My Town Monday: Grand River Trail

Like many original roads in Michigan, Grand River started as an Indian Trail. This road wound it’s way from Detroit through Livingston County, through Lansing, and off to Grand Rapids, crossing the state.

West of Lansing, this road follows along the Grand River. Over on my side of the state, we don’t have any Grand Rivers. Or great ones (ha ha). We’ve got the Huron, though, and that seems to do a pretty good job flooding much of Hamburg every spring… (pic shows Grand River in blue. The red lines are similar to where the Grand River Trail/Road ran.)

In 1848, Grand River Trail became a plank road. This was one of those bad ideas that took a while to get rid of. They would lay large planks (and sometimes just large branches) across the trail to make for a “smoother” ride. Because jostling a wagon over planks is going to be smoother than bumping over ruts and rocks. All that and you had to pay a toll to use the plank road.

Though, I’m thinking laying some planks might make Grand River Ave a little easier to drive along. Years of being barely maintained have resulted in some seriously crumbling road surfaces. The pot holes aren’t so bad, but it’s the lines that run with the road, making a chasm that grabs the car tire and tries to flip you into the ditch.

The Detroit & Howell Plank Road was one stretch, owned, if I understand correctly, by one company. There was another stretch called the Howell & Lansing Plank Road. This connected the major city of Detroit to the capital of Michigan.

With the construction of the railroads through much of Michigan in the 1880s and onwards, the plank roads fell out of favor. The companies who collected the tolls eventually disappeared and returned the roads to local control. Of course, the roads were in craptacular condition when the Plank Road companies left.

Here’s a gem of a quote from the Brighton BiCentennial: “By the year 1880, much of the planking had been removed and been replaced with dirt and gravel, but the toll gates remained to annoy and harrass those who were compelled to use this road.” I’m guessing that most local yokel would have tried to avoid paying tolls on Grand River. But long-distance travelers had little choice. Even today, getting from east to west without using Grand River (or it’s sucsessor, I-96) is a difficult, long, and winding trip.

After returning to local control, the Detroit to Howell and Howell to Lansing Plank Roads became again called Grand River. Now, though, it’s the Grand River Road instead of the Grand River Trail. It wouldn’t be until bicycling became popular that Grand River saw it’s next improvement… and it’s next name change. In the meantime, Grand River Road was a barely maintained dirt road running through the center of Livingston County.

(Pic shows Howell on top and Fowlerville on bottom in 1908, looking down Grand River.)

While cities would have maintained roads in town, outside of town, for a many years, Michigan residents were required to maintain (grade and repair) the roads their property was on. And, the early 1900s saw plenty of people who didn’t see why they should have to. So, a road like Grand River would be in questionable shape as it ambled along between two important cities in Michigan.

Come back next week and see Grand River get an Amazing Makeover!

And don’t forget to visit Travis Erwin for more My Town Mondays!

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My Town Monday: Walking in Brighton

Now that the weather is getting nice, one might be inclined to stroll through downtown Brighton. There’s some nice shops and restaurants in this downtown area, along with the The Mill Pond, Mill Pond Walkway, and Imagination Station.

If you happen to be strolling along though, you should be aware of how we cross the street.

See, in Brighton, we make cars stop for people. This happens in Ann Arbor too– except in Ann Arbor, psychotic pedestrians will leap in front of moving cars just to remind drivers that pedestrians have the right of way. I’m not sure if driving or walking is more dangerous in Ann Arbor…

Anyway, in Brighton, the crosswalks have been paved with brick. And to cross, you press the crosswalk button.

There are little yellow lights in the brick crosswalk and those will begin blinking. Once the lights are blinking, you walk into the road. Yup. Cars will stop. If you’re the slightest bit polite like I am, you will wait until there is a space between cars. Traffic is already slow on this stretch. A few pedestrians slow things down even more. It’s not a bad thing.

I think the idea is to encourage people to park and stroll through the downtown area, rather than just zipping from one errand to the next.

