Saturday, July 30, 2022

Geography of Poverty in Lansing: Are Your Neighbors Okay?

Geography of Poverty in Lansing

Many of us are grappling with poverty in 2022. Here in the city of Lansing, we have a poverty rate of 22% (compared to the average of 11.9% in other metro areas). The 2020 census data has been rolling out, and poverty statistics around the country are available. 

That poverty level of 22% is not distributed uniformly around the Red Cedar. Below you can see a visualization of poverty by census tract (one of the smallest divisions that the American Community Survey releases data for), and you can see certain neighborhoods are hit harder than others.

thematic map of lansing marking areas of high and low poverty

To probably no one's surprise, the highest rates of poverty are those experienced by students (mostly) temporarily in student-heavy places in East Lansing: East Grand River at 81%, and both Bailey and Chandler/North Coolidge at 68%.

Inside Lansing proper, a lot of the highest poverty areas are in the former redlined areas along the river: Fabulous Acres (43%) through Downtown and Old Town (42%) and North Walnut street area near the school for the blind (46%) all experiencing higher rates of poverty. (We've talked about redlining before here.)

Also interesting is that, like most areas of the United States, different groups of people experience poverty at varying rates. Unsurprisingly, being employed offers some insulation against poverty. What might be surprising is that even being employed full-time didn't guarantee an income above the poverty level: 4% of people in Lansing worked full time for the last 12 months and still couldn't make ends meet. 

chart of lansing demographics and poverty rates

There is a still value to having education: whether a high school diploma or college, a higher education level is correlated with a lower rate of poverty. There is still a spread between people of color and White people with the most pronounced difference between White people and people who self-identified as two or more races". 

Who is ALICE?

Research has suggested that even the federal poverty level doesn't accurately describe people in desperate financial situations: while 13% of people in Michigan are in poverty, another 25% of folks were ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. maintains a county-by-county record of people who are in this marginal category. They do not have city level information, but Michigan's counties look like this:


 Total households

 In poverty

Additional Households below ALICE threshold













Information in text below for text-to-speech readers:

Lansing Overall Poverty Rate


By age:


Under 18






By race:


White alone


Latino or Hispanic


Asian alone


Black or African American alone


Two or more races


By education:


No diploma


High school graduate


Associates degree


Bachelor’s degree or higher


By work:






Did not work in the last year


Worked full time last year


Worked part time last year


Monday, July 18, 2022

Stay Cool: Urban Surface Heat on Hot Days

 As temperatures heat up this week, and heat warnings hit various cities around the world, consider that surface temperatures might vary slightly from what the weather report indicates. The weather report may be correct, but the surface might be lower or much higher than the atmospheric conditions.

What might make a surface hot during the summer? Asphalt, concrete, and brick absorb—rather than reflect—the sun's heat, causing surface temperatures and air temperatures to rise. This can be worse in areas with reduced vegetation. Trees and plants naturally cool the area due to shading and evapotranspiration. Analysis has shown that dark roof surfaces may reach temperatures of 230°F in summertime!

Here is a visualization of the surface temperatures last year, on September 12, 2021, when the ambient temperature was 82° F. You can see that the different areas of the city vary a lot depending on several factors.

Proximity to water and parks can help a lot to mitigate temperature. Areas with lots of buildings, roads, and surface parking store heat throughout the day and release it at night. 

Lansing maintains a list of public and free cooling centers: if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, here are some locations you can head to.

Friday, July 8, 2022

We Beat Nashville: Downtown Parking in Lansing

Fun little historical note: in 2018, StreetsBlog ran a bracket with cities "competing" for the best/worst/most(?) parking in an area. Downtown Lansing came out on top, closely beating out the second place competition: a railroad station in Hicksville, New York. Our prize? The dubiously named "golden crater". Is this news to you? It's been on public display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused Frandor bathroom with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.

What is our current parking situation? Here is a visualization of all lots and structures downtown that are dedicated to cars, courtesy of the contributors of OpenStreetMap. (Note: this doesn't include all street-side parking.)

This is a lot of real estate to dedicate to asphalt, however not all of these lots are available to all citizens at all times. A number of the structures require passes or payment to enter. Some lots are private, belong to the city or LCC, or are restricted in other ways. I was curious to see how other small cities handle parking in their downtown, and so I pulled data from eight other similar-sized cities (110k-ish people) to do a comparison. 

Parking lots, while providing a convenient place to park, have the unintended consequence of making buildings further apart and areas less walkable. You might notice that in downtown Lansing, we have a narrow walkable corridor of credit unions, restaurants, shops and housing, easily navigable by foot, bike, or wheelchair, but outside that area, it's a hike to get in and out of the city and will require bus or car travel. 

One of the reasons many American cities have such large parking lots is something called "parking minimums"—Lansing requires that all new construction have an amount of off-street parking (ie, lot or structure) based on the amount of usable floor space (including multiple levels), number of inhabitants or employees.

If we wanted to build a clinic in an area, for example, the building site would need to have two spaces per patient room plus one for each room plus parking for office space. As you can imagine, this adds up pretty quickly for new construction, which is why you often see new development (for example the apartments downtown) surrounded by lots. Handy for residents, difficult for walkability.

In celebration of our collective accomplishment, feel free to print this and put it on your fridge as I have done.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Lansing River Trail Bridge Designations

The Lansing River Trail is vast; it contains multitudes. Legend says: on foggy nights, those who easily get lost find themselves eventually in the Frandor parking lot with the gentle whiff of El Oasis' taco truck on the breeze (even though everyone knows there is no cycling infrastructure to get you there). 

