Michigan DOT takes an innovative approach to complete streets

By Chris Spahr

The Michigan Department of Transportation has embraced the concept of “walkability reviews” and has been funding them in communities across the state for the past 10 years. The most recent round of walkability reviews was conducted April 21-25 in six communities. Walkability reviews are usually organized by an MDOT-contracted consultant who coordinates a walking tour of the community to study areas where bicycling, walking, streetscapes, and traffic calming can be improved. The Walkability Checklist developed out of a partnership among the U.S. DOT, EPA, Safe Routes to School, and Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center is a commonly used tool. Toole Design Group conducted the current round of reviews. While open to anyone, walkability reviews are typically geared to government administrators, engineers, municipal planners, business owners, and residents.

Polly Kent, the Intermodal Policy Division Administrator at MDOT, highlighted the importance of walkability reviews in communities where a roadway project may occur in the next five years. By working with communities to understand challenges to walkability, MDOT can design projects that will bolster local economies, improve safety, and implement complete streets policies.

Deb Alfonso, the Supervisor of the Intermodal Service Unit within the Bureau of Planning at MDOT, described walkability reviews as a way to work with stakeholders to build support for a common vision of street networks that support a diversity of transportation modes. She described MDOT as the “spark” for this vision, but that it is really the communities themselves that carry the vision forward. She provided the example of Benton Harbor, MI, which initiated a call for a larger study of a proposed road reconstruction project as a result of walkability reviews.  Benton Harbor has since adopted a complete streets policy as part of its non-motorized plan and has seen a surge in businesses wanting to locate downtown.

MDOT has also supported a program called Training Wheels that provides courses around the state to educate communities interested in providing on-road bicycle facilities. Designed for city, township, and county managers; council members; engineers; and related design and planning staff, Training Wheels gives stakeholders an opportunity to experience their community by bicycle to understand the importance of planning for multiple modes of transportation. MDOT’s commitment to supporting complete streets offers a good model of how to support vibrant, healthy communities.

Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.