Home > Complete Streets, Crank, Cultural Movement, Design the Details, Economics, Editorial, Green Streets, Walking > A Laundry List of Significant Public Projects on TC’s Horizon

A Laundry List of Significant Public Projects on TC’s Horizon

Thursday’s Slightly Cranky

It is a good time to take note of what is coming before the Traverse City City Commission as there are several projects brewing that deserve a quick MyWHaT touch crank to ring in the new year. I originally intended to keep each to Twitter sized commentary, but the task proved too difficult. I’ve made them as brief as possible. If you see something missing, you’re welcome to add it in the comments. And, as always, readers comments that are supportive or critical are fully encouraged. Note, I have 3 weeks left on my annual motto for 2011: “I could be wrong.” After that, who knows.

* The following could use informed & supportive input–Don’t hesitate to send a quick email.

* Bayfront Plan: Phase I at Clinch Park

The City Commission has two basic tasks to address this coming Monday night (12/12) and then ultimately to decide at their January 3rd regular meeting. 1) Do the commissioners believe that a revitalized Clinch Park must include a train ride? It was removed during the planning from 2010, which they passed unanimously at least twice. 2) Commissioners need to achieve informed-consent on the planned 2012 design and construction in the north-east corner. The current construction plan (Flickr) was approved by both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission. It does not include the train.

The support for the train ride has been grossly over-blown, parts of it fabricated by one individual posing as two dozen different people and not substantial convincing enough to over-turn previous decisions by several City boards, including the City Commission. Removing the train was, among many things, mainly due to safety concerns, long-term plans, and constrictions it placed on the park’s potential over 30 years. In addition, speaking as a life-time resident, the train stinks up the place and drives many people away from Clinch Park because of the nauseous fumes. If it stays, it will continue to do so.

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West Boardman Lake Avenue (a.k.a. The Blah)

This project has been a relentless ambition by city staff and is also on the agenda for this Monday night’s study session. They will review a recently conducted origin and destination study, that is now available online -PDF (TC). The purpose of the study was to better understand possible traffic volumes after the proposed bypass is built. In an email announcing the completion of the study, it is reported that the preliminary estimate by URS Corporation is that approximately one-third of the motorized traffic now on Cass and Union Streets would use The Blah. Somewhere in the neighborhood of around 6,000 vehicles per day (VPD). To be clear, the report is predicting a 30% decrease in traffic spread out over two streets.

If The Blah is built, 10 years from now it is quite rationale to believe that vpd levels on Cass and Union will simply return to their current levels of 12,000 & 8,000 vpd respectively. The sole purpose of this project was to reduce the vpd on those streets (a fundamental flaw from the start) and it doesn’t do so to any substantial impact. The accommodation for easy driving through the City simply rewards the very behavior that neighborhoods consistently complain about: motorized traffic.

The short of it: 30 years ago there was a plan that expanded the grid and added value to the City; it was more than a bypass. Over the years, circumstance and opportunity have changed and we are left with The Blah–an attempt at a mid-town urban bypass.

We also have a City Commission desperate to repair the infrastructure we already have and a public that wants that done right, which includes more safe and convenient options for all modes, thoughtful protection of the natural environment and public investment aimed at more than a road. It isn’t the time to be laying additional asphalt with significant consequences like creating another financial & social burden on future generations. The City needs a reset button for The Blah to really re-explore the opportunities this area holds.

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Boardman Lake Trail

Separately, realizing the completion of the trail network being completed around Boardman Lake (on the east side of the railroad tracks from The BLAh) is certainly close at hand. Yesterday, the City received $210,000 via a Michigan Natural Trust Fund Grant (RE) that already has a local match via TIF dollars from the property. Now it is time to move to final design and ultimate construction. It is an excellent time to involve dedicated citizens to be certain that we get a design that is the best it can be. There are some property issues as well as real topographic challenges that deserve the eyes of those who will be using the trail. This project is getting close to something special as it will connect the community to the lake and create a unique recreational & transportation opportunity.

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* Dog Park

At the regular meeting this December 19th (in two weeks), the Parks and Recreation Commission will be requesting for the City Commission to approve the establishment of a dog park in the lawn space at the NW corner of Cypress and Division Streets, at what is now named Veteran’s Park. P&R has worked with community partners for almost a year to develop a plan of implementation (Scribd).

There were numerous public meetings to ask for feedback, with the latest being a special meeting dedicated to this site. We are emphasizing that this is a park for all people, pet owners and non-owners alike. I encourage you to read the proposal and contact commissioners with your support.

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* CVS Pharmacy

This week, the Planning Commission found the proposal by CVS Pharmacy for conditional re-zoning at the Front and Division St. location ready for a public hearing. That meeting is set for January 4th, 2012. As the discussion on MyWHaT suggests, this is a difficult position for the City representatives. On the one side, there is a potential developer willing to invest in what has been a blighted piece of property for at least 15 years. It is another commercial property placed on the tax roles. On the other side, the site-plan being floated is better suited for suburbia than for what the Master Plan calls for in this location–pedestrian focused higher-density land use. The fundamental question the Planning Commission is asked to eventually consider is whether this project adequately moves the City closer to fulfilling the vision expressed in the master plan. Expect this one to take a few turns before it is resolved.

