Home > Engineering Design, Guest Writer, Representing > A One-Way Desert of Parking: State Street

A One-Way Desert of Parking: State Street

This is the 2nd in a series of posts on one-ways. The others are Part I One-way & Two-way Streets Reflect a Community’s Priorities, part III One-Way to Decrease Residential Livability and the editor’s perspective Conversion of a City’s One-way Street back to a Two-Way Begins with an Ask.


Is State St. Simply Front St.’s Parking Lot?

Guest Contributor: Peter Spaulding, part 2 of 3.

Part I: One-way & Two-way Streets Reflect a Community’s Priorities

What does the average citizen or visitor to Traverse City think of State Street?

When I look at it I see a waste of space, a desert of parking and a one-way street that serves only to provide smooth access to parking. Maybe others see it differently, but State Street is by no means an example of a street done right in Traverse City. Nice landscaping and street trees fail to make it a livable street; the few businesses that attempt to exist on or even between it and Front are fighting a difficult battle against terrible urban design. It is a boring, unpleasant and uninhabitable place for humans and businesses alike.

Wayfinding on State St. says a lot: Front St. District (photo GLHowe)

State Street’s woes begin with its subordinate relationship to Front Street. Whether actively decided upon or simply defaulted to, State Street became over time the automotive dumping ground for Front Street, a basically understandable and common outcome. The mall, the strip mall, and easy parking enthralled suburban consumers throughout the latter part of the last century; many well-meaning planners and downtown businesses blew their cities apart in unfortunate attempts to compete.

Now the time has come to take the necessary steps to realize State Street’s latent potential, and make it a testament to livability and activity in Traverse City instead of an embarrassment.

Dumping Ground for Parking

The most glaring problem with State Street is its overwhelming dedication to parking, but creating new public places for people to inhabit and enjoy is possible. Changing to a two-way orientation would immediately convert State Street from a temporary space to pass through into a place where people come together. The slowing of traffic and the visibility, walkability, and accessibility created would immediately make non-parking development on State Street more feasible and appealing.

Changes to State Street would also improve the functioning of present and future parking decks downtown. The Hardy Parking Deck would become more accessible, reduce circling traffic, and improve operation of Park Street’s intersections as the 101 N. Park building begins to draw visitors and residents. Without a State Street conversion, significant new development associated with a parking garage at Pine and Front could create significant problems. Problems at Front and Union, and along West Front to Division would limit accessibility to the deck, reduce the success of new businesses and create confusion and congestion that motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists would all be affected by.

Wide open. The trees do little to counter the real purpose of State St, as designed now: the storage of cars & moving motor vehicles through town, quickly (photo: GLHowe).

Move Away from One-way Streets, Beginning with State Street

While a Front Street conversion would be doable and ideal, an easy and necessary first step would be to convert State Street as soon as possible. We will have a prime opportunity as the DDA is set to erect their third parking deck in the near future. Leaving behind the one-way orientation of the past would help to eliminate the use of State Street as solely a conduit for the easy entrance and exit of Front Street traffic.

Present and future parking decks give us an opportunity we as a city can’t afford to miss; we need to make State Street a quality place. By reverting to two-way operation and developing significant new housing (including affordable housing), shops and restaurants on parking lots we no longer need, we will more fully use our investment in structured parking and increase investment in our city. Traverse City will still be a small town, it will just be a more compact and vibrant, and less dedicated to the automobile and its unfortunate storage requirements.

Let’s choose to enjoy State Street as a place, and take the steps necessary to make it happen in the next 5-10 years.


Editor’s Note: Peter is hitting on something expressed before by others. Some have even expressed it on this BLOG in comments (thanks JRW).  I support the idea of tying a conversion of State St. back to a two-way street to the likely construction of the West Front Street parking deck. So far, I’ve heard no discussion of how the city plans to handle the increased motorized traffic through the city, as well as downtown, the third parking deck will create; I’ve tried.

I’ll post a follow-up on this, and a small call to action, later today.

  1. kirstin
    September 1, 2010 at 7:42 am

    i support !

  2. Todd Mercer
    September 2, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing this with us, very interesting. Converting State Street to two-way traffic seems both feasible and likely beneficial, but the secondary proposal of doing the same to Front Street seems to raise exponentially more complications. If your ideas regarding State Street were implemented, how would the area look and function in say 15 years’ time?

  3. pjspaulding
    September 2, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    It is absolutely more complicated to address Front Street because it is successful as it is now. There is less community drive to fix what is not horribly horribly broken. The theoretically perfect need not supplant the demonstratively good, at least not without prior tinkering in less contentious arenas. Since there really is no single way to make every city work and every situation is a little different, this is totally fine.

    But, I think State Street is an important part of Downtown TC’s future. While the Warehouse District holds a lot of promise, I think State is ripe for improvement and deserves attention. In 15 years I think that it would be feasible to see a near total elimination of surface parking lots, and given the less restrictive constraints on building heights, could make apartments and condos, and even affordable apartments feasible (the fact that I sit in Michigan as I type the words “apartment housing” makes it seem so pejorative, but apartments can be awesome, and a huge draw for young professionals). New, larger format buildings could make downtown living affordable and desirable, and in conjunction with first floor retail and some additional office spaces I think are completely realistic for a 15 year time frame.

    Our small town character is important, but this type of development would replace unattractive and counterproductive (from real estate efficiency and livability standpoints, among others) surface parking lots with a dense, walkable and bikeable neighborhood, simultaneously replacing miles of sprawling homogeneous new strip centers and tract housing. I think State Street could be the place to be, and it’s development is important to stave off the most pernicious threat to small town character, sprawl.

  4. September 2, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    I suggest for anyone sending a letter to the city regarding State St. to also include the Downtown Development Authority staff and board chairperson. Their contact information is below.

    bryan@downtowntc.com • Bryan Crough, E. D. & Community Development Director
    rob@downtowntc.com • Rob Bacigalupi, Deputy Director
    ncf1997@aol.com • Burian, Robert C., Chairperson

  5. September 7, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Suggestions on how to preserve the bike lanes if the conversion moves forward?

  6. pjspaulding
    September 7, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    State Street isn’t super wide which helps to keep traffic (especially if it were to be two-way) at a more reasonable speed. Fitting everyone’s dream features in can be difficult, piling them all in eventually creates this huge cross-section, which is too wide to cross quickly as a pedestrian and kills your downtown street ambiance. Ten feet is the minimum for travel lanes, add in on-street parking (which is a net positive generally) and you run out of room pretty quickly. While removing one row of parking would give you a good amount of room for bike lanes, the trade-offs would need to be balanced by the community. On-street parking provides vital access to businesses, and helps to calm traffic. Meanwhile, bike lanes are an important image enhancer and statement that bikes are valued… and a lot of cyclists love them and need them to feel comfortable.
    Ultimately it’s a balance, sharrows and a calmed street wouldn’t be a bad situation, but giving up bike lanes in a town with so few would be a shame. The only thing that would be unacceptable would be to narrow the sidewalks. Community design studies and sharing of priorities could go a long way towards identifying the way forward, but I believe any of the several acceptable designs would represent an improved outcome for the street.

  7. Holly
    September 19, 2010 at 11:59 am

    This piece gets me thinking–and about something that I’ve never considered before now. I’m persuaded there is a better design in our future as a city. Nice work Peter.

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