Existing Conditions and Challenges
Vital components of the transportation system including bicycle and pedestrian travel, conditions of bridges and pavement, congestion, environmental considerations, freight, intercity transportation, safety and security, tourism, public transit, and travel demand management all work together to create a comprehensive transportation system.
Bicycle and Pedestrian
Every trip likely begins or ends with walking or biking. Communities see bicycle and pedestrian facilities as quality-of-life enhancements for residents. In addition to recreational benefits, Southeast Michigan’s bicycle and pedestrian network:
- Provides residents transportation choices,
- Enhances accessibility of the region’s transit system,
- Decreases fossil fuel consumption,
- Contributes to the economic vitality of downtowns, and
- Empowers those who cannot operate private automobiles.
Much has been accomplished recently in Southeast Michigan. New pedestrian and bicycle facilities across the region fill in gaps in the trail network and provide safer travel experiences. Since 2013, 110 projects have been funded through the Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) for walking and biking facilities, streetscapes, and Safe Routes to School projects:
- 109 miles of shared-lane markings
- 105 miles of local bike routes
- 57 miles of shared-use paths
- 47 miles of conventional bike lanes
- 24 miles of protected bike lanes
These trends are positively impacted by the increase in bicycle and pedestrian travel:
- Healthy and active communities
- Economic development and placemaking
- State and national recreational trails and bike routes
- Number and use of local facilities
- More options for short daily trips
Existing challenges related to biking and walking travel in Southeast Michigan include gaps in the system, maintenance and operation, and safety.
An essential component of Southeast Michigan’s transportation system, the more than 2,900 bridges in the region cross over rivers, streams, railroads, and other roadways. Bridges are longer lasting and more expensive per square foot than typical roadways.
Bridges pose specific challenges to the region’s transportation system:
- Maintenance costs: Maintenance and rehabilitation is vitally important, as replacement costs are many times higher. Regular capital preventative maintenance is important to keep past investments in good shape. Bridges must also be barricade-free for police, fire, EMS, and other public services. Safety and the economy can be impacted when bridges deteriorate to the point of requiring weight restrictions or permanent closure.
- Access: Bridges are essential for creating continuous networks for pedestrian and bicycle travel. A bridge with inadequate pedestrian, bicycle, or Americans with Disabilities features cannot be easily modified.
- Climate resiliency: Understanding and planning for the impacts of extreme weather events on bridges is important for current and future infrastructure projects.
- Economic development: Bridges with clearance or weight restrictions can significantly impact the movement of freight and goods. Information on a bridge’s status (i.e., open, closed, detour routes, and travel times) should be readily available to ensure that freight and truck travel through the network with minimal impediments.
Managing road congestion in Southeast Michigan can positively impact safety and security, efficient and reliable operations, quality of life, and economic development. Alleviating congestion allows users to travel with fewer delays and restrictions. It opens access for employers to a broader regional labor pool and enables just-in-time shipments to ensure goods can move into, through, and out of the region efficiently.
In order to reduce congestion, technology is increasingly important:
- Use of web and mobile applications to plan routes prior to making trips or to make adjustments in real-time.
- Use of sophisticated traffic signal and camera systems that enable signal timing to automatically adjust during peak periods to accommodate heavier traffic operations. Cameras can be centrally monitored and signals adjusted to ease bottlenecks.
- Connected and automated vehicles will change traffic patterns and may lower congestion on Southeast Michigan roads in the future.
Challenges related to congestion:
- With more people working and moving around, use of the transportation system continues to increase, as does the number of congested locations along the freeway system.
- Incidents on freeway increase the amount of time freeways are congested.
- There is not enough funding to implement strategies to relieve congestion in Southeast Michigan.
Southeast Michigan’s transportation system plays a significant role in the region’s air quality, water, and natural resources. Air quality is primarily affected by passenger cars, large trucks, trains, and ships, plus point sources from local industry. Transportation can affect water and natural resources by generating stormwater runoff, changing wetland and woodland dynamics, disrupting the movement of water and wildlife, and impacting local habitat conditions. At the same time, weather events such as severe storms, freeze-thaw cycles, and extreme heat wreak havoc the region’s aging infrastructure.
Improving air, water, and natural resources requires an integrated planning approach. Southeast Michigan’s dense transportation network and the millions of people and vehicles that travel in the region every day have a sustained impact on its physical landscape.
