Bike lanes and zebra crossings on North Main

Bike lanes and zebra crossings on North Main

Our beloved local “paper” AnnArbor.com is well known for (little other than) the quality of its crazy trollmonkey commenters—they’ve even got their own twitter feed—but nothing brings ’em out in quite so rare form as bike lanes.

So when the City’s transportation director Eli Cooper laid out a well reasoned proposal for converting a section of North Main Street from 4 to 3 lanes and adding bike lanes, and MDOT (shockingly?) revealed potential support of this plan, it was only minutes before the witchburning masses converged to accuse them of social engineering, being pawns of the UN’s evil Agenda 21 scheme, and whatever this guy was getting at.

zebra crossings and flip flops

Dear god, not flip flops! where will it end?

Crazypants climate deniers aside, I just want to state publicly that I love almost everything about this plan, and I’ve got all the necessary case studies to back it up. I lived in the study area for 3 years, one year without a car, one year with both car and bike, and one year commuting daily on M-14. Let me tell you how the proposed improvements would have made my life better.

Case #1: Commuting on M-14

I’ll start with the car case study because that’s all anyone seems to care about. I spent a year driving this stretch almost daily at rush hour. It usually took me 15 minutes to travel 1.6 miles from my home on 4th Ave to the freeway, and 30 minutes to go 30 more miles to work. This is kind of lame, but I considered it a tradeoff for the convenience of living downtown.

mainSt

textbook cluster$#%!

What’s more important, though, is that the area they’re proposing to narrow was not the problem area. Not at all. I’d attribute most of the backups to the traffic engineering problem caused by Summit and Depot are dead ends into the same street that are too close together.

Once you pass Depot St. (and enter the area they’re proposing a road diet for) it’s usually smooth sailing, In fact, that section of road empties out in the morning because most of the cars turn onto depot to head toward the hospital, and in the evening there is rarely a backup until you hit Catherine. The people who talk about North Main being a parking lot are either talking about football saturdays (in which case it’s still less congested than most of the city), or they simply aren’t looking at the same part of the map that Mr. Cooper is.

Case #2: Playing Disc Golf at Bandemer Park

M-14 commentThe comments i find most lamentable (especially when they come from my friends) are of the “why would cyclists go there anyway?” ilk.

Dude. Seriously? Is the outdoors something you only watch on TV? North main connects to some of the best biking, hiking and recreation in the county. Bandemer park is heavily used by the crew team and has a very active disc golf course, which, incidentally, was a big selling point for me when I moved to Sunset Rd. in 2008.

Bandemer’s first tee was 2000 feet from my yard, as the crow flies, but getting there was no easy feat. Here are my options:

  1. Walk/bike legally: 1.5 miles, with half the distance being along the industrial section of Main St. where cars whiz past and there’s zero buffer (no green space or anything, the sidewalk is directly next to the 50mph street)
  2. Walk/bike somewhat illegally: cut through the parking lot of Peter Allen’s bike place and climb over the railroad tracks and past the fence to get on the Border to Border trail (which is lovely and a huge asset to the area… of only you can get there.)
  3. Walk, very illegally: Bushwhack 50 feet, walk across the railroad bridge, scramble down into the park and take the trail. Fun, but not terribly practical.
  4. Drive. This wasn’t even an option for my first year, but even given access to a car, you actually have to get on the highway to get to the parking lot for the disc golf course. and this place is a mile from my house and i’m an able-bodied person out to have fun on a nice day, so driving kind of defeats the purpose.

How Cooper’s plan would fix this:

NorthMain RRBridgeFirst, they’re talking about adding a pedestrian bridge next to the railroad bridge from Wildt St. effectively giving the entire Water Hill neighborhood—a vibrant neighborhood that’s everything Ann Arbor should be—easy access to the river and the B2B trail.

Second (duh) bike lanes. In this case the bike lanes aren’t actually just about bike access to important biking areas, they also create a buffer between the sidewalk and the street so that you can walk from the NEW Center offices to the Summit Party Store for a Coke without taking your life in your hands.

Case #3: Getting to Huron River Drive

Photo by visualthinker, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by visualthinker, via Flickr Creative Commons

Huron River Drive is the best biking part of the city, hands down. It’s so good that people pack their bikes onto their cars and drive many miles so they can unpack their bikes again and enjoy the rolling curves and scenic waterfront. But guess what! You already live in Ann Arbor, a place that’s preserved its natural assets so they’re close and accessible to citizens. That’s why it’s such a great place to live… right?

Well, only if you can get there. I used to lead bike tours that departed from Ann Arbor, and I had to warn people strongly that the worst part of the ride was going to be the first 10 minutes on North Main St. I’ve ridden it hundreds of times and It. Is. Terrifying. Why do I ride there? Because I would have to go several miles out of my way to do otherwise. There’s not another convenient route, there’s not actually another route at all that doesn’t involve mountain biking through homeless settlements and people’s backyards. Which is why North Main has been part of the bicycling plan since the 80’s. Time to suck it up.

And bring on the bike lanes!