Ann Arbor's road planning helps bicyclists but ignores key road needs
Ann Arbor City Council is now considering the 2013 Non-motorized Transportation Plan Update Draft report. There is a lot of good work in the Report. As an avid bicyclist and bicycle commuter, I believe overall the plan is a positive for the city, and if implemented, will bring economic benefits and a higher quality of life to our fellow citizens, but there are some very serious flaws that require amendment prior to adoption.
The Report recommends additional bike lanes on Depot Street and Fuller Road, the major connector between the U-M Health System Complex and N. Main St. That’s good, but I believe the road needs widening to add additional lanes so that it is five lanes or a four lane boulevard to facilitate the traffic especially at rush hour during shift changes. At a minimum, turning lanes are needed to be added to facilitate traffic flowing from Depot turning right onto N. Main St. and from N. Main St. turning left onto Fuller. To pretend that this ought to remain a two lane road into the indefinite future is illogical.
The Report is silent on the major flaw of the N. Main St. and M-14 interchange, which should be made complete by adding an on ramp from W. Huron River Drive to M-14 West, and an off ramp from M-14 East to Huronview Boulevard, with a right turn at the end of that short street onto N. Main Street to facilitate southbound traffic headed into Ann Arbor. This would take traffic pressure off the unsafe Barton Road exit and off Barton Road, and take traffic pressure off Jackson Road and off N. Maple Road and Miller Avenue. If current USDOT rules don't allow it based on minimum spacing of exits on interstate highways, then assistance from our Congressional delegation should be sought to get a waiver from the Secretary of Transportation, who can waive the rules.
The Barton Road M-14 exit could be materially improved by reconfiguring it so the ramp exit off the freeway drops into a traffic circle. This would flow south via a straight road to connect with Barton Road similar to the current configuration, but improved from a safety perspective since the curve wouldn't be so sharp. Heading north from the circle and then east, a new road could be built through Onder Park to connect to Pontiac Trail and ultimately through to the end of Huron Parkway, as was originally envisioned when Huron Parkway was built. This would require voter approval, but would divert traffic from the overly congested Plymouth Road corridor giving additional alternatives to travel north out of town using either Pontiac Trail North or M-14/US-23 North without using Barton Road.
The report repeats the recommendation for a three-lane road diet on Jackson Road. This is extremely ill-considered because of the high peak rush hour traffic rates and faces substantial opposition among the citizenry. City council should repeal its resolution requesting MDOT to implement a road diet when the road is rebuilt in 2014.
The Report recommends a three-lane road diet for N. Main St. with a reversible, managed center lane. Besides being expensive in both upfront capital cost and ongoing maintenance, it is a bad idea for this high volume arterial roadway. The needs of the bicycling community to reach scenic West Huron River Drive can be better met by providing a safe connection to the Border to Border Trail that runs along the Huron River by providing access to cross the railroad at N. Main St. at Depot and again at the northern end of N. Main St. at M-14 back to West Huron River Drive from Bandemer Park on the north side of M-14.
Finally, a complete interchange needs to be added to the city's long-term capital plan between M-14 W/I-94 E and I-94 W/M-14 E. This would complete the freeway ring around Ann Arbor and lower the volume of traffic on city streets, in particular, the already over capacity Jackson/Maple/Stadium interchange. The rest of the 62-page document is well thought through and I urge city council to adopt it, once the amendments suggested above are made.
(Stephen Lange Ranzini is president of University Bank in Ann Arbor, where he lives. He's also an occasional columnist on AnnArbor.com.)