Articles

Important Information

By Kimberly Jongsma, Public Outreach and Planning Specialist

Finding a place to park is often an issue in downtowns, especially during events. The first solution most people think of is to add more spaces and lots, but making convenient “free” parking a sole priority can decrease a downtown’s vibrancy. There is such a thing as too much parking (think of Kmart lots). Downtowns are for people, not cars, so keep it on a pedestrian scale. Regulation and communication can keep parking demands in balance. (For a much smaller cost!)

Downtown Parking Policy

Time Limits and High Turnover

Does your “main street” have on-street parking with no time limit? If so, you are encouraging longer stays and discouraging quick errands, or “high turnover.” For those just dropping in for their 15-minute errand or one-hour lunch, not being able to find parking may deter them from going downtown at all. Parking time limits (anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours) encourage higher turnover, which means more people circulating through the downtown businesses. If someone intends to visit your downtown for a long stay, parking off-street or farther away won’t bother them too much. Many people don’t mind walking a block or two, though handicap and other designated spaces are a must for those who need easier access.

This kind of smart regulation can also include reserved spaces for residents and employees of your downtown. Their main concern is having a reliable space within a reasonable distance of their home or work. That’s something you can work with—they’re guaranteed a spot for when they need it (even if it’s off-street).

Update your parking policy so everyone can be happy. It is possible! Here are some on-street parking categories:

  • Handicap designation with ADA accessibility (obviously a must)
  • 15-30 minute multi-use spaces
  • 30-minute parking
  • Two-hour or four-hour parking
  • Expectant Mothers / Small Children Priority Spaces
  • Senior Citizen Priority Spaces
  • Motorcycle spaces
  • Convenient bicycle parking
  • Restricted hours (No overnight parking, only between 8am-6pm, etc.)
  • Permit spaces (for residents, employees, etc)
  • Reserved spaces (for residents, employees, etc)

Signs and pavement symbols make people aware of these policies; local enforcement is the other half of making this work. Parking tickets don’t have to be very expensive to get the message across.

Just a Communication Issue?

Sometimes a parking problem is really a communication problem in disguise. Maybe there is enough parking, but not enough awareness: do the residents know where they can park downtown? Are time limits and costs clear? Are designated spaces marked and labeled?  Uncertainty can cause stress and confusion for visitors. Have plenty of signs saying where parking is allowed, and for how long. A downtown parking map is very helpful for residents and visitors: an easy-to-read map showing what types of parking are available. Make it available online so they can use it in planning their trip. When hosting community events, put instructions and visuals in the flyers/invitations for where to park, or other ways people can get downtown.

Conclusion

Plan parking with your community. Come to an agreement on a set of rules that puts pedestrians first, but makes parking and wayfinding easy. This way, everyone wins.

Have a specific question? Our traffic engineer, planner, landscape architect, and streetscape engineers are ready to help! Call us: 616-364-8491.

By Dana R. Burd, P.E., LEED AP

Does your facility require an Industrial Storm Water Permit? If you have storm water leaving your site, the answer could be ‘yes’. The Michigan DEQ began issuing Industrial Storm Water Permits in 1994. Regulated facilities that have never obtained a permit may qualify for a Consent Order (as described in this 4-page guide) to avoid potential enforcement actions.

How do you know if a storm water permit is needed for your facility? Begin by answering these three questions:

1.  Is the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code for your facility federally regulated?

2.  Does the storm water runoff discharge to surface waters of the state?

3.  Are industrial materials and/or activities exposed to storm water runoff?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all three of these questions, industrial storm water permit coverage is required. If you are unsure of the answer to any of the questions above, our Certified Industrial Storm Water Operators can help. And, if necessary, we can prepare the required Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP)  and the Notice of Intent and Certificate of Entry (NOI/COE) application forms.

The Michigan DEQ Industrial Program website also provides some good guidance.

By  Barbara E. Marczak, P.E., Prein&Newhof

Last September, I became Chair of the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). With over 50,000 members, including 1,600 in Michigan, AWWA is the nation’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to managing and treating water.

