Green Highways: You can’t drive 55

600px-US_12.svgHere’s an interesting article from Time Magazine about making some lessor used Michigan highways more friendly to bikes, electric vehicles, and the like. One highway being looked at is U.S. 12 which connects Detroit and Chicago before continuing on to the Pacific coast.

Kim Gallagher has a plan for America’s “blue highways,” the thousands of miles of dusty, old single-lane heritage routes that wind desolately through the countryside: turn them green. Superseded by high-speed interstates, many of these narrow byways have been long forgotten, along with the faded small towns they connect, says Gallagher, a project manager for the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. But off-the-beaten-path America can be revived, she says, by transforming little-used roadways into “green highways” that cater specifically to electric-vehicle drivers and other slow-moving, eco-minded tourists traveling by bicycle or on foot.

This month, Gallagher and Peter Hanses, who manages 17 heritage routes for Michigan’s Department of Transportation, will attend a meeting with representatives from the communities along U.S. 12 to decide exactly that: whether to pass a resolution to make the old roadway the country’s first dedicated green corridor. U.S. 12 began as a patchwork of ancient Native American trails and became Michigan’s first paved road, stretching 212 miles from Detroit to Chicago, connecting 25 quaint towns, each about 12 miles (or, a day’s lazy horse ride) apart.

U.S. 12 is a Michigan heritage route, too.

It certainly would be great to have a long continuous designed bike route between Detroit and Chicago.

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9 Responses to “Green Highways: You can’t drive 55”

  1. kelliwheelhouse Says:

    this would be amazing. thanks for your diligence in keeping up with all this stuff.

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    Thanks, Kelli. I did see your name on the U.S. 12 Michigan Heritage Route plan. Thanks for being a part of that. I didn’t realize that had been done.

  3. Mike Ingels Says:

    Hi Todd!

    I’ve lived in Manchester, Tecumseh and Onsted. So US-12 has been part of my route to work for many years.

    First off, I think that the idea of a dead Irish Hills is overstated. Visitors see the closed observation towers and think that the place is past its prime. But the true appeal of the Irish Hills is the collection of 40+ lakes within an hour of Metro Detroit. Basically, instead of towns, the area is centered on lake communities. And these seem to be holding their value better than other regional properties. These roads are clogged most weekends with recreational fishermen, campers and cottage owners. And while some attractions have died, others – like Hidden Lake Gardens, MIS, several wineries, outdoors stores like Knutson’s and Cabela’s have brought people to the area in what I believe to be equal measure to the golden days.

    Jerry’s Pub on Wampler’s Lake, the Beach Bar on Clarks Lake, Co-Co-Nuts on US-12 an other night spots have very active entertainment scenes with local bands on the weekends. The Bluestage in Napoleon brings in national blues acts to Napoleon. Adrian boasts a symphony orchestra, three colleges and the longest continually operating opera house in the nation.

    And there has been much redevelopment in the towns within this corridor. Clinton, Tecumseh and Brooklyn are probably models for small-town planning. All three have good long-range plans that have focused on parks, pedestrian corridors and downtown streetscape projects.

    I am very skeptical of any plan to decrease the speeds on these roads to anything less than 55. The economic downturn has hit Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties especially hard. And, given the fact that many industrial jobs have left, a high percentage of people in the area commute to places like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti for work. I don’t think that the area is sustainable without a major 55 mph roadway.

    But I am very much in favor of “green” initiatives along US-12. There are now farmer’s markets in Clinton and at the Walker Tavern. MIS is implementing wetland restoration and trail systems on its 1400 acres of racetrack lands that are used only twice per years. The River Raisin in Washtenaw County has seen roughly 2,000 additional acres of land purchases for nature preserves. Clinton has just connected Tate Park to its downtown with a bridge and new trails are planned. The Sharon Mills County Park/Nan Weston Nature Conservancy Preserve/Sharonville State Game Area provide opportunities for a 10+ mile backpacking route with dispersed camping on the Washtenaw/Jackson border. The Sharon Short Hills have several preserves and very hilly terrain. The lake community at Clarks Lake hosts a yearly triathlon and is paving a privately-funded pathway all around the lake.

    Much of US-12 has nice wide shoulders. And there are very few McDonald’s or chain developments. Both M-52 and US-127 have massively wide road rights-of-way with hilly terrain that would make for nice mountain bike trails if communities got behind the idea.

    The wider Irish Hills is underappreciated in terms of recreational opportunities, close-knit communities, proximity to larger populations centers and value for the travel dollar.

  4. Mike Ingels Says:

    Oh, one more thing. The route is already a premier weekend daytrip for the region’s motorcyclists. Motorcycle traffic is heavy on weekends and there a handful of Harley-Davidson shops and upscale biker bars at major intersections.

  5. The Erie Hiker » US-12 Redevelopment in Time Magazine Says:

    […] […]

  6. Paul V Says:

    A group of cities are now working on establishing a United States Bicycle Route 35 along the Lake Michigan shore up to the Soo, from New Buffalo to Sault Ste Marie. There is another group working on USBR 20 from Port Huron to Ludington.

    One thing that I have pointed out to the USBR national committee is that there is no route designated from Chicago along the south shore of Lake Michigan and on to Detroit. I have asked if this could be added but it might be useful to show some support, if this type of route is desired.

  7. Todd Scott Says:

    Paul, Will you be attending the MATAG Post Conference session on the USBRS? If so, I should be for at least a portion of the session. There’s also a session on the Michigan Airline Trail which runs across the lower portion of the state.

  8. Paul V Says:

    No, I am not able to attend the conference.

    Here is a link to a brief comment about connecting Detroit and Chicago. I have had success in getting a corridor amended by sending an email to all persons on the USBR committee. After some discussion, they extended USBR 35 from Mackinaw City to Sault Ste Marie. So they are open to changes in the corridor plan.

    One can make the case that a route parallel to US 12 would connect Chicago to Detroit AND Toronto.

  9. Todd Scott Says:

    That extension north to the Sault makes sense.

    Of course if that Detroit-Chicago route doesn’t make the US BRS, there’s little stopping us from designating it as Michigan Route through MDOT.

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