Some important transportation trends and challenges related to the environment:
- Incorporating planning for the environment into transportation projects.
- Changing precipitation events and high amounts of impervious surfaces can result in degraded water resources, localized flooding, overtaxed infrastructure, and property damage.
- Recognizing that other infrastructure – underground drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems, in addition to numerous private utilities – are found in right-of-way corridors. Developing water asset management programs that align with transportation asset management programs will achieve the greatest value for investment while protecting environmental and public health.
- Natural resources – wetlands, woodlands, riparian corridors, and agricultural land – help reduce stormwater runoff, flooding, and erosion; replenish groundwater; and stabilize streamflow.
- Promoting pedestrian and bicycle travel, ridesharing, telecommuting, and use of public transit reduces transportation-related emissions.
The freight transportation system enables Southeast Michigan industry to resource raw materials, ship products to connections throughout the world, and distribute goods within the region. Each component of the freight system – trucks, water, air, rail – plays a crucial role in delivering goods on-time with minimal cost per unit. As Southeast Michigan’s economy changes and new technologies impact how goods are shipped and delivered, the freight transportation system must also adapt to serve this new economic make-up, retain efficient access to national and world markets, reduce impacts on the environment, and minimize the cost of goods.
Challenges related to freight travel:
- Any disruptions in operating the region’s international bridges and tunnels has significant implications for Southeast Michigan, the U.S., and Canada. Construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge and modernization of the Blue Water Bridge U.S. customs plaza are major steps in addressing redundancy and reliability.
- Reducing congestion and increasing the reliability and speed of highways helps business increase competitiveness and decrease costs to consumers.
- Labor shortages could impact freight movement as truck drivers retire and fewer people choose driving trucks as a career. Trucking companies are investing in advanced technologies to expand automated capabilities of truck driving and experimenting with truck platooning and other operations. These strategies will reduce the number of people needed to drive trucks in the future.
- Infrastructure condition impacts freight traveling via truck. Maintaining the quality of freeway pavement, while restoring the growing number of arterials and local roads that connect to freight destinations is an ongoing challenge that requires planning, coordination, and a sustained increase in resources devoted to road construction.
Travel options between cities – usually on a fixed route and schedule via air, bus, and rail – offer passengers, businesses, and leisure travelers alternative choices to driving.
Challenges continue to focus on access, reducing the gaps in the system, and a lack of dedicated funding. The lack of north/south rail service between Southeast Michigan and Toledo reduces rail-service options for east coast and southern state destinations. The lack of connection between Southeast Michigan and Canada also imposes international access issues and impacts opportunity for economic activity. While there have been recent improvements, such as public transportation to and from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, there are still challenges to connecting people to the places they need to go around the region.
Pavement is a foundational element of Southeast Michigan’s transportation system. All road users – car, bus, bicycle, and freight haulers – need quality pavement for a safe, predictable trip. Extending pavement life depends on consistent monitoring and fixes that are appropriate to the age and condition of the pavement.
SEMCOG collects pavement condition using the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) system on federal-aid-eligible roads. This results in an annual pavement condition rating of good, fair, or poor. These data are used to create asset management plans that match the condition of the roadway with appropriate fixes.
The percent of roads in Southeast Michigan that are rated poor is increasing. An additional $1.2 billion needs to be invested in the region for the next 25 years to bring roads back to 80 percent good or fair. It will take an additional $600 million per year over that time period to get roads to 90 percent good or fair.
Being a cold-weather state, changing precipitation patterns, freeze/thaw cycles, and extreme heat contribute to the challenges of improving pavement condition across the region. Increased costs for winter road maintenance further impact funding.
Arriving safe is the most important result of any trip. Between 2002 and 2016, more than $220 million was invested in traffic safety improvement projects in Southeast Michigan. SEMCOG seeks to improve safety for all road users by applying a comprehensive and coordinated approach that follows the Four Es of Traffic Safety – Engineering, Education, Enforcement, and Emergency Services.
Primary challenges related to safety:
- Biking and walking are increasingly popular travel modes for shorter trips. Pedestrians and bicyclists involved in traffic crashes are especially vulnerable to serious injury and death. New facilities need to provide safe walking and biking travel to people regardless of ability. Safe travel practices and increasing awareness of the rules of the road for all travelers should be addressed by law enforcement.
