Walkable cities in Michigan

Roads are more than simply a place for cars to drive. And sometimes for pedestrians, it can be a game of chicken to cross the road.

All around the nation health and city-planning officials are making efforts to include more than just cars in their road plans.

Carlin Smith is the president of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“If you’re in one of those towns that has a five-lane street it becomes kind of intimidating to cross that street. It looks like a long way from one side of the street to the other,” Smith said.

He said Petoskey specifically designed roads with pedestrians in mind in the ‘90’s, but the changes were not a popular idea.

“They were controversial because it took up – maybe we would lose a parking space or two along a block. However, what it did though was made the downtown area more walkable, more pedestrian friendly and more comfortable for pedestrians,” Smith said.

One resource people have been turning to for a better picture of how accommodating a town’s road system is, is Walkscore. It’s a website that rates cities on how pedestrian friendly they are. This is something officials say residents and businesses. Realtors also care about ratings since higher ratings reflect better property values.

Petoskey, for example, is considered a “Walker’s Paradise”. Leeland is rated as “very walkable”. However, places like Bay City and Houghton Lake had low scores and deemed “car-dependent”.

Michigan’s county health rankings report for this year shows people are generally healthier in areas that are considered more walkable.

Leelanau, Grand Traverse, and Cheboygan rank in the top ten best in Michigan for health and quality of life. While Arenac, Genessee, and Oscoda ranked as some of the worst in the state.

Mark Fenton is an adjunct professor with Tufts University and studies nutritional science and health in Massachusetts and Michigan.

“About four thousand pedestrians die every year in the United States,” Fenton said.

He said pedestrian safety is one part of what makes a community livable.

Fenton said roads in communities were originally designed solely for cars and even now road systems don’t really allow for other modes of travel.

“The premise of complete streets is that a roadway is really not complete unless it takes into account all four of the potential users; the pedestrian, the bicyclist, transit and motor vehicles,” Fenton said

Fenton said when roads treat people who aren’t driving vehicles as an afterthought, safety and overall health are compromised.

“If you only design for cars and then tack a sidewalk on the side when it’s convenient, then you’re really not building a system for everybody- you’re building a system for cars,” He said.

Fenton said towns should look at their specific situation and consider what residents want in their area.

Kelly Morphy is Executive Director with the Walkable Livable Communities Institute.

“We work with communities all throughout the country to help them develop plans for becoming more walkable, more livable, more bikeable,” Morphy said.

Morphy says getting around is an issue for large and small cities. And, she says, different types of cities need to be treated differently.

“Livability, walkability, bikeability needs to be appropriate for the context,” Morphy said, “And each community’s livability and walkability will look different”.

She said one way to improve communities is to focus on connections.

“Things in many urban contexts are already very close together so what we need to do is simply enhance the connections ensure that people feel safe and comfortable walking and biking in those environments,” Morphy said.

According to officials with the Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan has more miles of rail trails than any other state.

“Another thing that Petoskey has done so well is the development of the bike trail system,” Smith said, “We call it the Little Traverse Wheelway which essentially connects Charlevoix, with Harbor Springs But not only is it used for recreation and exercise, but its also used for a transportation thoroughfare for people to get from point A to point B”.

Smith says while Petoskey has made being active easier for visitors and residents, other cities are also taking steps to become more accommodating.

Michigan Walkscores.
Scores are out of a perfect score of 100.

100- Petoskey rated as a Walker’s Paradise
98- Traverse City rated as a Walker’s Paradise
86- Alpena rated as Very Walkable
83- Leeland rated as Very Walkable
83- Owosso rated as Very Walkable
82- Gaylord rated as Very Walkable
82- Gladwin rated as Very Walkable
75- Sault Ste Marie rated as Very Walkable
74- West Branch rated as Very Walkable
72- Alma rated as Very Walkable
49- Bay City rated as Car Dependent
46- Mount Pleasant rated as Car Dependent
40- Saginaw rated as Car Dependent
30- Midland rated as Car Dependent

Walkscore http://www.walkscore.com/” title=”http://www.walkscore.com