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Maple Road Overhaul Plan Could Worsen Congestion, Improve Bike Use

A plan presented at the Birmingham City Commission meeting Monday would narrow the road from four lanes to three between Eton and Woodward and would install bike lanes in each direction.

Birmingham city commissioners are looking for resident feedback on a plan that has the potential to change the daily commute for many Birmingham residents — and perhaps make congestion even more complicated for drivers.

At their meeting Monday night, . Bike lanes would be installed in both directions.

The plans were submitted as part of an attempt to reinvent Maple Road using the principles of Complete Streets, with commissioners looking to make the road work better for cars and be safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

“The East Maple Road corridor is a significant resource for vehicular traffic, not only for trips generated to and from Birmingham, but for the surrounding communities as well,” said a report prepared by engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff/LSL Planning.

According to the report, 1,000 cars travel through that corridor on Maple during peak afternoon rush hour every day, while 800 vehicles travel through it during morning rush hour. Comparatively, a similar 1,000 cars travel on 14 Mile during that same period, while 1,000-1,500 cars travel on Big Beaver at Adams Road.

Plan could make congestion worse; traffic expected to divert to side streets

The engineering report recommends the following the plan as being the most practical, best for pedestrians and cyclists and the most cost-effective:

  • Three total lanes, with one lane in each direction and a center left-turn lane. There will also be a right-turn lane at Adams Road.
  • A 5-foot sidewalk on either side of Maple Road.
  • Enhanced transit and pedestrian amenities, such as landing pads and/or benches
  • A 5-foot bike lane between Woodward Avenue and Eton.

The report cites Parsons Brinckerhoff traffic engineers as saying the East Maple Road corridor currently functions at a Service Level C or D, or slightly less than acceptable. 

However, by improving conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, many of these service levels — indicators of congestion — are actually expected to decrease with three lanes. According to the report, the roads would come in at Service Level D or F under the new plan.

To make up for the congestion, traffic engineers predict that the corridor will lose 16 percent of its daily traffic with drivers choosing different routes. According to a model prepared by the Southeast Michigan Council of Government (SEMCOG), about 30 percent of that traffic will divert to nearby mile streets, such as Big Beaver or 14 Mile Road, as well as to city streets such as Derby, Eton and Lincoln Avenue. 

Still, in a final analysis measuring land use, vehicular traffic, pedestrian, transit and bicycle use, as well as cost, the three-lane plan scored the highest among seven other options presented to the commission.

Commissioners concerned with safety, bike lanes

Commissioners were concerned with several parts of the plan, including whether narrowing the road would make things safer for residents.

“We’ve taken the most difficult street to educate ourself,” Commissioner Scott Moore acknowledged. “But by making the intersection (at Maple and Adams) worse, are we improving (residents’) lifestyle?”

Others were concerned with a bike lane that Commissioner Gordon Rinschler said could become “a bike lane to nowhere.”

“Putting a bike lane in there seems to be asking for trouble,” Commissioner Rackeline Hoff said. “I don’t think every road needs a bike lane.”

Still, Planning Board member and civil engineer Scott Clein approached the commission in support of the three-lane plan, noting that while it makes an already bad roadway slightly worse for vehicles, conditions vastly improve for everyone else.

In addition, Clein noted that reducing the number of lanes from four to three will slow traffic down, a key to improving resident safety.

“Complete Streets is more than a toolbox,” he said. “It’s philosophical decision in how a city shows what it believes in.”

Resident Dorothy Conrad, who lives on the east side of town, agreed.

“At least experiment (with the plan),” she said. “You don’t have anything to lose except for a few dollars.”

Public hearing set for Feb. 13

The only other alternative plan recommended by Parsons Brinckerhoff Monday night called for using Maple Road’s existing four lanes, updating the 5-foot sidewalk and posting alternate bike routes along Maple Road.

While not officially giving the green light to either plan, commissioners authorized city engineer Paul O’Meara to begin designing a 41-foot roadway, which can be altered to fit whichever final plan is picked. Meanwhile, a public hearing has been set for Feb. 13 to gain resident feedback on the project.

dredk December 10, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Curious about one thing. The buses? No biggie though. We all hurry too much anyway. Aren't we a bunch of whiners! It's embarrassing. All those gas guzzling SUV's with one person in them. That's Birmingham and that's our reputation. For shame.
dredk December 10, 2011 at 08:47 PM
LET THE CIVIL ENGINEERS DO THEIR JOBS!! There's a great deal of research that has gone into understand the flow of traffic. Sometimes the optimum solution (in a mathematical modeling sense) is not the one that the average person would immediately think of. Show them some respect.
TRM December 12, 2011 at 05:52 PM
I am a taxpayer and a cyclist. If I pay more taxes than you, does that give my opinion a greater weight than your opinion? I don't think that you should take on the cyclists on that basis.
Sus L December 12, 2011 at 07:58 PM
I think it's great that everyone is voicing their opinions. I agree with dredk. We should ultimately let the civil engineers do their job. However I don't think it is disrespectful to anyone when someone voices their personal opinion. The article states that they (being the City of Birmingham and Patch) are looking for resident feedback and that is exactly what is happening here. Everyone should look at the big picture before getting nasty with one another.
Frederick Acomb January 25, 2012 at 11:03 PM
I am delighted that the city is proposing this. I hope they implement it. It would be a mistake not to. It's time for us to stop acting like we're from some backwater of the Midwest. Cities people actually want to visit -- San Francisco, Manhattan, Seattle, Paris, London, and on and on -- have long been implementing aggressive traffic calming measures. Instead of putting the focus on "moving metal" these cities and their traffic calming measures put the focus on pedestrians, and on folks who actually live and work where the streets are located. Maple between Woodward and Eaton is a blight on the city. It is hideous. Walking on the street is a loud and unpleasant experience. The cars travel well beyond the speed limit, and we can't afford to police it nonstop. Try driving at the posted speed limit and listen to the horns and observe the hand gestures. There may be some drivers who are frustrated that narrowing the street will make it harder for them to break the law with excessive speeds, but that is fine with me. A large percentage of them are from out of town in any event. Slowing down a notch or two is a good thing, not a bad one, and if Birmingham wants to be a pleasant place that non-Michiganders like to visit, then the city should implement traffic calming whenever they have the opportunity. So, good for the city. I am behind this.

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