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On a Ride Through Rochester, Lessons About Accommodating Bikes

The city streets were the classroom for a recent exploration of designing more bike-friendly roads and intersections.

Most Rochester residents agree on two things: First, the city has great trails for walking and biking. Second, the city has a great downtown.

Where there's room for improvement, though, is in finding creative ways to bring those two features — the ones that many say make Rochester such a desirable place to live — more in sync with each other.

"Our challenge is how to get people off the trails and into downtown and then back to the trails again," said Jaymes Vettraino, Rochester's city manager. "They are parallel features of the town — but yet separate."

This challenge was one reason Vettraino and other city leaders spent a recent fall day in Rochester with planners, engineers, architects and public safety officials from across southeast Michigan, riding on the city's trails and downtown streets to brainstorm ideas for designing a more bike-friendly town.

Touring Rochester on 2 wheels

The Michigan Department of Transportation, in conjunction with Oakland County Parks, Oakland County Planning and Economic Development and the cities of Rochester, Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills, sponsored the all-day course.

Called "Training Wheels: On-Road Bicycle Facility Design Training," it involved classroom instruction and a six-mile bike tour of the city. (I went along for the ride and wrote this .)

John LaPlante and Tim Gustafson, considered national experts on designing bike-friendly cities, led the course.

"Bicycles belong on all of these roadways," said LaPlante, pointing to Runyon Road, Main Street and neighborhood streets on a map of the city. "Every road out there is a shared roadway. The ideas for making them safer for bicyclists are not costly — they're just common sense."

The course took riders from the Stoney Creek Schoolhouse, the site of the workshop, around Rochester. It included:

  • riding alongside traffic on Runyon Road
  • winding south on Wyngate Drive through several neighborhoods
  • heading west on Parkdale Road and over the Stoney Creek bridge
  • taking part of the Clinton River Trail under Rochester Road
  • heading up Main Street, riding with the traffic through downtown Rochester.

Ideas for a bike-friendly Rochester

The various paths along the route were designed to illustrate some of the challenges bikers face.

On Runyon Road, a semitrailer rode close behind participants. On the Clinton River Trail, there wasn't an easy way to find downtown.

In the end, workshop leaders and participants worked together to propose a few solutions for making the trek a little easier.

Some of the suggestions:

  • Consider bike lanes. According to LaPlante, sidewalks are the most dangerous place for bicyclists to ride. Without a bike lane on a city street, however, some bicyclists do choose the sidewalk, where they are prone to injury by cars leaving driveways or at intersections, where cars pull in front of a sidewalk at a stop sign. "Bike lanes are self-enforcing," LaPlante said. 
  • Consider a road diet. LaPlante suggests converting four-lane thoroughfares to two-lane roads with a center turn lane and room for bike lanes. "A center turn lane reduces crashes; it makes cars slow down."
  • Encourage drivers to slow down. The speed limits don't necessarily need to be lowered for drivers to slow down; instead, LaPlante suggested roads be designed with streetscape features, such as planters, to make drivers naturally slow down.
  • Narrow the lanes to make room for bikes. Ten-foot and 11-foot lanes are just as safe as 12-foot lanes on urban thoroughfares with speed limits of less than 45 mph, LaPlante said.
  • Make a place for bikes to park. You'll invite bicyclists to leave the trails and come downtown when you put in a bike corral, he said.

Deputy City Manager Nik Banda attended the workshop and said he was encouraged by the lessons he learned about roadway design.

"This let me know we're moving in the right direction," Banda said.

Share your thoughts about making Rochester more bike-friendly during a special Community Visioning Session on Oct. 27. The public is invited to attend the brainstorming session, which coincides with an update of the city's Master Plan. For details, visit rochestermi.org/masterplan.

