Boardman Lake Ave. Will Do One Thing For Certain, Create Traffic
Is Traverse City serious about reducing motorized traffic in Old Town neighborhood and other areas? Doubtful. If motorized traffic reduction was a serious aim we’d find $5-$10 million and invest in public transit, sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic calming and a real 30-year plan to achieve the principles in the Grand Vision. We’d also restrict the size of trucks that come through our neighborhoods by not designing our city to accommodate the largest of them; many cities require smaller delivery trucks through place sensitive areas and they don’t starve or scare away businesses. It turns out, people are attracted to great places.
Instead, because Traverse City lacks a strategic plan, we follow the money and let funding be the driving force behind our decisions. Enter the concept of the Boardman Lake Ave./Old Town Bypass, which after 16-years of planning, the proponents have yet to prove that it will achieve what it promises: a 50% reduction in motorized traffic through Old Town neighborhood.
We can only be certain of one thing, as designed it will move cars at faster than 35-mph through a disconnected corridor and thus achieve neither greater efficiency or increased exchange opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Sure, we may get another road that people will drive, but experience and studies have repeatedly shown that you can’t build your way out of motorized traffic. You can disperse it for awhile, but later, as the induced demand catches up with you, what you’ve done is basically create MORE traffic and much of it will stay behind where you intended to remove it.
In the meantime, the opportunity cost for creating a place and dealing with other concerns has increased. In this instance, one major loss will be any hope of addressing and improving the 4-lane section of 8th Street. If the vehicles per day goes above 30,000 on 8th, it will take an even greater effort than needed now to bring it back to the mixed-use street it is struggling to be today.
City staff and the city commission will argue that we can get the design right later, what’s important is that we move forward to fulfill a promise to Old Town residents. This gets to me for many reasons, but two of them are: 1) since when does one neighborhood group get a promise to shift it’s perceived problem to another part of the city; 2) not everyone in Old Town, let alone the entire city, is on board in support of this 30-year old plan. In the time since inception, new residents have moved in, attitudes have changed and public involvement has altered.
We have choices and these choices have serious consequences for the next 50 years. If Boardman Lake Ave, a.k.a. the Old Town Bypass, had more than one function and was part of larger strategic plan to extend the neighborhood grid, create substantial infill, access an established Boardman Lake park/trail system, be a model of complete streets designed for all users and be directly part of a revitalization of 8th Street and, perhaps, even 14th St., then it could be a project to support. As is, it’s full of promises without vision, plans and crucial community-wide input.
Please contribute to the discussion here, in an email to city commissioners and/or at tonight’s study session which begins at 7pm and is the only item on the agenda.
The documents provided by the City are at the top of the City’s website.
My Email to City Commissioners:
Dear City Manager and City Commissioners,
I’m writing with deep concerns over the proposed Boardman Lake Avenue. As it stands now, I’m looking for a broader public process that involves real discussion open equally to all city residents to determine the desire, need and, if needed, design of a city street, as opposed to a road. Currently, we have a designed 1/2 mile, high-speed bypass without a wider strategic plan to its impact on the community. As proposed, it goes against everything many residents are trying to build: a community where we have transportation choices, streets that accentuate a sense of place and processes that are driven by need and strategic planning, rather than available funds.
I’ve poured through the documents provided by the city. I have discussed this issue with the city engineer, planner, and manager, as well as with the Chamber of Commerce, many residents and business owners of Old Town neighborhood. I’ve sought council with other residents that I interact with through my volunteer work with the city, the Grand Vision and community organizations. In addition, I’ve spent over a year researching transportation issues and how they relate to community development and place-making, the latest of which involved a 2-day conference by the Michigan Association of Planners last week in Lansing. That conference addressed the future of transportation and explained how many of our old models in regards to designing streets are out of date and have reached their time. One of these is the concept that you can build your way out of traffic concerns. Wider, straighter, faster and more arterials are no longer accepted means to alleviate traffic in an urban setting. This isn’t me talking, this is the leaders in the traffic planning field.
After all of my research, I’m not opposed to construction in this part of the city. If Boardman Lake Ave had more than one function and was part of larger strategic plan to, for example, extend the neighborhood grid, create substantial infill, access an established Boardman Lake park/trail system, be a model of complete streets designed for all users and be directly part of a revitalization of 8th Street and, perhaps, even 14th St., then it could be a project to support. As is, it’s full of promises without vision, plans and crucial community-wide input. To get there, we need to look forward to the next 30 years rather than backward to the last 30 years.
I’ve seen the list of reasons why some in Old Town desire this to move forward quickly, but there are real concerns that what they’ve been promised will not be fulfilled. Moving the problem to some-other location never works and isn’t in the best interest of the entire community. As I’ve mentioned before, it will lead to induced demand and the issues they are having now will continue. I recommend that between now and March, when you will likely have your first vote on this issue, that you direct the city manager to organize and lead a community discussion on the pros and cons of the proposed road. This process needs to apply to current work being done in the planning commission, the Grand Vision, state-wide complete streets legislation and even nationally with the cross-departmental innovations in the Department of Transportation. The cities that are attracting, and keeping, young, educated, entrepreneurs are ahead of the curve in designing cities for all people and are tuned into the future of what makes cities great–as well as where the funding will come from.
It is not a time to be creating another Division St. that we can’t manage and will only deteriorate other goals and objectives of city residents. Thank you for your representation and consideration, and I look forward to the discussion that awaits us.
Gary L Howe
Traverse City, MI