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The many hats found along TC’s Division St.

October 15, 2012 6 comments

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Yes, no, maybe so…

The last few weeks I’ve been asked several times, by several people, what I thought about Traverse City’s City Proposal 1 to dispose of a strip of parkland along Division St. My first response is to roll my eyes. Then change the subject. If they insist, they might get the 40 minute rant and even that is a truncated version

However I end up voting, I’ll be second guessing myself the moment I walk out the door. The UpNorthMedia discussion helped me realize that we are being asked to actually give a wider corridor to MDOT; once it is done it is done, albeit with a sunset clause and a future City Commission approval clause. The tension exists not with the parkland, but with the lack of strategy and shared vision around this corridor and this ballot initiative.

Can a flawed process be corrected mid-stride?

Objectives from last 3 years

It’s fine to say, “we all agree we want a safer street”, but the problem arises with the different interpretation of what a safer street means. Undoubtedly, that discussion will occur internally and externally. It will come from citizens pestering public officials and professionals who serve many masters, including their own engrained approach to designing roadways and public space. That’s to be expected.

What aggravates here is a version of that process already occurred over a three-year process, costing hundreds of hours of volunteer time, struggles to agree on some basic steps, and now we are being told this is a first step. To those involved, this is a recursive 15th mile marker in a marathon that never ends.

I’m first and foremost a citizen. I want to see a better community and I’m invested enough to work for that by seeking out diverse opinions, working through conflicts, informing myself, developing the necessary questions to move ideas into implementation, and honoring processes. That said, for argument’s sake, let me pretend that I can segregate my different mode choices into  distinct personalities. I’m not a citizen, I’m a motorists, pedestrian, bicyclist, or a something else entirely. This is the myopic view of political process that attempts to put people in this “interested party” or that “interested party” and something I try to avoid. However, for the sake of argument, let me answer how I may view this ballot proposal at this time wearing those different hats.

  • The Motorist: I’m all revved up about this proposal. The intersection with the most crashes and the intersection with the 10th most crashes in Traverse City are in this stretch. 14th & Division and 11th & Division crashes have conservatively cost those impacted, mostly people in cars, $3.5 million dollars in property damages and injuries over the last 3 1/2 years. This excludes the public cost of responding to them and the increase surveillance of them with each crash. And, despite the smoother surface, this corridor still gets my heart rate up every-time I drive it. With MDOT and the Chamber in support and willing to put time and staff time being involved, I can trust that the ultimate design will reduce some of that stress.
  • The Pedestrian: I’m trippin’ over it. Finally, there’s something tangible to vote on and there seems to be momentum in providing me a refuge somewhere in this corridor to cross the street. The final design may or may not slow cars down, but I’ll have that refuge at an intersection or along the corridor to give me  bit more control. I’m likely still not going to let my children or 80-year-old grandma cross on their own, but it looks like finally, something is going to be done to bridge the division. I hear I might even get a complete sidewalk network out of it.
  • The Bicyclist: I’m coasting. MDOT has previously ruled out a road conversion that might consider a street with bike lanes. I’m curious about a similar street in Lansing where MDOT (LSJ) just put bike lanes on. That gives me some hope, but certainly not trust. I’m a bit frustrated that a focus on what the City of Traverse City can do in its own right of way, including parkland, has been put on hold as the community responds to this ballot proposal. That troubles me as a trailhead at the future Buffalo Ridge Trail connection, along the old railroad bed just south of 14th St., not only would serve me as a bicyclist, but would also assist to calm traffic by providing a place for activity along what is now avoided space. What’s in this for me? They aren’t even addressing the silly one way crossing at 7th St.
  • The Transit Rider: I’m waiting; always waiting.  Not sure where I fit in the plans. Central neighborhood continues to complain about me. MDOT doesn’t want me on Division St. and I don’t want to wait on Division St. Have you stood along there? It’s a hell hole. I still don’t have a convenient trip across town and I wonder what would happen if the time, energy, and money focused on engineering a solution was focused on increasing ridership. Could we not reduce the number of single occupant trips being taken to and from the hospital with a bit of investment? Wouldn’t this relieve some of the traffic?

Reality is more nuanced

Of course, the majority of us wear all of these hats and we simply want better streets across the City and the wider community. We want safe and convenient choices. We want added value to our community. Like the people living next to Division St., we want to go to bed without the house shaking. We want to pull out of our driveway without fear. We want to be able to use our front yard and the front room in our house.

