Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Complete Streets, Macomb Style

So to begin, I am working on project in my “Fundamentals of Planning Practice” class that seems really interesting and fun.  My group consisting of myself, Will, Dianna and Jon are tasked with putting a Complete Streets tool box together for Macomb County, Michigan.  On Saturday, we went to Macomb County to visit our sites for a first part of our field investigation. 

To begin, Complete Streets attempts to better integrate all users of the street – pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, and drivers - so that all ages and abilities are able to utilize the street in a safe manner, whether traveling for practical or recreational purposes.  Since the 40’s streets have been designed specifically for the automobile.  Pedestrians have been accommodated throughout the years, first with sidewalks but then with many additions to sidewalks to make pedestrians feel safer.  For example, lighted streets, crosswalks, crossing signals, traffic cameras (to prevent cars from running red lights and killing pedestrians), and cross walk push buttons.   

Our project consists of two areas, Van Dyke Ave from 8 to 10 Mile and Garfield Rd from 17 Mile to Hall Rd., which we must look at and figure out what tools would be needed to implement a complete street.  These areas are principal arterial roads which carry thousands of cars a day and have little pedestrian and non-automobile facilities. 

View Complete Streets Sections in a larger map

We started at the Van Dyke site, and I noticed that the existing facilities were not as poorly maintained as I expected.  Most sidewalks were plowed, most cross walks were safe, traffic lights and signals all worked properly, and I was most impressed with the street lighting that was spread evenly throughout the strip.

Street lamps looked like this:

I was not impressed with the maintenance of the street corners, the terrible public transportation facilities, the lack of vegetation, and the overall abundance of vacant lots and/or buildings.  First, the street corners had piles of snow in front of most corners along the route.  Most corners seemed like they were newer or at least well paved and sloped to accommodate disabled people, but with the amount of snow in front of some of the corners, only a spry person on foot could navigate the rough terrain.  

Next, the public transportation signs and facilities were abysmal.  All the signs varied in maintenance, some were fine, and others were bent over and destroyed slightly.  Some signs were placed behind trees, so people would have a hard time seeing the signs from the road.  Additionally, there were only two transit shelters for people waiting for the buses.  These were both located at the 9 mile, but as you can see the transit centers were small, and did not look very inviting. 

Furthermore, the lack of vegetation made the area look more run down then it was.  With more vegetation, the area could look livelier.  Finally, like most areas surrounding Detroit, about a third of the buildings were vacant or for lease/sale.  This was not surprising.

After our Van Dyke excursion we moved north to Garfield Rd.  As we moved toward our second destination, snow began to fall, and we were only able to spend about an hour at Garfield before we left because of deteriorating road conditions.  What we saw on Garfield was very interesting.  Unlike Van Dyke, we saw a lot of vegetation, although it seemed to be privately owned, and overall a generally more pepped up atmosphere.  

The Garfield strip was more suburbanized in nature, although there were many similarities to Van Dyke. 

Like Van Dyke Ave., Garfield had little pedestrian activity.  The weather was a factor for this variable, but overall it seemed like the pedestrian infrastructures favored the driver rather than the walker or cyclist.  Parts of Garfield did not even have sidewalks! Additionally, the bus stops were well maintained, but were just a metal post with a small red sign attached to the top.  

There could be better ways to present public transit with more than just one small sign.  Also no signs had bus routes or schedules on them (same at Van Dyke).  Also, there were no bus shelters at all, making at least Van Dyke seem a little more practical.  In addition, there were many for lease signs, and it seemed like there were more at Garfield then on Van Dyke.  Finally, the biggest difference was the spacing of intersections.  Van Dyke was a 2 mile strip with 3 major intersections at 8,9 and 10 mile with about 2-3 intersections in between.  At Garfield there were 5 total intersections in a 3 mile span.  That a .5 mile gap between crosswalks! That is a long way to walk to be able to walk in a safe manner.  The intersections were well maintained but there was no way to safely cross a street except at the intersections. In addition, there were no major street lights.  All the lighting was privately placed making it problematic for people walking around at night.        

Overall it was a great trip and although it took us 3 hours to drive home, it normally takes 45 minutes, we enjoyed the time we spent together.  It was great to survey the land and get a feel for what we will be working with.  I can’t wait to go again and dive deeper into the project!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

City of Gold

Here is a nice complimentary video to my Detroit visit.  I completely believe Detroit is a "City of Gold"!!