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.
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.
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.
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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