Tag Archives: michigan

Three Easy Ways to Fix the Streets around the College

For a few more precious weeks, she sits in front of me as I ride her home from school. The bleary-eyed days of babies screaming the house awake two hours before dawn are being replaced by mornings I consider serving the kindergartener a cup of coffee before school.

Today, though, this last baby chatters about the “app-ohs” she had for snack, asks if dragons are allowed in our house, and repeatedly demands chicken nuggets for lunch.

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We cut through Hope College’s peaceful campus to take advantage of their leafy sidewalks, but a wrong turn this week brought us down one of the streets directly adjacent to the school instead. It was lined with parked cars on either side, and we enjoyed the slow pace of the street, a pace that matched our own. A car pulled out behind us as we rode that street, glided past us as we turned the corner. Two blocks later the driver pulled into a driveway, safely home.

American to the core, the student appeared to have driven five meager blocks. And this is our culture: we drive as a default, as a reflex. We drive because it feels like an indulgent waste of time to spend those precious minutes on a walk. We drive because it’s easy and we’re promised parking on the other end – and sometimes because it freaks us out to cross that one road. Most of us have done this, myself included.

But this student’s journey suggests a set of solutions to the questions our city is facing this season.

Front page in the local paper last Tuesday: Record enrollment at Hope College has huge impact on Holland.

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The two big issues are parties and traffic/parking.

The college has and maintains 998 total parking spaces, said Tom Bylsma, Hope College’s chief financial officer and vice president of business. Students must have permits to park and earlier this month, a total of 955 had been sold. It is standard to leave a small cushion of spaces for snow piles in the winter, he said.

“That should be enough,” Bylsma said, adding that historically, about one-third of the students have a vehicle.

The car-lined streets in the Hope College Neighborhood is a concern mentioned numerous times by people who live there.

Homeowners on 12th Street said if there is practice or a game at the soccer stadium, it is near impossible to get in or out of driveways.

Yet Hope officials have not had any formal discussions about a parking structure, Bylsma said, but added they would be open to conversations about it with city leaders.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Bylsma said. “No matter what college or university you go to there will be parking challenges. We feel the parking is sufficient.”

The real challenge is parking behaviors of people, he said. People tend to want to park as close and conveniently as possible to where they want to be “and often people park where they shouldn’t,” he said. “And often times that is what creates the problem.” (Emphasis mine.)

“I see the biggest problem is going to be parking,” City Councilman Wayne Klomparens said Wednesday, adding it was a problem when he went to school there.

Councilman Myron Trethewey suggested allowing parking on only one side of the roads in that neighborhood to help ease congestion.

I rode through campus again today to see how all those parking lots are looking, and I bet you’ve guessed it already:

Hope College - parking lotb

Tom Bylsma, quoted above, nails it: we want to park as close to our destination as we possibly can, and will only choose otherwise if there is a compelling reason to do so.

In addition to all the dedicated student parking lots, there is free street parking everywhere in the city during daytime hours. Much of this parking is blocks closer to the classroom buildings than the parking lots. The streets by the college are, indeed, lined with cars for much of the day.

Hope college - 12th street

Much to the neighbors’ chagrin, there is no disincentive to driving five blocks.

This is actually not a problem that’s difficult on a technical level. It’s been addressed, successfully, in many other places. But it does require us to begin to think a little bit differently about when and how we use our cars in the city. With that said, here are some great options:

Option 1: Meters

This would be a fun experiment. Leave everything precisely the same as it is now, but meter the on-street parking at a reasonable rate (I’ll leave it to the experts to determine what’s reasonable, though parking guru Donald Shoup suggests setting a price that produces 85% occupancy). Given my memories of how far I was willing to walk in college to avoid paying for parking, this might solve whatever problem we have all by itself.

The powerful thing about this option is that it’s revenue-producing. Even though we think of providing street parking as a free service, it’s not. Our streets are built and maintained out of the big bucket of property taxes that we all pay into, so we’re subsidizing all this extra driving and parking as a community (city-wide, not just in this area). Although we could just use the revenue to offset the additional wear-and-tear from the weight of the parked vehicles, this would also be a great opportunity to improve our city’s bikeways as an additional step in solving the parking problem. We’ll talk a little more about that below.

