the battle for bike lanes in ypsilanti

Late last week, the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) voted to re-stripe Ypsi Township’s Ford Boulevard, removing the bike lanes and returning it to a four lane road. The following report (slightly edited) comes from MM.com reporter, and bike enthusiast, Andy C.

In October of 2007, the Washtenaw County Road Commission voted to convert a section of Ford Blvd in Ypsilanti Township from four lanes into two lanes – with a center turning lane, and bike lanes. When this 4-to-3 re-striping was agreed to, is was apparently done so with the understanding that, “If it doesn’t work, we can always put it back the way it was.”

On April 1st, the WCRC voted to do just that, returning the road back to 4 lanes. Ironically, the part of the road with the bike lanes is north of Michigan Avenue, in the residential area, and most of the complaints aren’t coming from their. Ed’s Garage, who requested the change back, is south of Michigan Ave, on a part of Ford Boulevard that already has 4 lanes (and no bike lanes). The owner of Ed’s Garage, however, says that it slows down traffic and makes it hard to turn out of his business. The trial time was October until now (not ideal bike riding weather) to test out the usability.

Approximately 10-15 people spoke on the issue. Of those, only 2 were in favor of re-striping Ford back to 4 lanes — the owner of Ed’s garage, who originated the petition, and his friend. The other 12 or so were in favor of keeping the 3-lane conversion. Some even requested extending the 3-lane conversion all the way to Holmes Road.

After the public input section of the meeting (which was long because of a Liberty Rd. issue), a 5-minute break was called, during which almost all of the public left.

After the Board re-convened, there was a question from Board Chair Fred Veigel to WCRC Dir. of Engineering Roy Townsend about safety concerning 4-to-3-lane conversions (a.k.a. “road diets”). Townsend elaborated that road diets generally improve the safety of the road, reducing the occurrence of crashes. He cited studies from before/after the Grove Rd. road diet – that crashes were down 46% while speed was reduced by 2 mph on average.

Also, Townsend pointed out that Ford Blvd. is a somewhat unique road – the section north of the Michigan Ave. bridge (the section getting attention, which is now 3 lanes + bike lanes) is primarily residential. South of the bridge, the properties are mostly commercial. Note that the petition to the Ypsi Township was started by Ed’s Garage and the signatures were collected at the business, which is the southern section of the road. [The red letter “A” on the map above marks where Ed’s Garage is located.]

Commissioner David Rutledge then introduced a motion to act on the Ypsi Twp. Request. The motion was seconded, voted on, and passed, all in the space of about 15 seconds.

As I think most of my readers would agree that road diets are generally a good thing, that safety is important, and that biking should be encouraged for any number of reasons, I’m assuming most folks think that this was a bad decision. The good news is, from what I can tell, the decision is reversible. Clearly the WCRC thought it was a good idea to begin with. If they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have passed the first time. I think it’s probably likely that they were surprised by the 200 names on the petition, and, as there wasn’t a great deal of pressure on the part of residents and bike riders (most of whom left after speaking), they decided to give in.

Here are a list of things we might want to consider doing. These aren’t my ideas, but those of several members of the local biking community with whom I’ve spoken about this since the decision to make Ford Boulevard 4 lanes again.

1. Ask the Road Commission for a copy of the petition delivered by the owner of Ed’s Garage. Figure out how many of those people live in Ypsi Twp (or even in the county). I think it’s likely that the numbers are low.

2. Write respectful letters to the Road Commission asking that they reconsider the decision. Also write to Township officials – since the WCRC may try to dodge the issue by saying, “Well, the local Township Board asked us to make the change, so we’re just doing what they asked.” As with most issues like this, the more Township residents we can be involved, the better.

3. Canvass the actual residents of the road. Ask them to sign a petition to keep Ford Boulevard 3 lanes, or get them to sign form letters that can be delivered (via bike maybe) to the WCRC and Township Board saying they like having the bike lanes. (Having kids write letters might also be good, as they’re probably most effected.)

4. Call up our County Commissioners, or other CCs who might be sympathetic. As I understand it, the Board of Commissioners doesn’t have any direct day-to-day control over the WCRC, but they do get to make appointments every few years, so I’m guessing that they might be able to leverage informal pressure.

And it’s probably also worth saying that I am sympathetic to the business owners south of Michigan Avenue that feel as though their business is suffering due to the traffic slowing. I suppose it’s possible that some people might want to buy their gas elsewhere, if turning into traffic is really that much worse than it had been. Of course, it’s also likely that the slower traffic means more people notice their shop and stop there. I don’t know if anyone on the Commission asked, but I’d be interested to see their sales receipts. If it’s really dramatically impacting their business, I might be inclined to side with them. I suspect, however, it’s probably not.