We’ll ignore the fact that the downtown area is half empty. There’s still a few shops there… I’m sure the new mall a few miles away didn’t have any impact on the downtown area. After all, when you go to the new mall, you get chain stores instead of local ones. And you don’t have to walk– you can drive around the parking lot and park close to the store you want.

Or so I hear. I’m still boycotting the new mall.

But I will be heading downtown.

(Though, until it gets warmer, I’ll drive there. Thanks. I don’t like cold.)

Visit Travis Erwin, the My Town Monday wrangler, for other posts.

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My Town Monday: The Pink Hotel

Next to the railroad tracks in Brighton, stands a slightly out-of-proportion brick building. It’s three stories, but not as tall as a three story building should be.

The building went up in 1873. Behind it was the train depot. It was on the western side of town and served as a hotel for many years.

This historic photo (“borrowed” from the Livingston County Memories book.) is looking east, over the tracks. Before Main Street was paved.

Tallest building around at the time! And a bustling hotel.

Here’s a similar angle, but much more recent.

Now, this building is causing some issues. Because the ceilings are not as tall as they should be for modern codes, updating the building is problematic to say the least. Last I knew it was being used as a sort of rooming house with offices on the first floor. Which, in modern day Michigan, there aren’t too many rooming houses– usually just apartments.

There was an offer to buy the place. The community got a bit upset over this piece of history being torn down (as was the potential-developer’s plans.) It’s a nice piece of real estate, near the down town area. We’ll ignore the fact that half of the down town is empty. This building is one of four Brighton buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. So, for whatever reason, the developer backed off and this quirky piece of Brighton history still stands.

One of the things I always thought was awesome was the spiral staircase in the rear.

So… the title says “Pink Hotel” and here I’ve been talking about this lovely old brick building.

Well, somewhere along the way, some crazy deluded fool person thought it would be a good idea to put PINK SIDING on this building.

No, I’m not making that up. I wish I could find a picture of it. I’m too young to recall seeing it in pink siding… if it was still wearing the siding by the time I was in the area.

Luckily, the pink siding is gone. It’s still known as the Pink Hotel. And still a pretty building.

Travis Erwin rounds up all the My Town Mondayers. Check em out.

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My Town Monday: It’s Bad Road Season!

Livingston County is one of those areas where the main roads are big enough, so long as it’s not rush hour. Most of the day, traffic moves just fine.

But it’s one of those places, like much of Michigan, that has some pretty abysmal road surfaces. ‘Tis the pothole season around here. Most of the roads are damaged by the freeze-thaw cycle. And further affected by the salt that Michiganders *must* have on their roads. Because, you know, just because it’s snowing doesn’t mean you should have to slow down.

Here’s one shot (borrowed from the Livingston County Daily News). You can see the road is just disintegrating.

Reminds me of playing Sim City 2. Sections of road would just turn to rubble.

Here’s another. No, you’re not seeing that wrong. It’s one of those places where folks regularly drive on the other side of the road because their normal lane is in such bad shape.

Luckily, the worst roads are usually quiet enough that it’s not too hard to share the one good lane.

You know you’re in Michigan when you change lanes to pass potholes, not cars.

But it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. Here’s an old photo of downtown Howell with a flock of cars travelling along Grand River Ave to celebrate the paving of this main cross-state thoroughfare.

Interesting thing in this photo– people would just abandon their car in the road. No special parking. They’d leave it and head to one of the many bars. 13 in four blocks!

Maybe that’s why the travelers didn’t bother to park? At other times, parking was a bit more orderly, but not much.

And here’s how bad dirt roads used to get.

A little perspective as we enter Bad Road Season (what some of the rest of you might just know as “spring.”) As the weather gets warmer and the snow melts, the water will get into the cracks in the asphalt. Then, overnight, since temperatures still drop below freezing, the asphalt is further cracked.

And dirt roads become mud soup as the long-frozen moisture is finally freed by the sun.