Does this ballot proposal get us closer to any of that? I’m not certain it matters either way. On November 7th, whatever the result, there remains a lot of work to do. Regardless of the vote, there will be an opportunity for interested parties, hopefully those with a holistic approach, to participate in a process likely of their own creation. If you are concerned about Division St., I recommend that you not worry too much about the vote result. The result will only  be one street sign guiding the process forward.

Yes or no, that’s up to you; informed by the many hats you wear. But, the end result of a better street that better serves the context of a neighborhood and an entry point to a city will not be determined by this vote. It will be determined more from the level of engagement you are willing to give to it over the next 10 years.

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Reminder: Please read the comments policy if you haven’t done so already. If you feel you need to rant against the world and raise numerous tangential issues while personally attacking individuals or organizations, consider creating your own blog and tracking back to MyWHaT. If it is of value, you will attract readers. Or, send me a message with all the rants you wish. Otherwise, healthy, friendly discussion is fully encouraged.

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Crosstalk: The Division St. slowdown…potentially…maybe

October 9, 2012 7 comments

A community-supported blogthank you.

UpNorthMedia Center’s series Crosstalk (UNM)this week is airing a discussion between Mayor Mike Estes and attorney Grant Parsons concerning the City Proposal to dispose of parkland along Division St. They don’t allow embedding, so if you’re interested click over and watch the 30 minute discussion

I don’t have the time this morning to dig into the entire discussion. Both individuals raise some valid points, some points worth exploring, as well as a few points of dubious nature. It’s a friendly discussion, sparingly moderated.

One fundamental difference between the two men has little to do with the stroad of Division. Both of them recognize it as an under serving corridor to the community, although they do disagree about the role the City could play to actually control ever-increasing amount of cars on it. A lot of the discussion explores what the ballot measure actually achieves.

Parsons contends that as much as this ballot proposal was written to distance the City from a commitment to disposal of parkland, by the insertion of the condition that a future City Commission must approve the final plan, the language reads as “disposing” of parkland and thus requires 3/5ths vote, according to City charter. If it isn’t actually “disposing” of parkland, then what does it achieve? Is it an empty gesture by voters to, as he said, “show MDOT some love?” For him, there are too many unknowns to support the measure.

In response, the Mayor reiterates again and again that it is a future City Commission that will make the final decision and that this is the only opportunity we have improving the corridor.  In order to get to that future point, he is asking voters to engage with MDOT and allow them the widened right of way to facilitate a planning and design process.

Again, the program is online and can be seen on TV on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12 at 8pm.

I’m withholding further commentary for the time being. However, I’m really interested in where MyWHaT readers are on the issue.

After last week’s League of Women’s Voters forum and further time to consider and discuss the issue in the community, do you have any major breakthroughs to share? Minor quibbles to unleash? Profound insights to take the discussion higher?

If so, please share. 

Ballot Language

Public Records Concerning Division St. 

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Reminder: Please read the comments policy if you haven’t done so already. If you feel you need to rant against the world and raise numerous tangential issues while personally attacking individuals or organizations, consider creating your own blog and tracking back to MyWHaT. If it is of value, you will attract readers. Or, send me a message with all the rants you wish. Otherwise, healthy, friendly discussion is fully encouraged.

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What do we think about Division St.?

August 20, 2012 18 comments

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UPDATED: 11AM to add a note of caution.

The results from the MyWHaT straw-poll are in!

In response to the question concerning the Division St./parkland ballot initiative – “if the election was today, how would you vote?”– MyWHaT readers pass the initiative 65% to 35%.*

Myself? I’m prepared to err on the side of yes. There are concerns about process, shortsightedness, narrow scope, lack of political will to declare a shared vision with teeth, pandering, alienation of key constituents, a lack of trust…faith…fortitude…abilities, and that it will unleash an army of zombies upon the city. Still, as of today, I’d vote yes.

In a future post, I may elaborate on some of these concerns, but for now, I’m content understanding that a majority–regardless of mode choice, simply want better access and improved quality of life throughout the community–Division St. included

[8-24, 10:30AM: Video removed by request]

* An online poll, on a niche blog, comes with a very large burlap bag of salt. Beer induced estimates put the accuracy for the greater community at a  ± 10% to  ± 30%. Meaning, at this moment, the ballot has a fifty-fifty chance of passing. 

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TC City Commission moves forward with Division St. ballot question

August 16, 2012 2 comments

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Yes. Or, no?

