BLA: Let’s Call A Spade A Spade
Let’s Call A Spade A Spade
~ by Megan Olds, Old Town resident
I went to Tuesday night’s meeting about the proposed Boardman Lake Avenue. I live in the Old Town neighborhood. I lean toward finding and testing network solutions that involve using the existing grid, rather than building a new road. I went to the meeting with the impression that scenarios were still being explored and that building the road was not a “given.” This is what the community was told at the last meeting about the proposed Boardman Lake Avenue project in February.
Here’s what I saw and heard at the meeting on Tuesday night:
- I read through the packet of data and heard the consultant describe and share a series of road design concept maps.
- I heard frustrated residents express their concerns about the Boardman Lake Avenue, questioning the impact to the natural resources, water quality and wildlife, the impact to recreational uses, and safety, aesthetics, noise, and air quality impacts.
- I heard other residents (far fewer) express commitment to the construction of the Boardman Lake Avenue.
- I watched as members of the audience were told that any discussion or exploration of city-wide impacts to the streets in Old Town was really outside the purview of the Boardman Lake Avenue road discussion (such as traffic patterns on West 8th Street, etc.)
- I heard City Manager Ben Bifoss affirm that the timeline to move forward with building the road is being driven by the purchase agreement deadline with the property owner of Copy Central and that the City does not see an opportunity to extend the deadline. A decision to purchase the property has to be made this spring.
- I heard the consultants who were facilitating the public meeting say that they were told not to include a “no road” scenario in their presentation “by the people who hired them.”
Green Dot Go, Blue Dot No
Tuesday night’s session gave the public an opportunity to comment about what they liked or disliked about specific road design scenarios. Unfortunately, that singular goal and intention was not communicated to the public prior to the meeting. Many (it felt like a majority) of the people that came to the meeting were expecting more follow-up and discussion regarding the questions and concerns that were expressed about the road at the last public meeting. This mismatch in meeting expectations led to a frustrating and unwieldy session. I left questioning the timing and content of the meeting. For example, if we are still debating the road’s approval for construction by the City (which I thought we were), it is premature to ask the public to review and provide input on road design scenarios. The format and content of Tuesday night’s meeting gave me the impression that the decision to build the road has already been made.
I wish that we could try some cheaper and faster traffic calming solutions to see what kind of impact that might have on users’ experiences of Union and Cass. It would be terrific if we could take some time exploring network-enhancement solutions that would cost virtually no money, like a scenario that would open up 7th and 8th street to two-way east/west traffic to test the impact for a year or two and see what happens to the north/south traffic volumes on Cass and Union. But if exploring these options (or others) due to neighborhood or city politics or a lack of staff or technical capacity is untenable, and if building the Boardman Lake Avenue road is a foregone conclusion, then let’s just call a spade and spade and move on.
How To Build A Road
If the City is committed to building the road, then let’s implement a quality public input process to talk about placemaking in this neighborhood. Let’s talk about land use and natural resource protection and recreation and safety and aesthetics, and about the needs of the Avenue’s users and its neighbors. It felt like that’s where the organizers of last night’s meeting might have wanted the dialogue to go, but because the City’s commitment to build the road is not being stated clearly, people were not coming to the table to have that type of conversation.
The City Master Plan was created through a public process and includes the Boardman Lake Avenue road’s development. It’s true that people have been promised this road for a long time. I do not like the idea of building the Boardman Lake Avenue. I am not convinced that it is going to solve the traffic issues in Old Town. In fact, I am pretty sure based on what I’ve learned that it is going to create more traffic issues within our neighborhood. But I’d much rather have a productive conversation with my neighbors and as a community about how we design the Boardman Lake Avenue and redevelop or restore the land in that corridor in a way makes Old Town and Traverse City a great place to live, work, and play than participate in a public process that feels like it’s built on false pretense.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I continue to offer this blog as a place to clarify thoughts, document public comment and test out your ideas. Thank you to Megan for sharing her thoughtful reflections from Tuesday night’s meeting and pointing out that the BLA discussion is really about “how do we build a better community”– road or no road. As always, I invite others to contribute here. Many of the City Commissioners do follow the comments on this blog and they, as well, are encouraged to contribute. If you’ve never left a comment, it’s pretty painless and we really only ask that we keep it constructive and civil, but you can read the full comment policy here.