Home > Complete Streets, Design the Details, Planning, Public Transit, Traffic Calming, Walking > Is your city’s sidewalk network half-full or half-empty?

Is your city’s sidewalk network half-full or half-empty?



We’re getting there…but how far?

I lean towards half (or more) empty, but every now-and-then I’m a bit more optimistic.


Traverse City’s Fair St. (More Walk Scoring here)

Monday ramble

Let’s acknowledge for a moment the fact that every car trip, even if assisted by a wheelchair, begins and ends with a walk. It is the most basic form of transportation and planning has typically downgraded its value, hence the situation above.

However, it isn’t simply the lack of a complete network of sidewalks that keeps us from seeing walking as a tangible transportation option. For one, we’re spread out and daily needs are often perceived out of reach by foot.  Large lots, large parking lots, and segregated zoning contribute to this. We also have corridors that even with sidewalks are not comfortable places to find one’s self.

Biking could be an excellent option to fill the walking gaps in Traverse City, but there’s a long-way to go to fix some critical disconnects that would make it compelling enough for the “interested but concerned” to regularly choose a bike over a car. Transit has financial restraints to being a service that is there when you need it without a thought (it’s improving).

Optimistically, regardless of one’s outlook of the network’s capacity, an advantage Traverse City has is that we are a small, active town with people with a lot of desire to see something better than sidewalks to nowhere like above. We could increase walking by simply increasing the sidewalk coverage in the City at a faster pace than the current half-mile or so a year.

Traverse City’s Planning Commission is currently undertaking an Active Transportation Plan* to provide guidance and some umph to complete some of these capacity gaps. 

Yesterday, I caught the following list of rules-of-thumb for a transportation plan the blog Stroad to Boulevard is covering:

  1. Modal choice is induced by the built environment; it is not an intrinsic personal trait.
  2. The best transportation plan is a land use plan.
  3. Make sure roads are roads, and streets are streets.
  4. Focus on intersections.
  5. Safer streets do not require expensive infrastructure.
  6. In transit, frequency is freedom.
  7. Think of cyclists as pedestrians with wheels.

Although these are for a comprehensive transportation plan, I think the rules follow for sub-plans like TC’s Active Transportation Plan. In particular, it makes loud and clear that it’s the built environment that largely drives how we get around.

What do you think? Any other principles to add? 

If you have any insights to share concerning walking, biking, or connecting to transit, that you’d like the Active Transportation Committee to aware of, please email the City Planner at  “Russell A. Soyring” <RSoyring@traversecitymi.gov>. There will also be public presentations and interviews in the summer.

* In other communities, these are sometimes called a non-motorized plan. I serve on this committee as a member of the Planning Commission. An information page is online, including this work-in-progress inventory map


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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of writers previously published here or any of the organizations, committees, commissions or other affiliation the authors may belong to, unless so stated.

  1. April 22, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Gary, your sidewalk termination photo hit’s very close to home, as the city sidewalk terminates at our driveway, mid-block. I have pleaded for two years with the City Streets Superintendent to give us a quote/bid so that WE can finish the sidewalk in front of our house….(we are NOT allowed to do construction in the city R-O-W.) We have been stonewalled by the city….they flat out refuse to acknowledge any sort of “complete streets”…and this is where more cyclists/pedestrians travel than any other area in town….and there are ZERO sidewalks on Peninsula Drive…with schools and parks and 11,000 cars a day zooming by it is a shame. Who has to die before anything is done?

  2. Bob Atallo
    April 22, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I completely agree that the best transportation plan is a land use plan but only if you are planning for new greenfield development. In a slow-growth area like ours, we no longer have the luxury of getting it right the first time. The city was laid out before cars were invented, and the burbs were developed during tha automobile era. Now we must retrofit, and that is an entirely different animal. I think it’s important to keep that perspective.

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