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Transportation Plan Stuck in Reverse

Institute Comments on TC-TALUS Long Range Plan

TC-TALUS | August 20, 2014 | By James Bruckbauer

About the Author

James Bruckbauer is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s transportation policy specialist. Follow him on Twitter at @jimbruckb. Reach him at james@mlui.org.

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The Michigan Land Use Institute is pleased to submit the following comments to the TC-TALUS Board regarding the TC-TALUS Long-Range Plan.

The Institute:

  • is thankful that the public can provide feedback on the plan;

  • believes transportation demand management should be made a much higher priority;

  • and, is pleased to see that the upgrades to Keystone and Beitner roads remain top priorities.

MLUI commends the TC-TALUS board for its open and transparent public input process regarding the long-range plan. Over the past decade, the board has ensured that transportation planning in this region is transparent, and the extensive public input process through the Grand Vision set a new standard for community engagement. The fact that groups and citizens are encouraged to provide input into this document shows the board’s dedication to an open and inclusive process.

Demand-Management Strategies a Priority

MLUI believes that the draft long-range plan fails to incorporate recent polling and data showing increased demand for greater transportation choices in the region.

A 2012 random-sample survey revealed that most Grand Traverse area residents favor increased investments in trails, sidewalks and bus service; would tolerate additional traffic in villages and cities if jobs and amenities were within walking distance of parking; and, would prefer to see existing roads repaired and improved before new and wider roads are built.

Further polling shows increasing demand for transportation choices, especially among young people:

  • According to a recent survey by Transportation for America and the Rockefeller Foundation, 54 percent of millennials (people aged 18 to 34) would move to another city if they could be less reliant on a car, and 86% of them said they want public transportation.

  • When asked how the Traverse City area should look in five or ten years, TC Young Professionals said, “All modes of transportation would be accommodated and supported through the transportation network.”

  • When MLUI surveyed more than 1,500 Traverse City-area employees about their commutes, many said they wanted more transportation options like transit, biking, and walking, but felt that those options aren’t available, and if they are, they aren’t convenient.

  • National transit ridership is at its highest level since 1956, according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association.

  • Per-person driving in Michigan has dropped by nearly 7 percent since 2005.

The TC-TALUS long-range transportation plan, however, fails to prioritize demand management strategies that reflect changes in public sentiment and trends in transportation. The long-range plan should place a higher priority on lower-cost and more effective transportation demand management strategies—like ride sharing, reliable express bus service during busy travel times, and safe bike networks—that carry public support, reflect changing trends, and fill a pent-up demand.

Technology is advancing rapidly, too. Self-driving cars will reshape how Grand Traverse area residents think about the automobile. Planners and automotive executives predict that self-driving cars will increase the demand for sharing cars since vehicles will be able to circulate through neighborhoods and continually pick up and drop of passengers. The need for more reliable bus and bike infrastructure will increase as the percentage of cars ownership and drive rate continues to decline.

Advances in train technology and the Michigan Department of Transportation’s recent emphasis on passenger rail could make travel by streetcar or train on existing railroad tracks another option for Grand Traverse area passengers.

Meanwhile, while the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) has improved its service and perception over the past few years, it’s still not a priority among other transportation agencies and municipalities within the TC-TALUS area. Because it’s not a priority, it becomes a challenge for BATA to provide reliable, on-time bus service on the most heavily traveled routes. Without proper bus turn-outs and safe pedestrian networks around potential stops, BATA often avoids the key streets with the heaviest traffic and is unable to increase ridership among commuters.

If state and local transportation agencies and municipalities made BATA’s proposed route changes a priority, more commuters could take advantage of bus service, reducing traffic on our heaviest streets, reduce parking demand, and increasing transportation choices.

The plan’s executive summary should acknowledge that, though many Grand Traverse area residents are willing and able to get around by car, the demand for transit and a safe bike networks is growing and that transportation agencies should take proactive steps to meet this demand.

MLUI also suggests that, in its executive summary, TC-TALUS include BATA’s proposed route changes in the list of “projects essential for the growing region.”

Maintaining Existing Roads

MLUI is pleased that the plan includes a commitment from local transportation agencies to maintain and improve their existing roads—specifically Keystone and Beitner roads in Grand Traverse County.

In the era of tight federal, state, and local transportation budgets, agencies must prioritize their existing roads before adding new ones. In fact, according to the Grand Traverse Road Commission, only 20 percent of the roads in Grand Traverse County are rated as “good”; it will cost $85 million just to get the other 80 percent back to “good” condition.

By upgrading the existing Beitner and Keystone roads from Chum’s Corner to Hammond Road, local officials would have a more sensible bypass for cars and trucks traveling around the city.

Why Keystone-Beitner?

  • Adding an additional two lanes to Beitner Road could take about 10 percent of the traffic off Grandview Parkway, according to MDOT’s traffic forecast.

  • Even if the Grand Traverse County Road Commission eventually adds new capacity somewhere else in the road network—the Hartman-Hammond connector, for example—traffic on Beitner Road is expected to be far above capacity within a few decades, according to MDOT traffic projections. The road commission needs to upgrade Keystone-Beitner, anyway, and we should invest in existing infrastructure first.

  • Many groups around the Grand Traverse region, including business associations, MLUI, and other environmental groups have all endorsed the Keystone and Beitner roads as a sensible bypass for trucks and commuters.

Please let us know if you have any questions on our comments.

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