Option 2: Parking districts

Chicago parking pass

Homeowners on the street might not be any too enamored with the idea of meters on their streets, but there’s a tried-and-true workaround here, too – the parking district. The sticker above is still stuck to the windshield of my car from last weekend’s trip to visit my adorable niece (and her wonderful parents) in Chicago. My brother has a resident sticker on his car, and can park anywhere in his neighborhood zone for free. This is a guest pass, which is good for 24 hours and cost them about fifty cents.

(As a side note, maybe someday I’ll tell you guys about how much car ownership costs in Japan. Seven years back, and I still can’t get over how cheap it is here in comparison!)

Option 3: Quality network of bike lanes

Putting a price on parking will deter students who drive five blocks, but presenting a viable alternative to driving is essential for those who live further off-campus. Replacing parking lanes with appropriately-sized bike lanes – ideally, separated from moving traffic – would respect the transportation choices that so many students are already making and be an economic win for the city as a whole, too. I’m hoping to talk about this in more detail in coming weeks, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Rainbow shoes

My friends tell me that the pigtailed toddler in rainbow shoes will be headed off to college before I know it. I hope the city of her choice, the school of her choice, will have set up systems that make active transportation easy. I hope that spending the inordinate amount of money necessary to own and maintain a car will be a choice for her, and not a requirement. I hope that someone has decided to make room for her on the roads if she chooses to travel on two wheels, as she does today. And let’s do the same for our neighbors kids.

Announcing… BIKES IN HOLLAND!!!

It give me great pleasure to announce this year’s spring event:

BIHposter - draft 2

I could hardly be more excited.

This spring, Professor Lee Hardy of Calvin College (my alma mater) will take us on a fascinating ride through the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, two of the world’s leading cities for bicycling.

Professor Hardy
Professor Hardy

Professor Hardy’s inspiring multimedia presentation demonstrates how these cities make way for people on bikes and help them get around in a way that’s fun, easy, and affordable – for everyone!

After he answers your questions, we’ll turn our attention to our own community here in Holland, Michigan. Elisa Hoekwater, author of the greater Holland region’s new non-motorized plan, will offer a brief update on where things stand around here. Your input is welcome!

Delicious cookies and coffee from Simpatico Coffee will be available for you to enjoy.

The event will be held in Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church’s brand-spanking-new fellowship room. It’s cozy in the best kind of way, and you’re going to love it.

Join us on Saturday, May 10 at 7:00 p.m. to celebrate Bikes in Holland!

Tickets are $10 and are available online now!

Few things are ever accomplished by one person working alone.

I need YOUR help! Here’s what you can do:

  • E-mail a friend today. Take just a second right now to copy this link – http://wp.me/p2MikN-BQ – and send it to a friend. It will bring them to this page, so they can read about this great event for themselves.
  • Join the Event Team. There’s still plenty to do, from publicity to event set-up to considering ways to help these ideas gain traction in our community.
  • Put us in contact with potential sponsors. I would still like to have a few more sponsors to help underwrite this event. Our primary sponsorship levels range from $50 to $250, and we also have a low-cost ticket sponsorship option.
  • And of course, buy your own tickets right away! Here’s the link again:
  • Contact me at tulip.lane@outlook.com with any questions or for more information. This is going to be so much fun – I hope to see you there!

    Advocacy Day Update! Truth and Consequences and Fun.

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    Today I’m joining transportation advocates from around the state in Trans4M’s Advocacy Day at the state Capital. And I have to admit… I’m having FUN.

    First observation: The House Office Building smells exactly the same as it did 10 years ago, and the sergeants-of-arms are also the same. It’s a little bit uncanny.

    Going into these meetings was really interesting. The representatives and their staffs were gracious and attentive, and the meetings were quick and efficient. These are busy people, and I personally appreciated both their willingness to meet with us and their candid assessment of the proposals we were bringing to them. I’d expected a lot more beating around the bush than I thought we got.

    Rep. Haveman rejected the vulnerable user legislation – sad – but his reasoning for this was interesting. He spent a great deal of time on the corrections committee, looking at how to reduce incarceration rates across the state. As we know, it’s incredibly expensive to hold someone in jail. It disrupts the flow of their lives (sometimes irreparably), is expensive, and a felony conviction makes it extremely difficult to find employment afterwards. In his perspective, there are two victims in a car-pedestrian crash, so introducing a new felony for something that any of us could do without malicious intent was just a non-starter.

    First of all, does that bit – something that any of us could do – sound at all familiar? We talked about this just a couple weeks ago when we discussed mistakes you can’t take back.