christine October 20, 2011 at 01:10 PM
As a cyclist (who bikes for both exercise and transportation), I'm really happy to see that the city and residents are working on this issue. Great! Thanks, everyone! I just have one thing to say, however. At times I would rather ride on the road than on the Paint Creek trail, because of people who are walking dogs on retractable leashes. I have almost been seriously hurt (and hurt dogs) while trying to ride past a person whose dog is on a retractable leash and the dogs runs out in front of/ lunges at my bike. Perhaps a no retractable leash in public spaves rule? - Just throwing that out there as another possible solution to making the trails and roadways safer for everyone!
Susan M. October 20, 2011 at 01:26 PM
LOVE how the cyclists in this photo are riding in single file!! Unfortunately, this is not the norm for a mob of cyclists I typically encounter on Rochester roads. Also, LOVE the safety vests!! Too often I've encountered bikers and walkers at dusk, predawn or at dark not wearing light or reflective clothing (sometimes even dark clothing.) I have to see you to avoid you!
mary October 20, 2011 at 01:32 PM
Thank you for letting the public know that we are supposed to ride on the road. We are also allowed to ride double file. Our of courtesy, cyclists typically ride in single file on roads when they are busy. I know some of us can be annoying, but I can't tell you how many times people have yelled, "Get off the (expletive) road. Don't you know you belong on the sidewalk". I have also had people scream behind me, throw things at me and swerve close to me in order to prove some point. This has happened when I am riding as far to the right as possible in a single file.
Susan M. October 20, 2011 at 01:41 PM
I've gone back and read a few articles (and the posted comments) on biking going back to the accident in August on Tienken. One comment that cyclists keep bringing up confuses me as a driver and I would appreciate clarification: Drivers need to stop before crosswalks and don't block them. The way the roads are set up in Rochester, MANY crosswalks are a considerable distance before the intersection. Okay, maybe not THAT much, however, line of sight has not been kept clear to allow a car driver to stay BEHIND the crosswalk (allowing pedestrians and cyclists right of way) while waiting for a safe spot to turn (legally) right on red. Even if you stop behind the crosswalk to allow a pedestrian/cyclist by, you then have to pull forward to have a clear line of vision of oncoming traffic - frequently the driver is then blocking the crosswalk. Suggestions for this driver?
Susan M. October 20, 2011 at 01:43 PM
That's awful! As a driver, I believe that bikes should be on the roads.
Susan Heholt October 20, 2011 at 01:55 PM
When I lived in Cupertino, CA, they were in the process of putting in bike lanes on most of the streets. It proved to be very successful! I agree that riders (walkers, runners) should PLEASE wear reflective clothing of some kind. Dog walkers, PLEASE keep you animal under control for everyone's safety!Angry drivers don't belong on any roads. And lastly, PLEASE take the suggestion of making the wider roads into 3 lane roads with turn lanes in the middle and bike lanes along the outside. We are getting too many "thoroughfares" which make drivers drive too fast, and ruin our city's aura. I love Rochester and Rochester Hills, but I moved here because of the residential community. I don't want to live on a highway! Return our city to a slower, more careful, more accommodating way of life.
Mack October 20, 2011 at 02:38 PM
I live in the Rochester area only in the summer......in the winter I live in a very busy suburban area that doubles it's population at that time. There is a lot of traffic on the roads at all times of the day. However, Rochester, and it's outlying areas have the worst traffic flow I have ever encountered. Rochester Road from Tienken south, and most east/west routes are either inadequate two lane trails, or under continuous construction making it impossible to move the amount of traffic that is now a part of the area. It would appear that before you invite bicycles into the traffic mix, you should work on the current traffic issues so that everyone will be safe. Drivers are already challenged without trying to avoid cyclists who expect the right of way in any situation.
Mary Howarth October 20, 2011 at 02:55 PM
GLad to know that Rochester is looking into being a part of the greater bike path that is in the area. Riding in the city is very difficult. The sidewalks are not usually bike friendly - particularly around the cemetary and 2nd, 3rd and 4th Streets west of Rochester Road. It is easier to get out to the Rochester Hills Museum now that the paths have gone in by Tienken, but once you pass Van Hoosen Road there are none. I agree with making bike lanes on the public roads without bike paths. As a "senior" rider, I am very uncomfortable having to ride with traffic. I don't know how you educate drivers to the fact that they share the roads with bikes - and that they are to stop at those zibra crossings when bikers are needing them. If you don't ride a bike, you probably are not as apt to be aware of the dangers from automobiles.
c daldin October 20, 2011 at 03:46 PM
I was on this tour and the feedback above is so helpful. We want to make Rochester and its surrounding areas more bike friendly. It is something that has to be embraced by both the drivers and the cyclists. Thanks
Ron Vogt October 20, 2011 at 07:05 PM
