Michigan Land Use Institute

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Transportation Planning

Can't build our way out of congestion

December 1, 1999 | By Kelly Thayer
and Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the number of cars and light trucks increased from 72 million in 1960 to 193 million in 1995, a 265% increase. During the same period the population grew by 44%. Americans now drive a total of 2.2 trillion miles annually, more than twice the miles driven in 1970.

"You look at numbers like those and you reach one conclusion: We can't build our way out of congestion," said John Horsely, the U.S. Associate Deputy Secretary of Transportation. "The number of miles we are driving is increasing two or three times faster than population. There is no way we can keep up by building three times as much road capacity."

Organizing in Michigan

That message has reached Traverse City, where residents have been insistent in their desire to develop transportation plans for cars and for people. In the mid- to late-1990s residents opposed the widenings of state road M-37 on Old Mission Peninsula and US-31 (Front Street) downtown, and blocked a proposal to expand a busy downtown intersection because of the harm it could cause to neighborhoods.

The search for transportation alternatives also has attracted strong support elsewhere in Michigan:

• In January, Petoskey residents hired a nationally-known transportation consultant from suburban Chicago to propose alternatives to a $70 million bypass around the city. (See the article on pages 39-40.)

• In Grand Rapids, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) is promoting the idea of putting a rail system on existing track for commuters during the proposed shutdown and reconstruction of US-131 through Grand Rapids next year.

• In Ottawa County, residents are urging the state to modernize US-31 along its existing alignment instead of building a new bypass between Grand Haven and Holland that would ruin miles of farmland and open the region to sprawl.

• In Kalamazoo, residents joined a city-sponsored Citizen's Advisory Committee to call for better bicycling and walking facilities in a community with more than 20,000 university students. Their efforts in mid-1996 resulted in a $120,000 state and federal grant to develop a non-motorized transportation plan, which is scheduled to be submitted to the city commission in February.

The plan would, among other things, convert several four-lane roads to three lanes and add bicycle lanes. "Because of urban flight, there are underutilized inner-city roads that would be perfect for bicycle use and cost almost nothing to convert," said Kalamazoo resident and bicycle advocate Dave DeRight.

Russ Soyring, 616-922-4460; Dave DeRight, 616-731-2996, E-mail Davedbike@aol.com; Surface Transportation Policy Project, 1100 17th Street, NW, 10th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036, Tel. 202- 974-5131, Web site www.transact.org.

New Institute Project Makes the Land Use/Transportation Connection

A project the Institute launched in 1998 to provide the framework for involving the public in deciding how best to invest transportation funds, and to find alternatives to building new highways to solve traffic congestion in northern Michigan, is growing. The "Transportation and Land Use Policy Initiative" has expanded to include groupsin Petoskey, Cadillac, Manton, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo.

The project's mission is to curb sprawl, encourage more compact patterns of residential and business development based on traditional principles, and provide more cost-effective and convenient means for moving people and goods. It is the only statewide alternative transportation and land use program in the nation.

The Initiative is staffed by Kelly Thayer, Arlin Wasserman, and Keith Schneider. Its goals are to:

• Convince the Michigan Department of Transportation to spend the bulk of its funds improving existing roads and halting the wasteful construction of more than $2 billion in proposed new highways in northern Michigan.

• Increase public participation in planning local and state transportation projects so pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and buses, and light rail in major cities, are considered.

• Establish alliances with neighborhood organizations in Detroit and other southern Michigan cities to reduce congestion and improve access to mass transit.

• Join local governments, public interest organizations, and business leaders to strengthen land use laws at the local and state levels.

The project, launched with the assistance of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago and funded by The Joyce Foundation, has attracted considerable support across the state. New groups the Institute is working with include: Petoskey-area bypass opponents, residents in Cadillac and Manton, the Lansing-based League of Michigan Bicyclists, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo's bicycling and pedestrian advocates, and the Surface Transportation Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

Take Action

To find out more about how you or your organization can participate in the Michigan Transportation and Land Use Policy Initiative, contact: Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Coordinator, Michigan Land Use Institute/Tel. 616-882-4723 x13/E-mail trans@mlui.org

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
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