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Northville trail will connect city to township

When walkers, runners, and bikers explore a new trail planned for the Northville area, they might just learn a thing or two at the same time.

After two years of planning, Northville Township, the city of Northville, and Wayne County have a plan and funding for the Northville Bennett Arboretum Trailway, a non-motorized trail that will connect the city and township. The path will begin at Verona Lane and Sheldon Road, where the current Northville Township pathway system ends, continue along Sheldon through the Bennett Arboretum, cross into the city, and end near where Sheldon intersects with Seven Mile Road.

Jill Rickard, Northville Township staff engineer and project point person, points out that not only will the trail connect the city to the township, it also provides access to the county and township park and bike system, including the Rouge River and Hines Drive, a popular cycling route. "It does provide some good interaction between the park systems," she says. "The township and city have been trying to connect for years."

The project, funded partially by parks millage funds and a recently-awarded $450,000 Rouge Program Office Grant, will include an elevated boardwalk, block retaining walls with native plantings, and a bridge over Johnson Creek that will allow for accessing educational information about the creek. The boardwalk will provide a viewing platform for a wetland that straddles the city and township lines.

Rickard says the path will also be a good way for visitors to learn about the surrounding areas, and about the green features planned, such as permeable pavement, the benefits of trees, and how native landscaping can prevent erosion. She expects that at least five informational kiosks will be displayed with such information.  "This provides an excellent opportunity for an educational, instructional way of doing that," she says.

She hopes to put the project out to bid in February, begin construction in the spring, and finish by next fall.

Source: Jill Rickard, Northville Township staff engineer
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Chug no more: $150 million for regional high-speed rail

Michigan will be receiving $150 million to help develop a high-speed rail corridor between Kalamazoo and Dearborn.

News came out Monday that the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program will be awarding the money, along with a $3.2 million planning grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Michigan has the existing rail lines from Chicago to Detroit, but is lacking the upgrades to get the trains up to a higher speed.

Although it won't be announced until today as to how the $150 million will be allocated, Carmine Palombo, transportation director for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, says the announcement was great news overall. "Being able to make that sort of investment in that high-speed rail corridor is great," he says.

Among the beneficiaries will be Amtrak and freight rail, but also everyone trying to establish a commuter rail service between Detroit and Ann Arbor, too. One project that was identified as necessary was the connection west of Detroit, where there is consistently a bottleneck between usage of the track by freight and passenger services. Fixing that alone would take about 5-7 minutes off the time between Detroit and Ann Arbor, Palombo says.

"That's a pretty good chunk of time that would be saved as a result of this project," he says.

It was also announced in January that Michigan will be receiving $40 million for train station development.

Source: Carmine Palombo, transportation director for SEMCOG
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Students, staff embrace Oakland U bike share program

A fleet of 60 purple bikes have been carrying students and staff around Oakland University's campus this semester, after the university expanded its bike share program.

Last year, OU tried a pilot bike share program using abandoned or unclaimed bikes, and due to that program's success more students are cruising around campus on the matching bikes. It's not uncommon to see a faculty member riding one, either, says OU's Director of Campus Recreation Greg Jordan.

The two-wheelers are a mix of residents and commuters; residents may use a bike to get from their residence hall to class, but commuters may also have to park relatively far away. "There's a large concentration of bikes in the parking lots, just as many as over in the residence halls," Jordan says.

Among the shifts in culture he's seen so far are an overall increase in bicycle use on campus, meaning resident students are bringing their own to keep on campus, and commuters are bringing theirs on the backs of their vehicle. "Since parking is a challenge on campus, when you're in the parking structure or in a non-central parking lot, people are pulling their bikes off, riding to class and locking them," he says.

Not only do walkers and riders decrease congestion around campus, but the program increases physical fitness. "We're trying to encourage healthy lifestyles, and riding a bike is part of that," he says. "We're trying to improve lifestyle on campus, trying to make parking and getting around campus more enjoyable."

