Bicycling safety in Oakland County: It’s not about the money

In a prior post, we noted that many road agencies and municipalities in Metro Detroit are the major roadblock to getting safe bicycling facilities.

For example, the Road Commission of Oakland County refuses to acknowledge much less use best practices for bicycling facilities. They ignore the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHTO) guidelines for bicycling facilities. They ignore Federal Highway Administration guidance. They ignore bicycling safety studies that show their policies have been consistently found to be unsafe.

We appreciate the fact that Craig Bryson, Public Information Officer for the Road Commission for Oakland County responded:

The Road Commission for Oakland County has no objection to bikers. We simply have no money available to make costly improvements to roads to allow bikers. We cannot afford to simply maintain smooth pavement on the roads or even begin to address the massive congestion that clogs our roads everyday. It would be very difficult to justify spending scarce resources on bike facilities when we can’t maintain the existing roads. If you are proposing additional funding just for bike facilities, we’re more than willing to listen.

However, Craig isn’t correct. It’s not about the road money.

The primary roadblock to safe biking in Oakland County is the Road Commission’s policy of not supporting safe, AASHTO on-road bicycle facilities. Instead, Road Commission policy only supports bicycle facilities on wide sidewalks (so called “safety” paths) which are not recommended by AASHTO, MDOT, and others. They are not recommended for one main reason: studies find them much less safe for cyclists than on-road facilities like bike lanes.

It should be noted that we have twice asked the Road Commission for their documentation and justification for this policy. Their sole response was “[we] have not been able to find it yet.” According to that same official, this policy was set 19 years ago by a risk management committee. That tells us the policy was based on limiting the Road Commission’s perceived liability. [Note that MDOT and the Michigan Attorney General’s office has weighed in on this issue recently. We’ll cover it in a future news entry.]

Even if one believes that money is the issue, there are significant sources of funding available specifically for bicycling facilities, including but not limited to Transportation Enhancements, CMAQ, private grant sources (e.g. Bikes Belong), and Act 51 funds.

And speaking of Act 51, it requires Road Commissions to spend not less than 1% of their road funding on non-motorized facilities. In the past, the Road Commission for Oakland County used a loophole in the state law to count the paving of gravel roads as a bicycle facility. Bicycling advocates have since changed state law and removed that loophole, so that should free up Act 51 monies to pay for legitimate bicycle facilities.

But perhaps what we find offensive about the money excuse is it puts the safety of bicyclists below other road users. Does the Road Commission for Oakland County ignore nearly all safety issues for motorists due to a lack of money? Of course not.

Besides, how can the money excuse have any justification given the Road Commission’s goal “Quality Life through Good Roads — ‘We Care'”? When I’m riding on an Oakland County road with no safe accommodation for cycling, “We Care” is not what pops into my head.

For cyclists, their mission statement is even more egregious:

Our Mission:

To provide the public with leadership in:

  • Safe and convenient roads
  • Sound financial management
  • Respect for the environment
  • Sensitivity to community concerns
  • Responsive and dependable service

What will it take to get the Road Commission for Oakland County to live up to their mission, become a leader in bike safety, and start using existing funding to support safe bicycling on the many roads they manage?


  1. The Road Commission uses the term Good Roads in their goal — a term that was coined and promoted by cyclists in the late 1800s.
  2. In 1893, bicyclists led by Edward Hines created and helped pass the state law that allowed county road commissions in Michigan.

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3 Responses to “Bicycling safety in Oakland County: It’s not about the money”

  1. Christine Walden Says:

    …Not to mention that adding a reasonable and safe path for cyclists might unclog some of the congestion that the Road Commission uses as a reason to NOT put in bike lanes. The answer, however, is going to lie with the Oakland County board of Commissioners — they appoint the members of the RCOC, even though the RCOC sometimes acts like they own the roads or something!?! They don’t. We do. It’s our tax dollars — every step of the way. For local road issues, find out who owns it, who controls it and who controls who controls it. In Oakland County, it’s the board of comissioners. If it’s MDOT, good luck. They DO own the roads and act like it.

    Government is so used to thinking automotive around here that they can’t even consider any other kind of transportation as an alternative. The Michigan Department of Transportation, not the Michigan Department of Automotive Transportation. They need to step to the plate. Parked in every garage, right beside the gas guzzler, is a free to use two wheel vehicle. Government needs to get with it, change gears and start addressing the future, not clinging to the past.

    Enough said from this party.

  2. Steven Dunn Says:

    It would be nice if the Road Commission were to take the initiative w/r bike lanes or even paved shoulders that allow for cyclists to share the roadways without danger or invconvenience. The Free Press just published an article about cycling. The author (name not known) is a committed cyclist (got a Trek Madrone for Father’s Day). There was also an article about one of the recently completed bike routes in Macomb Township. It might be worth working with this writer to develope a series of articles that deal with bike safety, bike commuting and the adequecy of the roads . At the end of each article there could be a survey that you ask the reader to complete – one question or two, yes or no (i.e., Do you feel the roads are adequet for safe bike commuting???). One could set up a rating system for all mile and similar roads that would look at various aspects – from road repair issues, to existence of a paved shoulder/cycling lane, to frequency of use. I suspect the local cycling clubs (formal) and some of the groups that cycle out of the various bike shops (informal) could assist in this rating. If it were done annually it would provide valuable information for riders and would also be information that could be published (embarrasing some road commissions into action). It would also provide some solid data to present to road commissions (from the road assessment and newspaper survey) to argue for a more proactive role and to set up a priority system to look at which roads are being used most frequently and deserve attention first.

  3. Paul Eddleston Says:

    Safe accomodation, 1% of this or that, it’s all pretty irrelavent. Basically the road system and it’s lack of suitability for cycling is just one more reason for the best and brightest NOT to live in Michigan. I think if we get that argument on the Governors desk something might get done.

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