Thursday, September 1, 2022

The 5 Pieces of Lansing Charter Township

Why Is Lansing Charter Township in 5 Parts?

Here is a map of Lansing Charter Township: a noncontiguous charter township in five parts (it includes Edgemont Park—a recognized census place)

Is it strange that one designated area would be in five pieces so far from each other?

To understand why, it's helpful to understand what a township, and what a charter township, is.


Michigan has 1,240 townships; counties are divided into a checkerboard of minor government divisions across the state. As cities incorporate and grow, townships shrink and become part of them. Over the years, Lansing "ate up" pieces of Lansing, Delta, and Dewitt townships.

Charter Townships

140 townships have created charters; that is, people in those charter townships elect a township board, become self regulated and limit their tax liability, while providing services like fire, police, and sewer. A charter township can buy properties inside their bounds and develop commercial property (Eastwood Towne Center is a good example of this), or construct parks and facilities. According to law, they must be named for their township (which is why they frequently have the same name as the largest city in the township). These charter townships often rely on the amenities of nearby larger city, but by virtue of being a charter township, they have the legal right to resist annexation by those nearby cities.

A charter township is a uniquely Michigan phenomenon. Typically, cities in the USA grow and annex land around them as they develop. In Michigan, as long as a charter township continues to provide a certain amount of services and doesn't have a lot of debt, nearby cities cannot annex their land. 

Lansing Charter Township formed in 1963, so after that, the city of Lansing could not annex any of it without special circumstances. (There was a brief citizen movement to dissolve the Charter Township in 2013—an oft stated reason for staying a township was to avoid paying city taxes.)

One way for a part of a charter township to become part of a nearby city is for the residents themselves to petition to join the city, as the residents of Groesbeck have done this year in Lansing; it still has to be approved by the voters of the city (Lansing). This will appear on the ballot in November (your ballot can be viewed here at the SOS page:

Lansing has already expanded its borders several times since it was founded as Biddle City in 1835 and then later incorporated in 1859 as Lansing, Michigan's capitol. Here's a visualization of some of the expansions of the contiguous parts:

Monday, August 15, 2022

Cars vs Bikes: Drivers Impacting Cyclists in Lansing

Lansing has a really great trail system for recreational biking. However, many people rely on bikes for transportation to work, school and for everyday errands. If you do not live right on the river trail, at some point you are going to need to use the city's other transportation infrastructure. Lansing does not have any protected lanes at this time, which means cyclists and drivers often share the roads. When there are no barriers between cars and bikes, collisions are more likely. 

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning maintains a public site of collisions involving cars. Here is a visualization of where those collisions occur when they involve bikes. This paints a picture of where cyclists need to go but do not have access to safe routes. All of the orange points involve injuries; one at the corner of Miller and Cedar resulted in a cyclist's death.   

The streets are not all the same length, so it's not an equal comparison, however it's easy to notice that Michigan Ave has a high number of impacts for a shorter road. There is a planning commission looking at redesigning Michigan Ave in the future called Michigan's Ave. If you have ideas on how you'd like Michigan to look in the future, they are asking people to fill out their survey.

What patterns do you see? How can we ensure our streets are safe for all Lanstronauts: those walking, wheeling, cycling, and driving?

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!