Programs exist on other campuses, some with checkout systems, but Oakland's is free, based on the honor system, and can by used by anyone who spots an available bike. Jordan says the university may consider designated bike lanes in the future.

To learn more about the bike share program, click here.

Source: Greg Jordan, director of campus recreation for Oakland University
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Birmingham upgrades downtown parking garages

Downtown Birmingham's Pierce Street parking garage will soon have a smoother ride up to your car, and be better lit while doing so.

The city plans to install LED lights in the structure's 227 fixtures, replacing old high-pressure sodium bulbs, for a cost of $350,000; $125,000 of that will be federal stimulus money.

Brendan Cousino, assistant city engineer for Birmingham, says he received the final design last week for review, but expects the contract to go out for bid within the next three weeks or so. "The lighting is roughly 25 years old. It's outdated, and we're repairing lights on a regular basis."

He says replacing lights will not only improve the garage's energy savings, but the quality of light in the garage as well. LED lights use a fraction of the electricity of normal bulbs, and they also last several years longer than normal street lights. The city of Birmingham expects to save $18,000 in electricity annually, plus thousands more dollars in maintenance costs.

Also in the Pierce Street parking structure, plans are to replace the elevators this coming summer, first with the elevator at the Brown Street entrance, scheduled to close Oct. 25, and then on the Pierce Street side, scheduled to close in January. The project will run just under $410,000; the elevators currently in place are original to the early 1960s building.

"It's just time," Cousino says. "They've reached the end of their service life."

In another parking structure, the North Old Woodward parking deck, resealing the exterior has been completed, and very smoothly, too, Cousino says, coming in on time and budget. The city added some other work to that job, at the Chester Street parking structure, including replacing some stairs and decking worn down by regular use, for an additional $77,000 or thereabouts to the original $499,000.

And although parking structure maintenance may seem low on the priority list, the interior of a structure is one of the first things a visitor to Birmingham sees, after all. "We hope to maintain a high level of customer service here," Cousino says. "Overall, our goal is to extend the life of these structures as much as possible, and replace as much equipment as possible before it fails."

Source: Brendan Cousino, assistant city engineer for Birmingham
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Downtown Utica wraps up work on park, pedestrian bridge

Much of the work on Utica's hike-and-bike trail and river walk is wrapping up for the season, with the pedestrian bridge soon to come, also.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan says the manufacturer ran into a couple of glitches that delayed the project a bit, but the city is still set to take delivery of the bridge by next month. The hike and bike trail is being finished up, installation of the canoe livery is expected to be completed this month, and the riverfront park and the river walk are also scheduled to be about 2/3 done by mid-month.

"We'll have an unveiling of everything and a grand opening by next spring," Noonan says.

The bridge, a component of the 70-mile hike-and-bike trail throughout Macomb County, will connect the Macomb Orchard Trail to downtown Utica as well as the Clinton River Trail in Oakland County. It will provide pedestrians and bicyclists with a safe place to cross the river without having to navigate the busy Van Dyke/M-59 intersection.

The project is funded with grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Michigan Department of Transportation's Transportation Enhancement program, with matching funds from the Utica Downtown Development Authority and support from the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"We're wonderfully excited," Noonan says. "It's going to be absolutely gorgeous."

Source: Jacqueline Noonan, mayor of Utica
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Detroit Mayor Bing, local leaders to speak on mass transit, urban vitality

Trucks, trains, boats, and planes are all important to sustainability, and a symposium at University of Detroit Mercy tonight will discuss that.

"Riding Trucks, Trains, Boats, and Planes to Urban Vitality," presented by the university's College of Engineering and Science and its School of Architecture, is the theme for the 2010 Designing Sustainable Detroit Symposium. Detroit's mayor and other business leaders are expected to participate in the symposium, scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight in the Fountain Lounge, on the university's McNichols Campus.

