Home > Design the Details, Editorial, Guest Writer > BLA: Let’s Call A Spade A Spade

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.

  1. JohnRobertWilliams
    March 24, 2011 at 9:03 am

    We Build roads, streets, sidewalks, bikepaths, highways, to GO someplace. The BLA “goes” nowhere. It creates one crazy cluster intersection mid-block at 8th Street no one in their right mind would design. (apologies to engineers) It eliminates the possibility of clever uses of the Boardman Lake. (any other city with a lake in it’s boundary, would be treated as a jewel…the poor lake is a step-child to West and East Bays).
    Compared to Mancelona at midnight, yes, there is more traffic on Union Street and Cass. Remember, Union used to be US31, and there are some pretty grand houses on that street! Until TC can afford to maintain the surface of the streets is has neglected, and build sidewalks for all to use, this is the grandest boondogle since the ParkWay Tunnel! Thanks for the great report, Megan! Happy Spring!

  2. TC Resident
    March 24, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Where is the Grand Vision on this??

    Like the 8th St cluster%$#&, this project doesn’t seem to fit the stated goals of the community in that survey. Are we putting yet another million dollar visioning session on the shelf because it doesn’t fit the goals of disconnected planners?

  3. Hans Voss
    March 24, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Right on Megan!
    Right on Point!

  4. Mike Grant
    March 24, 2011 at 9:17 am

    It seems apparent from my distant vantage (Virginia) that one of the determining factors in how this process is proceeding is the boundaries of the TIF district where the money for this project is coming from. (Maybe this has been said 1k times but I haven’t seen it on any of the blogs.) I.e., “we can’t broaden the scope of the discussion because the TIF district doesn’t encompass Old Town, 14th Street, 8th Street, etc etc.” Obviously, where you draw the boundary lines is to some degree arbitrary and any infrastruture “improvement” is going to have repercussions outside of those boundaries. But has anyone asked City staff or County brownfield folks about expanding the boundaries of the TIF to encompass other areas possibly? And, to the extent that the TIF boundary is driving the planning discussion, shouldn’t we seriously question why we’re using money from that TIF to build a road to try and solve a problem tied to one area outside TIF (Cass), while at the same time creating new problems in other areas outside the TIF (14th and 8th)?

    This isn’t exactly a cogent post but just wondering if other folks have been seeing/talking about what I think I’m seeing and whether there’s been any discussion about it.

  5. Mike Grant
    March 24, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Re the Grand Vision, I would point you to page 11 of the GV’s Transportation Gap Analysis found here:

    http://www.nwm.org/downloads/3_64_2_final_report.pdf

    What you’ll find is the 14th/8th Street corridors identified as “Corridor 9.” What more you’ll find is that the GV modeling assumes that traffic on that corridor will be increasing between 20% and 120% between now and 2035. Look back on page 37 of the same report and you’ll find a glowing recommendation of the BLA as a way to make way for this increase in traffic.

    In short, the GV is all in favor of BLA. Or, maybe I should put it, the traffic engineers who were paid with to do the technical reports that are the only actual specifics in the GV were all in favor of the BLA.

    What? The GV in support of the BLA? How is that possible? What about the Grand Vision’s inspiring “Guiding Principles” and its beautiful “Giant Planning Map of the Six County Area”? How is laying new asphalt along Boardman Lake to allow people to quickly zip through the Center of TC consistent with the inspiring Principles and the beautiful Giant Map?

    Search me.

  6. March 24, 2011 at 9:42 am

    To my knowledge, and of considerably closer but perhaps just as cloudy perspective, I’d say no one has raised the idea of an expanded TIF district to those who could make the decision. As most items, by the time it gets presented to the commission or public, the storyline is unbendable. Of course, that’s never the entire story.

    For example, the first-step traffic calming program for Old Town that has continually been raised has been rejected by the City manager as, “not possible” without explanation other than funding. Commissioner Judy Bergman, to her credit, did call him out on this in a meeting by clarifying that, and I paraphrase here: “no, it is possible, we just currently don’t have funding for it.” Funding isn’t a problem if we have the will to address the problems.

    In the end, this public process lacks clarity and proper scope. The City commission wanted to address concerns those of us with, what must seem to some of them, 11th hour concerns. So, under the guise of getting updated information and with the clear purpose of not going back to square one, they started this latest round. Why, I’m not really sure, since the frustration occurring is because of exactly what Megan has illustrated here: what is it? You can’t design your way into a reason to build a road. What are they trying to accomplish and can they show that it will work without negatively impacting other areas. I haven’t seen any evidence that clearly answers those questions.

  7. Bill Palladino
    March 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Megan, your clear observations of the BLA meeting were perfect. Thanks for being a smart, reasonable, and effective community leader on this issue.