But then again, I’m never in a rush to get anywhere. And I like to enjoy the scenery. That is, when I bother to venture out of my little office. I mean, that is where my computer is…

Visit Travis Erwin for more My Town Monday Posts.

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My Town Monday: Groundhog Day

Everyone knows Punxsutawney Phil, the famous prognosticator from Pennsylvania. But Livingston County is home to a more accurate groundhog: Woody the Woodchuck. Maybe it’s because Woody is female. Women do tend to have better instincts than men…

Seriously, though Woody the Woodchuck, a resident at the Howell Nature Center, has been right seven out of nine predictions. And, seriously, it may be because female groundhogs would have a greater need to know if it was too early in the season to bring out their babies. Woody’s never had any babies, but she would likely still carry the maternal instinct.

Woody arrived at the Howell Nature Center in 1998 after her mother had been killed. A farmer brought her to the Howell Nature Center, but the critter had already lost her fear of humans. She couldn’t go back into the wild. So, she was put to work. At least she works for peanuts.

At 8:15am on February 2nd, Woody will make her way out of her comfy home. If she stays out for more than 30 seconds, then that indicates an early spring.

I’ll come back after Woody makes her prediction, though, and let you know what Woody says about the arrival of spring this year.

UPDATE: Woody wouldn’t even come out of her paper mache log this morning, which means six more weeks of winter. Punxatawney Phil made the same prediction when he came out and saw his shadow. (Funny that puts it right about the middle of March… when the Vernal Equinox occurs.)

The rest of the year, Woody’s part of the Howell Nature Centers educational programs.

But Woody’s home is in danger. The Howell Nature Center is in dire straits. They may not be able to afford to continue operating. After 26 years, this may be it.

For those who don’t know, Michigan has been suffering economically for far longer than the rest of the nation. Our economy started sliding before 2001. We have yet to hit bottom in the mitten state.

While spring may be around the corner weather wise, Michigan is still locked in the icy grips of an economic winter. I don’t think Woody has any predictions on that one.

Travis Erwin has returned to corralling the My Town Monday posters. Stroll on over for more links.

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My Town Monday: Second Amendment

Second Amendment is the biggest, baddest punkin chunkin gun… and it’s part of Livingston County.

The gun was constructed by S & G Erectors in Howell Michigan. The crew is from Howell, Lakeland, Whitmore Lake as well as other places both in and out of Michigan. The gun shoots little hard punkins. Second Amendment won the World Championship in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006.

I have actually driven by when the Second Amendment was in a local field shooting. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop and stare… I mean, watch.

What is punkin chunkin? The goal is to hurl a little hard pumpkin as far as possible by mechanical means. Those means include slingshots, trebuchets, catapults and pneumatic air cannons like the Second Amendment. The punkins for competition are specially grown and aren’t any good for eating.

Travis Erwin is still displaced after a fire took out his entire house, but the My Town Monday torch is being held aloft over at e-Cuneiform scratchings. Check out some other places.

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My Town Monday: Mountain View

And yet I’m still talking about Livingston County. Situated just west of Brighton is Mount Brighton. This is a man made “mountain” that reaches 250 vertical feet.

Local rumor says it’s made of trash. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

Either way, it’s a ski hill. They have skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Since I am very much an indoor critter, I spend much of my winter where it’s warm. That doesn’t include skiing, snowboarding, or much else that takes me outside longer than necessary. Except brushing the snow off my stupid car.

In recent years, Mount Brighton added the Jackal Golf Course around the backside of the hill. This is an eighteen hole golf course.

I don’t golf either. I grew up next to a golf course and still don’t understand the appeal. I’d rather be at home with a book or my internet.

And another thing that’s new to hill that we call Mount Brighton in summer is Sphereing. This nauseua inducing activity involves climbing into a giant inflatble hamster ball and rolling down the hill.