Up for discussion is how transportation initiatives bring about economic development, job creation, and livability to Detroit. Speakers include David Bing, Detroit mayor; Matthew Cullen, president of the board of M1 Rail; Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano; and Melissa Roy, senior director of transportation policy and government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Leo Hanifin, dean of the College of Engineering and Science at UD-Mercy and director of the Michigan and Ohio University Transportation Center, will moderate the gathering. "I think transportation systems have enormous potential for stimulating economic development, making the city more livable -- everything from jobs, entertainment, health care, education," he says. "There's a lot of different impacts."

Other cities, specifically Portland, Ore., have used light-rail transit as a driver for transit-oriented development. Portland put in a three-mile route downtown for $100 million, and within seven years had $3 billion worth of investment within two or three blocks of the system's route. "They realize that once people start circulating on this transit system, they stop, and they shop, and they eat and they drink, and they do all the things that people do in a vibrant city," he says.

The foundations for light rail exist in Detroit, Hanifin says, and he's confident it will eventually come to the city. "It's also very attractive to the young creative class that we want to retain," he adds. "They like that kind of transportation, they like that kind of environment that springs up around light rail."

In addition to transit-oriented development, also to be discussed are The Detroit Aerotropolis Initiative and Detroit's TranslinkeD Strategy, which identifies key projects to stimulate economic development and help the area serve as a port for global trade.

RSVP for the free event at (313) 993-1540 or click here.

Source: Leo Hanifin, dean of the College of Engineering and Science at the University of Detroit-Mercy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Metro Detroit rail projects begin to take form

After receiving feedback from the community, the Woodward Light Rail project will hopefully be taking another step forward in the next few months in regards to its design.

With several plans suggested, Transportation Riders United (TRU) is advocating that the train run in the left lane of the road whenever possible, instead of sharing the right lane and running the risk of being delayed behind parked cars, buses, and other traffic impediments, says TRU Director Megan Owens.

One of the major details of the plan that still has to be worked out: Where the track should be laid on Woodward? According to TRU's research, a quicker and more reliable system comes from track in the center lane.

"A challenge is finding a balance between being a downtown circulator, and also wanting to have the beginning of real rapid transit," Owens says. "If you're going more than a mile or two, you want it to be quick enough to be convenient for you."

The public comment period ends Monday; visit TRU's website for more information. Owens says it will probably take a few months to compile the information and then proceed.

"We're not quite breaking ground yet, but this is a critical step forward," she says of the light rail.

Other upcoming meetings address Michigan's rail transit from a broader sense. The Michigan Department of Transportation is developing a Michigan State Rail Plan to build a long-term vision for both passenger and freight rail transportation throughout the state; a public meeting is set for 4-7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at Michigan State University's Detroit Center, 3408 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Michigan by Rail is also hosting a public forum Wednesday at Fairlane Center South, at U-M Dearborn, from 6-8 p.m., to discuss present and possible future rail systems.

Amtrak exists for passenger service, plus there are freight tracks, but not really a plan for using that resource throughout the state, Owens says. Wednesday's meeting will discuss some of the places in Michigan people would like to be able to visit by train and how that could best be done. One example is a way to get up north on the weekend without sitting in traffic on I-75.

High-speed regional trains, commuter trains, light rail, and buses all play a part in mass transit. "It really all fits into the similar idea of giving people in Michigan, and in Detroit, choices as to how to get around," she says. "We can't do everything all at once, but it is important to continue to support and advance all these different transportation options."

Plus, the benefits go beyond easy transit: jobs, revitalization of urban areas, decrease in air pollution, and less dependence on foreign oil. "It's costly and complicated to get all the pieces done, but to have the future we want for our city, we really need all these options," Owens says.