- Distractions while driving, biking, and walking are exacerbated by smart phones and other electronic devices. Traffic safety education should focus on reducing distractions.
- Lane departure crashes have increased fatality rates because they frequently result in high-speed and head-on collisions. Low-cost engineering countermeasures can be implemented on many roads to reduce lane departures.
Transportation security planning focuses on preparing for those rare events that have acute, unpredictable, and disruptive effects, threatening nearby lives, property, and environmental quality. These events can range widely, from severe weather, to armed or explosive attacks, to infrastructure or utility failure, or to a sports championship parade. These events can affect a small area or the entire region. As such, transportation systems are crucial, allowing people to move to safety, providing clear paths for emergency response, and enabling the affected area to receive the goods and equipment needed for recovery.
Security planning involves professionals from a wide range of fields working together. Emergency management staff organize preparation, response, and recovery activities. Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) planners prioritize investments in responsive traffic signals. Transportation engineers design resilient facilities. Transportation operations staff communicate road and transit system conditions. Emergency response personnel stand ready to respond, while local planners include emergency response considerations in master plans and site design.
Examples of security approaches related to the transportation system:
- Preparedness – Updated emergency management and response plans help communities prepare for all aspects of low-frequency, high-risk events. Training for responders and operations coordinators is encouraged.
- Response – Fast communications between all entities responsible for traffic safety operations is crucial. Priority must also be placed on supporting efficient, coordinated responses through incident management task forces.
- Recovery – Being able to quickly return to normal transportation operating conditions helps all aspects of recovering from a major event. Use technology to help communities implement emergency response plans.
Travel related to tourism and recreation is an important function of Southeast Michigan’s transportation system. These attractions can generate travel demand, impact traffic congestion and air quality, and play a significant role in the region’s economy. Coordinating efforts between tourism, recreation, and transportation planning agencies can help enhance access and mobility.
Tourism attractions in the region range from urban centers with theaters, sports arenas, and museums, to rural areas with wildlife preserves and U-pick farms and orchards. In addition, parks, beaches, and commercially active downtowns and historic main streets attract tourists and residents.
Collaboration and cooperation between tourism and recreation venues is important to the success of tourist attractions, destinations, and the region. It is also important that multiple modes are available to access these destinations.
Transit provides transportation options needed for people to reach jobs, education, health care, and other essential services. A properly designed and implemented transit system will improve regional access and Southeast Michigan’s ability to compete with other regions for business, industry, and tourism.
To achieve such a system, transit service must be frequent, reliable, and coordinated across providers. A vibrant transit system must also include rapid transit corridors crossing multiple service areas that are supported by integrated feeder bus service and demand responsive service to accommodate those with special needs, including the elderly. Given the current funding, transit agencies are challenged to provide sufficient core bus service.
Transit providers have made progress on increasing service hours, frequency, reliability, and quality. They have modernized equipment, expanded services, and have taken coordination to unprecedented levels. Despite this progress, funding limitations remain a significant challenge to improving transit. Support for transit in Southeast Michigan lags behind almost every other region of similar size and economy. Another major barrier to more frequent and reliable service is that large parts of the region are allowed to opt-out of funding transit. Southeast Michigan spent about $270 million in transit services in 2016, or $67 per capita. Table 1
shows how Southeast Michigan’s transportation expenditures compare to other regions.
A comparison of per capita transportation spending in Southeast Michigan with other large metropolitan areas.
Travel Demand Management (TDM)
TDM seeks to increase efficiency in the transportation system by reducing the need for high-cost capacity projects through these strategies:
- Carpooling and vanpooling – reducing the number of single-occupant vehicle trips
- Encouraging transit use – reducing the number of single-occupant vehicle trips
- Variable work hours – reducing the need to travel during peak hours when roads are congested
- Telecommuting – reducing the need to travel to work
Strategies increase awareness of alternative commute travel options and provide incentives and information to encourage and help individuals modify their travel behavior. A comprehensive set of TDM strategies can reduce congestion and improve air quality.
Changing from a solo commute, even for just one day a week, has these additional benefits:
- Saving money
- Reducing stress
- Cutting carbon emissions
- Staying healthy by walking, biking, or taking transit
- Regaining valuable time by letting someone else drive either in a car/vanpool or on a bus
Additional information can be found at SEMCOG.org/RTP