The Ingham County Road Department’s latest plan for revising the intersection of Lake Lansing Rd., Towar Ave., and Birch Row Dr. is causing some people to question whether the new concept is really the best design.
One main goal with redesigning this intersection is to help bicyclists and pedestrians get across Lake Lansing Rd. The trail extensions in the area means more people are expected to be trying to cross there by bike and foot.
Right now, eastbound traffic moving steadily in the “slip lane” of Lake Lansing Rd. can create safety challenges for those crossing Lake Lansing Rd. on the west or south sides of the intersection.
ELi reported back in February that the plan then had been to take out the “slip” lane that takes traffic eastbound on Lake Lansing Rd. and to just turn the intersection into something more like a traditional four-way intersection, with a traffic light and crosswalks, as shown here:
But now the Ingham County Roads Department wants to undertake a different and more costly approach, shown here in red shading, with crosswalk boundaries marked by lines:
According to Kelly Jones, Ingham County’s Director of Engineering & County Highway Engineer, “The currently proposed scope of work includes the geometric improvement of the Lake Lansing Road & Birch Row Drive / Towar Avenue intersection to a three-leg intersection with Birch Row Drive teeing into Lake Lansing Road.”
“Towar Avenue will then tee into Birch Row Drive approximately 100-ft east of Lake Lansing Road,” Jones explains. “Pedestrian signals and push buttons will be provided on all three of the main intersection approaches.”
One goal of the Ingham County Roads Department is to create a more uniform and traffic-smoothed approach along Lake Lansing Rd., the road on which most of the traffic in this intersection is traveling. The plan includes a “safety conversion” for Lake Lansing Rd. by reducing car vehicle lanes in number from four to three (one lane in each direction with a turn lane), and adding bike lanes on both sides, from Abbot Rd. to Hagadorn Rd.
The plan for the simplified four-way intersection, with the slip-lane removal, was expected to cost in the area of $450,000 in tax dollars.
By contrast, the County’s current plan will cost about $1.1 million in taxes.
Says Jones, “We have applied for a [federal] safety grant for the bulk of these costs. The City of East Lansing also has funding dedicated to this intersection as part of the Ingham County Parks Millage.”
Wendy Wilmers Longpre, Assistant Director of Parks & Rec for the City of East Lansing, explained to ELi, “The City of East Lansing’s portion of the project is $400,000. This is being funded by an Ingham County Trails and Parks Millage allocation. It is included in the $1.1 million estimate of probable cost.”
One concern that has been raised in local discussions about this is whether federal and local tax-grant possibilities are driving which design is being chosen – rather than having what is simply the most appropriate design win the day.
Michael Unsworth of the Advocacy Committee of the Tri-County Bicycle Association indicated in a May 2021 presentation that he believes the current intersection design “is unsafe for non-motorized traffic.”
But he is concerned that the County’s new preferred redesign “prioritizes automobile traffic over non-motorized traffic” and that it “seems not to take into account the increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic the [new] Towar Road pathway will create.” He also notes it will cost hundreds of thousands more in tax dollars than the simpler design.
At last night’s meeting of East Lansing’s Transportation Commission (June 7), East Lansing resident Arthur Slabosky spoke at public comment, saying he thinks that only a simple fix is really needed, not a major redesign. He argues that the simple, logical, and much more cost-effective solution is to just leave the intersection as it is except for adding crosswalks with user-activated lights.
Slabosky is retired from work at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and he had previously sent in this comment to Ingham County and to the City of East Lansing:
“The future goal for this location is to provide adequate safety for trail users without undue delay to motorists. My proposal is just to provide adequate crosswalks and to place a pedestrian/bike actuated signal in the slip lane of eastbound Lake Lansing Road along with added crosswalks to facilitate trail use from Towar Avenue into White Park. An actuated pedestrian signal at the crosswalk will give bikers and pedestrians the added safety they need. Motorists will have new delay only when the signal is invoked.”
He continued, “There is also no warrant to spend money to re-configure this intersection for better automobile flow, period. This is not a high-demand or major intersection. Its present form even encourages some residents along Abbot (myself e.g. ) to go south to use Saginaw Highway eastbound, which IS a high-capacity major roadway.”
In response to Slabosky’s comments last night, Transportation Commissioner Troy Fassbender suggested that that commission discuss the matter at a future meeting and share their comments with the County.
Now, it appears likely the East Lansing Transportation Commission will look at the three designs – the one the County plans (relatively complex and most costly), the one that East Lansing City staff had previously favored (less expensive, with elimination of the slip lane), or the one Slabosky favors (inexpensive, with the addition of a user-activated crosswalk signal).
Want to weigh in?
You can write to the Transportation Commission through Deputy Director of Public Works Nicole McPherson. Be sure to say that you want your message to go to the Transportation Commission.
Note, however, that this is not a decision being made by the City of East Lansing, and the East Lansing Transportation Commission only gives advice to decision-makers. You can write to the Ingham County Roads Department directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can write to Tim Morgan, the head of Ingham County Parks, at TMorgan@ingham.org.
Correction (June 8, 6:50 p.m.): The original version of this article identified Arthur Slabosky as working for MDOT, but he retired from that work in January 2016, so the article has been corrected.