Little did I realize then that one of the biggest public drinking water crises would unfold in Michigan and reach the size it has today.  As I watch the media cover Flint’s water crisis, I’ve been moved by the public’s disbelief, concern, anger, a desire to help, and the emerging efforts to prevent something similar from happening again.

Drinking Water’s History

Looking back over 100 years ago, Americans often died after drinking untreated water. Health professionals hailed modern water treatment technology and distribution systems as the most significant public health advancement of the last century. While safe drinking water has contributed significantly to economic development and prosperity in the United States, there have still been incidences when a water system failure sickened or even killed those using it. In 1993, over 400,000 people in Milwaukee became ill with Cryptosporidiosis. In 2000, over half the 5,000 people in Walkerton, Ontario became sick by drinking water from wells contaminated with E. coli, and in 2002, a change in water treatment in Washington, D.C., led to the release of lead from water service lines.

Water professionals, myself included, learned from these incidents. We found better ways to treat drinking water, adopted more vigilant testing and monitoring protocols, and found better ways to work with public health professionals in tracking potential issues. I’m sure we’ll learn from Flint, too.

Responding

In my role as Chair of the Michigan Section AWWA, I am committed to working with our members to offer education and information that will help prevent future incidents. Since September, I have worked hard with other leaders in the Michigan Section to execute the AWWA’s mission to train water professionals while providing networking and learning opportunities. As an example, the Michigan Section AWWA and the Michigan Water Environment Association (MWEA) earlier in February hosted the largest yearly gathering of water professionals and vendors of water treatment and maintenance equipment in Michigan. Besides operator training sessions, water professionals saw the latest technology and equipment in the drinking water and wastewater treatment industry. Through these activities, AWWA and MWEA helps educate engineers and operators responsible for designing, operating and delivering safe drinking water.  Many of these same professionals are responsible for keeping our lakes, rivers, and streams clean and free of environmental contaminants.  Although the Flint crisis dominated our discussions with each other, the event reminded us of the many positive reasons we work in the water industry.

Nineteen of Prein&Newhof’s professional engineers and scientists belong to these organizations so they enhance their ability to design the public infrastructure we rely upon and take for granted. We volunteer our time in these and many other industry organizations as a way to learn, teach, support, and give back to our profession and our communities.

Please contact me, Prein&Newhof, or the AWWA if you have drinking water questions. If you want to know what’s in your water, we test that, too. Our environmental laboratory is MDEQ-certified to test drinking water for many impurities, including lead and copper.

By James R. Hegarty, PE

Have you ever been disappointed with an engineering firm’s work? Did it ever occur to you that your hiring process might have unwittingly set your project up for failure from the start?  Jim Hegarty, engineer and business development specialist, has gathered some tips for hiring engineering consultants.

 

1: Invite a quality list of firms to submit proposals.

When you are hunting for the perfect engineering consultant for your project, it’s better to hunt with a rifle than a shotgun, or fish with a pole instead of a net. Sending your RFP/Q to every possible firm says that that you are willing to work with anybody. It will also get you stacks and stacks of proposals to evaluate.

The most qualified firms often do not spend their time and money to respond to these “shotgun” RFP/Qs, leaving you with a less-than-optimal pool of respondents. Do your homework first. You know one or more firms that do the type of work you are planning. You may also know one or two firms that you can eliminate. If you want to invite a quality list of firms, ask people you trust in other communities who they would recommend inviting for a particular type of project. You will save yourself a lot of time and get better results for your community.

 

2: Answer these eight questions in your RFP…every time.

Over the last 20 years, I have responded to hundreds of requests for proposals and qualifications (RFP/Qs) issued by communities. Unfortunately, I have seen many examples where a well-intentioned community short-changed itself with a poorly conceived RFP/Q. Every RFP/Q should provide this basic information:

  1. Due date and time.
  2. Delivery address.
  3. Person to whom the RFP response should be delivered.
  4. Number of copies needed. Have you considered receiving these in digital form (pdf)?
  5. Describe your proposed project and your expectations for it.
  6. Identify the information you want included in responses, in the order you prefer.
  7. Who is available to answer technical questions? Administrative questions?
  8. Outline your review and selection schedule.

