Harrison Road to See More Design Changes
Following the recommendation from East Lansing’s Transportation Commission, City Council has unanimously voted to authorize the Department of Public Works to proceed with plans for a “road-diet” on Harrison Road between Grand River and Michigan Avenues. The end result, after plans are drawn up and funding is secured, would be a three-lane road (including a dedicated center turning lane) and marked bike lanes on either side.
Although all oral comments at the April 10 public hearing were positive, Mayor Mark Meadows wanted to make sure that it was acknowledged that some of the correspondence received on the idea was not so favorable.
Meadows said negative reactions were in line with past instances where there was concern over lane reductions on Abbot Road, on North Harrison Road, and on Burcham Drive. According to Meadows, in those cases, neighboring residents were concerned that reducing traffic from two lanes in one direction to only one could result in back-ups that might push drivers to use neighborhood streets instead. In each of these instances, according to Meadows, those fears were not realized.
Thomas Baumann, a Lantern Hill resident who serves on the Transportation Commission, used his public comment time to emphasize that the lane reductions represent a safety measure that has been proven to reduce crash rates. He said that of the six accidents on Harrison Road in 2016, one could have been avoided and two others probably also would not have happened if this configuration were already in place.
A bicycle commuter also came to praise the plan, saying that he hoped East Lansing would increase the effectiveness of the new bike lanes by including “share the road” arrows on the narrow segment of Harrison Road between Grand River Avenue and Saginaw Highway. There, Harrison Road is only two lanes and not wide enough to continue the bike lanes, which pick up again north of Saginaw Highway thanks to a recent “road diet” there.
Brad Cassidy, a Chesterfield Hills resident who uses the adjacent sidewalk daily, also came to speak to Council. “I don’t think it would impact my neighborhood at all, [and] as a matter of fact it would make my neighborhood more livable,” he told the Council.
“I try to walk ten thousand steps every day,” he said, “and I walk in that stretch and I try to avoid it actually because it’s four lanes like a race track. There’s a grade change, and there’s a curve and…it’s just a really unsafe place.” He said bicyclists would benefit as well.
Council Member Shanna Draheim, another Chesterfield Hills resident, commented that she also walks on those sidewalks and finds that overhanging foliage and tree branches add to the dangerous feeling on that stretch of the road. She asked whether there could be better Code Enforcement in the area to keep the sidewalks more passable. This was echoed by Council Member Ruth Beier who said snow clearance in that area is particularly bad.
Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann asked about whether it might be possible to widen sidewalks in the area. But Scott House, Director of the East Lansing Department of Public Works, suggested that the presence of a number of retaining walls and mature trees in that stretch would make it very complex and not really feasible.
Council voted 5-0 in support of the plan for the “road diet.”
House said that once plans are finalized, his Department plan to seek funding from several grant resources before using East Lansing’s street funds for the project. He suggested that the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), a federally funded grant, or MDOT Safety Funds could be good fits for this project and noted that they seem to be underutilized in this area.