Update for Non-Motorized Transit Plan

Focus on making city safer, easier for residents to walk, ride bikes

An update to Ann Arbor’s non-motorized transportation plan (NTP) – originally adopted by the city council in 2007 – is in the works. Planning commissioners got briefed on the effort at a recent committee meeting.

A "sharrow" on Fourth Avenue near Catherine

A "sharrow" on Fourth Avenue near Catherine, indicating that the road is shared by bicyclists and motorists. (Photos by the writer.)

The plan focuses on ways to make it easier for people to walk or ride their bicycles, as alternatives to driving a vehicle. The idea is that by providing a safe, convenient network for pedestrians and bicyclists – including bike lanes and shared paths – more people will choose to use those modes of transportation. The longer-term goal is to create a healthier community, both in terms of individual lifestyles as well as a more sustainable environment.

At the Nov. 7 meeting of the master plan review committee, Parrish Bergquist, an intern with the city who’s working with transportation program manager Eli Cooper, gave planning commissioners an overview of how the update will proceed. It was the first time that staff presented their plan for updating the NTP.

The issue of non-motorized transportation cuts across several city units. It’s a concern for parks and recreation staff, for example, as many paths run through city parks. The topic came up during public commentary at the October meeting of the park advisory commission, when Ann Arbor resident Eric Boyd spoke about the need for more non-motorized connectivity between west and south central Ann Arbor – essentially the area between South Main to South State streets.

The Nov. 7 meeting also included an update on the South State Street corridor study that planning staff is undertaking. This report focuses on the non-motorized transportation update.

Non-Motorized Transportation: Staff Update

Jeff Kahan of the city’s planning staff began the presentation by introducing Parrish Bergquist, an intern who’s also a University of Michigan graduate student in urban planning. Kahan noted that the 2007 plan is getting a bit dated, and that it’s time for a refresh. The idea is to look at what’s been accomplished so far, to identify anything that might need updating, and to add more recommendations, if appropriate. The discussion has started at the staff level, he said, with Eli Cooper – the city’s transportation program manager – as the point person.

By way of background, the nearly 200-page plan covers a broad range of issues, divided into four main sections: (1) planning and design guidelines, (2) proposed policies and programs, (3) existing conditions, and (4) proposed facilities. Policy recommendations are made in several categories, including ADA compliance, travel along and across road corridors, land use planning, downtown bicycle parking, school transportation, and enforcement, among others. The full report is available on the city’s website. [link to .pdf of 2007 non-motorized transportation plan (13MG file)]

Some of the planning commissioners noted that the maps in particular are difficult to read online, and they asked for printed copies. Kahan indicated that the full-color copies cost about $200 each to reproduce, but black and white printouts are less expensive. He noted that it’s helpful to have the maps in color.

The city’s plan was adopted before the statewide “complete streets” initiative, which encourages municipalities to construct streets that accommodate a full range of users, not just motorists. In many ways the city’s 2007 plan was overly ambitious, Bergquist noted, so while the city didn’t reach all of its goals, gains were made.

Bergquist reviewed the city’s accomplishments related to non-motorized transportation over the past five years. Since 2007, the city has added 18 miles of new bike lanes, 3.5 miles of roads with “sharrows” (icons indicating roads shared by bikes and vehicles), and 12 pedestrian refuge islands. In 2000, 2.4% of Ann Arbor residents indicated that they rode their bike to work. That grew to 3.5% by 2009. Bergquist also noted that 75.9% of Americans drive to work, but only 58% of Ann Arborites do.

The 2007 plan, Bergquist noted, focused on five “E’s”: engineering, encouragement, education, enforcement and evaluation. Related to engineering, the city now has a total of 38 miles of bike lanes – 18 more miles than it did in 2007. Other engineering improvements include road “diets” (the decrease of lanes) and more pedestrian refuge islands. Roads where these kinds of changes have occurred include West Stadium Boulevard, Platt, Packard, Plymouth, Green, and Liberty.

Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, noted that these changes are made in conjunction with road construction projects. When roads get resurfaced, the intent is to include non-motorized components.

In addition to road work, 30 intersection upgrades have been done since 2007, Bergquist said, which included the installation of pedestrian countdown signs. Crosswalk signals and signs for bike lanes have also been added over the past few years, and work has been ongoing to make crosswalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. All crosswalks in the city should be ADA compliant by 2019, she said.

In the education and encouragement categories, Bergquist pointed to the city’s Walk.Bike.Drive campaign, and noted that participation in getDowntown’s annual Commuter Challenge has increased since 2007. For enforcement, she cited amendments in 2010 to city code that aimed to clarify the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Evaluation is handled every summer when Cooper and an intern (this year it was Bergquist) look at all the bike lanes in the city and prioritize maintenance and improvement needs. A report on those priorities is given to the city’s field operations staff.

Intersection of Washington and Fifth

A bicyclist riding down East Washington, near the intersection of Washington and Fifth. To the right, a "countdown" signal indicates the number of seconds remaining for pedestrians to cross the street.

Bergquist reviewed some of the challenges that remain for non-motorized transportation in Ann Arbor. To date, there’s been more of an emphasis on bicycle travel compared to other forms of alternative transportation, she noted. There also is a need for more wayfinding – people are more likely to walk or bike if they know how to get to a particular destination, and how far it is to get there, she said.

Needed updates to the plan include addressing gaps where no sidewalks are located, a comprehensive map of the bike land and shared path network, a policy for private investments, and recommendations for maintenance practices. For example, if there’s a pothole in a bike lane, people can report it in the same way they would report a pothole in the road – by calling 734-99-HOLES or making an online request for repair. Bergquist said it would be great if there were a separate mechanism for reporting bike lane issues.

The plan’s update will include revisiting recommendations that focus non-motorized efforts in specific regions of the city. Those areas include North Main, the Ann Arbor-Saline bridge over I-94, the South State Street bridge over I-94, South State south of Eisenhower, Jackson Road and Huron Street, the Allen Creek greenway, Platt Road from Washtenaw to Packard, the Border-to-Border trail, Washtenaw Avenue from Stadium to US-23, the Fuller Park paths, Packard Road east of Stone School, Main Street south of Stadium, east/west connections through downtown Ann Arbor, and Miller Road.

Bergquist described the timeline for updating the plan. A staff review is already in progress, and will be followed by five public meetings during the next few months with stakeholder groups and others. Input will be drawn from the city’s Alternative Transportation Committee (ALT), which meets monthly. [ALT committee membership] The planning commission’s master plan review committee will also be involved. A draft presentation of the updated plan is targeted for the summer of 2012, followed by adoption by city council in the fall of that year.

The update will include a technical report, new maps, a capital improvements program, funding recommendations and a framework for evaluating progress. [.pdf of outline for plan update]

Non-Motorized Transportation: Commissioner Feedback

The planning commission’s master plan revisions committee gives advice to the full planning commission on topics related to the city’s master plan, as well as any related planning documents. Attending the committee’s Nov. 7 meeting were Eleanore Adenekan, Erica Briggs, Diane Giannola, Evan Pratt, and Wendy Woods.

Pratt asked whether the evaluation of bike lanes and report on priorities includes off-street bike paths as well. Bergquist said that off-street paths are the purview of parks & recreation, not the city’s transportation unit. Briggs said her understanding is that parks staff have advocated for non-motorized transportation infrastructure to be looked at as a system, not as separate parts.

Adenekan pointed out a problem with the pedestrian crossing signs. Specifically, she noted that a crossing on Washtenaw Avenue has an overhead sign to highlight the crossing, while many others have signs on the side. The overhead sign is difficult to notice, she said, adding that she stopped for a pedestrian there once and almost got rear-ended by the car behind her. Briggs called it the worst crosswalk in town, but noted that because it’s on a Michigan Dept. of Transportation trunkline, that’s an MDOT decision.

