar solution on Hagadorn Road, but did not win City Council support in the end.

Abbot Road, another major north-south route in East Lansing, has designated bike lanes from Saginaw Highway to Albert Street. But north of Saginaw Highway, where many people commute from the City’s northern sections down to MSU and back, there is no designated bike lane on what is now a four-lane road with relatively fast-moving traffic. This is also the route many people living on the south side of town use to get to and from the City’s soccer complex, aquatic center, and softball fields.

Potter says this location along Abbot Road seems ripe for a “road diet” of the sort recently  constructed  along North Harrison Road—reducing car lanes and adding bike lanes. Potter also says there needs to be some kind of solution on Abbot Road south of Albert Street where the bike lanes suddenly end just a few hundred feet  short of MSU’s campus.

Potter notes that bicyclists have the legal right to be in any travel lane. But, he says, “a lot of bicyclists don’t know this, so when they see a bike lane ending, they go onto the sidewalk. That’s not the safe thing to do.”

One way municipalities can remind everyone that bicycles belong on the road, not on the sidewalk, is to paint “sharrows” on the road. Sharrows are shared-lane markings consisting of the symbol of a bicycle with two forward-pointing arrowheads or chevrons. Sharrows were recently painted on Harrison Road near the Breslin Center (as shown below), but few roads in East Lansing are marked with sharrows. Potter says sharrows are “the bare minimum” but at least remind drivers and bicyclists alike that bicycles have the right to the road.

If you want to take the League of American Bicyclists’ survey regarding bicycling in East Lansing, click here.


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Note: The link to the video of Harrison Road was added a day after after this article was originally published.

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