Michigan bill aims to design
cities with smarter streets
The following is an excerpt from an article by Kelly Thayer
on context sensitive street policy in Michigan. It was published by the Michigan Land Use Institute in February 2004.
Holland, Michigan's downtown reflects key elements
of context-sensitive design (CSD). It is walkable, people-friendly, and has narrow streets that help to calm traffic.
A new approach to protecting communities that meshes road design, transit systems, and bicycle and pedestrian paths with downtowns, neighborhoods, and the natural environment is quickly gaining acceptance in Michigan and around the nation, according to a special report published this week by the Michigan Land Use Institute.
The new approach, known in technical circles as
"context-sensitive design" or "context-sensitive solutions," replaces the conventional, one-size-fits-all approach to
transportation projects with a citizen-led planning process that is much more sensitive to a community's sense of
Last summer, the bipartisan Michigan Land Use Leadership
Council formally recommended that state and local road
agencies and communities adopt the new design process.
The Michigan House of Representatives, responding in
November 2003 to that recommendation, passed a bill that
defined and endorsed innovation in developing transportation projects; it now awaits Senate action.
And, in December (2003), Michigan's Democratic Governor
Jennifer M. Granholm issued an executive directive greatly increasing Michigan's commitment to context-sensitive solutions.
Transportation projects must fit setting
According to the Institute's new report, "People and
Pavement: Transportation Design that Respects
Communities," the high-level attention to context-sensitive
design reflects both the increasing public resistance to
new road construction and growing civic wisdom about the
need to reduce costs and improve the conception and
quality of new highways and other transportation systems.
Sometimes roads are like rivers, says the report. Increase
the flow too much and they drastically reshape their surroundings.
Pump up the traffic on a road through a small town, for example, and all sorts of new gas stations, billboards, and fast food outlets spring up. Soon the road widens and sprawl, like a mudslide, buries the town's character.
"Context-sensitive design is an approach that places
preservation of historic, scenic, natural environment,
and other community values on an equal basis with mobility, safety, and economics," says Mary E. Peters, director of the Federal Highway Administration. "We should seek to institutionalize the principles of CSD with the same
commitment that drove the implementation of the Interstate Highway System."
A beautifully landscaped boulevard, for instance, can serve
as a community's signature gateway. A bustling bus or train
stop can spur urban revitalization and generate good business for nearby shops.
Sidewalks and bicycle routes can raise property values and promote healthier lifestyles and more sociable communities.
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