    This set of meetings was undoubtedly a simple ploy by the city to provide a suggestion of listening to the community. It’s how they’ll justify moving forward, and how they’ll claim there was a long and balanced process driving their decision-making.

    It all reminds me of my first attempts to play the computer game Sim City. The game allows you to build a city, bit by bit. The rules allow you to make decisions about where and when you build and what support mechanisms you provide. At some point most people make the same mistake as new players in the game. They look down on the simulation from above, as on a map. Suddenly things start to go wrong, and you as the player keep adding more infrastructure to catch up with the problems that keep popping up. When the game finally collapses you learn that where you failed was that you forgot to spend energy and resources on the social factors in that city, because in-fact you weren’t just building a city, you were building a community.

  8. March 24, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I am sorry the wheels fell off the meeting Tuesday, which is what I’ve now heard from people both for and against BLA. I’m also sorry I ran out of energy to get to the meeting.

    Please remember that while some of us on the CC (myself included) have stated support for new pavement as part of a solution to Old Town’s traffic problem, no one has made any decisions yet.

    The CC agreed to use BRA TIF to fund a public process and an updated traffic study. No one from the CC told anyone to take any alternatives off the table. If the process was insufficient or the study does not answer the questions, we’ll have more process and more study. If that cannot happen before the Copy Central option expires, then the option will expire.

    We can and will disagree about what the best outcomes are – whether it’s this, the tunnel, a parking deck, or whatever. But there is increasingly a recognition among volunteer TC citizen board members that city decisions about big capital projects (and frankly some big operational matters too) need to be supported by better info and more rigorous analysis than they currently are.

    There are exceptions which can be seen as benchmarks (Old Town parking deck, asset management, upcoming police analysis.) There are areas where progress can now be measured in baby steps where there was no progress before (street reconstruction, bidding out WWTP operations, traffic calming maybe soon). We will continue to strive to do better, and to challenge staff to do the same.

  9. Chris H
    March 24, 2011 at 10:21 am

    In the past two days, both Megan and Gary have raised some very valid concerns over the BLA public input process that has unfolded over the past 5 weeks. I would need to start my own blog to express all of my views on BLA, the process, etc. but here are a few thoughts:

    1) I think “The Consultants” did a poor job of communicating exactly what the public input sessions were aimed to do. That is, give the public an opportunity to give input on specific aspects of the design of the redevelopment area that they like, dislike, things that should be added, subtracted, etc. Instead, the sessions turned into a philosophical debate of whether the road should be built or not. While there are obviously countless reasons why the proposed road could be argued against, those general “no road” thoughts should be targeted at the planning commission and ultimately the city commission when it comes up to vote.

    2) It is very frustrating to continue to hear from non Cass/Union street residents that “traffic isn’t that bad” or “it’s only bad until 5pm” or “you shoulda known that there was traffic there when you bought your house.” As I type this post there is a line of cars lined up at Union/10th at 10:09 am. There is a constant flow of traffic all day, everyday on Union and its much worse on Cass street. Traffic on these roads is a problem and must be addressed. Old Town can not continue to wait for the city to come up with a magic traffic plan that will course all traffic around the city, we must address our traffic now.

    3) Given all of that and even as a homeowner on Union, I can not support BLA at this time. Critical thought over the past few months has left me with too many unanswered questions. What if BLA makes OT/City traffic worse? Where is the data and professional input on whether BLA will perform as advertised? Will other measures reduce Old Town traffic enough that BLA is not necessary. Perhaps in the end BLA will be the best solution, but until then we need more information. Traffic calming on Cass and Union and returning 8th/7th to 2-ways roads should be done before any data collection begins. Then look at Cass/union traffic volumes and professionally study BLA as to its impact on OT traffic reduction and city wide impacts on traffic.

  10. Brian
    March 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you Gary, for continuing to provide this forum for discussion.

    1) Gary correctly pointed out at the meeting that facilitating east-west traffic was not listed on the Issues Statement of the presentation. This was the entire point of BLA when it was proposed in the late 1970′s. This was also the neighborhood proponents key point as well which seems to have been dropped. I haven’t seen the City or it’s consultants recognize that downtown TC is entirely different than it was 20 years ago and could be changing traffic patterns. Today, downtown is open by 6 am and stays open and busy all days of the week until the restaurants and bars close. Combining that with the increase in professional offices and encouraging more cars via parking decks in the middle instead of the edges of town. Perhaps there is just more traffic using Union and Cass (from the north and south) to access our thriving downtown and not just driving from Acme to Meijer.

    2) While its easy to ridicule the traffic data and the engineers, this engineer still considers the data to be valid (at points in time), though incomplete to truly model whats going on. I think that it is fair to question why, if there is such pent-up demand for an east-west route, that only 3100 VPD utilize Lake Street which is very similar to the proposed BLA alignment (I find 12th Street, all the way to 8th Street an easy route).