 

3: Expect these seven questions from serious proposers.

Serious respondents always ask these questions, and you may as well answer as many of them as you can in your RFP/Q.

  • What is your selection criteria and weighting?
  • Who else received your RFP/Q?
  • Who will review the RFP/Q responses?
  • What have you budgeted for the professional fees? Ensuing project?
  • Is additional information about the project available? Studies, maps, surveys, etc.?
  • When will you make your selection decision?
  • Can we meet with you prior to the due date to discuss the project in greater detail?

The more transparent your process, the more willing you are to share information and meet with interested firms, the better responses you can expect. The best firms are selective on the work they pursue, so withholding information or shielding yourself from meaningful engagement are “red flags” that may convince a qualified firm to “pass” on your RFP.

 

4: Be careful what you ask for in your RFP.

When you evaluate a firm’s response to your RFP, you want to see relevant information. But, be careful what you ask for! Reading a stack of engineering proposals can be a mind-numbing task. Avoid asking for information that does not directly relate to your needs. Focus on three areas:

  1. The Project Manager: Assuming you have invited responses from firms with good reputations, the most critical element in every project is the proposed project manager. Ask to see relevant information about his or her experience with the specific type of project you are planning. This is the person with whom you and your community will interact during the project, so it’s critical to know as much as you can about him or her.
  2. The Work Plan: A written work plan is the consultant’s opportunity to share with you the process they will use to design your project, and to describe any unique approaches or ideas they will apply to it. The work plan both reveals the proposers’ enthusiasm for your project and their level of preparation for and understanding of your needs.
  3. References: This is especially important for your project manager. The materials you receive in proposals merely reflect a firm’s style. Reference checks will reveal true substance if your project manager has it.

 

5: Read between the proposal’s lines.

When you evaluate a firm’s response to your RFP, you want to see relevant information. Sometimes you need a snow shovel to find it. Were the relevant projects in the firm’s experience portfolio just like your proposed project? If they were, did your proposed project manager design/manage them? Is the project manager used to working with and leading other technical team members? Connect the dots. If you cannot answer “yes” to either of these questions, keep looking. These are red flags.

Look at the project manager’s work history. How long has he or she been with this firm? Other firms? Ask another community about their bad experiences: changing project managers in the middle of a project will rank near the top of their list. Has the proposed project manager actually managed this type of project before? Been the design leader on similar projects? Or just a team member? Read their resume and their relevant project summaries carefully. Make sure their role on example projects is the same as their proposed role on your project. (If your selection process includes an interview, insist that the project manager lead the interview. Since this is the person who will lead your project and interact with you and your public during it, why allow someone else who is a “smooth talker” dominate the interview? You may never see that person again. There is only one person with whom you will interact regularly; the project manager. Make sure the project manager has the experience you need.)

Are some of the cited relevant projects from an employee’s work at another firm? If so, is that person’s role clear? Is the project credited properly to the other firm? Similarly, is there someone on the project team who has relevant experience, but does not appear to play a key role other than “advisor?”

Read the technical team’s qualifications carefully, too. How deep is this team’s experience? Has this same team done this type of work before? Does someone other than the project manager have most or all of the experience with this type of project? Why is that person not leading your team? If not, will that person have a significant role on your project, or is their resume included as window dressing? If some of the team’s work experience is from other firms or past employers, is that information properly attributed? It’s important to read resumes and project histories carefully to discern your proposed team’s actual experience. If the written materials are not crystal clear as to a person’s role on past projects, assume nothing. Ask!

 

6: Meet with prospective firms individually.

Transparency and fairness are fine qualities, but they do not always help you get the most out of your proposal process. While pre-proposal meetings may appear to be an efficient way to share information with a large number of firms, they are not an effective way for you to improve the quality of the proposals you receive. Group settings like this seriously stifle creativity because most proposers have no interest in sharing their insightful questions with their competitors. If you’re interested in receiving quality proposals, you need to meet with each serious firm face-to-face. This is the engineering professional’s diagnostic opportunity to really understand your needs and respond with valuable solutions to them.

