In a rare joint meeting, the Transportation Commissions of East Lansing and Meridian Township met together at the Hannah Community Center on Monday night to weigh in on the latest concept for reconstructing the intersection of Lake Lansing Road and Towar Avenue. Members of Ingham County’s road and drain commissions and the Tri-County Bicycle Association also attended, adding their takes to the discussion of the much-debated spot.
Using a series of slides that ELi was provided after the meeting since they were not included with the posted agenda, East Lansing’s Assistant Director of Parks, Recreation and Arts, Wendy Wilmers Longpre, and Ingham County Road Department Engineering Director, Kelly Jones, detailed proposed changes to the profile of the road itself and outlined improvements aimed at increasing pedestrian safety while balancing traffic “efficiency” at the intersection. They also fielded questions and comments from members of both commissions.
As plans are currently conceived, Lake Lansing Road would be reprofiled from four lanes for cars down to three while adding bike lanes on either side, and the Lake Lansing-Towar intersection would be reconfigured.
Currently, for drivers traveling on Lake Lansing Road eastbound to southbound, the intersection features a slip lane (a curved corner lane) with no stop. The intersection also now includes a four-way, light-signaled stop for all other traffic.
The proposed redesign (pictured below) would have all of Lake Lansing Road run in a fashion like the slip lane currently does (curving north/south to west/east), with a signal and T-intersection to keep it connected to Towar Avenue and Birch Road to the northeast.
Lake Lansing Road itself would be changed from four lanes total (two lanes each direction) to three for cars (one each way and a middle turn lane) plus dedicated bike lanes on either side. There would be traffic lights to stop traffic coming from all directions, as needed, to let pedestrians and bicyclists cross, with the intention of Lake Lansing flowing unencumbered if no pedestrians or bicyclists need to traverse the path of cars.
The main hang-up with the concept, according to Jones, is having a crosswalk on the south side of the redone intersection. Dan Troia, who also works in the County Roads Department, explained to the commissioners that to use that crosswalk safely, all the traffic signals would have to be red. He said this greatly affects the efficiency of the intersection.
However, members of the commissions assembled plus several members of the audience — who were mostly bicycling advocates — insisted on emphasizing pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Mike Unsworth noted that when the planners are talking about “efficiency” of the intersection, they’re talking about making things easier for drivers, not pedestrians and bicyclists.
Bob Lovell, a vice chair of the Meridian Township Transportation Commission, surmised that if there wasn’t a crosswalk to simply get across Lake Lansing on the intersection’s south side — and if the alternative was then having to use three crosswalks to ultimately get to the opposite side — it could lead to dangerous, unsignalized pedestrian crossings with unsuspecting automobile traffic coming.
Jones sought to emphasize that this is an early drawing of this concept and that the issue of that crosswalk is still being ironed out.
Wilmers Longpre explained that part of the impetus for the significant redesign is increasing pedestrian safety in light of the (relatively) newly-looped Northern Tier Trail — which now runs through that intersection. The previously planned redesign called for the intersection to just become a basic four-way stop with a traffic signal, but after analysis “it became apparent that the predicted vehicular crashes would nearly double from those occurring with the existing intersection geometry,” according to the staff memo included with the agenda item.
The memo continues: “In an effort to provide an intersection that considers the safety for ALL users, the current alternative was developed.”
Prior to the presentation, several members of the Tri-County Bicycle Association (TCBA) spoke during the period set aside for public comment to express their desire to see pedestrian and bicycle safety prioritized. The group also submitted a letter in July along the same lines, which also pointed out concerns about the new concept. (Read that letter here.)
In light of the latest design, the TCBA letter proposed a number of safety improvements to be made for the foreseeable future. They include pedestrian-activated crossing signals for all directions, audible crossing signals for all directions, ADA-compliant ramps for all directions, and painted crosswalks at the intersection, among other things.
The letter also noted estimates that the new intersection will cost $1,000,000, whereas the previous redesign plan was going to cost $400,000. This was a point Jones clarified on Monday night, saying that the $1,000,000 price tag encompasses county work on the whole portion of Lake Lansing Road from Abbot Road to North Hagadorn Road, including the intersection.
According to Monday’s presentation from East Lansing staff and Jones, $400,000 of the cost of the project — which includes the intersection rebuild and redoing the specified portion of Lake Lansing Road — will be covered by the Ingham County Trails and Parks Millage, $600,000 from “transportation safety funds” and $25,000 will come from a Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. The slide with this breakdown read that the total of the above is $1,000,000.
Construction is currently expected to begin in Summer 2023, following the finalizing of the design, bidding and awarding of contracts, and more public input. The hope, according to Jones and Wilmers Longpre, is to get it done while both Michigan State University and East Lansing Public Schools are on summer break.
Steven Vagnozzi, chair of the Meridian Township Transportation Commission, proposed another joint meeting in the future to further discuss this plan as it becomes more finalized, so be on the lookout for that.