MBA considering changes for 2018 Annual Bridge Walk
October 21, 2017
ST. IGNACE – The Mackinac Bridge Authority is making plans for the Annual Bridge Walk in 2018, and is considering a range of options for starting times, dates, and directions for the event.
In 2017, on the recommendation of Michigan State Police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the MBA made the decision to close the bridge to public vehicle traffic during the annual walk. This change, and the preparations made for it, succeeded in two primary ways: the walk participants were safe, and the miles-long traffic backups that were feared did not materialize. However, the limitations of bus transportation for participants and the limited window of time to begin the walk resulted in many people being unable to walk the bridge this year. MBA officials noted they were "very sorry this occurred," and committed to making changes to prevent it from happening again.
The bridge walk has, and always will have, some limitations. In light of attacks at large events around the world, the bridge will remain closed to public traffic during the annual bridge walk. Knowing the impact to traffic, the authority plans to reopen the bridge by noon. Though the MBA expanded the range it sought school buses from, it still needed to contract with private charter buses to expand its fleet of shuttle buses in 2017. Still, with 50 percent more buses than the year before, the shuttle buses weren’t able to get everyone to the starting line in time to walk the bridge. With a limited window, current loading locations and bus patterns, that remains a potential problem in the future.
Many people both before and after the event shared their experiences and suggestions for improvements. Staff from the MBA – some who have helped prepare for the annual walk for decades – listened and have incorporated many of those suggestions into some basic options for the Authority board to consider at its upcoming Oct. 26 meeting in Mackinaw City. The board could also choose options beyond those presented.
The proposed options include:
Option 1 – Annual Bridge Walk starting from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City
In this option, walkers would begin from both the St. Ignace and Mackinaw City ends of the bridge in one outside lane to the halfway point, then crossing the center lanes of the bridge and heading back to their starting point in the other outside lane. Those who wish to, and begin the walk early enough, would have the option to continue across the entire bridge. Those who do will need to walk back across the bridge – for a 10-mile hike round trip – or make their own transportation arrangements back to the side they started from after the bridge reopens to public traffic. In this option, no buses will transport participants across the bridge; the center two lanes will remain open to emergency vehicles.
This option would eliminate the need for busing participants, as they could start from either end and return to their homes or vehicles directly. This also eliminates the estimated $200,000 in busing expenses borne by the MBA, including the staff and volunteer time setting up and staffing the bus loading areas. Additionally, as the turnaround point would move toward either end of the bridge beginning at 10:45 a.m., no participant would be turned away up until the walk ends (though participants starting 15 minutes before the walk ends might not make it very far before needing to turn back). The Michigan State Police would no longer need to vet bus drivers, and participants would not need to pay for shuttle bus transportation.
Option 2 – Annual Bridge Walk starting in Mackinaw City and ending in St. Ignace
The annual bridge walk alternated directions every other year until 1965, when it was permanently changed to start in St. Ignace and end in Mackinaw City. Under this option, the direction would flip, starting in Mackinaw City and ending in St. Ignace. As approximately 80 percent of walk participants arrive from the south side, more participants could begin the walk immediately after their arrival in Mackinaw City. As long as people boarded a bus by 9:30 a.m., or arrived at the starting line by 10 a.m., they should be able to walk the bridge.
The walk in this option would start on Jamet Street on the west side of the bridge, with participants walking north along the west lanes to Bridge View Park. This option still would require buses to transport most participants to Mackinaw City, either to start the walk or return after completing the walk. The MBA estimates needing a total of 175 buses for this options – 50 more than in 2017 – at an additional cost of $125,000 over this year’s busing costs. Because the majority of participants would be returning to Mackinaw City after the walk, rather than St. Ignace, the MBA estimates it would take several hours (perhaps to 6 p.m. or later) to transport all participants back to Mackinaw City. Once the bridge reopens, participants would have the option to arrange for private transportation.
Option 3 – Annual Bridge Walk starting in St. Ignace, with a new bus loading area
In this option, the bridge walk would start in St. Ignace and end in Mackinaw City as in the past, but with a different bus loading area in Mackinaw City to maximize bus transportation efficiency. At the current bus loading area, the State Dock, only eight buses can be loaded at a time. A new loading area, such as the Mackinaw City School parking lot, would provide room to load 12 buses at a time. With 175 buses (50 more than in 2017) and no breakdowns or delays in traffic, this system could transport about 24,000 participants to the starting line in time to complete the walk. As with Option 2, busing would cost the MBA $125,000 more than in 2017. If people arrive late, or more people show up than the buses can accommodate, they would be turned away.
In addition to these options for modifying the bridge walk logistics and starting points, the MBA board will consider several alternate dates to have the walk:
Keeping the walk on Labor Day – Despite the lack of backups in 2017, this remains a traditionally busy travel day
The Saturday or Sunday before Labor Day – Still associated with the traditional bridge walk weekend, but typically not considered critical crossing days for holiday weekend travel
The weekend after Labor Day – Likely lower participation, and conflicts with annual tractor parade
Memorial Day weekend – Conflicts with Fort Michilimackinac activities and school
The first weekend in June – Lower traffic volumes, but likely lower participation, conflicts with school activities
The first weekend in May – Would coincide with anniversary of the start of bridge construction
A Saturday in late Spring – Lower traffic volumes, but likely lower participation
People who wish to comment on the options presented, or offer additional suggestions, can submit their comments through the MBA’s website here: http://www.mackinacbridge.org/about-the-bridge/contact-us/.
The MBA board has upcoming meetings as well where people can share their comments:
The MBA board will have a public meeting specifically to discuss the bridge walk at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex, 507 W. Central Avenue, Mackinaw City
The MBA board will have its regular meeting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex, 507 W. Central Avenue, Mackinaw City