Giannola asked whether there’s any effort to standardize crosswalk signs. No, Bergquist said – different signs are more appropriate for different situations. A city task force is looking at the issue, she said. Kahan added that it’s a highly controversial topic that the city is addressing.

Members of the city planning staff and planning commission

Members of the city planning staff and planning commission at a master plan revisions committee meeting.

In response to a question from Briggs about the stakeholder engagement process, Kahan said that staff is developing a draft that will give stakeholders a document they can respond to and refine. Wendy Rampson – head of the city’s planning unit – reminded commissioners that this is an update of the plan, not a full rewrite. Kahan noted that the city invested to hire a consultant to do the original report. [Greenway Collaborative Inc. was hired in December 2003 to develop the plan for $119,957. Of that, the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority each contributed $20,000. In May 2006, the city council approved another $15,000 in funding for Greenway Collaborative to complete the project.]

It’s a good plan, Kahan said, and staff members felt that they could do the update in-house, especially since the city has fewer financial resources now than it did a few years ago. Pratt said he imagined the staff and commission would hear from the public if the plan wasn’t going in the right direction.

Briggs noted that in the past and even now, non-motorized projects have piggy-backed onto road improvement projects. Road projects are the driving force, she said. But if the community is going to have a different primary mode of transportation in 20-30 years, she said, then the city needs need to move away from that approach. Perhaps it’s time to have that discussion, in the context of this non-motorized transportation plan update, she concluded. Or perhaps that’s a discussion for another venue.

Giannola said it seemed like a discussion for the city council, because it relates to the budget and how projects are funded. Rampson gave an example of putting in a pedestrian crossing over a freeway. That’s never going to be a project that’s driven by a road project – so when does it rise to become a priority independently?

Briggs noted that it’s a question of sustainability, fitting into the city’s current discussions about how to make Ann Arbor a more sustainable community. Rampson said sustainability goals could be added to the plan’s update, because that topic is moving to the forefront.

Among the issues flagged by staff as possible additions to the plan’s policy and program areas are (1) funding for sidewalk gaps on city-owned property, and (2) private contributions. Wendy Woods asked whether the sidewalk repair millage could be used for sidewalk gaps. Rampson replied that the millage funds would be to repair existing sidewalks. The gaps refer to areas where sidewalks don’t currently exist. [Ann Arbor voters approved the five-year 0.125 mill sidewalk repair tax the day after this meeting, on Nov. 8.]

Kahan noted that the issue of building sidewalks is potentially incendiary. Many landowners have come to see the city’s right-of-way as part of their property, and would oppose sidewalks being built there, he said. In many cases it will take backbone to add the sidewalks, he said.

Staff members also elaborated on the private contributions item. The idea is to figure out how the city should deal with potential contributions from businesses or individuals to fund city projects, Bergquist said. Kahan suggested that perhaps a better description of the issue is “private/public partnerships.” Examples might include a business wanting to “adopt” a section of the county’s Border-to-Border trail, or a property owner contributing an easement to be used for a greenway.

Giannola suggested adding a section on compliance in the update, whether it’s jaywalking or following the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance. She noted the distinction between compliance and enforcement, which she described as punishment.

Kahan told commissioners that the update will also include a look at emerging best practices that related to non-motorized transportation, including bicycle boulevards, bike stations (like one for the proposed Fuller Road Station), and guidelines for signs for bicycle and pedestrian networks. Woods asked that roundabouts be added to the section on best practices.

In describing the process to get input for the update, Kahan said the city’s Alternative Transportation Committee (ALT) would be consulted, along with other key stakeholders. ALT members include representatives from different units of city government, the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS), the University of Michigan, getDowntown, the  Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA).

Briggs noted that attendance has dwindled for the ALT meetings. It’s especially important that UM be involved, she noted. Rampson added that adjoining jurisdictions to the city, as well as the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, should be looped in. Kahan said the city staff could reach out to people who don’t normally attend the ALT meetings, and ask them to participate. Woods added that the Ann Arbor public schools should also be involved.

