Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Guest Opinion: THAT DAMN BRIDGE

Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Adam Goodman. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to damn.arbor@gmail.com or drop us a DM on twitter.

The intersection of East Medical Center Drive, Fuller, and Maiden Lane is one of the most important connections for people walking and biking in the city. It’s a key link in the countywide Border To Border Trail, which is itself part of the statewide Iron Belle trail system. It’s also the linchpin in pretty much any conceivable commuting route between North and Central campuses.

Proposed Campus-to-Campus Bikeway route from Walk Bike Washtenaw

In early 2022, at the urging of the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council advanced a proposal to widen the East Medical Center bridge by adding a new 11-foot lane for cars. In doing so, it will - per the latest engineering plans - also increase pedestrian crossing distances and conflict points at the Fuller intersection. Update 1/20/2023: The city has clarified that they do not plan to change the crosswalk geometry. The engineering plans seem to show an excessively wide crossing (almost 60ft); however, it turns out that is already the crossing distance that exists today.

At the City Council meeting this coming Monday (January 23, 2023), the final construction contract will be up for consideration. Rather than approving it, the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan should take immediate steps to modify this project so it provides benefits for all transportation modes, rather than improving throughput for cars at everyone else's expense.

Both the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan have established goals to increase safety and convenience for people biking and walking, and simultaneously reduce overall Vehicle Miles Traveled:

  • The city's Vision Zero transportation plan targets a reduction to zero fatalities or serious injuries by 2025 and implement a citywide all-ages-and-abilities bike network. It specifically identifies Fuller as a "priority corridor".
  • The city's A2Zero climate action plan calls for a 50% reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled in order for the city to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.
  • The U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality report calls specifically for the development of a bike route between Central and North Campus, stating: "The Commission views cycling as an increasingly relevant and integral part of campus transit and encourages the university to pursue a multi-modal transportation system by incorporating accessible and safe cycling paths. Additionally, U-M should create a workable and safe Central-to-North Campus bike route..."

So, let's review: this bridge widening project will reduce pedestrian and bike safety and lead to increased car traffic, when our city and the University of Michigan both have established goals to do the exact opposite of both of these things, with specific focus along this corridor. And yet: the bridge widening proposal adds NOT ONE INCH of net-new space on the bridge for people walking and biking, in spite of these goals, and in spite of feedback from many community members noting that such space is needed. Instead, it only proposes to remove sidewalk space from one side and add it to the other, which is a terrible idea, that will make things worse, not better.

Existing vs Proposed sidewalk widths:
10.5 + 10.5 = 21.0
13.0 + 8.0 = 21.0

11 feet for cars, NOT ONE INCH for anybody else.

The only fig-leaf that was included for people walking and biking was to direct that the design contract include an analysis of a pathway connection beneath the bridge. There was no commitment to actually fund construction, but ... none of that matters now. We learned in December in a city memo that this connection is not currently possible, because it would cross into MDOT’s Right of Way for the railroad tracks, and they will not grant the city permission to do that.

This was already a bad project, but this news adds insult to injury. When the design contract was advanced a year ago, over loud objections from many in the community, representatives from the City and from the University characterized this project as a compromise, with benefits for all road users. It was not, and that’s even more clear now. Again. 11 feet for cars, NOT ONE INCH, nor any other new connections, for anybody else.

This project is now pretty far along; engineering plans have been completed. The best time to seek a better outcome would've been a year ago, but it's still not too late to make changes. We need a design that will benefit all transportation modes, rather than improving throughput for cars at everyone else's expense.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Adam. For your pithy summary and clear-headed analysis. Agree! Here was my recommendation to council in December:

    ...now's our chance. The only way we'll reach the goals you've established is by making sure plans support them. I'm sure there is an engineering plan that can reasonably meet our goals -- but it's not this lopsided one that supports an expected increase in car traffic but neither anticipates more people biking to north campus nor plans to make it safer for those of us who need to today.

    Please vote no on today's design and restart the design process with these requirements:

    1. Improve pedestrian and cycling safety
    2. Design for the increased pedestrian and cycling traffic that will be required to meet a2zero goals.

    Regards,
    Victoria Green

    ReplyDelete