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Meridian Township considers roads and streets friendlier to bicyclists

Photo: Mark Bashore/WKAR

In Meridian Township, a discussion’s underway about making more room on the roads for bicyclists and pedestrians.  For years, some advocates have argued Meridian should do more to accommodate non-motorized transportation. The township is exploring a ‘Complete Streets’ transportation plan that would do just that.  WKAR’s Mark Bashore has more.

Bike lanes and pedestrian right-of-ways are hardly ubiquitous in 2012, but they’re not uncommon either.   Complete Streets advocates want to speed up the transformation so bikers and walkers are better provided for.  Officials say adopting--or merely endorsing--‘Complete Streets’ could accelerate the process by keeping key design concepts in front of road planners and developers.

Bill McKinnon is an Okemos resident who pedals to and from MSU most workdays.  He rides on the right half of the right car lane, sharing it--somewhat nervously--with drivers. Stopping on Mt. Hope on his morning commute, he explains how one common alteration—what planners call a “road diet”--would give everybody their space. 

 “And in this case, it would be a four-lane to three-lane conversion,” he explains. “And that means instead of two lanes in each direction, there would be one travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane. And the space that you would clear up with that would be devoted to bike lanes--one on each side.”

On some less-travelled four lanes, road diets have already transformed Meridian and Delhi townships and the city of Lansing.  Proponents suggest it’s cheap because it mostly means repainting the lines differently after routine resurfacing.

Meridian Township Supervisor Susan McGillicuddy supports ‘Complete Streets.’ She explains that modifying other roads present other challenges.  She hears from cyclists who say they’d really like to ride to Lake Lansing via Cornell Road.  But, they say….

“We can’t get there,” she says.

More space for bikes and walkers are planned for Cornell, but some fear that could diminish the appeal of the so-called “Natural Beauty Road” by eliminating trees. 

“So it’s how do we work within those confines and come up with some equitable way to have safety for our residents who want to bike and walk, and also have a travel lane for the cars,” she continues.      

Like all the county’s townships, Meridian relies on the Ingham County Road Commission for maintenance and renovations.  Cooperation with the agency is important.  Road Commission Director Bill Conklin—also a bicyclist—likes existing plans that would extend bike lanes on Lake Lansing Road and is considering others.  But he says infrastructure changes means keeping the agency’s biggest, most important constituency—drivers--in mind.

“Our funding, and therefore our constituency if you will, is motor vehicle fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees and so that constituency typically demands that road improvements be geared toward the most efficient flow of vehicles,” he says.

It begs a thorny question. How many gas tax dollars ought to be  devoted to alterations that benefit bikers and walkers more than drivers?  For starters, Conklin suggests a modest bicycle registration fee so bicyclists could fund a greater share of future projects.

Pedestrians are encouraged to weigh in too.  McGillicuddy would like to install islands to facilitate foot traffic in congested areas near Grand River and Marsh Road.  But the road commission sometimes resist them because they hamper snow removal efforts.  It boils down to location, location, location.

Other forces are driving the discussion.  Worries over the state’s collective health add momentum to any initiative that gets citizens pushing bike pedals instead of gas pedals.  Adjoining townships could fuel regionalism by connecting paths for bikers and walkers.

Advocates like McGillicuddy are gratified ‘Complete Streets’ citizen workshops are underway. They say they’re a chance for the public to join the process that could ultimately lead to policies mandating more biker and walker friendly roads.  The next meeting is this Thursday evening at the Meridian Township offices. 


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