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.