    So I get where he’s coming from; we have more inmates than college students in Michigan and the social costs probably outweigh even the heavy financial costs. Where I differ with him, however, is in concluding that we ought not to create consequences for additional misbehavior – and I, for one, consider inattentive driving to be misbehavior, even if I know that I could do this as easily as anyone else.

    It raises a valuable question, I think. We talked a little bit about broader official responses in the post about mistakes – that in the case of any fatality, a team of safety experts could analyze why the problem happened and then work to remedy the problem. But what’s an appropriate penalty for a driver who injures or kills a pedestrian or person on a bicycle? We do distinguish between manslaughter and murder by statute.

    Japan has interesting penalties for people driving who hit people walking. I don’t know all the details, but you’re required to write an official letter of apology and visit the victim in the hospital.

    What do you think? Does the Representative’s argument hold water with you? In your opinion, what should the penalties be for a driver who hits a person walking or biking?

    How to Get Healthy and Lose Weight

    DSCF5326Fall. The first visit to the apple orchard collides with the first confrontation with unforgiving blue jeans. Penance for the indiscretions of the summer diet – the campfire s’mores, the samples on the wine trail, the perfectly grilled burgers – comes swiftly.

    Here in Michigan, we are the fifth-heaviest people in the country. (I don’t think they’ve highlighted that in the Pure Michigan campaign yet.) Overweight isn’t unique to our fair state, of course: Less than 30% of the American population maintains a healthy weight. There are plenty of reasons for this, but we’re going to focus on just one today.

    We’re building our communities to make good health hard.

    If your own blue jeans confrontation leads you to join the Weight Watchers program, you’ll find yourself invited to attend bonus sessions after the first two meetings. One focuses on your daily routines, the other on your physical spaces. These two things – routines and spaces – are a constant refrain at meetings. So what is it about the spaces that we find ourselves in that concerns the nation’s leading weight-loss program so much?

    “Setting up your environment for success, wherever you are, is a really powerful tool” (here). (Tweet that.)

    Tips for adjusting your spaces at home to be more amenable to weight loss include things like putting tempting food on a top shelf so it’s out of sight and pre-cutting fruits and veggies to make them easier to grab. It’s no magic bullet, but it’s about making desirable outcomes easier and undesirable ones harder.

    When it comes to good health, the spaces outside our home are every bit as important as the spaces inside.

    Experts say that the top barrier to getting enough exercise is finding time (here). So let’s take a look at a couple different options for getting 30 minutes of daily exercise.

    10 minutes: walk child to school
    10 minutes: walk home
    5 minutes: walk to neighborhood coffee shop/work/grocery store
    5 minutes: walk home

    A thirty minute time commitment for thirty minutes of exercise.

    10 minutes: drive to gym
    10 minutes: get inside, get changed, get to equipment
    30 minutes: exercise
    20 minutes: shower, change, do hair and make-up again (guys, subtract 10 minutes)
    10 minutes: drive home

    Eighty minutes total time commitment for thirty minutes of exercise – in my experience that’s about right for a trip to the gym. And although we can exercise without going to the gym, all intentional exercise has the same weakness: each and every one of them involves going out of our way to make it happen. Which makes it all to easy to blow off on a rough day.

    Interestingly enough, according to a study conducted by several researchers at the University of Utah women in walkable neighborhoods weigh an average of 6 pounds less than those in sprawling ones, and men an average of 10 pounds less.

    Depending on your weight, that could be a pant size.

    So what do we do?

    Here are two ideas I’ve tried.

    1. Have a bias toward walkability.

    Regardless of where we live, we can take advantage of the walkable neighborhoods we pass through.

    Thanks to the housing downtown, I’ve spent the past six years living in a decidedly suburban neighborhood. During this time, I’ve chosen to do something that’s like the “parking in the furthest space from the entrance to get more steps in” drill taken to the next level.

    Here’s one example of what this looks like. CJ’s school is in a walkable neighborhood. When I pick her up, I act like I live there. We may walk to the park, or to the tienda two blocks away to pick up dinner. I park once, then walk where we need to go.

    Do you have a place you normally go where you could walk or ride your bike? Think of a good possibility, then commit to trying it three times. Was it what you expected? Easier? Harder? Regardless, if you got some exercise it’s a win.

    2. Move house.

    Yup, this is extreme. It’s also what we call a big win. By choosing a home base in a walkable neighborhood, we can forever make every single decision to get somewhere by active transportation easier.