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21 Comments

  1. Dirtgrain
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Couldn’t they have measured traffic before and after–as opposed to taking Ed’s word for it (by the way, Ed was a cool guy (and probably still is) back in the day when I used to deliver parts to him–I’m not trying to dis him)?

  2. egpenet
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    “We could always re-stripe it … if it doesn’t work.”

    What were the measurable outcomes they were watching? With all of the national, state, county, and city data available on the benefits of public safety on road-dieted throughways … it is very hard to believe the WCRC was doing anything else but caving to one business in opposition to the more than overwhelming will of the people.

    When and until those behind the bully pulpit start selling alternative transportation for local commutes, such as bicycles and mopeds … and when and until the cycling industry starts marketing to regular folks on the benefits of biking as transportation, where you don’t have to dress up like a French Mime in tights, but just want to get to the store or go to work or get a beer … when and until … maybe then.

    I also smell the same old stuff here with local government… where all the decisions are made long before over coffee and phone calls and emails before the meeting .. the public has their say … however the issue is sealed before the vote. A good chairperson doesn’t go into a vote NOT knowing the vote count. How to ignore the will of the majority of the people is a pasttime around here in government, and it’s a damn shame.

  3. Dirtgrain
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see the lane change slowing traffic down by Ed’s Garage–what are the alternate routes to Ford Blvd.? Harris dead ends at Michigan Ave. What other way would you go?

  4. Posted April 6, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    The slower traffic is hardly a scientific finding.

    Isn’t traffic always slower during the winter on icy/snow covered streets? Wasn’t this particular winter especially bad in that respect? It seems to me that it is pure coincidence that the road diets went in at the same time as winter weather settled in?

    It might also be worth asking what route Ed takes from his home to his business. I wonder if he is inconvenienced by the road diets because of the commute he has.

  5. Ol' E Cross
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Okay. Please take this with a grain of road salt, but my limited experience with such things makes me think the issue is not best raised with the County, who technically has authority but also has to pleasure various County constituents, but with Ypsi Twp, itself. (Twp residents, please take note).

    I think cycling area residents who may use the lane will have much more influence than area folk who don’t have a Twp vote and are unlikely to regularly ride this lane. Certainly, all of us who pay for Wash County roads should have a say in how our tax money is spent, but I’m trying to be pragmatic. And, frankly, I like to think I’d have a bit more say over what happens to Cross St. than someone from Chelsea. Fair is fair.

    The issue isn’t as much with Wash County Road Commission as it is with the folks who live and work in the area effected. If nobody who makes frequent use of the lanes will speak in their defense, the lanes will go.

    Sure, let’s try the County stuff. Let’s be a squeaky wheel. Write on. But, if any Twp residents are reading, as far as I see it, you are far more able to bring the grease.

    If Ypsi Twp told the County that they wanted to keep the lanes, they’d be keeping them. We can try, but my guess is it’ll ultimately be up to those citizens of the Twp to save the lanes. Ypsi Twp folk. Time to get greasy.

  6. Ypsi Township Resident
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    I have been a resident all my life. I live less than a half a mile from the bike path on Ford Blvd. It’s a pain in the ass. You hardly ever seen a bike on top of Ford Blvd. before or after the bike path was “installed”. Thanks to this wonderful improvement, it is now a drag race coming from Russell Ave. or Forest Ave to move over into one lane. I signed the petition as did plenty of other residents. Why were the residents never asked to begin with if we wanted this? Now we are supposed to go on our knees to have it removed? By the way Mark, do you live in the township?

  7. mark
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Nope. I live in the city and ride a bike… It’s interesting that you say it’s too fast. The impression that I got was that people, including the owner of Ed’s, didn’t like it because it was too slow… Either way, it’s a valid concern. I just don’t like the idea of taking away bike lanes in order to make more room for cars. In my opinion, we should be doing everything we can to encourage people to keep their cars at home and pedal. It’s good for the environment, our health, the community, etc. Of course, I would also say that the opinions of those in the area outweigh mine. I’d just like for all of them to have an opportunity to weigh in about it.

  8. Arty
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    If you want for people to buy homes in the area, especially families with kids, bike lanes are essential.

  9. Deep Background
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I thought you might find this timeline useful. I just received it from a friend.

    Below is the timeline I came up for the Ford Boulevard bike lanes. It is interesting that people had a chance to comment on these bike lanes in 1997, during the WATS Non-motorized plan hearings (2004 to 2006) and in May 2007, yet Ed Davis (the petitioner) only seems to arrive on the scene after the lanes are in. Also, interesting is that at the YpsiTownship
    meeting (March 4th, 2008) where the Township voted to send a letter to the Road Commission asking them to remove the bike lanes, this item was never listed in the pre-meeting agenda so the real area residents never knew
    this change was in the works until after the meeting.