Those of us who use the LRT for transport or recreation or just to practice learning how to inline skate have probably seen announcements in a number of places about repairs or bridges out. (If you haven't, you can follow the LRT condition page on Facebook, that's usually a good place to start!) You may have seen an announcement saying, for example, that bridge #31 is being repaired this month, please find alternate routes. Where is bridge #31?

You're in luck, here's a quick and dirty of all the current bridges as of July.

In the meantime, do you have a name for your local bridge? 

For example, I know that Pokémon Go players refer to bridge 40 as the "Scott Woods Memorial bridge" (anything can be named a memorial if it'll help get a Pokéstop submitted, amirite wayfarers?)

At least one Southsider (okay, me) calls bridge #3 "the S curve" (can we please make this catch on?)

Scuttlebutt is that bridge #21 is called "turtle bridge" (does it look like a turtle? Is it because turtles gather there to discuss politics?)

You'll note that there are some missing numbers: over time some bridges have been decommissioned, merged, or replaced with pavement. For example: #13 was eliminated, and #17 was subsumed by #16 when we expanded it a few years ago.

Happy July, everyone.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

We're Number 3: Bike Connectivity in Lansing

Every year, the organization People for Bikes rates cities based on how bike friendly they are. The organization rates small, medium and large cities based on their several factors, including safety, ridership, network, reach, and acceleration. Michigan's medium and large cities are ranked below; Lansing came in third in Michigan this year, however our overall rating (36 out of 100) is still very low (84th percentile overall):

Lansing has made incremental improvements over the years (two years ago our network was rated 30), but we have a long way to go to as a city and a state to be bike-friendly cities.

You can read Lansing's full report here.

One of the biggest factors that influences a rating is the connectivity of a city, that is, can a person on a bike reasonably make it to core services (like medial or grocery), opportunities (a job or school), recreation, retail, and transit. This is a take on the idea of the 15 minute city, but instead asks the question: in ten minutes, how far can a cyclist go in your city?

Connections can be protected bike lanes (Lansing has none), specific pedestrian infrastructure (the River Trail network), and low speed roads (like the residential network). The analysis cuts off connectivity at high speed streets that do not have pedestrian or cycling infrastructure, like Aurelius, Saginaw, Cedar etc.

Lansing's connectivity analysis is mapped below: this is what happens when we place that network over needs and services, such as education, health, recreation and so on. Areas that are bright blue are areas that have strong connections to services, and red areas are cut off from these services. Lansing's best areas top out at around 65 points, but there are a great many areas that are not connected at all. 

What can I bike to?

Lansing scores 52 /100 on parks and rec, and 55/100 on retail opportunity. Our scores are much lower for other opportunities (jobs and schools: 30, medical and grocery 27). Furthermore, we get a 47 on safety, so no matter how connected we are to our network, many people don't feel safe riding in places where there is no bike protection. This puts us squarely in the 84th percentile. This information is available in details on Lansing's page.

Lansing's Bike Network Analysis is available online to peruse; you can see which roads are considered high stress and low stress.

Shout out to the Lansing Bicycle Co-op, the Lansing Bike Party, TCBA and all of the other stakeholders working to make Lansing a better place to bike. Let's see what we can do to make Lansing a safe place to bike in the future!

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Happy 517 Day: Lansings of North America

Happy 517 Day! 

Did you know that Michigan's Lansing is not the only Lansing to lansing? Multiple Lansings lansing in many locations across the American and Canadian lansingscape. The well-traveled among us have vacationed in sunny Lansing, Florida. Perhaps you've seen the beautiful vistas of the Black Hawk Bridge in Lansing, Iowa. Done some shopping in the hip neighborhood of Lansing, Ontario? Sat in a field in Lansing, Arkansas?

Whether you are celebrating by hitting the river trail or getting lost in the Frandor parking lot, I hope you have a nicest 517 day in the capital of all Lansings.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Lansing's Changing Grocery Landscape: Food Deserts

A "food desert" is a geographic area where residents' access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is limited.

In 2008, the U.S. Farm Bill requested that the USDA measure the extent of "food deserts" and discuss the consequences and causes. In the intervening years, the Economic Research Service has published maps of these so-called "food deserts"—that is, places which lack access to fresh food and produce. You can see the nationwide map and read more about it here.

Residents in a number of Lansing neighborhoods must travel quite far from their home to access fresh food, often requiring a reliable car or use of CATA and other transit.

The most recent analysis took place in 2019: the USDA determined which census tracts were both low-income and had low-access for food stores. Those locations are pictured in red above. 

Generally these are census tracts wherein people need to travel more than one mile to find a market that serves a wide variety of foods and accepts food stamps, among other requirements. These cannot be membership-only stores (like Sam's Club or Costco). The USDA determines what qualifies as a "supermarket", which doesn't necessarily include all places you can get food.

The map above includes all supermarkets on OpenStreetMap--the ones that qualified under the USDA rules are bordered with a yellow mile buffer, those that don't are still included as blue dots.

From 1909 to 2010, Lansing had a large public market downtown, near Cooley stadium. This market was demolished in 2010 to build the newer mixed-use version of the Lansing City Market, which failed to retain grocers and farmers over its lifetime, leaving downtown folks needing to drive to grocery stores in other locations. 

Recently, a couple of large grocery changes have occurred: 

Meijer opened the Capital City Market in the heart of the stadium district, creating an opportunity for those living downtown. 

In Edgemont Park, just south of the River Forest neighborhood, Valuland closed, leaving the residents on the northwest side needing to drive to Waverly for their grocery needs. A Valuland that served Colonial Village/Moores Park also rebranded then closed.

Food access is constantly evolving. I am curious to see if Lansing will be able to close these other holes in our food landscape and ensure access to fresh food for all Lanstronauts. The next USDA "food desert" map will likely look much different.