On election day this November, Traverse City residents will be asked the following ballot question regarding parkland along Division St.:

Should the City Commission of the City of Traverse City be authorized to dispose of City parkland for the purpose of right of way and intersection improvements, but not to be used to construct additional thru traffic lanes, provided that such authorization shall expire on November 6, 2022 if no plan for such improvements is in place on that date?

The proposed City parkland includes an up to 30 foot wide strip along and adjacent to the west of Division Street between fourteenth Street and Eighth Street and two approximately 0.25 acre triangle parcels located west of and adjacent to Division Street, one parcel located north of and adjacent to Eleventh Street and one parcel located south of and adjacent to Eleventh Street.

Yes: _______          No: _______

We obviously have a long-way until November 6 (82 days, actually), but I’m interested in a straw-poll of MyWHaT readers–I suspect, an above average informed and engaged group who isn’t starting from scratch on the issue.

Straw-Poll

* Results will be hidden until a reasonable number of people have voted and voting will be closed on Sunday. Obviously, not all MyWHaT readers are Traverse City residents, but even if you don’t live in the City, how would you vote based off of the ballot question? 

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Full resolution accompanying the approved ballot question from the August 6th City Commission meeting, scroll to page 3:

Reminder: Please read the comments policy if you haven’t done so already. If you feel you need to rant against the world and raise numerous tangential issues while personally attacking individuals or organizations, consider creating your own blog and tracking back to MyWHaT. If it is of value, you will attract readers. Or, send me a message with all the rants you wish. Otherwise, healthy, friendly debate is fully encouraged. 

Trust or bust is wrong approach to Traverse City’s Division St.

July 18, 2012 8 comments

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Division is a menace and must be fixed; all we need is a little trust.

~ Record Eagle Editorial____

Good work editorial board–let’s state the obvious and hope for the best. Let’s also dumb-down the issue that is Division St. by focusing on “backups and gridlock” and solve it with a wider roadway.

Reading the RE’s editorial, it appears there is a considerable hurdle before Traverse City in regards to an informed discussion. Here’s a reminder of the issues expressed through a diverse set of interests back in 2010.

Any final outcome needs to address all four of the main issues of safety, context, access, and quality for all users, as well as the impact on the adjacent homes.

One key objective should be to ensure that property owners don’t feel compelled to build 15-foot high concrete walls to barricade themselves against an aggressive street. It should be noted, that quality of the roadway was partly addressed with the re-paving of the surface. This has improved ambient noise from vibration of trucks running through town. Little else has been achieved since then and the perceived safety has only worsened as speeds remain higher than desired by people who live near or frequently use Division St.

To build trust, the City Commission needs to step up the pace in asking staff to implement improvements recommended by the Division St. Steering Committee. That document attached below and includes items like street trees planted in the tree lawn, sidewalk completion (both at the north end and in places along the corridor), change lighting from highway lighting to pedestrian scaled lighting, and by provide feedback and education to drivers through a safe driving campaign, more visible enforcement, and  by installing instant feedback radar signs to alert people of their speeds. These are the most doable and delaying for some unknown start date of a reconstruction project reveals a lack of resolve.

Perhaps a citizen group needs to simply go out without approval from the City and do some of these ideas and more on their own.

I’m not sure where I fall on the ballot initiative; it’s too early. There remain questions to be asked and answers or non-answers to be sorted out.  Is this the only chance to address Division St.? If it means simply reducing friction for automobiles through the corridor by focusing on left turning lanes, then I’m not really interested. If we can ameliorate some of those issues while also creating a street scaled for the mixed-use neighborhood it is, then I’m interested.

What are your questions? 

Reminder: Please read the comments policy if you haven’t done so already. If you feel you need to rant against the world and every tangential issue while personally attacking individuals or organizations, consider creating your own blog and tracking back to MyWHaT. If it is of value, you will attract readers. Or, send me a message. Otherwise, healthy, friendly debate is fully encouraged. 

The objectives from the Division Street Steering Committee remain valuable:  

To change the character of Division Street to create a City Street that is:

  1. safer for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to share, travel along, and to cross
  2. better fits the context of the city and its neighborhoods
  3. unites the east and west sides of the street, and
  4. creates the environment and driver behavior to insure that traffic speeds will be reduced to 30-mph. This must be a demonstrable requirement.

More documents and articles on Division St. are available through the Connected Communities: Complete Streets coalition resource

Resident expresses the disconnect that is TC’s Division St.