Source: Megan Owens, director of Transportation Riders United
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Inkster, Ypsilanti, Detroit, I-275 trail score pedestrian grants

It's all about the infrastructure. Not only will Inkster build a streetscape project and Detroit a walk/bike path, but because of state and federal grant money, portions of the I-275 Metro Trail will be also be reconstructed. Ypsi even got a slice of the community improvement pie.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced the federal Transportation Enhancement grants Tuesday, for which Inkster will receive almost $600,000 in state and federal funding for a planned streetscape project. The intersection of Michigan Avenue (US-12) and Inkster Road will be improved about a block in all four directions, with decorative brick pillars, fencing, benches, decorate stamped concrete, and landscaping.

Kimberly Faison, special projects manager for the city of Inkster, says the project will help to define the city’s downtown, at that intersection, with an emphasis on trees, shrubs and perennials. And with traffic whizzing by on Michigan Avenue, "Sometimes our downtown gets missed, especially with the speed," she says. "Our residents have a lot of pride in the community."

The city has also acquired three easements in that area, which will be made into a green space, which will include seating areas.

Improvements done last year, including ramps and cross lights at pedestrian intersections, make the area more walkable, she says, while the streetscape is also expected to help calm traffic. Bus shelters are also a part of the expanded project, and the city hopes to receive future funding for a greenways project down the line.

Faison says Inkster's residents know the city has businesses worth visiting and space worthy of being rehabilitated and reoccupied, and this will help put them on the map. "The project really is exciting for us," she says. "We see this as a shot in the arm."

Elsewhere in the metro area, Detroit will get funding for a nearly 1-mile portion of the Connor Creek Greenway, to include a bike/walk path, seating areas and trees. Eighty percent of the $358,376 will be covered by federal funds, with the rest made up by a match from the city.

Portions of the I-275 Metro Trail, in Canton Township, Van Buren Township, and Romulus, will also be rehabilitated, including the addition of a boardwalk over wetlands and signage. That project is nearly $4 million, covered by federal and state funding.

Finally, Ypsilanti also received a grant for streetscape projects.

Statewide, a total of $10 million was awarded to 11 counties for non-motorized trail improvements, roadway streetscape, parks and water quality.

Source: Kimberly Faison, special projects manager, city of Inkster; Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

MDOT brings Metro Trail to I-275

The state is already planning for improvements to bike paths next year, starting with the "non-motorized spine" linking communities in Wayne County.

In all, about 5.5 miles of the Metro Trail will be reconstructed. Projects will begin in the spring and will include rehab of six bridges and two boardwalks, a new pedestrian signal at Ecorse Road, and new signage.

Work is scheduled on the I-275 Metro Trail (along Hines Drive where needed), and on Michigan Ave. The rehabilitation was made a priority by both the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Metro Region Nonmotorized Advisory Committee, says Kari Arend, an MDOT communications representative, in an e-mail. The path has fallen into disrepair since its construction back in the 1970s, and MDOT began planning efforts to rehabilitate the path about four years ago.

MDOT "recognizes the need to serve a variety of transportation modes," she writes.

Also on the plate is work on I-94 south to the Lower Huron and Willow Metroparks, which includes rehab and connection to those parks.

Metro Trail links not only communities and counties, but other path systems, roads, and future routes. Future plans call for extending the path north up M-5 to link to Oakland County trail systems, and eventually extending the trail into the city of Monroe.

Rehab, with regular maintenance, can extend the trail's life by another 30 to 40 years. "Following completion of the trail upgrades and linkages, it is hoped many more users will use this non-motorized option," Arend writes.

Also planned are extensions of an M-5 project from 13 Mile to 14 Mile and from 14 Mile to Maple Road. Current plans call for the use of Meadowbrook and 13 Mile to connect the M-5 path to the existing I-275 trail, which ends at Meadowbrook in Novi.

Tree, shrubs, and other plants are being incorporated to reduce erosion and improve drainage and aesthetics. Boardwalks will be constructed in wetland areas to avoid damage to the environment.