I have never done that either. I have innards that are dreadfully sensitive to spinning and rolling and other motions. Growing up, any car trip included a stop for my breakfast to make an exit…

I have nothing against any fine folks who participate in these activities. But my involvement with Mount Brighton is limited to the “Mountain” Vista it provides and trying to make a turn from Challis onto Bauer roads. Bauer is one of those just-busy-enough roads that makes a turn difficult at best. And if you’re turning right from Challis, Bauer is an extra steep hill. Try *that* in a stick shift car!

Mount Brighton is one of our landmarks around here. I remember driving into Brighton winters ago and watching them make their own snow. Still, I drive by and watch the people skiing and snowboarding down the hillside.

And all I can think is, “Aren’t they COLD?” But I have a serious aversion to cold. My abhorrence of the cold would make one think that I would move to some place warmer (maybe down where Travis lives.)

But I’m Michigan born and bred. This is my home.

No, I did not see any snow this weekend. I very much did not. I know it was reported, but I refuse to admit I saw nothing.

Make sure you visit Travis Erwin for more My Town Monday posts. Travel the world from your computer.

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My Town Monday: Lee Road Roundabouts

Some brainiac decided that Brighton needed mall. They bought up some land nestlted between US-23 and Island Lake State Park.

Only, this intersection (and set of freeway ramps) was already a dreadful set up. It would have to be redone to accept traffic for the new mall.

Someone came up with the idea of putting in roundabouts. I’m not opposed to roundabouts… but whoever came up with the set up for the Lee Road Roundabouts was insane. There are three roundabouts, two literarlly on top of each other. And a craptacular design that even I have trouble figuring out. It’s like a free-for all– floor it and hope no one’s in the way.

Click here for a full size pic.

You have expressway traffic, mall traffic, local road traffic. And a couple multi-lane roundabouts to figure out.

It’s incredibly confusing, particularly since every lane crosses another lane through the big roundabout (bottom of the screen.)

I’m a fan of roundabouts, really, just not this one. I try to avoid going through it. It’s really just the lanes crossing each other that really throws me.

Though, truth is, the roundabout has only seen two accidents (that I’ve ever heard of) since it’s opening. And both of those accidents were caused when some dipshit put their car in REVERSE when they passed where they were going. Um, last time I checked, it is NEVER okay to go in reverse with traffic behind you– roundabout, regular road, or even parking lot. Not a roundabout problem– driver error at it’s “finest.”

I’m sure one contributing factor to the low accident rate is that people who are confuddled by it (like me) avoid it. The other factor is certainly the low speeds– you can’t go fast through the roundabouts.

I hear there’s some good shops at the mall. Nothing has enticed me, yet. I admit that if I so desired (or needed) I would learn how to navigate this engineering “masterpiece.” I did, after all, learn how to drive the expressway, a stick shift, and other things that I was incredibly resistant to once upon a time ago. But for now, I’m just going to declare this a clusterfuck and avoid it. Little roundabouts are okay– this is nuts.

What’s your favorite road-design distaster?

Visit Travis Erwin for more My Town Monday posts.

And I also have an entry in Patti Abbott’s Flash Fiction Challenge below (avoid if you don’t like naughty things. 😉

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My Town Monday: Roundabout We Go

User error is not a design flaw.

But some people are adamant that because the “new” roundabout(s) in Brighton are bad. Furthermore, these same people contend that all roundabouts are bad and we shouldn’t have them in Michigan.

Here is the little roundabout at Main and Third Street in downtown Brighton.

Before the roundabout was built, Main Street had a right of way and Third Street had a stop sign. The only significance of Third Street is that the Brighton Police Department is there. And, surprisingly, Third Street seems to be a fairly often used thoroughfare. It connects Main Street to the other path out of town, Brighton Lake Road.

Simple, unassuming little roundabout. When it went it, it was the first roundabout in the area. And I mean, really. One of the first in Michigan, too. A new, novel, dreadfully frightening thing.

And years later, people are STILL whining over how awful they think (the) roundabouts are.

The complaints usually come in two flavors.