Briggs also wondered about how integrated UM’s bike plan should be with the city’s own system. Pratt said the linkages between UM’s non-motorized system and the city were important. Kahan noted that most major roads that run through campus are under the city’s jurisdiction. Rampson said the university tends to create its own standards, so it can be challenging to link what UM does with what the city is doing. There’s a planning group of city and UM staff that meets monthly, she said – she offered to add this topic to an upcoming agenda.

In wrapping up the discussion, Kahan repeated the intent that the update would be ready for adoption in December 2012, and described his hope that the process would be “vigorous and exciting.”

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  1. By Kaare Brown
    November 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm | permalink

    Perhaps the city’s right and left hands should communicate with each other. Newport Road, north of I-14 is a narrow, hilly, two lane residential street with no sidewalks and no shoulders and no crosswalks. There are three schools served by this street and it is a back route to the new high school for students walking to school. Bikes, pedestrians, and cars currently more or less co-exist. However, the city is planning to raise the speed limits along this street, effectively keeping anyone but the most alert and nimble (not children and not seniors) from walking along the street. How does this contribute to the city’s desire to be a walk/bike/drive city? Or, maybe this street is designated as a ‘drive only’ street.

  2. By Eric
    November 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm | permalink

    I don’t believe raising the speed limit on Newport is really the city’s desire. [link]

    My reading of the article is that the city has decided to follow the state code again, primarily for fear of being sued, and following the state code requires them to raise the speed limit on roads like Newport to match the 85th % speed.

  3. By Eric
    November 18, 2011 at 8:00 pm | permalink

    That said, I think raising the speed limit on Newport is ridiculous. The state law ought to be changed to allow communities to set their own speed limits.

  4. By A2person
    November 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm | permalink

    To the city planners:
    There is an extremely important stretch of Newport, from Forsythe running north over M14 to Riverwood Drive that NEEDS a sidewalk. ALL the kids in the Water Hill neighborhood are districted to go to Skyline. The most obvious way for them to get themselves there by foot or by bike is up Newport (on the West side of the street), into Riverwood Dr, to the back of Skyline. But no parent in their right mind would let their kid walk or bike that stretch of Newport, especially with all the cars coming into Wines and Forsythe, in the snowy slushy weather, with no sidewalk not to mention barely a shoulder on the road!

    It is not a terribly long stretch of road, and a sidewalk there would be the difference between kids walking or biking safely, and kids having to drive or get dropped off, adding to congestion. I don’t think busses serve our hood cuz we are relatively close? And the stability of AAPS bus service looks pretty precarious and on the chopping block, anyway.

    So pleeeease, please, please add a sidewalk along the West side of Newport on that stretch of road!

  5. November 18, 2011 at 9:42 pm | permalink

    I wonder how much of that is actually in the city of Ann Arbor. I haven’t tried to check, but much of that area is township (though in the AAPS district).

  6. By A2person
    November 19, 2011 at 8:16 am | permalink

    According to the map here: [link]

    it’s city property, not township.

  7. By Dan Ezekiel
    November 19, 2011 at 8:35 am | permalink

    I was thinking about Newport Rd. too as I read this article, and thinking about whether the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. Many students at Forsythe (where I teach) are bused less than half a mile, because there is no safe walking route along Newport from the nearby subdivisions, such as Riverwood, especially in winter. I suggested to Randy Trent years ago that it might be cheaper for the school district to build a sidewalk, rather than fill a bus with students to ride such a short distance year after year.

    I know it would be thinking outside the box, but I wonder if the city, the township, and possibly the school district could do something together that would provide a safe healthy commute for school kids from the Newport subdivisions to Wines, Forsythe, and Skyline. This would be beneficial in so many ways, not least in combating childhood obesity.

