Being the open journal of a volunteer for a traffic study

July 21, 2017:  During lunch hour, Ludington City Hall had a call for volunteers to help their community, it looked like this on Facebook:

Within a half hour, I had e-mailed my buddy, City Manager John Shay, to take part in the traffic count.  A bit later that afternoon, he sent one back thanking me for volunteering and promised a schedule and some training when they finished compiling a list of volunteers over the next week or two.   Why did I volunteer?  It sounded interesting and I have an abnormal curiosity when it comes to such things.  Plus, I wanted to make sure it was done fairly and squarely.

August 2:  After twelve days of camping next to my computer, I received another E-mail from Shay.  This one informed me of when the training session would occur (Tuesday, August 8, at 1 PM) and when we would be put out in the streets for eight hours (the two days after training).  I say "we" because I found out that there were four other volunteers, who also took the dare.  I knew half of them by past acquaintance, knew the other two by name.  I sent Shay back an E-mail that evening telling him that I was able to avail myself each of those three days.  We were given a

August 8:  At precisely 12:55 PM I walked into city hall and told them I was there to learn how to count.  I was directed to the inner sanctum conference room in the northwest corner of the building, where Shay and an MDOT engineer, the trainer, a man named John Crossett.  How fitting that a man dealing with issues dealing with safely getting through streets and intersections was named 'Crossett'.  Shay told me that we would be trained to press buttons, I retorted to him that I already knew how to do that, which he quickly affirmed.

Shortly, I was joined by three other older men, Ray Madsen, Steve Miller, and Mike Lenich.  Besides their age, gender, and race (which I share too) they had another thing in common:  they were city officials.  Madsen is on the Ludington Planning Commission (LPC), while Miller and Lenich serve on the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).  The fourth volunteer was not able to make training or work the first day, she was a common citizen named Shelby Sowle. 

Both of the two city boards had discussed redoing Ludington Avenue from five lanes to three lanes, a road diet, and looked rather favorably on it.  At the June 9, 2014 DDA meeting, Lenich, then on the LPC, introduced the diet to the DDA members:

This wasn't anything new to him, he had went to MDOT meetings to learn more two years previously, as seen in the June 5, 2012 LPC meeting:

Madsen, an addition to the LPC after moving here very recently from Florida, made his opinion about this road diet at the June 12, 2017 city council meeting during public comment:

While Miller, who just joined the DDA at the beginning of the year, has never publicly discussed this road diet with his peers at any of those meetings, but I would find how he really felt about it in the near future...

Me, I'm an advocate for doing things the right way and the scientific way.  Without any knowledge of what a reduction of lanes could do for traffic, Ray Madsen said the city should try it.  Many others think it's a crazy idea and don't need a study to prove that.  My personal belief going into training is that a road diet would work for most of the year, but it would fail miserably in the tourist season, when it needs to do its best.  I look at a traffic study as providing proof or disproof of that hypothesis, depending on what the data suggested; the scientific method compelled me to get accurate results when I counted.

For these other three, I wasn't so sure, but we trained together and got the same methodology for keeping track of traffic.  Our tool was a specialized traffic counter which gave us twelve buttons to push for passing traffic at our intersections.  After orienting yourself to the north, if a car passed you going west, you would hit the '7' button.  If a motorcycle came from the south and took a left turn, you would hit the '12' key. 

The device wasn't too difficult to learn about, you had to enter various things to get to the count feature, but then you left it on for the day, recording each traffic unit as they passed through the intersection.  We would have three shifts as per the memo from Shay covering the early morning commute, lunch hours, and afternoon commute. 

Crossett notified us that this was his first training session, and he did a fine job-- not giving us too much to confuse us, just enough to do the work we volunteered for.  When the final decisions were made, I was assigned to Jackson Road on Wednesday and Robert Street on Thursday.  I was not eager to have to get up at farmer's hours, but eager enough to get the job underway. 

August 9:  I appreciated getting Jackson Road because it was probably going to be the busiest and it was just a block away from my mother's house.  Once my 6 AM alarm went off on my cell phone, I clicked the key to begin and stood behind my car in the northeast corner of the Rite Aid parking lot.  You could tell when the hospital workers were coming in, they turned north.  The rising sun made it difficult to see the crossing, I first got in the shade of the big Rite Aid sign, and eventually perched myself under one of their small trees during the lunch hour. 

It was a lot busier during the lunch hour, but I had learned that perching my thumbs on the '7' and '15' buttons allowed me to keep an eye on the traffic while recording the data.  Earlier on, I had hit the '5' button once on accident, when I wanted to press a '6' during a rush which led me to cracking down.  For the last three hours, I took one of my mother's lawn chairs to record the traffic. 

I saw some near accidents, but I saw more cooperation than I figured between motorists.  I saw quite a few people getting by on red lights going west, this included Ludington Fire Chief Jerry Funk  coming back into town non-code.  Next time hit the lights and siren, chief. 

A few people came up to me to either find out what I was doing or talk with me about other things.  I apologized greatly for being rude to these people by not being able to look them in the face, but I had traffic to count, and by the end of the day, my eyes, shaded or not, were tired. 

August 10:  Rain would threaten throughout the day, but there were only a few drops during the early afternoon.  I perched my car in front of the soon-to-be-demolished old NAPA building and relegated myself to getting comfortable as I waited for six bells.  Early morning traffic was devoid of any great rushes on Robert Street and Ludington Avenue, so it was easy to tabulate as I listened to the radio. 

Throughout the day, I saw a lot of pedestrians go up an down the avenue, and most probably wondered what the guy in the parked car with the mirrored glasses was doing staring at them as they went by.  Thankfully, no woman slapped me and no man hit me for my obsession with them while they were crossing my line of sight. 