Source: Kari Arend, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

State Rep. Switalski pushes through Complete Streets law

What makes a street complete -- bike lanes, accessible bus stops, pedestrian crossings?

Yes, yes, and yes. Earlier this month, Michigan became the 14th state to adopt Complete Streets legislation, which incorporates sidewalks, bike lanes, special bus lanes, crossing opportunities, and other features that benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and users of public transportation, into road planning.

State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, one of the bill's sponsors, says another thing to consider is the flow of young people leaving Michigan. What he's seeing more and more is young professionals first moving to a new location -- Chicago, say, or the east coast -- and then looking for a job, instead of the other way around.

"They want to live in sustainable communities, to use different modes of transportation to get to work and places of leisure," he says. "In many places in Michigan, there is only one way to get around, by automobile."

"Transportation policy, when it comes to planning our communities, is a critical piece of transforming Michigan into a place that is desirable for young professionals to live, and a piece of the puzzle to turning our economy around."

Switalski explains that the state will develop a model Complete Streets policy for communities to use as a guide to interpret based on their own situations. In the past, the Michigan Department of Transportation hasn't been required to take the communities' desires into consideration; if the community has adopted a Complete Streets policy, they have to work together.

Somewhere, there's a compromise -- there can't be an industrial corridor next to bike trails, but a downtown doesn't have to have a six-lane highway, either. "What this is really doing is putting [forward] a new way of thinking about transportation policy," he says. "This is not a mandate, but a completely different way of looking at possibilities to move people and goods around the state."

Also, cities and townships will be encouraged to look at Complete Streets when updating their master plans.

Cyclists were among the supporters of the bill, as were senior advocates and healthy lifestyle groups. In Switalski's community of Warren, there are many senior citizens that may not have someone to take them to the pharmacy or grocery store.

"A lot of senior citizens feel trapped in their homes," he says. "They don't have options. It's not safe for them to walk across Van Dyke."

Plus, in many new developments, there are no sidewalks or walking paths, which makes it hard for students to even walk to school anymore. "Kids get dropped off or get a bus, but there is no other way," he says. "I believe many, many people will benefit from this [legislation]."

Source: State Rep. Jon Switalski
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Birmingham-Troy transit center preps for fall groundbreaking

The combo rail, bus, car, bike, and pedestrian facility that will serve Birmingham, Troy and the entire area has secured its funding and is now working out the kinks for construction.

The transit center received $8.4 million from the Federal Railroad Administration earlier this year, bringing to the total to about $10 million, more than the $7 million planners hoped to build it with.
Other funds came from stimulus money and Michigan Department of Transportation matches. "We've got more money than we originally anticipated," says Jana Ecker, planning director for city of Birmingham.

Birmingham and Troy had also set aside money to contribute, just in case, but it's looking like that won't be needed after all. "The way things have been going with the funding, I think we're going to be OK," Ecker says.

Planners can't pinpoint a construction schedule yet because it's hard to tell when the Federal Railroad Administration is going to actually deliver the money. "We've been giving them oodles and oodles of paperwork," Ecker says. "It was great when we got all the funding in place, but we still have a lot of hurdles and hoops to jump through to get everything coordinated and wrapped up."

The next site plan review meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8, which should give them preliminary approval. Details have remained mostly unchanged, and include a pedestrian tunnel and areas for traffic from bicycles, automobiles, buses and the planned northern extension of the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.
Optimistically, Ecker hopes to see a late fall groundbreaking.

The proposed site is in Birmingham's emerging Rail District. The cities plan to create a transit oriented development district around the station that would roughly be bordered by Crooks, Adams, Maple Road, and Lincoln Street.

Ecker says there will likely be joint planning in the transit center area in the form of a transit center district, which could make help increase development in the surrounding area. "People are so happy to see something's actually going to be done," Ecker says.