    Incidentally, this is an example of the indirect costs that developers pass on to taxpayers when they build housing subdivisions.

  8. By Kaare Brown
    November 19, 2011 at 9:34 am | permalink

    Newport almost to Foster Road is within city limits. Much of it used to be in the township.

  9. November 19, 2011 at 11:41 am | permalink

    Re (8), according to the city’s GIS map, the city limits are along Newport Road (so that the east side is city and west side is township) up to just short of Blueberry Lane. Then the limits cut off sharply to the east.

    I know that there have been a number of annexations in that area lately but if they have extended along Newport, it is not indicated.

    So a sidewalk could be installed on the west side (according to the map,Skyline is within the city limits).

    That raises an interesting question as to how those sidewalk millage dollars will be allocated. Would a new pedestrian path be paid for at least partly by the millage between Sunset and Skyline?

  10. November 19, 2011 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    Re: [9] “Would a new pedestrian path be paid for at least partly by the millage between Sunset and Skyline?”

    No. The ballot language on the sidewalk millage, in its title and in its wording (“for sidewalk repair, street and bridge reconstruction and resurfacing”) makes clear that the intended purpose is for repair, not new construction. This is also expressed explicitly in the resolution of intent approved by the city council:

    4. The 2012 Street and Bridge Resurfacing and Reconstruction and Sidewalk Repair Millage will not be used to construct new sidewalks, to fill sidewalk gaps or otherwise, or to construct new pedestrian and bike paths

    The “usual way” for improvements like new sidewalks to be funded (in locations where they did not previously exist) is through special assessments on adjacent property owners. That leads to the question of whether that kind of capital improvement project would require a contribution to the public art fund under the city’s public art ordinance. The short answer is no. From the public art ordinance: “A capital improvement project funded by special assessments or improvement charges is not subject to the requirements of subsection (1) of this section”

  11. By Rod Johnson
    November 19, 2011 at 12:47 pm | permalink

    I remember a while back (maybe almost 20 years now) when all the houses on the west side of Newport annexed themselves to the city so they could hook up to the water and sewer system. I don’t remember how far north that annexation extended, but it was well north of Sunset, near Blueberry. I wonder how accurate the GIS map is.

  12. By Rod Johnson
    November 19, 2011 at 12:53 pm | permalink

    This map (PDF) indicates a complex situation with township islands. I wonder how “ownership” of a road is handled when one side is in a township island, but otherwise totally within the city limits. It seems like a difficult situation to handle in a rational way. If you ignore the islands, though, Newport and the subdivisions to its west are within the city up to the point where it turns due west.

  13. November 19, 2011 at 2:55 pm | permalink

    I obviously was not thinking clearly with my previous comment about use of the millage – thanks to the Chronicle for straightening that out.

    I think I was basically mumbling around in my mind how we get pedestrian accommodation when it requires that people who don’t see a personal benefit from it are asked to pay so that we all may walk. I’ve been informed that the City of Ann Arbor takes responsibility for maintenance of Newport Road even though it is not all fronting on city parcels.

  14. November 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm | permalink

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about the speed limit. The City doesn’t enforce them, and raising the limit won’t have any influence on how fast the cars actually go.

  15. By Rod Johnson
    November 19, 2011 at 11:26 pm | permalink

    Doesn’t enforce? I’ve gotten tickets on Plymouth and Huron Parkway, and Newport is a notorious speed trap.

  16. November 20, 2011 at 10:54 am | permalink

    Individual drivers do get tickets, yes. What I meant was that raising or lowering the posted limit doesn’t have any effect on the average speed on a given street, according to the Michigan State Police. The State Police further claim that lowering the speed limit makes the street more dangerous, because it mixes a small number of vehicles going at the speed limit with a larger number going faster, resulting in conflicts.

