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The Monday Crank: Way too Much for A Monday Morning

The Monday Rant Crank

We haven’t had a good rant in weeks. Not that there hasn’t been anything worth the honor. There has been, just perhaps too much to get to as it is a saturated subject field. In attempt to catch up to all that’s fit to be cranky about we’re introducing a speed round of Monday ranting. A few short bursts about a few particular things.

Cranking It

Traffic Calming Program

City staff released a draft of their Residential Neighborhood Calming Traffic Program a couple of weeks ago. I’ve contemplated how to give it the MyWHaT evaluation ever since. I’m not sure where to begin. The title itself needs help: “Residential Neighborhood Traffic Calming Traffic Program” would suffice.

It’s a network we are trying to change, not just a street here and there. The five-page document intends to be protocol for how to handle citizen requested traffic calming and as written, with all the loops and extra action required by the citizen, it is basically a program to do nothing. MyWHaT is working on pulling together best practices from other cities and presenting a two-page process for their consideration.

Traffic Calming: Commissioners and Residents

City staff aren’t the only ones who selectively learned, or didn’t learn, from Ian Lockwood’s presentation on traffic calming. Without reviewing his presentation, three things that I recollect clearly were:

  1. Treat all streets as equally as possible; it’s the grid and network baby.
  2. Traffic calming needs implementing when you build or re-build a street. Not doing so is the exception.
  3. Building a city for cars is not what makes cities great. People come to cities for social interaction and the amenities that a dense population can offer.

2-minute introduction by Ian Lockwood

These understandings were apparently missed by many. Some commissioners still view traffic calming as an assault on their right to speed; too many city residents see the tools as purely a way to direct traffic to other streets or an extra expense; done right it is neither.

Yes, traffic calming aims to change driver behavior, and that more often than not is to reduce their speeds, however, a calmer flow of traffic gets everyone their quicker. The motorists (and commissioners) who want to keep corridors of speedways open through the city need to not be so selfish.

Neighborhoods and adjacent property owners also need to learn not to be so selfish. We will never fix our worst roads if we don’t allow full access to our grid of streets. We can’t put all of our traffic on to Division St. and expect roundabouts or traffic signals to work to their potential. Traffic calming isn’t used to block traffic, it’s used to change the behavior of drivers. The goal needs to be a designed 20-mph enforced through design and engineering.

Neighborhood Associations

This crank is at the culture and system of this institution. Traverse City has 8 neighborhood associations and they tend to be protective in nature. I have similar concerns about the culture of adjacent property owner approval or disprovable of ideas.  People have and continue to utilize these institutions to fight new sidewalks, innovative street designs and to make deals with the city (see below).  That’s all fair play, however the city seems to send pesky residents to these association in hopes of killing ideas and that’s an abuse (the above mentioned traffic calming program requires association input).

At their worst, these institutions are a way to divide an otherwise small city that needs neighborhoods & neighbors to work together on a complete system. West-siders need to support east-siders, and vice-versa. At their best, they are an effective way to organize and share collective knowledge.

Most of the associations have meetings this month, if not this week, consider going to one or more of them.

Boardman Lake Ave.

There seems to be wide-support among commissioners for the continuation for planning and implementing a several million dollar Boardman Lake Ave. running from 8th Street to 14th Street along the rail-line. The street road, a .5 mile by-pass around Old Town Neighborhood, is to move motor vehicles. That’s it. The current design is not a complete street and includes no infill to transform the area around it. Someone, somewhere promised Old Town residents a by-pass and so the city continues to pursue it. The commission debated whether or not people would use it. Of course they will! The question isn’t whether people will drive it, the question is will it reduce any of the traffic. The answer, repeated all over the country is no.

New capacity has one proven outcome: creating more traffic. Without major changes to the scope of this project, residents shouldn’t support it.

On Street Bike Rack

To start with, the effort by TART Trails and McClain’s Cycle to try an on-street bike rack is commendable. It’s exactly the direction the city and DDA need to adopt. However, it seems every improvement for bicyclists is due to innovation and perseverance by citizens and stakeholder groups, and not anything out of those hired to plan the city’s development.

Sometimes the city acquiesces, like they did with this bike rack, but they have yet to prove that they fully embrace bicycle infrastructure. The bike rack shouldn’t have taken 4 months to install and it shouldn’t have been moved once installed. Lack of institutional communication about the rack is a clear sign that it was a lack of priority by the city.

(The rack is now up for one month. Parked in front of Cali’s. The real test will be next spring.)

Parkland Parking

Why does it make sense to park cars on the Open Space lawn? Is it a fair-ground or a city park? Is it intended for people or is it intended for our motor vehicles?

The parking over the weekend by the Schooner Festival vendors and volunteers on the site led to a mad rush on Friday by visitors to the festival who felt compelled to take advantage of the lack of parking control and our big field. The breach was plugged Friday night, but the number of vehicles parked there on Sunday was still too many and unnecessary.

If you’re able-bodied pride needs to motivate you to park as far as way as possible.

Comments like the following one are certainly reflective of the culture that stands in the way of improvement: “Parking is so horrible. I had to park 3-blocks away & had to pay for it.”

There’s more, but I’m out of time. Have something to add? Or, something to comment on? Bring it…

  1. Raymond
    September 13, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Really like your comments, especially on traffic calming 1-2-3 and neighborhoods pulling together to get stuff done.

    Kid’s Creek Commons is looking at meeting in October, and it would be great if we had the URS traffic modeling for Division Street presented so we can discuss as neighbors. Apparently that modeling has hit MORE delays…

  2. Matthew Ross
    September 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks for speaking out against the proposed Boardman Lake Ave. I don’t believe it is needed. The last thing Traverse City needs is another road running along a body of water.

  3. chrisbzdok
    September 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Gary, as you know I’m a fan but I have to differ with you on neighborhood associations. I think neighborhood associations are the most authentic grassroots political organization in TC. They have had some significant successes – like the Cass and Union stop signs and the Boardman Lake ped bridge. Speaking only for myself, I would never send someone to a neighborhood meeting to kill an idea, but rather because if the city hears that “the neighborhood wants this” then we know it’s been through some kind of group decision-making process and that adds to its force and weight.

    Most of what I’ve learned about what city residents want (as opposed to what “the region” wants or what the interest group du jour wants) has been at neighborhood meetings, largely because of their history, diversity, and institutional knowledge, and the agenda of the neighborhood associations looks an awful lot like the ingredients of a successful, liveable city for the long term. See for example, http://planfortc.com/2010/01/22/neighborhood-presidents-top-priorities-ian-glatting-hired-for-divison-st-ipr-update-jan-23-24/

    Best wishes and still a fan,

  4. September 14, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Rants are a nice vehicle to let off some steam on subjects, but not so well to offer nuances. Particularly short rants. I’m certainly not opposing neighborhood groups. I agree with you that neighborhood associations are valuable places to organize, educate and get-to-know our neighbors. And, they help provide positive outcomes for the city. As well as negatives.

    A concern I have though, and one I’ll try to create a clearer picture of in the future, is how neighborhood groups and adjacent property owners can be used as an excuse (for or against a project) and at times, due to divisions along our main corridors, stand in the way of a cohesive transportation/development strategy. There is also the concern that not all neighborhoods have the same assets to formulate a clear voice. How does the city balance that?

    Fun stuff. We’re an engaged city. What could we be if more people engaged?

    Note: I’m not sure the Cass St. stop signs are the best we can do. We might have been better served with traffic calming tools instead.

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