Before my lunch shift, I got a giant drink at the local Wesco and admired the container technology that left me with ice at the bottom of my cup after two hours.  During that period, I decided I wanted to conduct my own traffic counts while pressing the buttons.  Our device worked on 15 minute increments and beeped at the beginning of each, I figured I would count how long it took me to get to press 100 buttons, each representing a unit of traffic. 

In the five periods I did this during the lunch hour, I reached 100 in a range of 5:22 to 5:45 minutes/seconds.  That means 500 units crossed in about 271/2 minutes, a rate of over 1000 an hour.  I would repeat this procedure in the afternoon's twelve periods ranging this time between 4:55 and 6:55 minutes/seconds.  The average was just over 6 minutes, meaning that there was about 3000 going through the intersection in those three hours.  Even down that far on Ludington Avenue, the daily traffic must have crested 10,000. 

During the latter two shifts, Steve Miller was up at Rath Street just a block away keeping track of his traffic.  When the last shift finished I decided to go over and talk with him.  We talked a little bit about Ludington politics and his own political ambitions, but we also talked a bit about the study we were involved in.  And after talking with him for awhile on the topic, it was clear that he was as big an advocate for the road diet as Ray Madsen and Mike Lenich appeared to be.  Like them he seems to be eager for this reduction to three lanes regardless of what the study says, and I find that unfortunate for the direction of our city's future.

After amicably parting our ways, I couldn't help but wonder why city officials gung-ho on seeing the city reduce its streets by two lanes would volunteer for a scientific study that would likely deflate their dreams if actual traffic figures I counted were used (if I read traffic engineer studies correctly).  Science and politics are never good bedfellows. 

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Ludington is turning into a sinus infection. Clogged and contaminated. May the congestion choke the streets arteries into a clot. I hope everyone remembers to HONK YOUR HORN when you are stuck in traffic!!  Let the world hear you'

Something just doesn't seem right regarding this traffic diet situation. Why do people want this lane reduction? Has any City official stated an opinion based on logic because I see no logical reason for it. Maybe a small town like Scottville benefits from fewer lanes in it's main street area but a busy State trunk line such as Ludington's downtown ave needs to have a smooth flow of traffic. By eliminating a lane in both directions the obvious conclusion is a slower movement and more congestive traffic flow not only because of the fact that vehicles will be squeezed into a smaller area of roadway but people parking next to the curb will add to traffic stoppage. If the reduction occurs there will be no way cars can pass other vehicles pulling in and out of the curb side parking now available. Every time someone tries to back into a parking space a mini traffic jam will ensue. This will be bad enough during the non tourists season but will be a nightmare when the ave. is full of tourists traffic. Then we have the possibility of increased accidents caused by hurried drivers trying to beat the light in order to limit their driving time through town and the accidents caused by people doing their curb parking dances.

Wouldn't it have made more sense to install cameras at each intersection then count the number and types of vehicles by reviewing the recordings in a more calm and relaxed setting at the end of the day. This would eliminate any errors and would provide a permanent storage of data which could be reviewed at any time after the study. 

Knowing how these City Hall types operate, I can only conclude that the fishy smell is strong regarding the motives behind the lane reduction idea.

City leaders have voiced some benefits of the road diet over the years, including but not limited to:

improve the parking situation on the avenue with increased spots and safety,

slow down traffic going through the downtown so they will be more likely to visit the shops,

allow bike lanes,

expand sidewalk dining.

After conversing with Miller, it was evident that he had discussed the issue with someone knowledgeable of what Ludington wants to do.  Restriping the avenue will not be expensive, a big expense will be entailed though to synchronize the lights, noting that synchronization will aid only traffic going one way and likely hinder the other way's progress, including pedestrian crossings, and turns.  He also mentioned that there has been talk of using Loomis and Court Streets as alternative routes by making them one way and putting speed bumps on them at intervals. 

I can't help but think that the current system has its problems, but the proposed system I heard of looks complex, a lot more inefficient, and a lot more stressful to all vehicles. 

In a recent visit to our neighboring town of Whitehall to the south of us it looks like they did some street reconstruction recently. It seems they widened the roadway and narrowed the sidewalks. Not sure of that but main street sure looked  wider.

Years ago I was at a seminar where the speaker talked about the road to Abilene, [ Abilene paradox ]  This might be the situation here. We see it all the time with our city council.

Thanks for the information stump. I had never heard of the Abilene Paradox. After looking up the term on the internet I'm inclined to believe that this Paradox does not fit this situation only because of the history of decision making by Ludington's officials. Most of the time Ludington's leaders decide on courses of action that benefit themselves and their cronies. This self interest, in my opinion, is the driving force behind most of what goes on at City Hall.

Thanks for introducing the Abilene Paradox to me Stump, and thanks for the explanatory video, Willy.  I never heard of that before, but there is a similar thing working at Ludington City Hall which often leads to city officials cooperating on many issues.  I agree with Willy that there is another element or two added into the equation at city hall, but it generally follows the Abilene paradox template in a lot of situations.

I think the road to Abilene does compare with our city council. Ideas are put forth by Shay and the council just goes along with it without question. I don't think they read their meeting package to even question items that are on the agenda. Just a yeh vote and get over it no matter what anybody else says.  All aboard, NOT!!!!!!!

Well stump, I questioned councilor Krauch 3 times last year about the coming agenda for the next few days and his response was he didn't have time to read it, and seldom does before the mtg.. What does that say about knowing what's coming in the city and your ward? Imho, it says I have better things to do now, and I'll catch up at the mtg.. That isn't showing care and competency at all, it displays the same lazy and inefficient ways for too long being repeated by another new member of the so-called team. So Shyster Shay continues with this scenario, and pretty much gets his way 99% of the time, without anyone really coming to terms with their duties that sit with him on the exalted elevated stage.

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