I’ve noticed that clients often ask all firms to submit questions in writing so they can share the question and answer with all firms in an addendum. Thought this is efficient and may make your job easier, it does not make for better proposals. You need to be willing to meet individually with each firm, allowing a free exchange of questions, thoughts and ideas, so you can get the maximum benefit out of the proposals you receive.

The proposal process is all about getting the best for your community.

 

7: Price proposals: you lose.

While it may sound self-serving for an engineer to say that the selection of professional service providers based on price is inadvisable, I’ll say it. Price proposals are a bad idea. The popular claim “When banks compete, you win!” is opposite for engineering services.When engineers compete on price, you lose.

Why? While engineering fees are a small fraction of a project’s overall cost, engineering decisions not only influence a project’s initial cost; they also affect your overall, long-term cost of ownership. Price-based selections often result in what I call “hit-and-run” engineering.

Here is an example how low-cost engineering decision can affect a project’s cost. A client asked us for a proposal to design a pedestrian bridge over a creek. The owner had two options: evaluate the existing vehicle bridge’s capability to “hang” a pedestrian bridge off one side, or design a freestanding bridge. The design fees for a freestanding bridge are modest if you decide to use a pre-engineered, pre-fabricated bridge. Conversely, the design effort to evaluate the effect of additional loads and width to an existing bridge is far more involved and costly. When design cost drives your decision, you end up with a freestanding bridge because it is easier to design. Unfortunately, it may cost you twice as much to build the freestanding bridge. While you set out to save money in your engineering fee, you ended up spending more on the project. You lose.

Ideally, you want your engineer to keep your best interests in mind, but by placing an undue emphasis on design costs, you may actually end up paying far more than you should. The only way to lower engineering fees is to cut back on time spent in design and/or the experience level of the designer. You deserve better.

 

8: Check the references for the unvarnished truth.

You have digested a stack of proposals. You have scored them and settled on the top two or three. They all look great on paper. Why bother checking references? Because sometimes what is left unwritten is louder than what is written.

I am surprised how often communities do not check references, especially on price-based selections. Your reference checks should focus on the project manager and key technical team members. And, don’t just call the people listed in their proposal. Call your colleagues in other communities. Google the project manager to see where else they have worked, and contact those communities. Read the news articles in the Google search results. What you learn may validate your impressions, but it also can surprise you. It is well worth the few minutes it takes to check and verify references.

 

9: Experience matters!

Inexperience can cost you dearly. A good engineer wants to spend as little of a client’s money as possible developing a potential solution before discovering it is not feasible. Experience shortens this process. Here are two examples to illustrate:

  • One Michigan community spent $80,000 on engineering for a sewer project around a lake before developing a cost estimate for potential customers. When customers learned the cost, they killed the project, and the community was out $80,000. They could have gotten a reliable cost estimate for $5,000, but the engineer’s approach of developing detailed information only postponed the inevitable at a significant cost to the community.
  • Another community, searching for a new site for a drinking water well, invested $50,000 drilling a test well before it learned that the local water quality was poor. They could have learned that in the first $1,000 they spent by checking local well records, but the project work plan was poorly devised.

 

The best way to hire an engineer, or any other professional services firm for that matter, is by using the Qualifications-Based-Selection (QBS) process, in which you evaluate firms on their qualifications, and negotiate a fair scope and price of work with the most qualified firm. You can learn more at the Michigan QBS website: http://www.qbs-mi.org/

By Jim Hegarty, PE

I have been called in to look at a fair number of pipe failures over the course of my engineering career. One thing I notice is in the rush to fix the failure, there is often little focus on figuring out why the failure occurred. It is easy to miss clues to a systemic problem unless someone on your team plays “Columbo” and gathers some clues to analyze when the dust settles. Here are 12 things I think you should do every time a pipe fails:

  1. Get to the site as soon as possible, before too much damage spreads.
  2. Photograph everything. The ground, the pipe, the hole, any damage. Take as many photographs as you can, from several different angles. They may help you recall the state of the site later when you try to piece everything back together.
  3. Mark the top of the failed pipe as soon as it is exposed. The location of the failure relative to the top of the pipe can tell you a lot about why it failed.
  4. Make a sketch of the pipe layout. It will help you to reconstruct the scene later.
  5. Remove the failed pipe carefully to preserve its condition. The closer it remains to intact, the easier it is determine how and why it failed.
  6. Number or mark each piece of pipe shown in your layout sketch. Save and preserve each marked pipe you remove.
  7. Collect and mark soil samples from the pipe trench, preferably not wetted by the failure. Take care to sample soil representative of the soil in contact with the pipe. This can be a valuable tool to diagnose either an external corrosion or soil-structure failure.
  8. Check pump records if the pipe operates under pressure. Surges (also called transients or water hammer) can put tremendous stress on buried pipes. Power outages, valve closings and pump starts and stops can create dangerous surge pressures.
  9. Ask questions to understand anything you think may have played a role in the failure.
  10. Review the construction plans, as they may harbor clues to a contributing cause of a break.
  11. Study the construction inspection reports.
  12. Keep a map of your breaks or incidents. They can help you identify trends or patterns that otherwise may not be obvious.

by P&N Environmental Engineer Barbara Marczak, PE

I hear this question often. What is an environmental engineer? What does one do? What does a typical day look like?

Environmental engineering focuses on cleaning water and air, and protecting habitat and ecosystems. At Prein&Newhof, our environmental engineers design water and wastewater treatment systems, wells and intakes that supply drinking water, pumping and transmission systems to move water from one place to another, and groundwater clean-up. They study watersheds and use computerized modeling to study and improve water flow and drainage; and investigate soils and water for contamination. See some examples.

Typical Environmental Engineer Projects

Typical projects include drinking water treatment plant and clean water plant design; upgrades to drinking water, sanitary sewer or storm sewer transmission lines; landfill design and closure (how to seal off a landfill and what to do with the land afterwards); underground storage tank removals (think gas stations), and testing for regulatory compliance and State permits.

Environmental engineers do Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), to determine if an area is contaminated. Prospective property buyers request ESAs to avoid acquiring unexpected responsibility for pollution problems with huge clean-up fees.

Typical Environmental Engineer Clients

Your clients may include state and local governments, attorneys, developers, lending institutions, and realtors.  A typical day involves fieldwork, report writing, meetings with clients or your team, drawing plans, and research. You will need excellent communication skills. Your expertise in solving problems can be difficult to explain to clients. Sometimes your client will have considerable stress over the issue you they hired you to resolve, as often they stand to lose a lot of money or opportunity.

Is the work rewarding? Definitely. Improving the environment helps everybody by protecting our natural resources.

By James Hegarty, PE

I’m encouraged by Michigan’s state-wide movement toward adopting asset management as a financial planning tool for key infrastructure systems. This article supported my belief that to enjoy the current level of service from our infrastructure into the future, it’s going to cost more money.

It’s easy to see the results of neglecting to maintain and invest in roads. Potholes are more than an annoyance and failed streets are more expensive to fix than failing streets. Voters will decide on a road-funding tax proposal this Spring.

It’s less obvious to users to see what’s happening with buried infrastructure like sewer, water and storm sewer pipes. As more communities develop asset management plans for buried pipes, I’m sure we’ll need more money to keep them operating in line with our future needs.

You can contact Brian Vilmont or me to learn more about developing an asset management plan and a rate structure to support it.

This article summarizes an inspiring talk given by our traffic engineer, Ariana Jeske, PE, at the 2013 Institute of Transportation Engineers conference.

Preventative traffic engineering refers to an approach to traffic engineering and planning that prevents, rather than reacts to, dangerous situations and accidents.  The key is keeping walkability in mind. The term “walkability” has surfaced recently due to increased concern over accessibility, and because walkability can increase public health, decrease vehicle traffic, and drive economic development.

Traffic engineers use complex models to justify the traffic infrastructure that guides our behavior. The “stereotypical” traffic engineer tends to focus on:

  • Antiquated suburban development patterns (built for cars, not pedestrians)
  • Inflexible road design standards
  • An unchanging, unadaptable system

As the model of mobility changes, traffic engineers can lead the way to a safer world, rather than being “in the way.”

“It didn’t meet the warrants.”