    Ford Boulevard Bicycle Lane Timeline

    1997

    Spring, Summer, and Autumn 1997- Charter Township of Ypsilanti forms a Bicycle Task Force to participate to offer comments on an Ypsilanti Township Non-Motorized Facilities Inventory and Planning Study. Bob Krzewinski sits on the Bicycle Task Force as a representative of the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society. On a map in the Ypsilanti Township Non-Motorized Facilities Inventory and Planning Study (“The Proposed Path System” – no page number), Ford Boulevard is shown as part of a proposed path system.

    November 1997 – Ypsilanti Township Non-Motorized Facilities Inventory
    and Planning Study published.

    December 1997 – Charter Township of Ypsilanti Board of Trustees approves five year plan to increase and improve non-motorized facilities in the Township.

    2004 to 2006
    The Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) conducts hearings for it’s
    Non-Motorized Plan for Washtenaw County. In the Ypsilanti area, hearings were held on the plan on September 15, 2005 (Ypsilanti City Hall) and July 16, 2006 (Ypsilanti City Hall). Sitting on the Policy Committee for the Non-Motorized Plan for Washtenaw County from Ypsilanti Township was Ruth Ann Jamnick. Sitting on the Non-Motorized Plan Steering Committee from Ypsilanti Township was Dave Nicholson.

    The Ford Boulevard bicycle lane is contained in the final Non-Motorized Plan for Washtenaw County on page 85. The Non-Motorized Plan for
    Washtenaw County was approved and published in September 6, 2006.

    2007

    May 9, 2007 – Hearing held by the Washtenaw County Road Commission in Ypsilanti Township (at the Civic Center) on the matter of changing Ford Boulevard from four lanes to a three lane configuration with bike lanes
    and a center turning lane.

    September/October 2007 – Ford Boulevard changed from four lanes to a three lane configuration with bike lanes and a center turning lane.

    October 16, 2007 – During the Citizen Participation portion of the Washtenaw County Road Commission meeting, Zach Howard states it is hard to get out of his driveway in the new Ford Boulevard configuration. Roy Townsend (WCRC staff) states that the primary reason Ford Boulevard was re-striped to three lanes was for safety reasons resulting in a reduction in crashes. Reference –
    http://www.wcroads.org/aboutus/theboard/minutes/2007/2007-10-16minutes.pdf

    2008

    January 7, 2008 – Ed Davis (of Ed’s Garage on Ford Road) submits a petition to the Clerk of the Charter Township of Ypsilanti, containing
    (according to Ypsilanti Township) 400 signatures of “residents” (according to Ypsilanti Township) opposed to lane changes on Ford Boulevard.

    March 4, 2008 – Charter Township of Ypsilanti Board of Trustees approves a resolution (#2008-8), in response to a petition by Ed Davis, asking the Washtenaw County Road Commission asking them to change Ford Boulevard back to four lanes and eliminate the turn and bicycle lanes. The issue of Ford
    Boulevard did not appear on the pre-meeting agenda
    (http://www.twp.ypsilanti.mi.us/documents/serve.php/1640/March_4th_2008.rtf).

    March 13, 2008 – The Clerk of the Charter Township of Ypsilanti sends out a letter to residents stating that the Township has asked the Washtenaw County Road Commission to change Ford Boulevard back to four lanes, citing that 400 “residents” signed the Ed Davis petition and that the matter was in the hands of the Road Commission.

    April 1, 2008 – Washtenaw County Road Commission votes to change Ford Boulevard back to four lanes. The issue of Ford Road was not on the pre-meeting published agenda of the Road Commission
    (http://www.wcroads.org/aboutus/theboard/agendas/2008-agendas/agenda-4-01-08.pdf

  10. Ypsilanti Bicyclist
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Mark, the petition is believed to have 400 names on it, not 200, though I don’t think anybody has actually gotten to see it yet.

  11. Andy C
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I do understand the area residents rush hour concerns. I haven’t gone down there between 5-6pm. I also agree it is up to the area residents, especially the ones who live on Ford Blvd, it has the most impact on them.

    But please consider that this effects the over all area. There are also bike paths on Holmes and Forest. As these roads continue to get up-graded they will link to the Ford Blvd path. Connecting the city to the township will help us all.

    I don’t think we need to think city vs township in these issues. The Non-Motorized Plan for Washtenaw County is for all of the county and now just certain areas. As for path usage, at least give it through the summer.

    I just hope that every thing is considered before this is done.

  12. mark
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    It seems like the wise thing to do would be to give it a few more months, see how it’s used in bike riding weather, and then canvas the neighborhood. Hopefully that’s what will happen.

  13. Dirtgrain
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I rode my bicycle on Ford Blvd. from Ecorse to Forest on Friday at about 6:00 P.M. I stayed on the sidewalk (left side, heading North) over the bridge, which sucks when someone is coming the other direction. I didn’t think it was that busy at that time (I missed the rush, I guess).

