Cyclist-pedestrian group presents to Houghton council

HOUGHTON – The number of bicyclists and pedestrians continues to grow in Houghton and surrounding areas.

Houghton’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee is looking for ways to both increase the number of riders and walkers and to better serve the current ones.

Ann West and Sara Salo of the committee came to Wednesday’s City Council meeting to present a summary of last year’s survey of bicyclists and pedestrians and the progress of the committee’s non-motorized transportation plan.

A total of six hundred ninety-five people responded to the survey, which included both Houghton and Hancock. The response was about double the response of a 2007 survey, which had been bicyclist-only.

“Now we have some really substantial data to move forward on bike and pedestrian planning and accompanying projects,” Salo said.

Of the respondents, 470 reported recreational bicycling, and 426 commuted. Three-hundred-and-ten people reported walking.

The survey also asked people to describe their routes. The most frequented street is College Avenue, which accounts for 26,962 trips a year, followed by the Portage Lake Lift Bridge at 20,683 trips.

“These numbers are really impressive,” Salo said.

The survey results were incorporated into a combined plan for non-motorized use, which will be appended to the city’s master plan. The plan will be presented to the planning commission at its next meeting.

Two new goals have been added. One is to enable Houghton Avenue to be a bicycle and pedestrian boulevard. West said they are working with the police department to adjust stop signs.

“We’re looking at that as a really important corridor between Houghton and the park south of the bridge, to gather in all the student housing and the folks who live up the hill,” she said. “They don’t want to go up the hill to Seventh (Avenue) to do bike and pedestrian, but they might come down the hill.”

Making winter bicycling and walking more convenient is another goal. The top suggested area for improvement in the survey for pedestrians was more snow removal and winter routes.

“This is a tough problem, especially after the last year, so this is something we’ll have to work together on,” West said.

Other work by the committee includes a collaboration with Hancock and the Michigan Department of Transportation on bicycling on the bridge. One concern is for bicyclists crossing the bridge from Houghton on the Ripley side. A paving project from Ripley to Dollar Bay next year will address some of the concerns.

“Right now, you’re crossing behind the traffic – it’s pretty dangerous,” West said. “If you’re a cyclist, and you want to get down to the Hancock bike path, that’s also pretty dangerous.”

The committee will also work to renew the city’s bike-friendly committee status. The city won bronze status three years ago.

“I think we have a really good chance of getting silver, so we’re going to try for that,” West said.

Salo reported on the new advocacy group Bike Initiative Keweenaw, which formed last winter. The group intends to provide support on issues such as bike safety, education and data collection for upcoming projects.

The group is also working on the National Bike Challenge, which compares riders per capita between May and September. Last year, Houghton ranked in the top 10 nationally.

“Every rider in Houghton and Keweenaw County is going to log their miles and earn points toward our area becoming nationally recognized,” she said.

West said the lessons learned in Houghton are being used in other places. Bike to Work Day will include sites in Houghton, Michigan Technological University, Hancock and Calumet.

“Every time we do a Bike to Work Day, we add at least one site,” she said. “That all sprung from this group, and Houghton’s work in cycling.”