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Happy Trails Along the Michigan, Indiana Border

By Steve Dwyer

Connecting the dots is a well-worn expression. It's often applied abstractly but a real-world example comes in the form of dynamic transportation-oriented game-planning.

This is what's shaping up along the Michigan and Indiana border in "Michiana" where a government council is taking head on the challenge to bind fragmented trail systems.

Local leaders in Michiana have seen great returns on public investments in downtown revitalization and recreational trails to attract new development and residents. A block or two outside of those downtown footprints, dangerous conditions make it hard for people to walk or bike safely. And the region's trail system is neither complete nor designed to help people walk or bike as a mode of transportation.

Recently, the Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG) approached the National Complete Streets Coalition for assistance to solve this breach. Complete Streets is about more than remaking one given street, but about creating a connected network where people can easily travel anywhere they need to go by a variety of travel modes.

One outgrowth of the outreach comes in the form of a "Complete Streets workshop series" made available in one of four formats. Workshops are customized to adhere to each community's unique needs. Washington D.C.-based Smart Growth America (SGA) is involved in facilitating this initiative.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

SGA is helping to bring together communities such as MACOG interested in Complete Streets to make the entire region safer and more convenient for everyone, no matter their age, ability, income, race, or how they choose to travel.

For the first time, it's helping a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) such as MACOG run a competitive application process for communities in their region. After meeting with local municipal leaders, SGA is working with MACOG to design a competitive application process that MACOG will administer. Approximately three communities will be selected to receive a Complete Streets workshop from SGA.

The new model will let the organization help multiple communities at the same time, supporting three jurisdictions seeking to develop their own Complete Streets policies. It will also provide a workshop for MACOG staff to help them build out their own Complete Streets policy and implementation strategy for the entire jurisdiction.

In early June, SGA traveled to North Central Indiana for a tour of the region hosted by MACOG, and met with five local mayors to learn more about their goals and unique challenges—such as the region's large Amish population and a retail cluster designed primarily for people driving cars.

SGA says it will be working with Michiana over the next several weeks to open the competition and, later this fall, select the winners. It's regarded my the sponsors as a great way for an MPO to bring together communities and create a region-wide Complete Streets approach, according to Smart Growth America.

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