Environment Picture

Bicycles, yes! But a complete streets policy encompasses much, much more

If Complete Streets in Michigan were just about bicycle riders, it would just be another small interest group lobbying in its own self-interest.

But it is much more than that.

Such policies help develop livable, sustainable communities. They keep urban cities vital by boosting local businesses, reducing congestion and pollution, and creating a quality of life that attracts young, talented people.

Designing infrastructure that encourages walking and biking for short trips puts people on the streets of towns where they interact with local businesses and neighbors.

Towns with such a mix—like Chicago, Portland, OR, and Minneapolis—are magnets for successful, educated young people. An inordinate number of those young people relocate from their hometowns in Michigan, in part because many Michigan towns lack that vibrancy.

Katie Coleman, who moved from Lansing to Chicago in 2007, said the difference is startling.

“None of the roads in Lansing were bike- or pedestrian-friendly—few sidewalks, narrow shoulder space, and virtually no bike lanes,” said Coleman, 27. “Now I live in Chicago, and there are ample paths and bike lanes connecting to public transit systems that are also bike-friendly. It feels safer, easier and more like a community. And I can leave my car parked most of the time.”

Michigan’s car-centric history, it seems, created many urban areas designed primarily for cars. That was a boon to cities several decades ago, but clinging to that outdated model has strangled downtowns, hurt local businesses and sent young talent packing.

Changing that model is the idea behind the proposed Lansing ordinance. Jessica Yorko, chair of Walk and Bike Lansing, says the Lansing initiative is much bigger than a niche issue for avid cyclists or walkers. “This is about safety, public health, and retaining talent.”

John Lindenmayer, associate director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists, echoed her sentiments. “I want to be able to get around without a car. We live in a fast-paced world; we need to get where we need to go safely and efficiently.”
-Rory Neuner, Michigan Environmental Council
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