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The People Tunnel

Here’s another project that simply won’t go away despite questionable need and effectiveness. City Staff continue to double down on this project which was left over from a 20-30 year old dream. I am convinced a tunnel will get some use, but there is no reason that it will be a preferred route for the majority of people making their way to West Bay unless they are on Garland St.

A more cost-effective and value added solution to providing access across Grandview Parkway is to alter the design of major highway running through our City. Plans to do so came out of the 2010 Bayfront Plan and the tunnel is simply a distraction from the inevitable tackling of that beast head-on. Chasing federal money (.Gov) in attempt to make more palatable a project that has already more than doubled in projected costs is simply a distraction and delay of a more direct amelioration of the problem–motorized traffic going 35-50mph through an urban community next to a park–Meh, what to do…Expect this to be back on the agenda at the beginning of the year once TIGER Grant winners are announced. Perhaps next year we can apply for TIGER Grants to do something really helpful like redesigning the entire trunkline.

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Division Street

The community needs a hero on this one. And, it needs to be someone who has authority to keep it on the City Commission’s agenda until it is recognized as a priority. Too many citizens invested too many hours working with staff, transportation agencies and consultants to see the plans from 2010 and citizen recommendations from 2011 (GV) simply sit on the shelf because a few people in the community have a mental disconnect with a basic transportation tool: the modern roundabout.

As long as we are tying to move cars and people around efficiently, safely and without breaking the bank, roundabouts are a part of the future. The sooner leadership grasps this reality and forgets personal ideology the better our community will be. There are severe problems at the intersections from 14th to Grandview Parkway–we need continued energy from the decision makers to see some progress.

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Corridors Study

Not widely reported on, but the City was a recipient of $100,000 HUD Sustainable Communities Grant last year. A subcommittee of the Planning Commission is working with consultants to complete revitalization plans for 8th St. (btw Union and Fair Streets), E. Front St. (btw Railroad & Fair), W. Front St. (btw river and City limits), 14th St. and Garfield Ave. This isn’t a transportation study; it is an economic vitalization project that focuses on the impact the built environment has on business opportunities & residential quality of life issues. These corridors all struggle to maintain property values and thriving businesses. Place makes a difference and this is a project that needs support and needs to succeed if we are ever to achieve projects like this. There will be a public meeting on January 12th at 7pm at the Traverse City Area District Library.

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That’s all I have; there is certainly more, but I trust this is enough to keep you busy. If not, throw something else on the table in the comments section below.

What is going on in your world?

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Specifically, what are some projects outside of the City that MyWHaT readers might be interested in?

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  1. December 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

    While it may seem to be well into the future, US 31/37 (and M72) corridor will be completely redone (not just a “mill and fill”) between 3 Mile and 5 Mile Roads in 2013 (it could be as late as 2015 but I can’t find the exact date and my memory is falling short on it). This will be a MAJOR project with a significant impact on businesses and the entire community. Just keep it on your radar as there will be efforts at outreach and community engagement to help minimize the disruption.

  2. December 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    RE: BLAh

    This is an interesting study by URS. I think it helps confirm the obvious: traverse city has changed. 30 years ago, Old Town neighborhood was an old neighborhood on the edge of a declining industrial area which was on the edge of a dying downtown. The majority of drivers were driving on Cass and Union Sts to travel east-west across the City. 30 years later, we have a revitalized neighborhood and pedestrian corridor on the edge of a new residential and retail district on the edge of our vibrant downtown which attracts people almost 24/7. This study confirms that now the majority of people are traveling on Cass and Union to our newer residential areas and downtown — not just as a means to get across town.

    URS made several recommendations that I would question if the City chooses to move ahead with BLAh. Those recommendations were primarily to improve the efficiencies of the signalized intersections at the north and south ends of Cass and Union Sts. That is, not only would we be adding capacity (without any new connectivity), but would also make it easier for drivers to access Cass and Union Sts and to make easier turns off of those street. It is “improvements” like these that would likely see Cass and Union Sts eventually reach previous levels of traffic, or more if other road restrictions aren’t implemented.

    During peak use hours — morning and evening rush hours — URS estimates that less than 10% (about 850 cars) of traffic will be diverted to BLAh. Given that BLAh is anticipated to carry 6000 vpd, I am curious as to what type of road City Staff has in mind. I don’t think the road designed by the previous consultants is necessary. That consultant was designing for 18,000 vpd.

    It seems that City Staff is determined to build this road, but I think this takes away one of their arguments for it. Despite the opposition to it at the last public meeting, I think its too easy to move forward with these projects because it will be built with other peoples money. If Staff wants to build this road to open up the area west of the lake for development, we should be having that conversation. I think we could easily build access to new neighborhood developments and improve access for others to our great public space in the middle of town — something that other Cities seem to be embracing, not restricting access to with barriers like roads and fences.