    I’m all for a bike path all the way along Ford Blvd. A nice bike path follows Tyler Road, and then it sort of peters out. Harris is a better route than Ford Blvd., but they are both pretty sucky for bicycling.

  14. MaryD
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    I never thought it would work on West Cross or South Grove, but it does. Road diets are good, with their handy bike lanes.

  15. Scott
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I am a resident of the Thurston neighborhood, and an occasional bicycle rider. I was pleasantly surprised to see the lanes appear in October and was able to enjoy them once before the winter snow arrived. I was not aware that they were removing the lanes. I just assumed they were doing repairs to the bridge, as it does have some crumbling concrete. So does this mean the matter is closed? Or can those of us directly effected by this still contact the Township? I would really like to see the lanes stay, now that biking season has returned.

    I have not noticed any changes in traffic congestion, but it would not surprise me if many of the signatures did come from residents in the area. Whenever I get my bike out, I get those “Why is a grown man riding a bike?” looks from my neighbors.

  16. Dirtgrain
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I rode on Ford Blvd. last night at about 5:30, and it wasn’t that busy at all. Even the construction didn’t seem like an impediment really. I can’t figure out the objection at all.

  17. Bicyclist
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Scott, the issue is certainly not closed. Many residents and bicycle advocates are currently getting involved to figure out how to work with all the parties to get this resolved in a way that makes everybody happy (yes, I know you can’t make everybody happy all the time, but we can still try). Steps you can take include appealing to the township to let them know how you feel, or attending Washtenaw County Road Commission meetings and voicing your concern during the public comments section. Information about these can be found online. Please feel free to contact me if you want more information.

  18. egpenet
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    And just at a time when the bikes are coming into full swing, the State Police are raising speed limits on trunk line roads in Ann Arbor. The A2 major doesn’t like the idea. Why can’t a city set its own speed limits, choosing to balance commerce and commuting with non-motorized travel, even road dieting whenever possible? Makes sense slowing things down.

  19. Andy C
    Posted April 18, 2008 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Update from the Monday Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) Board meeting.
    The funding issue came up, specifically an email between Terri Blackmore and the Fed and State DOTs. If the WCRC decides to undo the 4-to-3 conversion, the entire funding amount provided by the DOTs will need to be returned since it “no longer meets purpose and need” and does not follow original design intent. The same applies to the MI jobs fund dollars. Combined, the total is approximately $393,000. In order to undo the 4-to-3 without paying the $393k back, the County needs to show, with traffic/safety data from 3 years before the change, and 1 year after the change, that the design goal was not accomplished, or that the project has been a detriment to the traveling public.
    I did not go to the meeting my self, but the above report was received from someone who did. Needless to say the WCRC was not happy. So at this point, the Ford Blvd. issue has stabilized but is not completely resolved.

  20. Laurie B.
    Posted April 19, 2008 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I live on Ford Blvd. between Forest and the Bridge. I was at the meeting last year when they decided to take it to 3 lanes..and vocally in favor of it.
    Before the change it was a dragway. Drivers heading South seemed to think they needed to “step on it” to get up the hill…and people coming off the bridge were going just as fast.
    I believe that, for the most part, traffic has slowed down. I feel much safer getting my mail or doing any yard work out by the street. The bike lane gives a bit of a safety zone from the curb.
    Sometimes I wish the police where around when people use the middle turn lane as a passing lane when I’m turning into my driveway!
    As far as “Ed’s” end of Ford Blvd…I use Fran’s Gas (on the same curve as Ed) and although, when it is rush hour, it is possible to have to wait a bit longer to get out…we’re talking, maybe, 30 seconds!
    Even if it was a minute I think the benefits of the turn lane and bike lane outweigh the “inconvenience” of 60 seconds!!
    That being said, why can’t they leave it the way it is right now? Let them have the 4 lanes in the business district and let the residents have 3 lanes + bike in the residential from bridge to Clark Rd?
    Its been this way for awhile and I think it has worked fine, as far as I’m concerned. I drive both ways everyday and haven’t had an issue.
    One more thought, it has been much quieter in my house. I think part of it is that they finally fixed the road (my house would rattle when cars hit potholes) but the bigger reason is that there are only 2 lanes of traffic going by at once, instead of 4.
    I hope they don’t change it back, I’ve lived here for 10 years and this is the best that its been.

  21. Nick S.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m sick of idiots. Slowing down your turn onto a road? Not a good enough reason, pal. I agree with the poster who thinks the votes came from neighbors who look sideways at bikers while scratching the posteriors.

    There needs to be a balance issue raised. How much it is worth to raise people’s awareness of biking as a viable alternative to driving, as exercise, as a general improvement to the society? All of the other ticky-tack stuff will go away if it’s agreed that it’s good to have more people out there biking, and that it’s worth a few people’s minor inconvenience.

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