April 6, 2012 15 comments

Not the most comfortable place

Division Street remains an issue of interest in Traverse City, to say it nicely. Two months ago, the City Commission reengaged the topic by passing a resolution pledging a solution. Since then, there’s been a meeting between interested parties, the City, and MDOT aimed at finding ways to begin improving this stroad.

The results of that meeting will be presented at an upcoming study session at the City Commission–anticipated for April 23rd.

In the meantime, the concerns of residents and visitors (TW) for a more inhabitable, accessible and calmed street continue. Yesterday, a MyWHaT reader and city resident living on Division St. shared her message to the City Commission with me and with her permission I share with you:

Dear Commissioners:

I am writing to you today because of Division St. and 14th St. We moved onto Division last October to reduce our dependence on automobile transportation. Initially, we were surprised by the noise and the speed at which cars travel, but a few months down the line, and I have far greater concerns. (And we really appreciate the efforts made by the City and MDOT to limit noise – our old house no longer shakes!)

As a reporter, I’m now able to walk or bike to the majority of my interviews. The other day, I had an interview just a few blocks from my house at the new location of Kitchen Choreography. The trouble was, the business is located across the street, a four-lane highway. It took me several minutes to cross one way, and I was nearly hit by a speeding motorist. On the way home, I was more cautious and waited nearly eight minutes (at 6p) just to cross the street.

There’s some great coffee over at the Commons, the farmer’s market, wine, cheesecake, restaurants, our favorite bakery, friends, and hiking trails, but to get there puts our lives at risk. I would be working and shopping at the Commons nearly every day, if not for the division created by the aptly named highway. The same is true for 14th. I like to walk to my bank, and to friends’ homes who lives up a few streets from 14th, but again, the lack of pedestrian considerations on that corridor create a virtual barrier.

This week my dog was hit by a car on Division, trying to cross to our favorite park in the world. She was injured, but thankfully survived, though not without an expensive visit to the vet. I now have to consider giving her to another family for fear she will be killed on our street.

However, these reasons are not why I am writing to you today. I am writing because next fall, my child will be attending school at Greenspire (at the Commons). While we can drive, if needed, we would prefer to walk, and yet, I cannot imagine crossing that “street” every day. I live in fear nearly every day that my child or dog or someone else just trying to enjoy this beautiful place will get hurt by speeding motorist. A man was killed in front of our house in December.

Traffic is traveling too fast, and there are not enough safe opportunities for people to cross.

PLEASE move forward with plans to improve pedestrian safety on this road. A roundabout or whatever is needed that will slow traffic and create a safer route of travel. The runners, bikers, dogs, dog-walkers, parents, and children of our City will thank you.

~ Samantha, Division St. resident

Sending get well wishes to Samantha’s dog. Thank you for sharing your letter.

Watch out for more information on the upcoming meeting and, if so inspired, here is the contact information for Traverse City City Commissioners.

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Division St. observations: start with low hanging fruit

February 21, 2012 7 comments

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The Record Eagle headline: “Solutions for Division St. sought : Mayor wants city, state to get serious about the road” (RE) is welcome attention to a lagging issue, but offers nothing new in the City’s approach to the problem. It is a new round of resolutions to “find a solution” to an under-performing corridor of repletion that by its very design is dangerous, uninviting, inefficient…what some may call repulsive. Uncomfortable for the community is the fact that this street is part of several valuable neighborhoods.

We’ve seen these liminal moments come and go in the saga of Division St. and despite copious amounts of collaborative input and work done in the past 2-years, we still have City Commissioners who think that a pledge to find a solution is a first step. The community has already taken 10,000 steps, like the Division St. recommendations. What we lack is the clarity of whether or not we have been on path forward or simply on a treadmill with, thankfully, a broken odometer.

A 2011 Improvement

Act on the low hanging fruit

We continue to hold out hope for a solution without making improvements that are right in front of us, already on the table, and simply waiting to be implemented. The City can begin today to make plans to improve this corridor and do so with streetscaping proven to alter how we interact here. Street trees, inviting sidewalks on both sides of the street, pedestrian scale lighting, and general landscaping can have an impact that doesn’t break the bank. Some improvements happened this past summer, like the installation of countdown pedestrian lights. Go team!

