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Creating a better pathway

Local officials work to improve transportation corridors

October 2, 2010
By Kurt Hauglie, DMG Writer

HANCOCK - Many communities around the country and in Michigan are working to make their transportation corridors accessible to all users, and that was the topic of a presentation Thursday at the Ramada Inn in Hancock.

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department sponsored the Complete Streets Training for more than 30 local government and agency officials. The presentation explained how other communities made changes to their streets and roadways to allow for motorized use, while also allowing for safe non-motorized use, such as biking, walking and wheelchair use.

Ray Sharp, health department community planning and preparedness manager, said Complete Streets is a national movement, which many Michigan communities have adopted.

In Michigan, the Complete Streets initiative is being headed by the Michigan Department of Community Health as part of its Building Healthy Communities program.

"The state health department and our local health department are interested in healthy activities," Sharp said.

Holly Madill, MDCH Complete Streets coordinator, said in the early 20th century, in most urban communities there were several modes of transportation, including mass transit, horses, automobiles, bicycles and walking.

"Physical activity was a way of life," she said. "Complete Streets is a return to a sort of simpler time."

Madill said there is no single formula for creating a multi-modal transportation system, and each community has to base any changes on the existing context of their community.

"Complete streets is not advocating all modes on all roads," she said.

Madill gave a PowerPoint demonstration of various communities which have streets, which don't allow safe use for non-motorized transportation. The presentation showed how some of those streets were changed to allow safe use for pedestrians, bicyclists and wheelchair users.

"We're creating communities again," she said.

Those changes can lead to lower levels of air pollution, also, Madill said.

In the United States and Michigan, obesity in adults and children is increasing, Madill said, and a community which plans for non-motorized transportation can improve its residents' health.

Rather than remove existing infrastructure to create multi-modal transportation systems, Madill said those changes can be done as part of planned future repairs or upgrades.

"Cost for complete streets can be minimal if you plan for it in advance," she said.

Lisa Grost, MDCH Healthy Communities program manager, said about six years ago, a national survey found that people aren't eating properly, aren't exercising enough and are using or are around tobacco users too often.

"People are becoming less healthy," she said.

Grost said the MDCH is working with communities to develop community gardens, walking and biking trails and other healthy activities and programs.

"There's a lot of activity in the Upper Peninsula," she said.

The Complete Streets movement seems to be growing in the country and in Michigan, Grost said.

"At least once a week, either in other states or our own state, we hear about another resolution (to adopt Complete Streets in future planning)," she said. "We're definitely on the national map now."

Sharp said Houghton has the trail system at Michigan Technological University and the trail on the Portage Lake Shipping Canal, but there is room for improvement to allow for safe non-motorized travel on M-26 in the commercial corridor, and along U.S.-41 in some areas.

Many of the streets in Houghton are built on steep hillsides, which makes bicycle riding and walking difficult and dangerous in winter, also.

"That's our big challenge," he said.

Houghton has a bicycle task force working on those issues, Sharp said.

Vince Bevins, Michigan Department of Transportation Superior Region planner and Complete Streets coordinator from Escanaba, said on Aug. 1, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed an amendment to Public Act 51, which provides funding for road construction, to include Complete Streets in planning.

A state Complete Streets policy must be passed by 2012, Bevins said.

The systems involved in making Complete Streets already exist, Bevins said, and the purpose is to get communities to include them in future planning every time.

"It's not reinventing the wheel," he said.

The MDOT Safe Routes to School program encourages children to walk or bike to school, Bevins said.

"This is another program that ties in nicely with complete streets," he said.

Bevins said MDOT is working with some U.P. communities to include non-motorized travel in their street systems.

Madill closed the presentation by explaining how Complete Streets can become part of a community's transportation system by the creation of ordinances.

However, changes won't happen quickly in most cases, Madill said.

"Complete Streets implementation is probably going to happen five or 10 years down the road," she said.

Kurt Hauglie can be reached at



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