Council to Decide Controversial Reconfiguration of Harrison Road

Monday, March 12, 2018, 7:57 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

East Lansing’s Transportation Commission has recommended more changes for Harrison Road—now recommending that the section between Grand River Avenue and Michigan Avenue be converted from four lanes to three, with the addition of bike lanes on both sides. Anticipating objections from members of the Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood, City Council has decided to bring the matter to a public hearing at Council before rendering a decision.

ELi reported in 2016 on the “road diet” for Harrison Road between Lake Lansing Road and Saginaw Highway. That converted that portion of road from four lanes down to three (one northbound, one southbound, one center turning lane) and added bike lanes on both sides.

The proposed change for the section between Grand River and Michigan Avenues would involve the same configuration of three lanes plus two bike lanes. A letter from Transportation Commission Chair Thomas Baumann to City Council dated February 6 states the Commission’s contention that “The current configuration…is not safe for pedestrians or bicyclists. Traffic moves quickly, there is no bike lane, and there is no buffer between traffic and the narrow sidewalks.”

Below: Image from the commissioned study on the proposed project area.

A hired consultant’s study of the proposed change found it would likely make the area safer overall, particularly for bicyclists and pedestrians. It predicts no increase in cut-through traffic in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood, to the west.

Nevertheless, Transportation Commission and City Council anticipate that members of the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood will object on the basis of a potential increase of cut-through traffic because, according to a memo to Council from Director of Public Works Scott House, “Residents from the Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood Association have expressed concerns to staff in the past regarding cut through traffic.”

House also told Council in his memo that, at the Transportation Commission meeting on January 22, “a member of the Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood Association expressed concerns regarding the addition of more bike lanes adjacent to the neighborhood with the potential to create more cut through traffic.” The Transportation Commission consequently was seeking Council’s ideas about “greater public input.”

Director of Public Works House tells ELi that, “Over the years, different processes were followed” on this kind of road change. Sometimes they were approved by Council, but not always.

At City Council’s meeting on February 20, Mayor Mark Meadows said that there “are always worries” about cut-through traffic when “road diets” are proposed. But, he said, “the reality is no one wants to go stop sign to stop sign to cut through when they can stay in line a little and go through the [traffic] light.”

Meadows named Burcham Drive and Abbot Road as examples where worries about cut-through traffic had not materialized following “road diets.” But, he said, “Community input is extremely important,” so he supported a public hearing on the matter, and having Council decide after obtaining public input.

Initially, Councilmember Ruth Beier suggested additional public input happen at another Transportation Commission meeting, notifying the neighborhood of the matter, and having Transportation Commission decide the matter. She said, “It doesn’t need to come back” to Council. Councilmember Shanna Draheim agreed with Beier at that point.

But Meadows insisted “City Council ought to make this decision.” He did not think the proposed change was a bad idea, but, he said, “I think Council should decide it,” because it was likely to be controversial. He also noted, “It is an expenditure of the City.” Council is paying a lot of attention now on expenditures, given the budget crisis.

Beier and Draheim then said they were comfortable with having it come to Council for a public hearing. Draheim added, however, “My issue is this is precedent-setting.” But, she said, “if Transportation Commission thinks it is controversial enough, we can deal with it.”

Councilmember Erik Altmann, a long-time bicycle advocate, said he was “happy” to have a public hearing but wanted to note this was “a departure” from how previous road diets have been handled. “If people want to come yell at us, I’m happy to do that,” he added.

Councilmember Aaron Stephens said he was “not opposed” to having the public hearing.

Meadows said his position “would be that if this goes wrong, we are going to get yelled at, so we ought to make the decision.” He noted that the deliberation would also happen on a video broadcast, with a video recording, “so the community can see how we deal with it.”

House tells ELi that his understanding is, given this decision, “Moving forward, Council will approve any type of conversion such as this.”

A date has not yet been set for the public hearing for this proposed change.

Update: The hearing will be at Council's meeting on April 10, 2018.