Source: Jana Ecker, planning director for city of Birmingham
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Pontiac breaks ground on new transit hub

The new Pontiac Transportation Center, which will be home to both a Greyhound bus and Amtrak train stop, will break ground in about two weeks.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held last week for the new station, which is expected to be completed by next summer. The state is funding the entire $1.4 million cost, says Janet Foran, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The building will have several green features, including a white roof to reflect the sun, and bioswales, natural collection points for rainwater, which then filter it through native plants instead of draining it into the sewer. Lighting will also include compact florescent bulbs.

The actual work is expected to begin in about two weeks. "We hope to have a ribbon cutting next summer," Foran says.

The facility will be at 51000 Woodward Ave. and serve as a hub for mass transit, including Amtrak's Wolverine service to Chicago and Greyhound's eight daily routes through Pontiac. There is also a SMART bus stop within sight of the new facility.

During the construction, passengers for a train or bus will either have to go online or to another facility to buy tickets. The previous transportation center was demolished in 2008.

Source: Janet Foran, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Ford Foundation pledges millions for Woodward light rail

M-1 Rail in Detroit was at the top of the investment list when the Ford Foundation announced it would be injecting $200 million into projects that will promote economic growth across the U.S.

The New York City-based organization plans to invest this money into projects that help both major cities and their suburbs plan for future land-use, enhance transportation, and interweave housing, transportation, and land-use policy. The idea is to help these communities push forward innovative projects that could be used as both economic engines and models for other communities.

The M-1 Rail definitely fits into this category. The three-mile long light rail track on Woodward Avenue between Jefferson Avenue and Grand Boulevard is being privately funded with $125 million from local business interests, foundations, and government agencies. Officials hope to use it as a local match for federal funds to extend the light rail north up Woodward to 8 Mile or even Royal Oak.

The initiative is aiming at communities hardest hit by the fallout of the auto industry crisis. The hope is this money will help local, state, and federal leaders cooperate on and create solutions to revitalize these communities and create jobs as a region.

Other projects mentioned in the Ford Foundation's announcement include redevelopment of the Claiborne corridor in New Orleans and the construction of 25 transit villages along BART in San Francisco's Bay Area. It's also aiming to create regional land banks in the Detroit and Flint areas.

Source: Ford Foundation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rail, international projects dominate TRIP list

Projects centered around rail and international crossings are seen as vital to Michigan's economic recovery, according to a report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit specializing in transportation issues.

The report lists the Top 50 projects that will help boost Michigan's economy. At the top of that list is the publicly-funded Detroit River International Crossing, followed by a couple more projects that connect Detroit and Windsor. Also included are a litany of mass transit plans, including the Woodward light rail (No. 4) and the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line (No. 27).
Others covering Metro Detroit's tri-county area are rapid transit lines along northern Woodward, M-59 and Gratiot Avenue.

These are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and attract billions of dollars in investment. All of them are in some sort of planning stages or political flux.

The DRIC proposal is seen as attracting or preserving up to 25,000 jobs in Michigan. The report also calls for constructing a Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal along with making improvements to both train tracks and local roads, upgrading the Ambassador Bridge, and building a Detroit River Rail Tunnel.

Source: TRIP
Writer: Jon Zemke

MDOT to build bike path along I-275

The rehab of seven miles of bike trail along I-275 in Wayne County got underway this week and promises to make alternative transportation along one of the most heavily traveled corridors much easier.

The $4.1 million project will rehab the trail between Hines Drive and Michigan Avenue. The trail was built in the 1970s and hasn't seen any major infrastructure improvements since. Today it suffers from overgrown vegetation, uneven grades, deteriorating bridges, and cracked asphalt.

"It's in poor condition," says Mike Bellini, transportation engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation. "It gets worse as you go south."

The project, paid for with federal stimulus funds, is divided into three sections. The first (the northernmost section) will rebuild the trail between Hines and Koppernick. All work should be done by mid-October.

New asphalt will be laid and five bridges rebuilt along the route.

Source: Mike Bellini, transportation engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke
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