    3) Those the say “traffic isn’t that bad” or “you shoulda known that there was traffic there when you bought your house” do make valid points. Traffic volumes have been fairly consistent over time. I think that many on Cass and Union are confusing the effects of poor street design (stop signs, no traffic calming) and traffic volume. Several people are proving there is still demand for fairly priced homes on Cass and Union.

    4) I think that regardless of what happens, the City’s decision making process has failed miserably. If there was such demand for this street for the last 30+ years, why is there not more complete engineering done? We should know by now what the effect on traffic would be, we would know how close the road will be to the Old Town Condos and McGoughs and we would have known that there will be a another barrier (fence) between the road and railway (between the neighborhood and its green space). Instead the City seems to be dropping the need to facilitate east-west traffic and is focusing on redevelopment in a very limited manner. Yet, it seems that the neighborhood and City in general, has not been included in the redevelopment plans. IF the road is going to be built and this area developed, the City’s residents should play a major role in what, where, and how. The idea that the City has sat on this for 30+ years and now must make a decision based on incomplete information just to exercise an option on unneeded property is complete b#$! $#!&.

    5) There were some comments at the meeting indicating that we need to build now to account for the future growth of the region. I wonder at what point we will decide that we no longer want to facilitate the regions driving habits at our own expense (and I don’t mean financial).

  11. March 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I’ve lived in Traverse City almost 50 years and my first home here was on Cass St. It was very busy then, because there was an iron works on the river, and smelly trucks went by every day and people didn’t complain because it meant there were jobs. In fact, it was a sad time when the iron works closed. For awhile it was a quieter street but with Hagarty employing primarily people who live outside the city limits, no amount of traffic calming will take the strain off Cass St. We just built them a parking deck, for Pete’s sake, and they’re building a new building; what do we expect?

    The biggest mistakes we’ve made in TC are building so much and so close to our bay, river and now, lake. It seems we’ll never learn. If you build this new street it will just ruin one more water’s edge and encourage traffic that would stay on South Airport to jump into town a little sooner to try to avoid the mess that once was meant to be our “bypass.”

    Of course the traffic is bad, we have people steering our city toward the “density” model. It seems we can’t see that this doesn’t fit our unique town that should rest gently on this watershed. It’s been so sad to watch over the years.

    These meetings are poor vehicles for public input; the working class can barely take care of their jobs and families; how can they make more time to attend one more meeting to have a voice? Only a very elite group of people can get there. If the city really wants our input they could make surveys available more often that people could fill out at their convenience, not the convenience of people who are paid to attend the meetings.

  12. Mac McClelland
    March 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Note: I sent this email to all who signed in at one or both of the West Boardman Lake meetings. I share here to broaden distribution for those who were unable to attend the meetings and have an interest…

    Thank you for your participation in the West Boardman Lake meetings. The level of interest in this and other important projects is one of the many things that make this community great.

    For those who attended the meeting on Tuesday, March 22, especially those who were not in favor of the Boardman Lake Avenue, I understand and appreciate your frustration with the process. Our intent was to identify the opportunities and issues and see if those opportunities and issues could be addressed through design and operational options.

    The immediate question to be answered was the acquisition of the Copy Central property; however, in order to attempt to answer that question, additional work was necessary in alignment and design, which served as the boundary for the effort. As with any proposal, there are many other considerations that may or may not be able to be addressed in a fairly targeted assessment.

    Unfortunately, it appears that I was not able to adequately design into the process a methodology for participants to express their perspectives of general support, opposition, or being undecided.

    I pledge to do my best to capture and express the input in my report to the City Planning Commission and City Commission. Additional information will be posted on the City’s website http://www.ci.traverse-city.mi.us and the draft report will be available in mid-April. You will receive an email as new information is posted to the website.

    We continue to face challenges in many community decisions to provide access to Traverse City as the region’s commercial, recreational, and entertainment center and to enhance the livability, sustainability, and resiliency of our community.

    Thank you again for your time, energy, and thoughtful consideration and comments regarding West Boardman Lake.

    Mac McClelland

  13. Linnaea Melcarek
    March 24, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Thanks for this excellent post, Megan… I’m extremely grateful for MyWhAT for providing this forum to discuss this issue. I also attended both recent BLA meetings. This week’s meeting was valuable in that it provided specific possible plans for the avenue–but I agree that in the end, it was frustrating in its focus on these designs, and overshadowed the fact that many (most?) residents simply don’t want a road built. I did find a few plans exciting, such as the proposed new recreational area along the lake.