As a bicyclist and Friend of the Clinton River Trail, I applaud this study. I am glad to see it reported that sidewalks are not safe for bicyclists, there are too many intersections with driveways. Also downtown Rochester sidewalks are dangerous to pedestrians if they are used by cyclists. Drivers need to be made more aware of the need to share the road, road signs so stating would be helpful. Three lane roads with wide shoulders for bicyclists are helpful. Drivers shouldn't be afraid to give cyclists wide berth when passing and even venture part way into the center lane when passing. Rochester is rebuilding main street next year. That will be a good time to add bicycle lanes. As one who has biked the streets of NYC, one note of caution: don't bike too close to parked cars. You never know when a door will open. Thank you.
Jessica P. Opfer October 20, 2011 at 07:51 PM
I agree wholeheartedly about those leashes. They are a menace to people, bikes, and other dogs!
Jessica P. Opfer October 20, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Susan, as a biker, a pedestrian, and a driver, I am very attuned to this problem. My suggestion is that you stop before the crosswalk, look BOTH ways for oncoming pedestrians and cyclists, and, if the coast is clear for a reasonable distance, proceed forward to where you can safely see oncoming traffic to make your turn. Most of the time you will be able to turn before a pedestrian or cyclist comes along.
Amanda Kirksey October 20, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I was actually planning on blogging about bike safety so I am pleased to see this article. I was almost hit on two separate occasions last week from drivers rolling through stop signs while waiting to turn. TWO times in one trip. We have to do something about these people who roll through stop signs; I skid through leaves while braking and had I had my two littlest Pickies with me, it would have been a disaster. We have to do something as a community to work on bike and vehicle harmony.
c daldin October 20, 2011 at 08:21 PM
My husband was hit this past winter and our dog kilIed while while crossing a street in downtown. I have an office on Main Street and watch people daily block the intersection. They are in to much of a hurry to stop in the right spot, It is a real problem. And they always try turning before they look.Both pedestrians and bikers are really not very safe.
Jessica P. Opfer October 20, 2011 at 08:27 PM
I was unable to attend the training session but am very pleased to see this issue getting attention. As a frequent biker and pedestrian in downtown Rochester, I was horrified by the recent accident on Tienken Road and have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of respect given to non-motorized users in this area. As discussed, there are many opportunities to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and I hope that some of these ideas are implemented in the near future. I will be participating on the Infrastructure & Public Services workgroup of the Tri-City Sustainability project specifically to represent the interests of bicyclists and pedestrians in the Rochester-Rochester Hills-Auburn Hills area and hope to promote some of these ideas in that forum.
Susan M. October 20, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Considering the area is changing STOP signs in residential areas to YIELD signs, this problem is only going to get worse.
Kate S. October 20, 2011 at 11:48 PM
As a Rochester Hills resident near South Blvd and Rochester Rd, I find it nearly impossible to ride North into R.H. and Rochester. I would love to ride through the trails, but I have no safe way to cross over M-59 on Rochester Rd or Livernois. On Rochester Rd and M-59- there are several intersections/entry-exit ramps to navigate past, and on Livernois there is a tiny 2 lane bridge over M-59 for traffic, with no room left for bikes, This is a real problem, and is very disappointing to me that there are no foot/bicycle bridges to allieviate this issue.
E.J. LEVY October 21, 2011 at 03:39 AM
Rochester and Royal Oak are leading the crowd. Including neighboring community officials and residents in your meetings is an excellent way to get everyone on the same page for future planning. The unique International Velodrome at Bloomer Park in Rochester is a "jewel" of the cycling community and an obvious destination to be designated by trail and route signs. Safe commuting routes and routes to schools should also be well marked. As an avid cyclist and ride leader (usually at least one ride per week to Rochester through the riding season) I can attest to the appeal of Rochester, whether by road or mountain bikes. Signs at crosswalks from the trails that cross the roads (with the islands in them in many cases near Rochester) are not clear and the laws not understood by most drivers or riders. Are drivers obligated to stop for pedestrians/cyclists at the side of the road or just continue through? Traveling on these routes with children is difficult when the cars don't stop. I feel that the signs used (universally) are poorly designed. In my world, as I would design it, the signs would have a red border implying STOP if pedestrians present. Minimally, if drivers are obligated by law to stop then a better educational program to so inform them and or ticket them seems obvious as ways to improve walker/runner/rider safety. EJ Levy MotiveForce-LooseSpokes Cadieux BC/Team o2 Wolverine Sports Club "A bike friendly community is a friendly community."
Susan M. October 21, 2011 at 12:22 PM
"Are drivers obligated to stop for pedestrians/cyclists at the side of the road or just continue through?" Good question, and one that as a driver I have struggled with. What is the answer? And a STOP IF pedestrians are present isn't the solution - I have no problem at intersections, but when I'm going the posted speed and a cyclist approaches from the path (usually obstructed by trees until closer to the road), some areas do not allow a driver to stop in time - especially with the number of drivers who tailgate so I have to not only drive for me, but brake in advance for the idiot behind me.
