So where are we headed in terms of improving non-motorized transportation options in Metro Detroit?
Just as bikeability and walkability varies across our region, so too does the direction communities are taking. But at the risk of over-generalizing, we can fit most everyone into four different camps.
Camp 1: No plan and no direction
Unfortunately, too many Metro Detroit communities fall into this group, for one reason or another. It's either going to take grassroots advocacy or elected leadership to see the need for a more livable community and start moving in that direction.
One way to do that is develop a non-motorized transportation master plan – and commit to implementing it. These plans are typically designed by professionals with input from the public.
Of course in these times, finding the money for such a planning effort will be an issue. However, keep in mind that a minimum of 1% of each city, village, and county's state road funds must be spent on non-motorized facilities – and non-motorized plans are an eligible expense.
Camp 2: Bicycles are for recreation only
Unfortunately, this too is the attitude of many. They might be willing to put a pathway through a park or on an abandoned railroad track, but they aren't thinking about their residents riding to nearby parks or to work or to the nearest transit stop.
To them, bicycle trips begin by loading them onto the car.
As in Camp 1, the burden to change lies with the residents, local leaders, and as we recently learned, the price at the gas pump. Four to five dollars a gallon certainly seemed to be a tipping point where Americans started considering other, less costly transportation modes.
Camp 3: We don't need no stinkin' guidelinesCamp 3 communities, while well intentioned, have chosen to follow only some of the national guidelines for safe and convenient bicycle facilities (as defined by the American Association for Station Highway and Transportation Officials or AASHTO.)
The most common indicator of a Camp 3 community is the "safety path". Interestingly enough, the term safety path is a local invention, perhaps because AASHTO calls them side paths and says that in most cases they should not be built for cyclists. Why? Because, like sidewalks, studies have found they are far less safe than other facilities such as bike lanes.
So why are they being built? In many cases, it's due to the county road agencies that have put a premium on the mobility of motorized vehicles. Many won't allow on-road bicycle facilities, though that's starting to change in Wayne and Macomb counties. Non-motorized advocates need continue pushing the issue. To use a car reference, safety shouldn't sit in the back seat. It should be steering.
Camp 4: We get it!
Ann Arbor, Ferndale, Detroit, Troy, and others are doing things right. They understand the value of active transportation, have a plan to foster its growth, and are making the necessary investments. They are the local role models for the region.
And the good news is Royal Oak and Novi should soon join this list as they develop non-motorized plans of their own.
It's all good, but it's still important that cyclists and pedestrians in these communities show their grassroots support and keep pushing these efforts forward. No matter how positive or productive the results may be, there will always be those in the crowd who see things differently.
Not surprisingly, opposition to efforts like these were around over 100 years ago in Detroit. Famous Detroit bicyclist Horatio "Goods Roads" Earle led the fight for paved roads, became Michigan's first State Highway Commissioner and founded MDOT.
Earle wrote about those that opposed his early efforts and those words seem relevant today. He said that there are people "who are naturally against anything and everything that is new, on the principle that, 'What was good enough for our grandparents is good enough for us,' without stopping to investigate the benefits to be derived."
Earle won the battle for good roads, and if we are smart and stick with it, so will we, by gum.