Making the Roads Safer for Everyone in Michigan


Image of a young man standing beside a bicycle in traffic.

In building communities, engineers and transportation planners are challenged to balance safety for all transportation users on the roadway. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle drivers all must be considered to create a safe transportation infrastructure. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) did a recent study, “Sharing the Road: Optimizing Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety and Vehicle Mobility” in which they had planners and designers from all levels of government look for ways to make Michigan roads safer, in particular for pedestrians and bicyclists.

When they looked at the data from 2005-2010, they realized that over 750 pedestrians and 150 bicyclists were killed in automobile crashes. In addition, when looking at injuries, the numbers rose to 7,000 pedestrians and 5,500 bicyclists. Fatal pedestrian and bicycle crashes accounted for approximately 15% of fatal crashes that occurred in Michigan during this time period. MDOT thus started an initiative to optimize pedestrian and bicycle safety and vehicle mobility through an intense review of the multimodal aspects of the MDOT transportation network.

Many times, when agencies start talking about making the roads safer the public starts to get concerned that it will have a negative impact on traffic flow, making their drive times longer. However, in all reality, safety improvements most often reduce travel times. The MDOT set out to create the best guide possible to help their planners and safety engineers find new safety improvements. Led by John LaPlante, the vice president and director of Traffic Engineering at T.Y. Lin International, the team did just that. By reviewing information from the most advanced cities for bicycling around the world, they put together a document that provides cutting edge advice for improving conditions in Michigan.

John and his team created a “Best Design Practices for Walking and Bicycling in Michigan” guide for the engineers and transportation planners. The full document looks at over 40 different safety improvements that can be made to help keep the roads safer for everyone. The guide details each improvement and indicates its potential impact on crash rates and ease of travel for motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Many of these improvements can be added to existing roadways quickly and easily, for a low cost, and often with little or no impact on vehicle mobility.

Michigan has had great success implementing the improvements outlined in the guide in updating the existing infrastructure. One application MDOT is using already from the guide is painting bicycle lanes green at intersections along the routes to alert drivers to bicycle traffic. In addition they are adding more bike lanes, as research has shown bike lanes can reduce bicycle crashes by 50%. Another benefit of the guide, is that it is now also part of the planning process for new roads, bridges, and walkways. MDOT is also actively promoting the guide to all the other cities and counties in the state.

If you would like to learn more, the Best Design Practices guide is available online at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/MDOT_Research_Report_RC1572_Part6_387521_7.pdf

The final report is also available online at http://www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,4616,7-151-9622_11045_24249-279311--,00.html

Valerie Lefler
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 3 – Public and Active Transportation