Warrant, to a traffic engineer, means justification. To justify a traffic signal installation, a traffic engineer completes a signal warrant study using a set of guidelines outlined in the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MMUTCD)–the manual that forms the legal basis for all the State’s signs, traffic signals, and pavement markings. Conventional warrants tend to treat pedestrians as vehicles. Rarely can traffic signals be justified solely for facilitating pedestrian movements, since signal warrants are not based on the intersection’s performance, but on detailed research from the 1970s.

So what about new projects and approaches? When a non-motorized path needs to cross a busy four-lane road, how will we know how many pedestrians will be crossing it? Pedestrian forecasting is not as developed as vehicular traffic forecasting.  Often, a wait-and-see approach is taken to see if a problem develops. Isn’t there a better way?

Don’t respond, prevent.

Traffic engineers need to enter pedestrians into the equation. Pedestrians need 39% more time to cross a two-lane road than a car does, and pedestrians are ten times more likely to be fatally injured in an intersection crash than a vehicle driver.

Preventative traffic engineering, then, is the meaningful evaluation of a multi-modal mobility network to identify areas of increased risk and mitigating those risks. Traffic engineers need to recognize that pedestrians are legitimate users of public mobility systems – whether or not we design for them – and have an inherent vulnerability.

How to lead the way

  • Every detail matters: Consider curb radii, pedestrian data, road width, signage, cycle lengths, parking zones, pavement markings, lighting, and bicycle facilities.
  • Standards can be flexible: Use context-sensitive design. Make standards fit your projects, not the other way around.
  • Use multiple sources: Use all the books on your shelf, and even look internationally for case studies and examples.
  • Use your engineering judgment: Safety isn’t rocket science. Trust your instincts and prove them right.
  • Be proactive and holistic: Projects should not just be a road widening, or a pavement reconstruction, or any one single facet.  Evaluate safety problems, find the data out there, and integrate walkability and pedestrian safety into the planning of your transportation projects. Especially when you have funding. (In fact, adding a walkability component can sometimes get you more funding.)

Case study

It seems likely that putting a non-motorized trail crossing at a busy four-lane roadway might result in some safety issues. Here is a case study that took a more proactive approach to ensure safety.

Grand Valley Rail Trail: a major community project for Ionia and Saranac, the GVRT is an AASHTO-compliant non-motorized trail that repurposes an abandoned rail bed, including seven trestles over various water bodies.

The trail also crosses M-66 (Dexter Street) in Ionia, which averages about 15,499 vehicles per day.  To determine if the estimated 100,000 yearly users of the trail would have enough time to cross the street, we conducted a pedestrian gap study, which determined how long of a window (16 seconds) a pedestrian would need to cross the street. From traffic data we found that there weren’t enough time gaps during the day for the expected volume of pedestrians to cross M-66 safely.  The study helped secure funding  for a pedestrian bridge across M-66/Dexter Street, which will be built next summer.

Several years ago, I met Fred Meijer at a meeting. Mr. Meijer was well known for his philanthropy, especially in the development of bicycle paths across West Michigan. When he found out that I design these paths, he baitingly asked me, “Why do we need an engineer to design bike paths?” I gave him all of the standard engineer answers about drainage, road right-of-ways, easements, retaining walls, and good construction oversight. He smiled at my answer, having known it ahead of time. But the question stuck with me. Why should someone invest in good engineering design and oversight on a bike path? They’re simple, right?

I will answer the question with an example.

Sometime back a Township client asked this same question, and, despite my good “engineer” answer, decided that rather than accepting my proposal they would just have a local developer build the trail. It seemed like a good idea to them at the time. They saw the initial cost savings of removing the engineering independent design and construction observation from the project budget.