    Brian Haas
    Old Town Neighborhood Traffic Calming Committee

  3. December 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Excellent point about the intersection recommendations. Why increase Level of Service if that isn’t desired by the residents.

    I’d note, as it has been pointed out to me, the money for the road is Traverse City’s money. It is simply tied to a certain location and conditions according to TIF and BRA rules. The drive is the old trap of, “well, the money is there so we have to build something.” That typically isn’t the wisest way to plan a city.

  4. Marya
    December 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Thank you, Gary. I had no idea it was the train that was making me nauseous, headachy, and desperate to leave the area as fast as my feet could take me. I assumed it was an autobody joint in the area thwarting the antipollution laws or some villainous factory with hooks into city government. The train is cute. The fumes from the train are repugnant, unhealthy, and more than capable of driving people away from the downtown.

    Whom do I call?

  5. Marya
    December 8, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I regularly bike east on 16th Street to its end at the railroad tracks, where I pick up the Blah area gravel road (or I did until the recent road construction). This is a joyous ride, taking in the panorama of Boardman Lake, an areas that serves as nesting ground for beaucoup birds. This piece of land, kept natural with a few rope swings and wooden picnic tables, would make a happy centralized public park. We do not need another way to rush through a place that could provide peace and solace

  6. Katie
    December 9, 2011 at 6:46 am

    It is my fervent hope that City Commission will give careful and serious consideration to at least one of the thoughtful issues outlined in Mac McClellan’s summary of the BLA public input sessions. That is, the quandary of ‘direct benefit vs public malady’….meaning, how to handle the dilemma of doing something for one singular group that can/will bring inconvenience, or worse, to the City as a whole. There should be a primary focus on total TC. The longterm strident Old Town supporters of BLA, if successful, would foist this ridiculous road onto everyone traveling in TC. The single-minded, limited focus supporters of the Train are neglecting to consider the use of the Bayfront overall, much less in future years. Let’s hope some reason and logic at least is part of the City Commission’s discussion to consider projects…..not just, “oh, now we have the traffic study, check the box and move on with BLA at last”. Time for sending emails accordingly and showing up at meetings!

  7. December 9, 2011 at 8:21 am

    My 2 cents on BLA are that it points out how areas of TC are now “victims” of the city’s success at protecting and promoting a high-quality of life, as well as employment centers within the city limits. Obviously, if downtown/Munson/etc weren’t both desirable shopping/entertainment/employment destinations then there wouldn’t be the traffic issue. As long as these areas remain desirable (and, of course, that’s what we want) there’s no reason to believe that the traffic will ever get much better. However, we continue to try and look for “silver bullet” cure-alls to the traffic issue.

    BLA is a prime example of this. It would simply move the traffic somewhere else and within 10 years or so Cass/Union would be largely back to where it was today in terms of VPD. In my opinion, the appropriate response instead of building an in-town bypass is to encourage the development of more amenities within the City’s neighborhoods so as to provide the maximum benefit to the residents, and visitors, while requiring the minimum in terms of car/bike/ped travel. The 8th and 14th Street corridors are prime example of areas that could be, at least under the current zoning, much higher density in terms of taller buildings with more square footage and more of a mix of uses. If developed in this fashion, these areas could both house more residents than currently, as well as provide needed services to surrounding neighborhoods, and visitors. In a larger city, such mixed-use would be the more typical development along such traffic corridors.

    One way to move towards that goal of more mixed-use (because the zoning is largely already in place) would be to create TIF districts for the 8th and 14 Street corridors, which might be done along with sunsetting some or all of the downtown TIF districts. I also wonder what the ability would be to enlarge the existing west Boardman Lake TIF district (which would generate the funds to build the BLA, as well as the TART trail extension, etc.) in order to also encompass the 8th Street corridor between Boardman and Woodmere. That would be both a political and legal question for the BRA.

    Part of the re-development of 8th Street would require re-engineering the street in order to decrease the volume of automobile traffic on that street. Which would require $$$, possibly from TIF. It’s impossible to see much investment going into that area while it remains the raceway that it is today. Decreasing 8th Street traffic might also have the happy side effect of diminishing car traffic to some degree on Cass and Union.

    I think the question is to what degree does TC want to make it easy for residents and non-residents to drive through the City by car, as opposed to promoting the kind of development in town that will by necessity make it more difficult to drive, but also hopefully provide more services/housing/jobs within the City limits. The track record is mixed. Building BLA would fall into the former category. But projects like the Hagerty expansion are steps toward the latter.

  8. December 9, 2011 at 8:39 am

    I would also add that tunneling for $XXM under Grandview Parkway so as to not affect car travel, as opposed to providing a much less expensive at-grade crossing that would, by necessity, slow the cars down is also indicative of a certain mindset that wants to continue to make it possible to cross the City easily by car, as opposed to provide opportunities for residents/visitors to move around by other modes of travel.

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