Port Huron strolling to a more walkable, bikeable future

Matt Brooks loves being able to walk to downtown businesses from The Roost.Entrepreneur Matt Brooks isn't bashful sharing his feelings about the appeal of Port Huron to those who may want to take a stroll or ride a bike.


"Downtown Port Huron is a very walkable stretch of great restaurants, parks, and sights, made better by last year's launch of the Zagster bike-sharing amenity."


The businessman, who's founded a bunch of local businesses, including Continue Marketing and ELEVEN19, says employees and patrons of his co-working space The Roost frequently use non-motorized means to get to the office building, Port Huron is working to make non-motorized travel easier in the downtown area.which is located on Sixth and Court, not far from the St. Clair River waterfront and other downtown attractions.


"Grant Moore lives just a couple miles away, so he often rides his bike to work. Carol Hall's escape room business, The Hallway Escape, is located just a block away, so she just walks over to The Roost when she needs a workspace or social engagement with her fellow coworkers here."


The rating site WalkScore.com is a little less generous than Brooks, giving the city a walkability rating of 46, a slightly above average score that puts it just below Dearborn Heights and above Lansing in its ranking of Michigan's 65 largest cities. Port Huron also scored 46 for bikeability on the chart, placing it between Lincoln Park and Garden City.


That said, the prospects look good for pedestrians and cyclists alike in the coming years. Port Huron is investing in a multi-year capital improvement plan that will improve its sidewalk network and also has bike lane projects in the works.


Visitors can easily explore downtown shops and restaurants in a pedestrian friendly area."Walkability and being a pedestrian-oriented community is very important, given the fact that we're a tourist community," says City Manager James Freed. "We're on the waterfront. We have a significant amount of boardwalks, pathways, bikeways and walkways throughout the city."


According to Freed, the city is now spending about $120,000 a year paving and replacing sidewalks as part of a multi-year capital improvement work. A significant amount of this sidewalk construction is happening in the South End district and core city neighborhoods.


The project is linked to an effort to a sewer separation effort that is taking place at the same time. So far $170 million have been spent on the venture with much a large portion of that going to sidewalk and street renovations. What's more the streetscaping is being done in alignment with Complete Streets principles, a design philosophy that makes safe access for all users—bicyclists, motorists, pedestrians and wheelchair users—into consideration.


In addition to sidewalks, the city is also working on the development of the Great Lake to Lake Trail, which will connect Port Huron and South Haven, which is located in the southwest corner of Michigan.


"That bike trail is going right through downtown," says Freed, "And we have a plan to develop core arteries for our bike lanes throughout the city, running north and south."


Beyond this infrastructure, the city is currently working on a project that has a lot of potential for attracting foot traffic downtown, the redevelopment of the east outdoor plaza at McMorran Place. Still in the development phase, the $650,000 Bike sharing has been popular in Port Huron.renovation would feature an ice rink that would double as an outdoor entertainment center during the warmer months. Plans call for seating and gathering areas and the multi-event area will allow for tents to be set up on its surface.


The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has already announced a $350,000 redevelopment grant for the project and the city has applied for several state grants and is looking for other donors.


Jim Boyle, the foundation's vice president of programs and communication sees the plaza as a community anchor due to its great location at a key intersection near St. Clair County Community College where a lot of development is already happening. And from a walkability angle, he thinks the space is just brimming with potential.


"I think you need anchor parcels to get people out of their cars in any downtown area," says Boyle. "We look at this as an opportunity to have activities that would get people to stop and pause within the downtown area."


The Blue Water YMCA and local theater groups have expressed interest in using McMorran plaza once the renovation is complete and Boyle expects the local chamber of commerce to help out activate the space, as well.


While the the city is still reaching out to donors, they hope to begin construction in summer 2019 and have the ice rink completed by next winter.


There are also more than 115 lofts downtown Port Huron, a living option that allows easy access to downtown attraction without any need for a motorized vehicle.


Getting around downtown without a car is getting easier.Earlier this year, the city expressed interest in creating a pedestrian path on a section of Quay downtown. But plans for that were ultimately dropped after "serious objection by the adjacent business owners," according to Port Huron City Engineer Lennie Naeyaert.


A number of city parks are undergoing or have completed improvements to make them more appealing to pedestrians.


"We've got a lot of park improvements coming, and we’re really excited," says Port Huron Parks and Rec Director Nancy Winzer.


Both Pine Grove Park and Lighthouse Park will be receiving major upgrades this year thanks to Michigan Trust Fund Grant, and Lakeside Beach will be getting some pathways connecting with a picnic pavillion. And for young cyclists, there's a new addition to Palmer Park called Sprout City, which features a tricycle track surrounded by interactive playscape buildings.


All this adds up to a Port Huron that is becoming increasingly welcoming to people traveling by non-motorized means. And that's not certainly not happenstance; City Manager Freed says these improvements are central to the city's continued success.


"Walkability and a pedestrian-friendly community are directly linked to economic growth and viability," he says. "If we want to attract people, we need to have a 21st century economy where people want to be; walkability is key to that."

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