Area residents lined up at the Monday meeting of the East Lansing Transportation Commission to share opinions and impassioned pleas concerning the proposed lane design changes of Coolidge Road between Saginaw Highway and Lake Lansing Road. The proposed reengineering would convert that stretch of road from four car lanes down to three and add two bike lanes.
The bike lanes would also be used by electric scooters, moving bikes, and get electric scooters and bikes off sidewalks, making the corridor safer for pedestrians.
The city commissioned ROWE Professional Services Company of Kentwood, Michigan, to study the stretch of Coolidge Road and provide an analysis of traffic patterns. Hailey Savola, senior project engineer at ROWE, was present at the March 6 meeting in 54B District Court’s Courtroom 2 to share the report and answer questions.
ROWE studied the number of cars turning, road capacity, and crashes between 2017 and 2021. The results showed service in peak hours would be minimally affected by the conversion. Any additional delays would come to less than half a second per vehicle at the Coolidge Road intersections with Weatherhill Court and North Shore Drive.
The lane conversion proposed for Coolidge Road is similar to ones created on Abbot and Harrison roads during recent modifications.
When Commissioner Matt Penniman inquired about those changes, Nicole McPherson, the acting director of public works, said that while there had been some “stacking” (a line of cars getting backed up) by the U.S. Post Office on Abbot Road south of Saginaw Street, overall the feedback has been positive.
“In your professional opinion, would this improve safety in the corridor?” Penniman asked.
“Yes,” Savola said.
McPherson also indicated that at the Weatherhill Court and North Shore Drive intersections, there were plans for enhanced crosswalks to support pedestrian safety.
Before the public had a chance to comment on the proposal, three commissioners voiced their support of the project.
“Every afternoon with my kids in the car,” Commissioner Danielle Booms said, “I have to make a left turn from Coolidge and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.”
Commissioners Perry Kleinhenz spoke as an avid cyclist.
“I travel predominantly by bicycle,” Kleinhenz said, “and I would like to do this. It’s the first step. As a move from having no [bicyclist] facilities to something, I welcome the change. I only go on Coolidge three or four times a week, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable.”
The public expressed mixed views that occasionally developed into open animosity towards the commissioners. Hard-to-hear microphones and confusion by the commission on how to manage the public hearing added to the light friction.
Laura Cook spoke of her parents who live on Coolidge.
“My dad had a stroke,” she said, “and it was imperative that the ambulance be able to get to him. If you eliminate the extra lanes on the side, and CATA buses and school buses stop to pick-up passengers, will those emergency [vehicles] be able to get through?”
Cook questioned the study as well as the timing of the public hearing.
“MDOT [Michigan Department of Transportation] requires public comment,” she said. “But is that before or after a contract has been entered? And [ROWE] only observed conditions for two days in November. I don’t think that’s an appropriate amount of time to change something like this.”
Joe Reynolds and his wife have lived on Coolidge Road since 1974. He is concerned about traffic that goes through his neighborhood.
“Lots of businesses and trucking companies use the road,” he said. “East Lansing Public Works trucks are always going down Coolidge. How will one less lane affect this [traffic]?”
Reynold and Cook both inquired whether turning lanes could be used for drivers who want to pass a CATA bus stopped to pick up passengers.
Lt. Scot Sexton of the East Lansing Police Department, on-hand for a different agenda item, answered their question.
“If a turn lane has the markings of a turn lane, it cannot be used as a passing lane,” he said, explaining emergency vehicles like ambulances were the only exception.
Cyclists were just as passionate in their support of the measure, hoping it might go farther in the future.
Dole McKerra lives on Coolidge and does not own or drive a car. But he has been involved in three near collisions with automobiles while on his bike.
“Coolidge is a disaster in all shapes and forms and not just for anyone not in a car,” he said. “Four lanes in a suburban drive thru is useless. Congestion there doesn’t exist. It is madness. I have to basically jaywalk to get to a bus on weekends. I’m urging the commission to adopt this. You have to be willing to put cars in the body shop to keep bodies out of the morgue.”
A 35-year-resident of the area, Lynn Richardson has seen traffic turn into “a nightmare” in the last 15 years. She said she walks five to six miles a day on Coolidge with her dog
“My first thought when hearing this plan was, ‘can you start tomorrow?’” she said. “I think it will do nothing but increase safety. To put a bike lane in there protects me as a pedestrian. People use Coolidge as a drag racing strip, bailing off of [Route] 127.”
After the lengthy public discussion ended, the commission voted 8-0 to move the project forward.
McPherson said the work would likely start mid-summer and take two to three months. No official date had been scheduled.
The next agenda item brought Lt. Sexton to the podium to answer pressing questions the commission had received from residents and local business owners.
Commissioner Nathan Werner asked Sexton why abandoned bikes in East Lansing couldn’t be easily impounded?
“If the bikes sit on private property,” Sexton said, “we have to be summoned there by the owner. If it’s on public property, we can tag the bike as abandoned and come back later to see if it’s been claimed. We can run the serial number, see if we can find the owner. If they clearly have no value, no chain, no tire, they go to the impound lot.”
Further discussion between Sexton and the commissioners focused on everything from Uber Eats and Doordash drivers temporarily parking on Grand River Avenue to snow removal after a winter storm.
The commission is set to meet next on Monday, April 3, in 54B District Court, 101 Linden St, East Lansing.