  17. By Rod Johnson
    November 20, 2011 at 11:39 am | permalink

    I agree. There is some magical thinking surrounding speed limits. I think on streets like Newport the city should either make the speed limits match the natural speed for the street (using the 85th percentile criterion) OR lower the natural speed (by using traffic calming and changing the roadside environment). If the residents in that area are really concerned speeds are too high, it’s the street that should be changed rather than the speed limit.

  18. By bebezv
    November 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm | permalink

    There was a public meeting held on November 15th at Wines Elem. regarding installing safety features on Newport Road. The City proposed several options including bike lanes, sidewalks and a “meandering path.” This seems to be in response to the outcry over the raising of the speed limit on Newport. The city is being threatened with a lawsuit if they do not raise the speed limit. At a previous meeting regarding the speed limit increase the DA and AAPD both stated that there is currently no speed enforcement on Newport since the tickets won’t “hold up in court” due to the state code and lawsuit. Incidentally, at the Sept. 20th meeting regarding the speed limit, city officials seemed quite surprised that school bus service had been so drastically cut for children living along Newport (like all areas in AAPS.) The push to adopt the state code in full and change speed limits is being lead by two individuals. [link]

    I was curious why the City was starting the review with a Newport Road speed study since it seems like there are some legitimate concerns about low speed limits (eg. Huron Parkway, etc.) around Ann Arbor then I found out that one of the people mentioned in the annarbor.com article lives along Newport Road.

  19. By A2person
    November 23, 2011 at 8:47 am | permalink

    I wish I had known about this meeting! Are there minutes from the meeting? Who should I contact to give my input about sidewalks and such?

  20. November 23, 2011 at 9:41 am | permalink

    Re #19: Contact your Council members, or email Homayoon Pirooz (hpirooz#a2gov.org). Your comments will be added to those of others, and you can ask to be added to the contact list at the same time.

    Notices were sent out by members of the City Staff, but I don’t have a list. I also included the notice in a newsletter.

    There will be a web page developed that will include meeting notices, survey opportunities, and feedback that the staff receives. Your input, added to that of others, helps shape the outcome.

  21. By bebezv
    November 23, 2011 at 9:51 am | permalink


    The officials at the meeting said the options would be available online but I haven’t seen them up, yet. You could contact Sabra Briere or Homayoon Pirooz (hpiroozATa2govDOTorg) Mr. Pirooz manages the Engineering Dept for the City and he was present at the meeting. He could send you in the right direction for information.

    As an aside, the sidewalk option is expensive for those living on Newport and it will also affect the look and feel of Newport. A couple of payment options were mentioned during the meeting-1. an expanded assessment district to more widely share the cost and/or 2. solicit donations from residents and others (eg. bicyclists) who utilize Newport to help offset the cost.

    Also, we are trying to get a Facebook page going for this issue. Here is a link if you’re interested. [link]

  22. By abc
    November 23, 2011 at 9:53 am | permalink

    I agree that there are certain local roads where the speed limit seems to be too low AND where it seems perfectly safe to let cars go a little faster. Huron Parkway is a prime candidate.

    However I think Newport is not. It is windy and sight distances are limited. It is also narrow with less room for corrections. And the houses, trees and brush are close enough to the road to slow me down (and that is saying a lot.)

    Streets that are boulevards should be considered as such; streets that are winding back roads should be kept slower. As Mr. Johnson aptly observed, “…it’s the street that should be changed rather than the speed limit.” I wholeheartedly agree. I have many time sworn at the police car sitting on South Main (AAG&O property) waiting for someone to come over the hill faster than 35 mph. That road was built to be driven faster. At least I think it is.

  23. By A2person
    November 23, 2011 at 10:33 am | permalink

    Thanks for the info, everyone. I’ve joined the FB page and I’ll contact Mr. Pirooz.

  24. November 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm | permalink

    To follow a statement about moderation of comments on a different thread, I’d like to thank my fellow Chronicle commenters for making this a lively and really useful forum. I often learn so much from your comments (as is true for this thread). A number of issues have been worked through with lots of good information and a display of humor. I’m grateful that you are so Generous.