Douglas, Saugatuck Township & Bike Group Put Path On Wrong Side Of Blue Star Highway: Engineers
For now the Blue Star Trail bike path remains—as Saugatuck city officials warned their counterparts before they began to build it—a “trail to nowhere” because there is no existing trail that connects it to Saugatuck Township’s portion on the north and City of Douglas’ portion to the south.
That problem - and Saugatuck officials’ pleas to deal with it before any path was built - was ignored not only by Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials, but also by officials of Friends of the Blue Star Trail, the biking group behind the effort to build a bike path between South Haven and Saugatuck Township.
The safest route for the non-motorized bike trail not only runs through the intersection of the Blue Star Highway and Lake Street (Saugatuck’s portion), but through the entire Tri-Community (Douglas, Saugatuck, and the township), which is along the east side of the road, Fleis & Vandenbrink engineers told The Local Observer Newspapers Tuesday and who previously advised Saugatuck city officials.
The engineers’ advice coincides with what some local cyclists have expressed: the bike path should have been constructed along the east side, not the west side of Blue Star Highway.
But Douglas and Saugatuck Township officials never conducted a feasibility or engineering study to determine where the bike path should be located along the Blue Star Highway despite repeated requests and warnings by Saugatuck officials to do so.
Now that the township and Douglas have already constructed portions of the trail on the west side of Blue Star Highway, any potential future construction on Saugatuck’s portion on the east side will be more complex and would present a safety-hazard than it otherwise would have been, as pedestrians and cyclists would have to cross from the west to the east side across the busy highway, say engineers.
Nevertheless, building the path along the east side has its own problems too: it would possibly require a bridge on sections of it and “it has proven to be a very expensive proposal,” said Fleis & Vandenbrink Project Manager Jonathan Moxey.
For Saugatuck officials, the trail has always presented numerous safety concerns at a very complex and busy intersection, Blue Star and Lake Street.
In addition, other ideas for alternate routes from Friends of the Blue Star Trail have presented their own issues for the Saugatuck leadership.
Saugatuck officials have also warned about legacy costs, not satisfied with what the all-volunteer Friends of the Blue Star Trail—the group advocating, applying for grants, seeking donations, and partnering with municipalities on the proposed trail project—has provided them in response to their concerns so far.
However, in an attempt to appease those concerns and push forward, the Friends of the Blue Star Trail group recently commissioned Fleis & Vandenbrink to conduct an $18,000 study to determine the “safety,” “cost,” and “functionality” of the proposed trail traversing the Saugatuck portion, including both east and west side options.
Why the biking group never initially conducted that important study before lobbying the governments along the then-planned path route remains unanswered by Friends of the Blue Star Trail organization.
Asked what his professional opinion and experience told him about what was the safest route for the trail, Moxey said, “If we had planned the trail through the entire area (the Tri-community) from scratch, the east side of the road would have made the most sense to build the trail.”
President of Friends of the Blue Star Trail Board John Adams was unable to be reached for comment for this article. And newly elected Saugatuck Township Stacey Aldrich says she supports the bike trail and actually uses it, but feels there should have been more cooperation among the affected parties.
“Unfortunately, representatives from all three communities didn’t sit down before it was constructed to iron out all the issues. I believe in the bike trail. I believe it should be completed.”
Some local bike path enthusiasts have lauded the efforts by Douglas and the township; others have reported minor accidents and near misses due to motorists being confused by the trail’s configuration along the Douglas Blue Star Corridor, according to government leaders and police.