    Living as I do on Cass Street (south of 14th), I can sympathize with the traffic concerns of Old Town residents. I would also point out that their traffic situation is already much better than my own, because they have sidewalks along both sides of their part of Cass, as well as stop signs at 10th and 12th. It’s true I knew what my neighborhood was like when I bought my house, and I’m not writing this to complain (well, maybe just a little–what does it take to get some sidewalks built down here?!) I actually chose my house partly because of the high traffic volume that passes by, because my plan was to beautify my little plot in a way that would welcome visitors to Traverse City.

    People definitely do speed on Cass south of 14th. Once a driver actually lost control and hit my mailbox, breaking off their right side mirror in the process, then sped off, leaving the mirror in my yard. At this week’s meeting, one Old Town Cass St. resident recalled a similar situation in which her son (or grandson?) almost got hit by a speeding car that had jumped the curb. My thought is that the Boardman Lake Avenue, while perhaps moving some or most of the “speedy” thru traffic off of Cass, wouldn’t prevent any remaining drivers from driving quickly down the street. This can only be addressed by improving traffic calming measures.

  14. March 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Hear hear, Linnaea! You have two beagles and myself all-in for sidewalks and bike-lanes as a priority all the way to the city limits, if not further, along Cass St. south of 14th. Their vet is at the top of the hill past 17th. It is a heavily traveled corridor no matter what your mode of travel or number of paws.

    Thank you for greeting people as they enter into the city–DIY traffic calming?

  15. Brian B
    March 24, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Megan, thanks for your thoughtful and thorough assessment of the current situation regarding BLA and the public input sessions. I wrote some comments regarding the proposed road as did another woman, both of which were addressed by Mayor Bzdok on the Plan for TC website. Rather than repost them here in response to your piece, I’d encourage folks to take a look at them at:

    http://planfortc.com/2011/03/20/infrastructure-business-leaders-for-mi-boardman-lake-ave/

  16. james b
    March 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Isn’t the technical report of the Grand Vision irrelevant for the BLA discussion.

    The GV consultants measure road quality by freedom of traffic flow. The ultimate goal is for traffic speed to be controlled by “driver’s desires.”

    Grading Scale (abbreviated):
    LOS A = conditions of free flow
    LOS B = stable flow; little restrictions on maneuverability from other vehicles
    LOS C = Stable flow; occasional backups
    LOS D = tolerable speeds can be maintained, little freedom to maneuver
    LOS E = unstable flow with stoppages of momentary duration
    LOS F = forced flow conditions; stoppages for long periods; low operating speeds

    Gary mentioned this on Tuesday. Is LOS F necessarily bad? It’s actually the traffic condition of many livable cities.

    LOS D and E very clearly describe what it’s like to drive through San Francisco and many other great cities.

    Do the BLA supporters want “conditions of free flow” on Union and Cass? I heard one proponent at the meeting tell a story of how her son was almost hit by an out of control driver. It sounds more like proponents want traffic controlled, not free flowing traffic.

    If they don’t want free flow, then they probably shouldn’t look to the GV technical report. The goal of the report was increased conditions of flowing traffic.

    The GV consultants also assumed the road was going to be built b/c it was in the 2002 Master Plan.
    Would Mead & Hunt proposed the road if there were no previous BLA plans on the table? Not sure.

  17. james b
    March 25, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Taking that point to a broader level – should the City use TIF $$ to “relieve” issues of cut-through traffic of non-city residents?

    Why wouldn’t funding for the road construction come from other sources outside of a TIF? Why doesn’t it come from a source in which more of the actual users bear the cost? Then, the TIF funds could go to other, more important, improvements to the area.

  18. Ross Richardson
    March 25, 2011 at 11:00 am

    The boundaries of the TIF/brownfield district define where the money can be spent and identify and provide a funding source. I would maintain that the push for BLA from the city is happening because of the availability of money. The funding is driving the decision process (a rather common occurence in government, I’m afraid) rather than a decsion being made that a project is worthy and then figuring out how to pay for it.

  19. Carol Grosmark
    March 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I was at the meeting in early January where it was clear to me that this series of meetings is a sham; the decision to build this road has obviously been made. Before the meeting the city manager commented to me (not an exact quote) that he likes things to go smoothly and with as little fanfare or controversy as possible as that just slows things up. My impression of the meeting was that there really is already a “quid pro quo” agreement in place between the majority of the commissioners and the group in favor of this project in return for their cooperation/assistance with the construction of the parking structure on 8th street for Hagerty. The city manager and the commissioners present denied this but looking at how subsequent meetings have unfolded I have a hard time believing their denials.

  20. John Bazzett
    March 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    As an out-of-towner I can only offer the “occasional visitor’s perspective” on Grand Traverse County issues. Traverse City? -Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.
    John C. Bazzett
    Reed City, Michigan

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