Construction Zones Creating Hazards for Bikes and Peds

Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 7:28 am
By: 
Andrew Barsom

Above: A pedestrian (far right) cuts through traffic to get around a closed sidewalk in downtown East Lansing.

Some East Lansing residents and commuters are raising concerns that measures aimed at accommodating motor vehicle traffic during ongoing construction projects are not always adequate to address the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-motorized road and sidewalk users. In response, the City of East Lansing is looking at addressing problem spots.

In order to ensure all travelers are accommodated, all planned construction sites that take place in public right of ways must go through a process, says Wendy Wilmers-Longpre, Assistant Director of Parks, Recreation, and Arts for the City of East Lansing.

“The jurisdiction that has responsibility over the road has review responsibilities for those detours,” Wilmers-Longpre says. “It could be the state, sometimes it is the county, sometimes it is the city. Detours also depend on the type of work being done.”

Area cycling advocate Tim Potter believes the City could do more to ensure construction zones adequately accommodate non-motorized traffic. The issue first caught his attention earlier this summer when he was driving Grand River Avenue in downtown East Lansing.

“I saw a woman walking down a stretch of sidewalk on the north side of Grand River, and she had only about eighteen inches of space between the construction zone and traffic,” Potter recalls.

“I took a video of this woman walking in this tiny little space … there was no safe space provided for pedestrians to get through the construction zone,” he says.

Potter emailed his observations to City staff, along with images of sheltered pedestrian accommodations adjacent to similar construction sites in other cities.

Potter thinks too many construction zones neglect pedestrian safety by simply closing sidewalks, sometimes leaving pedestrians with few viable options.

“They just put up a sign that says ‘sidewalk closed,’” he says. “That’s not an accommodation, that’s stating the obvious.”

Potter has seen people on foot navigating construction zones by climbing over equipment and walking in vehicle lanes. Where Kalamazoo Street crosses the Red Cedar River, he witnessed a couple with a stroller climbing down an embankment.

“They are not in a car and cannot just go half a mile out of the way,” he explains. “[Pedestrians] are not willing or able to expend that energy, so they are going to try to find the shortest way through these construction zones.”

Wilmers-Longpre acknowledges that the Kalamazoo Street construction zone presents a challenge for pedestrians.

“The only detour is an extensive detour,” she says. “You have to go out to Michigan Avenue to get around the construction; it just doesn’t make sense to people.”

However, Wilmers-Longpre is confident the construction project will be well-received.

“I’m hopeful this will only be a three-week process, and the end product will definitely be positive,” she says.

Above: Bridge construction on the southbound side of Hagadorn Road earlier this summer; photo by Tim Potter.

To help improve construction-zone accommodations for non-motorists, Wilmers-Longpre advises East Lansing residents to contact the City with their concerns or suggestions. She suggests residents use the general comment form on the City’s website. Comments submitted through this form are monitored by the City communications department and then forwarded to the appropriate authority.

“We really want to hear from people,” Wilmers-Longpre says, “even if you get a response that says we’ve looked at it and it meets all our requirements.”

There have been changes made to improve pedestrian accommodations at some of the construction sites in question over recent months.

That narrow, unprotected sidewalk that caught Potter’s attention earlier this summer?

“Pedestrians are provided with semi-enclosed walkways constructed of plywood over a temporary metal structure, so people are walking through a tunnel as they pass through the construction zone,” Wilmers-Longpre says.

There’s something else East Lansing residents behind the wheel can do to ensure construction zones are safer for vulnerable road and sidewalk users:

“Slow down!”

Wilmers-Longpre urges motorists to take extra care when they see orange barrels and detour signs, and to read all posted signs.

“People really need to pay attention to what’s going on around them.”