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Michigan Puts Road Engineers on Bikes

10:33 AM PDT on August 12, 2011

Do you ever feel like traffic engineers just don’t get it? That there is a hopeless disconnect between the world of sustainable transportation and the world of “level of service” and “vehicle throughput?”

Well, the Michigan Department of Transportation has a remedy for that. They call it “Training Wheels.”

Since 2005, MDOT has been putting traffic engineers, planners and public officials behind the handlebars for a view from the other side of the windshield. Hundreds of transportation officials and decision makers have received training in bike planning, but perhaps more importantly, experienced the streets from a cyclist’s perspective.

Demand for Training Wheels has been growing in the Wolverine State, as more and more communities see the benefits of encouraging cycling. As a result, MDOT doubled its offerings in 2008. They now offer four to eight voluntary trainings a year for local officials at field offices across the state, said Josh Debruyn, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for MDOT.

“There’s a knowledge gap between what is taught at the university level and what people are being asked to design,” said DeBruyn.

Since many planners and engineers have little formal training in bicycling facilities, the program begins with two hours review of the AASHTO bikeway design guide. That is followed by a few hours of “field training.” For this portion, participants don helmets and orange vests and take to the streets on two wheels.

Many participants haven’t been on a bicycle in decades, DeBruyn said. But MDOT makes every effort to make them feel comfortable.

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