Ryan McGavock October 21, 2011 at 04:22 PM
My suggestion would be to remove all of the parallel parking spaces along Main St., and replace them with turn lanes and bike lanes. Cars that are parallel parking tend to slow down traffic, and can be dangerous to both cars and bikers. Also, I would like to see lock-up posts for bicycles. I am easily within riding distance along the Clinton River Trail, but haven't ridden into downtown yet for fear of a) being hit by a car and b) not knowing where to lock up my bike.
Erick October 21, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Can't Address item the cra issue but for b there are a number of bike racks throughout the city. I'd say a dozen or so. One or two are in the area of the farmers market one a couple by the mills. One in thier parking lot I think one across the street and, yet another by the gazebo. Most do not look liek the school yard bike rack they are typically green and look a bit like a series of sharp s curves.
Erick October 21, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Kate, John R is a better bet than Rochester or Livernoin not great but may work within your comfort zone. It is within mine whereas Rochester and Livernois are not.
Jessica P. Opfer October 21, 2011 at 07:35 PM
I believe the law is that if a pedestrian (or bicyclist) has entered the roadway - as in physically placed a foot or wheel off the sidewalk - you are required to stop for them. I agree that this is still a gray area because many of us simply stand by the side of the road waiting for cars to stop, as we don't want to take the risk of actually entering the roadway. This can make it very difficult to cross during high-traffic periods. I agree that many of the trail crossings are also poorly signed. Drivers simply put their blinders on and ignore anyone at the side of the road. Susan, in response to your concern, a bicyclist approaching a crossing from the path is still required to stop, so you should not feel obligated to slam on your brakes if it poses a danger to you and other cars. There is a sign in the middle of the crosswalk where the Paint Creek Pathway crosses University that says "stop for pedestrians in crosswalk." I do think that the sign at least makes drivers take notice and encourages them to stop.
Jessica P. Opfer October 21, 2011 at 07:38 PM
I wonder what sort of uproar there would be if we suggested removing the parking spaces on Main Street. Are they really necessary? There is on-street parking on all the cross streets and many free municipal lots within a 5-minute walk. At some point there was some discussion about narrowing Main Street to one lane in each direction and widening the sidewalks to make the street more pedestrian friendly (and enhance outdoor dining), but I believe with the repaving of Main Street scheduled for 2012, that ship has sailed.
Susan M. October 21, 2011 at 07:53 PM
I hope that ship has sailed. Just having it down to 1 lane for construction is a nightmare - can't imagine for it to be a regular occurance (and I haven't even traveled it during peak travel times!)
c daldin October 21, 2011 at 08:08 PM
The removal of the parking spaces on Main Street has been suggested. But no one wants to get rid of them. I hate to say it but that ship has sailed.
Michael Korenchuk October 22, 2011 at 02:42 PM
I occasionally commute through downtown Rochester for work and agree with the idea of replacing parking lanes with bike lanes on Roch Rd. We also need, in Roch Hls a bike lane along Dequindre between Avon and Hamlin. This is not a fad. The bikes are here to stay.
David Gifford January 19, 2012 at 04:39 PM
I believe the solution to the congested traffic is not bigger roads like most cities believe, it is public transportation. One bus with 30 people on it saves 30 cars on the road!
Scot Beaton January 19, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Ryan...the state ownes Rochester road or main street in downtown Rochester. They would love to remove all the parallel parking on Rochester road luckily the Rochester city council has fought hard to keep the parking. Remove the parking and you will destroy the character of main street and increase traffic speeds...also remove the parking and you will remove the physiological barrier those parked cars provide between the pedestrians on the sidewalks and the big truck driving by. Ryan I have read reams of journals on this urban planning issue case after case when downtowns took away the parallel parking the town's downtown main street failed. Ryan...thanks for your comments the patch is a great place to share ideas.
Scot Beaton January 19, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Love all the comments in the patch about bike lanes for both Rochester and Rochester Hills. Unfortunately there doesn't seem on either council the desire to build them. They have in recent month passed non binding resolutions to support the complete streets coalition...but that's it! There road plans don't reflect that groups good intentions. In Rochester Hills quite the opposite; just last year they built a $350.000 pedestrian pathway on John R just north of Avon. Pedestrian pathways are not bike lanes! Bike enthusiasts dislike them...they are dangerous for bikes and dislike when elected officials call them bike paths! A less expensive solution for John R would have been bike lanes and a 5 foot sidewalk if needed. There are 10 million dollar plans to rebuild Tienken road in Rochester Hills next year...NO BIKE LANES! You see this is what it comes down to, our city councils heads are still stuck in the 20th century and if they don't start thinking 21st century soon we need to get rid of all of them. Thanks for all your comments in the patch.

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