It should be obvious, but I am speaking as a resident, not as an employee of the city.
Five years ago I wrote a long and detailed post making the case for a protected bike path on Ann Arbor’s North Maple Road. The city added bike lanes shortly after, which were much better than the prior situation and not as good as what I’d hoped for.
Since then I moved across the city to Hutchins Avenue. After years of driving, biking, and walking around the neighborhood, I’ve realized it’s an ideal candidate for a protected bike facility.
I’ve meant to write this post for a long time but was burdened by the idea that it had to be as robust as what I’d written before. That changed when I listened to episode 73 of the Ann Arbor AF podcast: Civic Therapy, Transportation edition. It reminded me of the need to simply do what’s right. I might get details wrong here that a transportation planner would fix in implementation – I’m not a pro – but here’s what I’m dreaming of and some of the reasons it would work.
I’ll take any piece of this I can get, but at its best, this would be a protected bike facility beginning at the south end of Hutchins, at Stadium Boulevard. It would run north to Davis or Princeton, at which point it would jog one block east and continue north on Fifth St. Then it would run up to Bach Elementary. From there users could pick up the William St Bikeway and head into downtown.
Both Hutchins and Fifth are in need of resurfacing and a bikeway spanning both would connect outlying neighborhoods to the downtown network of protected bike lanes.
Here’s what the full version would look like. It might make more sense to connect Hutchins and Fifth on Davis, given that Davis is wider than Princeton and it’s a four-way stop.
Location & Connectivity
- Schools: this provides a safe route for students and staff to ride to Pioneer High School. A friend of mine who teaches at Pioneer rides to work via Fifth-Princeton-Hutchins. It would also provide a safe route to and from Bach Elementary School.
- Parallel to Seventh: for people unwilling to use the narrow bike lanes on Seventh – which is most people – this would be a low-stress alternative just one block over. I see many bike commuters and joy riders on Hutchins and Fifth already.
- Connects Neighborhoods to Downtown: on the podcast linked above, Donnell Wyche imagines a protected bike network that would enable his kids to bike from their home on Scio Church Road to the downtown library to play the Summer Game. This would get most of the way there, as it almost links up with the buffered bike lanes on Seventh between Stadium and Scio Church.
The Physical Street
- Resurfacing needed: both Hutchins and Fifth have stretches rated as “very poor” on the city’s pavement conditions dashboard and the bikeway installation can coincide with their resurfacing.
- Plenty of room: Hutchins is wide, with parking on both sides of the road for most blocks. Residences have driveways and as a result the street parking is underutilized. The same is true for Fifth. To make room for the bikeway, parking could be removed on one side with no meaningful impact on residents.
- Addresses a sidewalk gap: currently there’s no sidewalk on the east side of Hutchins north of Potter and no sidewalk on the west side south of Potter. A child riding to school on the sidewalk has to cross the street here just to continue.
Earlier this year I photographed Hutchins Avenue looking both ways from its intersection with Davis. Behold the empty parking spaces:
Note that Davis would need a stop sign at this intersection, as would Snyder at Hutchins. Both of those would be Vision Zero improvements whether or not this bikeway is built.
- What side of the road / what kind of protection? I defer to the experts.
- “What about home football games?” I have some thoughts – people will be able to charge more for yard spots – but ultimately, I believe it’s foolish to design our built infrastructure around an event that happens a handful of times per year.
- Does this go too far? Some of my neighbors won’t want this. That’s okay, the street belongs to the public, not the homeowners. They will get used to it. And it benefits them, slowing traffic, quieting the street, and increasing neighborhood property values.
- Does this not go far enough? I think there’s a good case to be made for giving this neighborhood the superblock treatment (see this series on superblocks in Barcelona). A portion of relevant summary from this abstract from Nature:
The Barcelona superblock forms an urban unit made up of nine (3 × 3) urban blocks with interior and exterior streets and is characterized by enabling a transformation of the interior streets for new shared urban uses (Fig. 1a)15. In Barcelona, a speed limit of 10 or 20 km/h was applied to interior streets, and they were altered so that superblocks cannot be crossed by car, thus preventing through traffic13The potential of implementing superblocks for multifunctional street use in cities
Applied here, that would mean one could not drive directly on Hutchins from Princeton to Stadium. Hutchins would be reconfigured for play, gardening, wildlife, etc. and the speed limit would be 6-12 mph. I personally think this would be appropriate for my street and many streets in Ann Arbor. We would reconnect with each other and the natural world.
However, I recognize that Ann Arbor is probably a ways off from its first superblock pilot and that it should probably be neighborhood-driven (maybe by a coalition that has formed to demand traffic calming measures?). It would significantly change the experience of living on those streets.
The Hutchins Avenue Bikeway, however, is not radical or highly experimental. It would be a benefit to people from all over the fourth and fifth wards. The city has committed to Vision Zero: no more traffic deaths or serious injuries. It has also passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency. In light of those priorities, infrastructure like this is just common sense.
It’s an exciting time for getting around in Ann Arbor. I see commuters and cargo bikes and e-bikes on these streets in ever-greater numbers. First-class infrastructure like this would feed the virtuous cycle and get even more people out there.
I’ll have a kid attending Pioneer starting in 2025. I hope she’ll be able to bike there on something like this.