    We’re in the process of doing this right now, and are evaluating neighborhoods based on walk/bike time to school, church, coffee shops (as you may have gathered, that’s a big one for me), the library, and parks. We’re also considering traffic speeds on various city streets, amount of truck traffic, and how easy (or difficult) important streets are to cross. If our city had bike lanes, that would be a big factor, too. We’ve found Walkscore to be a good tool to start with, but some of our biggest revelations have been in conversations at the park and walks through the neighborhoods ourselves.

    The way we build our communities has an affect on many facets of our lives, and good health is one of them.

    How do the spaces in your neighborhood affect your life – and what can you do to make them work for you? Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail me at tulip dot lane at outlook dot com. And if you’d like to see more like this, remember to sign up at the top of the page to have posts delivered by e-mail, or like our Facebook page!

    You may also like: Ten Reasons for Your Child to Walk to School.

    Reimagining Downtown

    This book I’ve been reading has me imagining. Every street I walk down, I see something new.

    In my mind, I’m walking downtown, headed west on Eighth Street toward River.

    This map is so ugly. Here we are, going for a walk!
    This map is so ugly. Here we are, going for a walk!

    On the ground, it looks something like this…

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    A one-way street with slow traffic, angled parking, and wide sidewalks. It’s a pedestrian’s dream. But it ends, at River, like this…

    All three lanes of glory. The corner of 8th Street and River.
    All three lanes of glory. The corner of 8th Street and River.

    Personally, I rarely walk down River if I can help it. The speed limit is around 45, and a little bitty curb is the only thing that separates me from the fast-moving traffic. Not compatible with a willful toddler.

    Now that’s crappy. Here we have this fantastic downtown – I mean really, it’s so good that we welcome 500,00 visitors during Tulip Time each year and even Kathie Lee Gifford loves us – and we’ve hemmed it in on three sides with thoroughfares! That’s right, out-of-towners, it’s not just River… 7th Street and 9th Street are also three-lane one-way headaches.

    We’ve created a beautiful, beautiful peninsula downtown. But it’s really hard for a peninsula to infect the surrounding community, with, well, its awesomeness.

    Yeah, I watch a lot of cartoons.

    So let’s imagine for a few minutes that these streets are just a little bit different.

    A caveat here: Some of these would be easy changes; some far less so. I know that. But for a few minutes, just let your mind wander a little bit.

    Now rather than the unfriendly streetscapes above, let’s imagine that they look more like this…

    Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan - photo courtesy of my brother, Ben
    Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan – photo courtesy of my brother, Ben

    Or this…

    In the city of Charlotte, NC; click for source website.

    Or even something like this…

    Poughkeepsie, New York. Lots of great photos if you click through to the slide show.

    Flip back and forth between those photos a couple times. The basic structure is the same, of course; they’re all traditional downtowns. But some are a lot more pedestrian-friendly and pleasant than others. Some streets looks like they would be nice places to walk, live, run errands. Ours is kind of a non-place to get through.

    There are SO many options as to what to do with the area between the buildings, even when you do have a lot of traffic to move through an area.

    So instead of getting to the current end of the downtown and facing a torrent of traffic, there’s a reasonable street. Maybe it has bike lanes; maybe it has parallel parking on either side creating a barrier between my kids and this fast-moving traffic. Maybe it’s shaded by trees. I think I’ll go around the corner and wander a little more, past a few more shops… my downtown has just expanded for the cost of a little street paint.

    Our awesome downtown is built around the automobile, of course. Check out this map of Holland’s downtown parking – all the blue boxes are parking lots. There’s more parking than storefront! Necessary to a certain point, but I wonder what the return for investment is there.

    City of Holland public parking lots
    City of Holland public parking lots

    So what about this?

    The expanded downtown... and me at the park with my grandchild and cane. I'm a little bit realistic.
    The expanded downtown… and me at the park with my grandchild and cane. I’m a little bit realistic.

    What if we added on-street parking to the revised 7th and 9th streets? And what if instead of having so many crazy surface parking lots, we made space for parking only in the middle of blocks, with storefronts facing the street? What if we had three times the downtown that we do now? How awesome would that be? Can you imagine just how vibrant our downtown would be if we tripled its size, made it accessible to the rest of the neighborhood, slowed traffic so that you could ride bikes with your kids all around town…

    Can you imagine?