Fast forward five years. the same Township called me to design an extension to their developer-built trail. They also requested that I take a look at the existing trail section, admitting that it needed significant maintenance, and that they wanted my advice on how to fix it. The photos below show what went wrong with the original trail.

  trailcracks1 trailcracks2 trailcracks The old trail is peppered with cracks. Why? Here are my thoughts:

  • Design for each trail is site-specific. There is no “typical cross section” that can be constructed everywhere. Each section of trail has its own unique design and construction challenges that must be carefully reviewed to ensure that the trail lasts as long as possible.
  • Construction oversight is critical. Contractors and developers construct. Engineers design and work to make sure the design is implemented in the field. Some of the most common problems are smooth curve radii, improper slopes, poorly compacted gravel, incorrect asphalt thickness and temperature, and drainage.
  • Asphalt pavement relies heavily on a good base to perform properly. Good pavement design considers the asphalt mix, the gravel quality, gradation and thickness, and the level of compaction beneath it.
  • Drainage is critical–for both surface water crossing the trail and sub-base drainage under the asphalt. If these issues are not properly addressed, the surface will not last.
  • The pavement for this trail was constructed in one layer. This may have seemed like an easy way to cut cost from the project, but we learned long ago that it takes two asphalt layers to build a lasting, low-maintenance trail. Two layers of asphalt provide a significantly smoother and stronger trail with minimal increase in cost.
  • Weeds and roots are growing through the asphalt. Often in situations like this, it helps to place a Bio-Barrier type product below the trail surface to prevent vegetation growth.

  Below is a photo of the new trail section for which Prein&Newhof provided design and construction observation services. It should last for many years before needing anything beyond normal maintenance. paved trail

Over the past few decades and several hundred miles, Prein&Newhof has learned much about good trail design. Good engineering makes a real, tangible and positive difference in the outcome of a trail. It is well worth investing a little more to make sure your community’s trail is done right. The next time someone asks about the value of an engineered design, I’ll have more to say!

While it is typical to have someone who objects to a proposed trail, in most cases we see an about-face once the trail opens for public use. One property owner actually called me a couple months after the trail opened and apologized for being difficult during construction. She discovered how much she loved the trail! She said that all of the neighbors now meet on the trail where their children are able to safely ride their bikes.

The best way to handle trail opposition is to have a conversation and find the why. Getting to the heart of the matter allows for clarification and, if needed, compromise.

It can be hard for some people to visualize how a trail will benefit them until they have one nearby, but most people eventually come around. And, in the process you meet some interesting people. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • A couple who owned a bed and breakfast along a proposed trail’s route voiced their vehement complaints about anything involving the trail during the design process. They would not allow the contractor to set foot on their property, not even to build a retaining wall at the edge of the right-of-way. After the trail opened, I checked their website, and not only was the trail listed as one of their key attractions, they stocked bicycles for their guests to use!
  • One woman became so upset when the contractor cleared sod from her lawn that she began weeping. As the bulldozer approached, she lay down in its path and wouldn’t get up. Finally, we convinced her that we would replace her precious petunias as soon as the contractor paved the trail.
  • Another time, an anti-government/militia-type person who was opposed to a trail began making vague threats to me. To him, this project represented the government abusing its power. Ironically, he then threatened to call the police and have me put in jail!
  • I once met with an angry man whose body shook as if he was freezing as we talked. Our trail project planned to take out several scrub trees within the right-of-way, which he considered his front yard. This triggered his paranoia, because he felt the trees were the last barrier between him and those out to ‘get’ him. Looking me in the eye he said “I better go inside now. I’m afraid I’ll do something I’ll regret if I don’t.”
  • We try to design our trails to serve as many people as we can. One trail connected a new development with a park, and passed in front of several houses on a busy road. One of those homeowners objected to the trail. His rationale—he was afraid with the trail traffic by his house that someone would steal the tires off his cars.
  • An elderly man was so upset about a trail that he was afraid he would have a heart attack during its construction. His parting words to me were “If I die during this project, you’re to blame, and that’s something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life.”
  • While a trail was under construction an elderly man emerged from his house carrying his oxygen tank in one arm and waving a shotgun in the other while chasing the contractor away from his yard. This was his not-so-subtle way of voicing his displeasure with a new trail.
  • When a utility line is accidentally cut, I always hope that it is a “non-essential” service like electricity or telephone; homeowners are more understanding of these mishaps than when it’s their cable TV line that’s cut!!

Scott Post is a board member at the West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition. He has designed nearly 150 miles of non-motorized trails in Michigan.