The first is that the roundabout is confusing and it’s too hard to learn it.

If you can’t figure out a little roundabout… please get off the road. Find someone competent enough. If you can’t figure out simple little roundabout– slow down & yield to traffic in the circle– then how do you manage the Michigan left or some of the delightful freeway ramps.

The Main Street roundabout is very basic. Slow down, yeild to traffic in the circle, proceed when clear.

Ah, well there’s the problem. But rather than realize that the DRIVER who doesn’t slow down, pay attention, or yield is the issue, many Brighton citizens blame the roundabout. How dare the road commision put in a roundabout. Didn’t the road commision realize that slowing down (you know, going 25 in a 25mph zone) and paying attention (like hanging up the bluetooh iphone) just shouldn’t be expected from drivers. Tsk.

The other flavor of compaint is that no body does as they should in a roundabout. People on Main Street will often fly straight through the little circle without even a touch to the brake pedal. No yeilding, and sometimes I’m not sure they even see if there is anyone in the circle.

Again, this is clearly the fault of the road commision.

Whenever discussin of the roundabouts comes up, as it often does for some reason, I keep reiterating that user error does not equal design flaw. I usually win.

Then someone mentions the Lee Road clusterfuck roundabout. And I have nothing more to argue.

Come back next week to read about that delight.

For now, tell me, what do you think about roundabouts? Do you have them where you are?

Do you find yeilding to little rusty cars a problem? If so, I’d like your name and address. I’ll be coming for you… I mean… um. Drive safe– keep it between the ditches.

And thanks to Travis Erwin. See him for More My Town Monday links.

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My Town Monday: They’re Out There

They’re waiting, sometimes in corn fields along the roads.

Or standing in the trees, waiting for the sound of tires on ashphalt and the white triangle that marks the approach of my car.

They’ve tried before. Once, they almost got me. Almost.

They’re more determined than ever.

They’re waiting for a long straight stretch of road. Some night, when I’m on my way home.

Or perhaps early morning while Hubby goes to work. No way I get up “early” in the morning! I’m nocturnal. But so are they. Twilight and dawn. When the world is gray and sleepy, night still near.

They’re not thinking clearly– they’re reckless and careless. They’re minds are on one thing. Sex. Two if you count a good time. But that might still be one thing.

They’re a menace to the roads in and around the towns where I live and work. Long straight roads are the most menacing.

As I drive along, I have to be careful, be watchful. They might jump out at any moment. Doesn’t matter if I’m going 55 mph down a quiet country road. They’re not thinking about me.

They are after, all, just horny deer.

Yes, it’s that season again. When the deer are out frolicking and looking to get laid.

They almost got me once. Wounded, my Firebird limped away. The Firebird, my first car, had to be put down after a deer bounded out from this very field.

Okay, maybe he didn’t run out. Those deer live on the other side of the county where they kamikaze into the side of cars.

Maybe the deer just strolled across the OTHER lane to come stand in MY lane and stare at me like the dumbshit he was. He deserved to get hit. It’s not like I’m fool enough to go swerving into the trees, ditches, mailboxes, and farm fields. Hit the deer dead on.

He lived. The Firebird didn’t. (Okay, I have no idea if the deer had antlers or balls. It was a deer in the middle of the night and it wrecked my car. He could have had seven legs and good grills on his teeth and I wouldn’t have noticed.)

Two days later, in my replacement car, I nearly hit another one. Thus the conspiracy was revealed.

They’re after me.

I see them. Waiting. They’re biding their time. Trying to catch me off-guard. They know that I’m hypervigilant. So they wait.

Sometimes in groups. Sometimes, oddly, alone. Sometimes they dart across the road, to see if I’m paying attention. Today one was grazing in the center median of the expressway.

They almost got me once.

It’s only a matter of time before they try again.

So they wait. Along the edges of corn fields. Under the shadows of trees. In that odd gray light between daylight and nighttime. They’re out there.

Visit Travis Erwin to read other folks’ My Town Mondays.

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