Saugatuck Officials Say Safety, Cost Are Two Biggest Issues Needed For Bike Trail Plan To Succeed
The debate over the proposed bike trail spanning the Blue Star Highway bridge and interconnecting the Tri-Community continues to boil.
During Monday night’s Saugatuck City Council meeting local bicycling enthusiasts expressed “perplexity” regarding what they say has been continual opposition to the trail by Saugatuck officials.
Council members vehemently rejected any notion they were against bike paths, and once again, said safety was their priority.
They also maintained they were being responsive to their constituents and called on Friends of the Blue Star Highway and its engineer to provide more complete plans, not mere “conceptual” representations of ideas.
Some officials think the latest proposed route—many alternatives have been previously discussed— from the Friends of the Blue Star Highway has some possibilities. Similar to the original proposal, it entails spanning the Blue Star bridge, then across Lake Street, going in front of the palette sign along Blue Star Highway. The railing along the Blue Star, just north of the sign, would be moved east as to make room for the the 10-foot trail.
“I love to ride bikes; I’ve been riding bikes since I was 6 years old,” said Saugatuck resident Barbara Lucier, 73. She lives on Park Street and told council that crossing the Blue Star Highway Bridge with her bike to get into downtown is riskier than it needs to be when there is no adequate, dedicated bike lane.
“I would love for you to cooperate (with Friends of the Blue Star Trail and surrounding municipalities) to get something built,” she added.
“I am so disappointed that we are not on the bandwagon,” said a Douglas resident, of the nation-wide movement towards bicycle friendly infrastructure.
“It is not like we are building a nuclear power plant. It’s quiet, it’s exercise, and it’s green. How can a town be against that?”
Saugatuck resident Steve Burd said, “I would encourage you (the council) to consider not being a roadblock and finish this project.”
Not all joined in the protest against officials.
Saugatuck resident Sherry Tedaldi opposes the trail. She lives along Blue Star Highway where Saugatuck Township is planning on constructing their part of the trail.
“I was told by a biker, ‘The reason we don’t ride (along the road and on bike lanes) is because it is dangerous,’” said Tedaldi.
She also expressed concerns about not having legacy money for future maintenance of the trail.
In response to public concerns, Saugatuck City Mayor Pro-Tem Ken Trester said, “Unfortunately, we are being portrayed as being against bike trails.
“We’ve asked (Douglas officials, Friends of the Blue Star Trail, and their engineer) that these concerns (safety, cost, etc.) to be addressed and they haven’t been addressed.”
Saugatuck City Council Member Jane Verplank said, “I think public safety has to be a priority.
“The bridge is a nightmare (to attempt to modify and put a bike lane in).”
She went on, noting, “I am sorry but this is not a well laid out plan.”
There were some differing opinions even among city council members themselves, with some more open than others about continuing to study trail path options.
When Saugatuck City Council Member Jeff Spangler made a motion at the beginning of the meeting to put the issue on the agenda—it was not part of Monday’s official agenda—the motion was turned down by one vote, Saugatuck City Council Member Bill Hess’ no vote. Per city charter, any addition to the agenda at the time a meeting is in progress must receive unanimous support if it is to be incorporated.
Hess reasoned that it was unfair to his constituents to put something on the agenda few in the public would have prior knowledge about, and thus have no opportunity to discuss or question.
Nevertheless, Spangler and colleagues discussed the matter during the council comments section of the meeting and responded to audiences’ concerns.
City officials responded to the argument made by Friends of the Blue Star Trail that city engineers have refused to meet with Friends’ engineers to go over trailway options by contending a plan was never submitted to justify engineering expenses, only mere “conceptual” representations.
Friends of the Blue Star Trail is the all-volunteer organization developing and promoting the proposed 20-mile recreation path interconnecting lakeshore communities, from South Haven to Saugatuck Township.
Thanks to state- and federally funded grants, the 10-foot non-motorized trail project is moving forward to the north and south of the City of Saugatuck, in the City of Douglas and Saugatuck Township.
Saugatuck officials resolved to continue discussing the matter at the next workshop on Wednesday, April 5.