Sept. 7 2016 09:57 AM

Current BRT plans throw bikes inside — and under — the bus

A few intrepid commuters share the right lane of Michigan Avenue with car traffice, but most cyclists take the sidewalk or an alternate route. Current designs for CATA's BRT don't include bike lanes from downtown to Frandor.
Lawrence Cosentino/City Pulse

Tim Potter has been waiting for decades for safe bike lanes along the Lansing area’s central corridor, from the state Capitol to MSU to the Meridian Mall, and so have many other bicyclists.

But Potter, a member of the Tri-County Bicycle Association’s Advocacy Committee, isn’t encouraged by the current plan for CATA’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit system. On the contrary, it has him thinking about mortality.

“For my remaining years as a cyclist, and for my kids, it would be nice if it were a friendlier, safer place to bicycle,” Potter said. “We’re hoping for on-road facilities, and not be looking at another generation or two.”

Bicyclists hoping to find a multi-modal transportation vision of the future on CATA’s BRT web page can read it and weep: The project will provide “the same accommodations for bicyclists that exist today.”

That means pretty much nada, from the “Bicycle Friendly City” of Lansing all the way to the Meridian Mall.

The only exception is a half-mile of new, buffered on-road bike lanes along Michigan Avenue from Frandor to Harrison Road, which CATA is required by the feds to keep or replace.

The current BRT plan is not without bikefriendly features. Stations will be sheltered, with bike racks, and bicyclists will be able to roll their bikes from bus-level platforms onto BRT buses and store them inside while they ride the bus.

“That’s wonderful,” John Lindenmayer, president of the League of Michigan Bicyclists, said. “But it’s not a replacement for people who actually want to bicycle along the corridor.”

When the half-mile Frandor-to-MSU stretch of Michigan Avenue was repaved two years ago, the Tri-County Bicycle Association successfully lobbied the state Department of Transportation to put in bike lanes. The proposed BRT project, in its current form, would eliminate even those. As a replacement, the CATA design team is proposing a bike lane that threads through the grassy median along that same stretch.

That idea doesn’t impress Lindenmayer.

“It’s not viable,” he said. “Riding in the middle of Michigan Avenue is not a leisure activity. It looks pretty, but it’s rife with problems — you have to cross the street to get onto it and there are lots of intersections and traffic turning across.”

Lindenmayer wants to see buffered bike lanes or separated bike paths along the corridor “at the very least.”

At a meeting last August, CATA assistant director Debbie Alexander told the Meridian Twp. board that CATA “will be engaged in the decision-making regarding bicycle facilities being incorporated into the right-of-way after the environmental assessment is complete and federal approval is given” for the project.

Lansing Transportation Engineer Andy Kilpatrick has long been an ally to bicyclists at City Hall. He said the city is “looking at options to accommodate bikes along the entire corridor,” but he didn’t say how.

The Tri-County Bicycle Association has had “a lot of back and forth” with CATA on the BRT, according to Advocacy committee chairman Michael Unsworth.

Unsworth pointed out that Lansing, East Lansing and Meridian Township all have adopted Complete Streets policies calling for safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation. For bicyclists, that usually includes bike lanes or wide paved shoulders.

“Our position on the BRT is simple,” Unsworth said. “We just think CATA should abide by those policies. You guys are smart. Make it work.”

Potter said the advocacy committee has discussed the idea of letting bicyclists share the dedicated BRT lane with buses. To East Lansing Councilman Erik Altmann, an avid bicyclist, sharing the dedicated lane sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

“You want to encourage people to ride bikes,” Altmann said. “Is the bus going to pass the bike? It sounds awful. It’s almost better to be in traffic.”

Lindenmayer said there’s also a potential problem with “hop-scotching,” as bikes pass stopped buses, which then pull away and pass the bikes, and so on.

Last November, State Rep. Sam Singh cosponsored a bill that would slap a $100 fine on anyone using a dedicated bus lane, bicyclists included. That doesn’t make Potter and other bicycle advocates feel any better.

“On the one hand, they’re trying to block us legally, and on the other, they’re asking ‘how can we safely accommodate you?’” Potter said. “To us, it seemed like they were speaking out of both sides of their mouth.”

CATA and Lansing planners have also discussed marking and improving alternate bike routes along the corridor, such as Jerome Street in Lansing and Albert Street in East Lansing.

Altmann and Lindenmayer both pointed out that bicyclists, like water, have a way of seeking the shortest route from A to B.

“A lot of bicyclists are going to ride in that BRT [dedicated] lane if nothing is provided on the pavement,” Lindenmayer said. “Or if they bike in the vehicle lane, drivers will be annoyed and yell at them to get in the ‘empty’ bus lane. Everybody will be frustrated.”

Subscribe to Our Newsletter