Council approves grants for trail link – The Oakland Press News

The article link above describes Pontiac, Michigan’s approval to complete the city’s section of the 16-mile Clinton River rail trail. It’s about time!

For about a year, I have been commuting to work up to three days a week by bicycle. My route is just over 19 miles one way over a somewhat convoluted route, a small portion of which utilizes the Clinton River Trail. Part of my route skirts Telegraph Road in Pontiac where it crosses the Clinton River at Sylvan Lake.

A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Telegraph Road in Pontiac.

A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Telegraph Road in Pontiac. (Oakland Press)

Because of the automobile-centric mindset of Southeastern Michigan, infrastructure for pedestrian and bicycle traffic is spotty. I had first developed my commuting route nine years ago, when I had moved within 15 miles of work. My wife, Carolyn, was frightened for my life, because I had to ride mostly on the roads with car traffic. I was less afraid, partly from my past experience with riding in traffic, partly from bravado.

To tell the truth, I was a little scared on certain stretches where there was little or no shoulder (one section was on a hill with a blind curve, as well). I was more concerned about drivers not giving me enough clearance, or swinging too far into the oncoming lane, endangering their own lives. Most drivers were safe and courteous (although I’m sure many cursed the crazy guy on the bicycle impeding their progress).

Guardrail Portage along Telegraph Road

Guardrail Portage along Telegraph Road, at Sylvan Lake

The other dicey section is along Telegraph Road, just north of the site of the proposed bridge. There is no sidewalk there, but plenty of pedestrian traffic, judging by the dirt path worn in the grass. This path leads to a short two-track (the site of the future bridge) which, in turn, leads to the Clinton River rail trail (and the rest of my commute).
The bridge is an indication that attitudes are changing in this region. Last fall, sidewalks were constructed along a scarier stretch of my route. The problem with sidewalks around here is they will suddenly end, or switch sides of the street.

I applaud the efforts of the municipalities on my route to expand their sidewalks and multi-use paths. These paths are good for residents because they provide a means to walk safely through the neighborhood, or between subdivisions. What is more necessary is a means to get to shopping and services currently only accessible by car. Suburban Detroit is a mix of towns and townships. The towns (Rochester, Farmington, Birmingham, and so on) are more likely to have curbs and sidewalks. Residents can, if they choose, walk or ride a bicycle to the business district.

Typical Suburban Detroit Street

Typical Suburban Detroit Street

The townships are more rural in character, and are more collections of subdivisions with no sidewalks, and dirt shoulders or ditches along the streets. Motorized and non-motorized traffic share the streets.

The new pathways are a start. Rail-trail expansion is better, and in many cases provides safe routes from city to city. Restricting pedestrian and bicycle traffic to trails, however, does little to increase public awareness. A higher percentage of funds must be put into roadway infrastructure improvements with pedestrians in mind, not just automobiles. This means shareable lane widths, paved shoulders, and increased education, in addition to sidewalks. I ride on the same roads as cars most of the time, because that is the most direct and unobstructed way form point A to point B. Drivers are also more likely to see me if I am in their direct view (And I do my best to make myself visible). Older sidewalks are often very uneven, and often change slope abruptly at driveways. Drivers are less likely to look for sidewalk traffic as they approach an intersection.

I am not a perfect cyclist, nor am I a perfect driver. I curse the tunnel-vision afflicted driver who blocks the crosswalk as I approach, but find myself doing the exact same thing the next day. If I am the only living soul at an intersection, I will ride through it. I choose whether or not to ride up on an available sidewalk depending on the volume of car traffic. Two cars waiting at a stoplight? I wait behind them. 25 cars backed up at a stoplight? Heavy rush hour and no shoulder to speak of? I take the sidewalk if available.

In this case, I choose the sidewalk.

In this case, I choose the sidewalk.

Are the drivers jealous or mad that I pass them? Maybe. I don’t care. I like to think they are happy I am not impeding their progress (once they start moving again). Maybe they will consider the benefits of biking to work. I will do my best to protect my space and not intentionally aggravate drivers.

For more bicycle advocacy, visit, League of American Bicyclists, or just google “bicycle advocacy.”