Ferndale’s Complete Streets Are No Small Feat: Michigan Transportation Odyssey 2014

Editor's note: This is the third part in a series on the 2014 Michigan Transportation Odyssey (MTO). *Updated - May 1st, 2015*

Walking the streets of Ferndale offers a glimpse into what's possible when a community embraces multi-modal road design. The Odyssey crew got a good view of this during a Oct. 7 walking tour, the first official Odyssey stop.

Ferndale covers roughly four square miles due north of Detroit and is home to about 20,000 residents. Despite its modest size, the city’s big efforts on Complete Streets caught the eyes of MTO organizers.

Complete Streets is a philosophy of road design that takes all users into consideration, whether they be motorists, bicyclists, transit users, pedestrians or those using assistive devices like wheelchairs. It’s aimed at providing appropriate access to all these users as streetscapes are planned, built and renovated.

Ferndale adopted a Complete Streets ordinance in October 2010, shortly after Michigan’s legislature made it state-mandated policy.

It built on the momentum of earlier city documents calling for walkability, bicycling and transit-oriented design in the downtown and the development of a citywide non-motorized plan. With the assistance of the Greenway Collaborative consulting firm, the city is now working on a citywide multimodal transportation plan called Ferndale Moves that incorporates Complete Streets design.

Derek Delacourt, Ferndale’s Director of Community and Economic Development led the Odyssey walking tour, taking us to projects on Livernois and West Nine Mile Road.

Derek Delacourt, Ferndale's Director of Community and Economic Development, give the Michigan Transportation Odyssey crew a look at the city's handiwork on Livernois.Livernois, renovated earlier this year, was slimmed down from five to two car travel lanes.Both streets have undergone major road diets and other changes, paid for with federal and local dollars and grants, as well as money from the Downtown Development Authority in Nine Mile’s case.

"People were running across Livernois at any point where they thought it was an appropriate break of traffic," says Delacourt. "We thought it was a perfect corridor to take a shot at something like this."This parking space on West Nine Mile features both a curb bump-out to keep cars away and porous paving material to help soak in groundwater, minimizing road flooding.

Bike racks have also been installed in the parking lanes, a sign of inclusiveness to cyclists and a reminder to others on the road. Ferndale has also added mid-block crossings and rapid-flash beacons as traffic-calming measures.In place of the former car lanes, Ferndale has put in on-street parking and buffered bike lanes that feature a striped pattern to give cyclists more breathing room. Bright green paint marks "conflict points" on the roads where bikes and cars might run into each other.

Livernois is seen as a pilot project, and its different elements will be closely scrutinized in three years when the road gets resurfaced. Delacourt jokes that he actually “roots” for roads to wear out, because it provides an opportunity to modernize them. Whenever Ferndale gets federal road funding to redo or resurface major roadways, the city takes time to reevaluate those streets  and implement the policies of their complete Streets and Ferndale Moves plans.

 "When a road is shot and you have to rebuild the entire road bank, then getting bicycle and pedestrian projects in it is dirt cheap, a very  minimal add to the cost of the project,” he says.

On West Nine Mile, the MTO group saw the results of a four-to-three lane road diet, implemented last year, running from Planavon to Pinecrest. There wasn’t room for separate bike lanes, so the city painted “sharrows” to indicate shared lanes for bicyclists and motorists.

Both bike and car parking line the street’s new on-street parking lanes, which have been paved with a porous material that allows water to soak right into the ground. Curb bumpouts and mid-street crossings have also been placed on Nine Mile as traffic calming measures. Aside from slowing cars, the crossings offer pedestrians and wheelchair users a convenient way to cross traffic without going to an intersection.

On the journey, the group also saw plenty of wayfinders and street maps installed downtown to help travelers navigate the city.
Paul Palmer, chair of the Michigan Developmental Disability Council’s Transportation Workgroup, rides by some signage installed in downtown Ferndale to let travelers from a variety of modes find their way.

Liz Treutel of the Michigan Environmental Council took part in the tour and was quite impressed.

“I thought Ferndale was a great model example of what other communities can strive for,” she says. “It wasn't just about checking off a box on the Complete Streets list.They really tried to pull out all the stops and have everything from buffered bike lanes to some serious street diets.”

According to Delacourt, the road enhancements have been a boon on multiple fronts: slowing traffic, increasing safety, decreasing vacancies and, on Nine Mile, increasing investment and taxable values.

An example of on-street bike parking, which is found on parts of West Nine Mile, Livernois and  Woodward in Ferndale.

Rest assured, there’s more of it coming. Ferndale is planning upcoming road projects on Hilton and East Nine Mile and working with other communities on a Complete Streets plan for Woodward corridor.

So what do residents and businesses think? The city has been listening to the community and gathering input on projects through its interactive Ferndale Moves website. According to Delacourt, the public has embraced the street improvements and is eager for more.

What’s more, he urges other cities to give what Ferndale’s done a try.

“A lot of the improvements we’re talking about aren’t just for pedestrians and bicyclists, they’re for vehicle traffic. They’re there to slow traffic. They allow safe crossing,” he says. “Look at it from a safety and use standpoint. You can find a way to incorporate these improvements into just about every community.”


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