Royal Oak studies giving bike riders more room on Main

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Bicycle riders are seen traveling along Main Street at Austin Avenue in downtown Royal Oak on Friday June 17.

Royal Oak— Drivers dodging orange barrels on downtown’s Main Street also have had to make room for bicyclists while the city tests a dedicated lane for two-wheeled commuters.

For the past few months, segments of Main — from Lincoln to 10 Mile and 11 Mile to Catalpa — have been narrowed from the normal two lanes of vehicular traffic to one in each direction with one lane dedicated to bicycle traffic.

The bike lanes are part of a $37,809 one-month pilot project run in conjunction with $2 million in road improvements on Main Street.

The consultant’s study, by Opus International of Novi, will cover vehicular traffic and bicycle loads; and the impact on Main and other streets.

“We expect a consultant’s study on the project in July,” City Manager Donald Johnson said. “Once we have that, decisions can be made on how to go forward. It may include bike lanes. We don’t know yet. It could eventually impact what we do on the south segment and also the future of the north segment.”

Mayor Jim Ellison said citizen feedback has been mixed.

“I wasn’t in favor of the bike lanes myself, but I have to say, reactions have not been as negative as I thought,” he said.

Some residents, such as Ronald Guettler, contacted city officials to say he found it unfair to “surrender half of a city street to bicyclists.”

“I have been a resident of Royal Oak for over 45 years and have paid thousands of dollars in taxes, some of which has been used to maintain city streets,” Guettler said. “How much are the cyclists paying for half of the road? We are not China or the Netherlands ... ”

He noted that while driving on Main Street one June morning he saw only a few riders using the bike lanes.

“How ridiculous can you get when you hinder dozens, if not hundreds of automobile drivers, for the convenience of four people?” he said.

Some area merchants are on board, even welcoming bicyclists, such as Bread By Crispelli’s, south of Catalpa, which has a bike rack outside as a courtesy to their non-motorized customers.

“Bicyclists, including some of our employees, use (the rack) all the time,” said Brandi Alford, manager of the bakery/dessert cafe. “Those on a ride take a break along here, park and come in for a drink or something to eat.”

Daniel Plater, 20, of Royal Oak was enjoying a dedicated lane as he pedaled south on Main near 11 Mile.

“I stay off Woodward and am cautious around 12 Mile and Crooks,” Plater said. “This (lane) is very helpful, and people (motorists) watch out for you. We all have to share the road, and maybe it would be better if everyone was reminded of the rules.”

Several members of the seven-member city commission, which approved the bike lane study, are eager to see the consultant’s report.

Commissioner Mike Fournier views all the road work being done as part of an effort to “reconfigure our roads” and make the community “more walkable and livable.”

“Bike lanes are a big part of it,” he said. “Do you want to have vehicles flying through your near downtown neighborhoods and downtown, or do you sacrifice a lane or two of traffic and slow it down?”

Fournier referenced worries raised earlier this year when segments of Maple in Birmingham were reduced from four lanes to three — one in each direction and a turn lane — this past year. Some expressed concern the road dieting would cause backups, flood neighborhoods with new traffic and endanger citizens. Officials there said none of those concerns have materialized.

One Birmingham resident was so upset about the road changes that he gathered enough signatures to put the question of maintaining Maple as a four-lane street up for a vote. Residents soundly voted the special question down in March.

But community use of roads remains a hot topic. The city is reviewing the role of streets in the community, Royal Oak Commissioner Jeremy Mahrle said.

“For so long, the focus has been on the automobile. But they are public places: where children learn to ride their bicycles; go trick-or-treating; where you meet up with neighbors and go shopping,” he said.

“Streets are more than going from point A to point B. I’m really interested in what this study will show us. We know bike lanes are surfacing in neighboring communities like Birmingham and Ferndale without any problems.”

Safety, money among concerns

While some motorists in Royal Oak are still adapting to Main Street’s bicycle-only lanes, concerns about backups and new traffic in neighborhoods haven’t materialized.

Fellow commissioner David Poulton doesn’t share as positive of a view but is still eager to hear more and whether bike lanes, if ultimately approved, “can fit in.”

“The feedback I have had from citizens on this pilot project has been overwhelmingly negative,” he said. “They believe there was a lack of notice (in the project). That it has impeded traffic and that these (bike lanes) are dangerous.”

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said traffic along Main was a steady 35-40 mph before the road dieting and now “smoothed to around 25.” He said the proposed change is part of discussions to increase non-motorized transit plans through Royal Oak.

“I see people using the bike lanes every day, and people seem to like it,” he said. “But I don’t know about these short segments. I think we need a fully connected route.”

Royal Oak city engineer Matt Callahan agreed with DeBuc.

“I have some concerns of the short, unconnected segments we’ve done here because I think this is something that should be done regionally and with consistency,” he said. “Motorists and bicyclists become confused when lanes suddenly appear or disappear. I don’t think that is safe for anyone.”

Callahan stressed that, as attractive as multi-use roads are, there is another reason to move slowly on any plan to shut down lanes of traffic on Main Street: Money.

“The city would lose eligibility for some federal and state road grant dollars if it reduces the size of the road and changes its status from a principal arterial route,” he said.

Bike lanes elsewhere

John Paul Rea, director of planning and economic development for Macomb County, points with pride at bike lanes on Van Dyke, north of Eight Mile to Stephens (91/2 Mile) in Warren as a model other communities may follow.

“We have always been behind off-road bike lanes — like Rails-to-Trails and other efforts — but came to realize that on-road sharing between communities needs to be built for users,” Rea said.

“It was fully implemented on Van Dyke last spring. It links up with Detroit lanes that go all the way to the Dequindre Cut Greenway. It’s a sizable connection.”

The Dequindre Cut is a popular below-grade pathway, formerly a Grand Trunk Western Railroad line, on Detroit’s east side west of St. Aubin that runs to the riverfront.

Bike lanes similar to that on Van Dyke are under discussion by a group called Mobile Macomb between Warren and Sterling Heights on Chicago and Hoover roads and also in Center Line, he said. The goal is to link up not only the county’s many parks but also commercial districts and educational facilities, he said.

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