The many hats found along TC’s Division St.
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?
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.
- Crosstalk: The Division St. slowdown…potentially…maybe (mywheelsareturning.com)
- TC City Commission moves forward with Division St. ballot question (mywheelsareturning.com)
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