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Michigan DOT gives bikes 12-feet of space on state highway

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 7th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

12 feet for bikes on a state highway.
(Photo: Michigan DOT)

The Michigan Department of Transportation has done something pretty extraordinary for a state DOT. They've recently installed a 12-foot wide buffered bike lane on a one mile stretch of Northwestern Highway (Hwy 10). The new bikeway includes a five-foot bike travel lane and a seven-foot buffer from other traffic.

I find this project notable for several reasons: DOTs are not known for giving such ample width for bikes (much less on a state highway); it shows the power of having a good complete streets policy; it's more significant than anything I can recall ODOT doing; the 12 feet of was wider than even advocates had asked for; and since the space was already available (it was previously a paved shoulder) the cost was only about $22,000.

A reader shared a video MDOT posted to YouTube about the project.

This project also made me think of the recent discussion we had about an ODOT project on outer Sandy Blvd. That project was a complete rebuild of the roadway and ODOT striped in six-foot, standard bike lanes (without a buffer). That was a very disappointing result and many people (including me) felt like it was missed opportunity to create even better bike conditions.

It'd be great to see ODOT do something like this on a future repaving/rebuild project. Anyone know of good candidates? M-bike.org says one of the reasons this came about was because people had contacted MDOT asking for it.

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  • Andyc of Linnton December 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    That's incredible!
    What if Highway 30 was like this? My winter flab can only dream.
    Sandy, of course, is a great candidate with its wide shoulders.
    And man, giving MORE space than asked for? It boggles the mind.

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  • Allan December 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    The cool thing about this is that you have enough width for a skinny parking lane for cars in the buffer

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  • 9watts December 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    It doesn't have to be a zero sum game. Didn't we see something similar on Barbur Blvd? I realize that wasn't this wide, but if our ancestors paved roads much wider than they needed to, then what (in principle) is keeping us now from carving off whatever's extra for bikes?

    I of course don't think this is a prudent strategy because it elides the roads that aren't already overwide, but it might explain why so much was given over to bikes here. The ratio of path to buffer, though, is kind of weird, no?

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  • Adam December 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Wow. This is amazing! I would like to see some bicycle stencil symbols in the bikelane, but other than that - hat's off to Michigan DOT!!

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  • matt picio December 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Hopefully MDOT will do more of these - M-24 (Telegraph Road) would be a good start, or Gratiot (M-3) north of Hall Road, or Groesbeck. Once upon a time (back in the day!), Lots of Michigan roads in the suburbs had wide, paved or partially-paved shoulders. Most of them (Ryan, Dequindere, Mound, Rochester Rd, Shoenherr, Hayes, etc) added 2 more traffic lanes in the 1980s-2000s. The cool thing is that if MDOT and the various cities of SE Michigan ever decided to put the arterials on a road diet, there are thousands of lane-miles of road which could become instant bikeways.

    Some major roadways in Metro Detroit (where this project is) have 200'-300'+ right of ways. Portland planners would kill to have the kind of space these arterials have lying around all over the place. SE Michigan has tremendous opportunities for transit and bikes if they just take advantage of it. We'll see - the car is still king there.

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    • matt picio December 7, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      BTW, The Portland area road most like Northwestern Highway in this stretch would be 99W out past King City.

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    • Todd Scott December 8, 2012 at 11:04 pm

      We've already worked with MDOT fora road diet on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. There are significant road diets occurring through out the city of Detroit. We are moving forward with another MDOT buffered bike lane connecting Warren and Detroit. We're now talking about potential cycletracks on state roads in the city, too.

      That said, outside of Detroit and the older suburbs, there is very limited opportunity for road diets on arterials due to current ADTs. High gas prices or changing demographics might change that.

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  • EG December 7, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I grew up in MI and was back a few weeks ago and happened to see this bike lane. The main issue appears to be that the speeds on this road a very fast and most people in Michigan have no concept of a bicycle as a mode of transit. They are a LONG way from being like Portland...hence why I left long ago.

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    • matt picio December 8, 2012 at 7:23 am

      55mph on Northwestern Hwy in that stretch. The real tests will be this winter. Will MDOT plow the bike lane as well as the road? Will the markings remain visible in that situation? Will MDOT repaint the markings in the spring? Will they keep it swept? These are all VERY open-ended questions. It looks fantastic NOW, in the dry Michigan autumn, but how will it look after a Michigan winter? After 5? Minnesota they are not, and the next 6-9 months will be the real test of their resolve.

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      • Another Doug December 8, 2012 at 10:09 am

        Excellent questions. This approach has the potential to push cyclists further to the right into all the crap that accumulates on the shoulder of roads and if a cyclist is hit while riding in the buffer lane, then of course, it will be their own fault.

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      • Chad December 9, 2012 at 8:49 pm

        I do worry how many right hooks will occur with cyclists even further out of the line of vision of drivers. This stretch of hwy features the infamous "Michigan Left" if I recall correctly. No left turns, only right turns for all turning traffic.

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        • matt picio December 11, 2012 at 6:22 am

          Chad - I doubt it will affect right hooks much - Northwestern is the divided highway, "Michigan lefts" actually *are* a left turn on that road. Every road it crosses is a non-divided highway with one possible exception way further out. The line-of-sight on NW Hwy is practically unbroken, especially in that area, and the bikes are only 7' further away on a road with at least 30-50' until the nearest line of vegetation. The main issue for cyclists on this road is the massive speed differential and short reaction time for drivers.

          Effectively, this is a rural road in the middle of the suburbs, combining the worst of both worlds. Anything which further separates the bike traffic has many more benefits than drawbacks.

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    • matt picio December 8, 2012 at 7:25 am

      By way of disclosure, I was born in Michigan and lived there for 25 years. I go back every year or two and sometimes do some riding.

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  • Dan December 10, 2012 at 10:45 am

    A road diet was just performed in La Pine on US 97 by ODOT in October. There is a 6' buffer and a 6' bike lane through the City.

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  • Steven Schindler, PE, PTOE December 12, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    If I was riding on that shoulder, I would be ride in the "buffer lane" (approx. 1' left of the stripe dividing the "buffer lane" and the 5' marked bicycle lane, for better visibility and the bicycle lane portion will just fill up with dirt and debris over time since it is away from the vehicular traffic. By the way, I'm a Professional Engineer and Professional Traffic Operations Engineer who has designed many bicycle facilities over the years.

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