We need small investments like these that improve the quality of the space, not aim to solve traffic. If we make people the priority, traffic improvements will follow. Further down the road street, bigger investing in public spaces that increase human focused activity along the corridor are needed. One reason why the City’s parks and recreation commission favored the old Veteran’s Park for the dog park was the impact it will have in improving the context of the corridor. A small step with some barking that will slightly slow us down when we drive-by.

Low hanging fruit

Looking south from Veteran’s Park, there are improvements on both sides of the street that can happen. On the eastside, from Bay St. to Randolph, a sidewalk and landscaping is dearly needed. South of Immaculate Conception, a bridge over Kids Creek is hardly noticeable–it could be a point of interest. Further down, past 8th St., there is adjacent parkland that is maintained but barely used. Let’s develop a plan that will create activity in this space, including full commitment by the City to help with the Buffalo Ridge trail near the 14th and Division Streets’ intersection.

As we approach the City limit, let’s seriously begin thinking about changing the entrance to the City with points of interest along the side and ultimately seriously considering a modern roundabout to replace the signalized intersection that has outgrown its use. The latter, obviously involves MDOT and will take real investment in energy, political-will, and investment money. Still, those challenges don’t make it impossible.

In 2010, MyWHaT conducted a walking observational tour of Division St. attended by a diverse set of eyes, including MDOT’s regional director, the majority of the observations remain in the same condition: Observational walk of Division St._

Let’s make it happen. I’m in full support of action that moves it forward. Tally ho!

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TC City Commission to consider Division St. pledge

February 20, 2012 5 comments

The following is a resolution to be considered by the City Commission tomorrow (Tuesday) night. It isn’t earth shattering, but the timing precludes events on March 2nd when Governor Rick Snyder and his Lansing posse come to town to talk place-making and economic development. MDOT director Kirk Steudle will also be in town. A reunion of all or parts of the Division St. citizen committee is anticipated.

The full agenda for tomorrow night is online at the City website.

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Stopping distances approaching Division St. and 11th St.

February 20, 2012 2 comments

Recognition + Reaction + Breaking = Stopping Distance 

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Important to recall the consequences at these different speeds. For instance, if you’re struck by a car going 40-mph, there’s a 70% chance you don’t make it. At 30-mph, there is a good chance you’ll live.

Chart by PBOT via Bike Portland

The above are distances to recognize, react and physically stop when something or someone presents. Of course, there are variations between people, automobiles and environmental conditions. Also, the above numbers are high estimates, but even with lower numbers (Yupedia) the pattern holds true.

The faster we drive, the longer it takes to stop.

Or, put in the context of Division St., the more it is designed for speed, the more likely severe crashes will take place. In this section of Division St., beginning at 8th St. going south the speed limit is 40-mph and it is designed to be driven comfortably at 55-mph. It has wide lanes, a clear sight distance, and a lot of us race in attempt to avoid red lights.

We need to start changing the context…

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Another round of discussion about Division St.

February 16, 2012 1 comment

Next Tuesday (Monday is president’s day) the City Commission will consider a resolution of commitment concerning the street/road/highway called Division St. Their packet won’t be available until tomorrow. This is an excellent opportunity to remind the City and readers about the two set of recommendations for Traverse City’s Division Streetdeveloped over the last 2 and half years. (A search of posts related to Division St. will lead readers to more in depth coverage and commentary.)

divst

It began with the hiring of URS Corporation who conducted a weeklong, well represented, public process to provide a plan that attempts to ameliorate the traffic and place issues in terms of context, safety, access and quality. Modern roundabouts were recommended and preliminary modeling was positive in showing automobiles would still be able to move smoothly trough the corridor. The promise is that it would also improve the other aspects of this part of the City.

After that plan stalled, a citizen committee was formed to make side treatment recommendations for the corridor. The intent of this process was to come-up with short-term improvements to the corridor that would move the City forward until a time when the intersections can be changed, which is a larger, messier process that must involve MDOT, potentially a vote on the use of parkland and, perhaps, some fairy dust. These citizen recommendations include streetscape recommendations, sidewalk placements and creating a definitive transition as people enter the City.

That committee’s objective statement is a clear statement of intent that came out of a large, diverse mix of interests:

To change the character of Division Street to create a City Street that is:

  • safer for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to share, travel along, and to cross
  • better fits the context of the city and its neighborhoods
  • unites the east and west sides of the street, and
  • creates the environment and driver behavior to insure that traffic speeds will be reduced to 30-mph. This must be a demonstrable requirement.

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I certainly support any and all effort given to this project. We shall see where it goes.

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