Home > Uncategorized > Is Traverse City ready to move beyond sidewalks?

Is Traverse City ready to move beyond sidewalks?

Monday’s Rant

The planning commission last week approved the 2011 street projects & confirmed that they were ‘consistent‘ with the master plan (Agenda/Packet PDF). None of the projects are proposing expansive changes, but Barlow St. & Kelly St. will each get a sidewalk, on one lucky, selective side each.

Why not do something special on Barlow St. N.? The intersection at Washington St., a heavily trafficked bike and walking route, is an excellent place to experiment with rain garden bulb-outs, like those found in Portland, OR. It not only would lessen impact on our stormwater system, bulb-outs both reduce vehicle speeds & reduce crossing distances for pedestrians. Photos: Top Gary L Howe/Bottom: Portland BES.

Elsewhere, Elmwood Ave. will likely be narrowed, have an entrance change & get a sidewalk where there isn’t one between Wayne St. and Bay St. Other streets will have tweaks. Nothing to be mad about; most of it fine. Nothing great.

The city, and I mean this here in terms of citizenry, just isn’t ready for leading edge traffic calming measures, like those presented by Ian Lockwood. I could be wrong, as none were proposed for 2011 and next year may be different, but the complaints by neighbors on Elmwood Ave. about the installation of a sidewalk from Wayne St. to Bay St. was revealing. There is a lack of public willingness to pull back and take broad, long-term views of city projects; to see the network beyond our own front lawns. It’s not everyone who feels this way, but the naysayers do show-up at a lot of meetings.

The YIMBYS tend not to show-up (hint).

Why sidewalks

The public right-of-ways are dominated by our desire to drive cars. Fine, I get it; drive on. However, a non-motorized network is just as important, arguably more important, than the motorized network.

Improvements like sidewalks, in a car dominated world, add value to our neighborhoods and do so beyond basic mobility. Home values increase with sidewalks, and, more importantly, chances for positive social interaction increase. When we value infrastructure for cars over everything else, those chances decrease.

Preserve or improve?

N. Barlow: 36 feet of right-of-way & still no sidewalk planned for 2011. Photo; Gary L Howe

Planning commission chair, Fred Wilmeth our role is to preserve the character of these neighborhoods as they exists now.” At first, it sounded fine but really it’s only half of the equation.

Sure, preserve the link to historical place, but I see the role of the planning commission to be advocating for continual improvements that allow Traverse City to become a remarkable city. Keep the character, while improving the public space. We didn’t hit a crescendo in the 1950’s and set on a course of ‘preserving‘ it. It’s a process and part of a city’s resilience is the ability to improve on its strengths and adopt new ideas where needed. We need to get beyond debating about sidewalks.

We’re blessed with an advantageous framework, better than most cities, and we’re entering a period where little T.C. can, with a dose of innovation and inexpensive design measures, be a place that attracts young, vibrant people. We may pull off the impossible and at once be a small, rural community while still expressing some of the advantages of denser, more urban centers.

Side note

It’s good news to have the State of Michigan join 13 other states in signing into law complete streets legislation. It’s not a perfect law, but it goes a long way in advancing what to many is common sense: building streets for more than one single use. If we are to view street projects as investments, than it’d be best that we start making more sound, long-term investments that build the city that we want. It’s my understanding that most of the city residents want a city made for people, not cars. We need to speak-up if that is going to happen.

After you look through the street projects for 2011 (PDF) email city planner Russ Soyring in support and with your own ideas. As the city manager said, “the sooner the better.” The projects were passed by the planning commission and they will be engineered and designed this fall. The sooner you get your comments into the city, the more likely they will be heard.  email: rsoyring@ci.traverse-city.mi.us

  • Are you ready to move beyond sidewalks?
  • What ideas do you support or have?


  1. August 9, 2010 at 9:41 am

    This is a strange complaint, but here goes. It’s Monday after all…

    TC just spent a lot of money on fixing the sidewalks in our neighborhood (Central) and while they’re lovely, straight and smooth, it seems as though it was overkill. Most of the sidewalks were in fine working order and I should know as we buggy over them almost every day as we wander downtown and around the neighborhoods. There were some that were fixed and I am thrilled because they were TERRIBLE and usually drove us into the street to walk, but overall, I would gladly give up some of the fancy new sidewalks in exchange for Grandma getting hers on the other side of town.

    I realize that’s not really how things work in the world, but it just doesn’t seem quite right… Dare I say that it seems as though some neighborhoods (ahem, ours) are getting preferential treatment?


  2. August 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Good question, Ashlea. I often wonder why one neighborhood gets something over another. I have little clarity on the issue, however, certain neighborhoods seem to have a quicker response time to complaints than others. It may just be that some neighborhoods are more politically active and organized, and have committed people who sit on commissions, boards and are able to find the time to be involved.

    I’ve been consistently trying to nudge people who have a broader perspective than just their own interests, like yourself perhaps, to be involved. There are many already doing so and doing it well. The inspiration for my rant is that many of our neighbors are more accepting of the status quo than others. In-action is easiest and the ‘leave-it-as-is‘ response is a strong one in Traverse City. That’s at least been my experience in the Traverse Heights neighborhood, where the longtime residents have seemed willing to just keep things the same. Mention sidewalks on streets where they don’t have them and they respond with bewilderment. “Why we would need such a thing when we didn’t have it before?” Of course, many of those voices tend not to walk anywhere and is part of the reason that many of the most incomplete streets exists in that corner of the city. The Traverse Heights’ residents who would appreciate some neighborhood improvements tend not to be the political forward for reasons beyond a non-interest.

    NOTE: Maple Street repairs only cost $180,000 +/-, so sidewalk improvements were probably rolled into the overall cost without much hassle or cost.

  3. Vic McCarty
    August 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Looks like a very cool idea. I am now, also, on board with round abouts…but here is the think.. dont let the keystone kommissioners hand public relations or the whole thing will evaportate

  4. August 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I just remembered an experience from when I was on the Empire Village Board for a few years and we were trying to put MORE sidewalks in places that didn’t have them and the people in those neighborhoods resisted because they thought a) it’s been that way forever; why change? and b) it would invite more people into their neighborhood/street and they didn’t want more pedestrians gawking through their windows at night… People were also fine with parking their cars on the sidewalks/green space areas because their garages off the alleys were full of $%^#%#%^ with no space left for a car. When I tried to fight this (aren’t sidewalks for people not cars?) and enforce an already existing ordinance, the Village President said, “that’s just village character. We don’t want to change it.” Shortly thereafter, I left the Board.

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