Home > Engineering Design, Representing > The Old Towne Traffic Calming District…Why Not?

The Old Towne Traffic Calming District…Why Not?

Crank It Anytime

Used to be Monday’s were crank days. It’s 2011, why limit ourselves. Crank it anytime.


Today’s Crank: Old Towne, Motorized Traffic and Ineffectual Governance

Have Tim Lodge draw a line and let us vote, and we will take the heat or not.” ~ Traverse City cmmn Mike Gillman on the proposed Boardman Lake Ave.

If commissioner Gillman isn’t careful, his comment Monday night alluding to the idea that he supports the commission building whatever road our own engineer designs for the proposed Boardman Lake Ave. and accepting the political repercussions may become reality. As citizens, no matter what neighborhood we live in, we deserve the best. An ill-conceived band-aid concept to a deep wound is not the solution. If the City keeps this in-house, and as strictly an “engineering” problem, that is what I suspect we will get.

At Monday night’s meeting, the commission chose to reconsider (in 2-weeks) a public process proposal to reevaluate the need, scope and impact of the proposed Boardman Lake Ave.  Unfortunately, their wish to simplify the questions is getting them further and further away from addressing the real issues. The crux of the matter is that it’s insane to continue to ease/facilitate/make comfortable the very use and behavior that you’re trying to make corrections for. A neighborhood complains about the negative impact of vehicular traffic and the first solution they shoot for is another road built to the utmost convenience to motor vehicles? That’s like giving my chubby beagle unrestricted access to her 40 pound bag of dog food. I already spend too much on vet bills.

We, as a city, already spend too much maintaining the streets and roads that run through our city. In fact, as they like to remind us when we ask for sidewalks, bike-lanes and general traffic calming measures, we don’t have enough money to even keep-up with current maintenance needs. Well, if you can’t afford it you can’t afford it; stop going to the mall to buy new crap that only makes you temporarily feel complete. Instead, quit bitching about money and take steps to lessen degradation of our infrastructure while at the same time creating an amazing place to live, visit and interact with each other.

Refocus Is Needed

Patience is thin on this issue. For many of the advocates in Old Town, concerns about increased negative impacts of automobiles has been a 30-40 year effort to move the powers that be take traffic impacts seriously. From time to time, the City has given attention to the neighborhood, but it’s never gone anywhere. As Old Town residents point out, in 2002 the community invested heavily in the Andrew’s University Plan developed for Old Towne; like the students hired for that project, we need to take a broader view. It’s not simply about diverting motorized traffic. (I’ve not had an opportunity to look at the study, but it indeed did call for a Boardman Lake Ave. However, it needs to be pointed out their conceptual design is a far cry to what is now proposed or, perhaps, even possible considering real constraints.)

(click for larger view)

What Is Possible

Contrary to the assertion by the City Manager, there are improvements to the PLACE called Old Town that will help to address the traffic issue. His lack of leadership and foresight on the matter is the issue, not funding. There is an excellent opportunity this year to kickstart an enviable traffic calming program in Old Towne. If the right innovation, creativity and focus is applied, it could be enviable not only within Traverse City, but across Michigan.

Why is this possible? We have a widely recognized issue (impacts of motorized traffic), a Cass St. in dire need of basic repair (it’s on the capital improvement list for 2012) and a motivated citizenry citywide to address the issues (makes the top of the list in the ‘hoods). We also have more information than ever at our finger tips on how to design places, not simply streets. In fact, the city spent 10’s of thousands of dollars this past year paying a leading traffic engineer/placemaker to address even worse streets than Cass and Union. If staff and commissioners were paying attention, they would have learned that traffic calming is the first step in addressing a city’s issues with motor vehicles.

It’s not a special program. Traffic calming is the program.

Old Towne Traffic Calming District

Let’s announce it loud and clear: The Old Towne Traffic Calming District is hereby declared. First charge, let’s ask Old Towne residents to draft a mission statement declaring their interest, willingness and commitment. Then, let’s push the limits on what is possible. If our current staff is reluctant, they can be replaced.

This post isn’t about detailing suggestions. We have plenty of time to do that. I contend, we don’t have a clue of what we may achieve by re-focusing our attention on creating an enviable place as opposed to solving traffic issues. We, city-wide, need to stop worrying about providing for the least desirable of transportation modes. For a start, when we talk about traffic, replace the very word with “people”. That, ultimately, is the issue. We have a people problem. How do we solve it?

How do we build a city for people? The answer to that question doesn’t begin in an engineering department.

If they say it can’t be done, it doesn’t always work out that way.”

~ Yogi Berra

To be continued…


Your Comments Matter

Comments: we welcome your comments, please don’t be shy. The more questions, perspectives and general participation we have here the better. What’s on your mind?

  1. Jennifer
    January 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Sign me up!

  2. Katie
    January 7, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Hi Gary, is there any possibility (or hope) that, via your website and extensive contacts, a LOT of people could show up at the next City Commission meeting on this topic (1-17-11) and express these opinions en masse?? The Record Eagle’s editorial in today’s paper seems to assume (or advocate) that Boardman Lake Avenue is pretty much a done deal, and all that remains is to figure out details. The great ideas you outline here, need to be shared often and frequently with the decision makers.

  3. January 7, 2011 at 9:50 am

    There’s always a possibility. A lot of people aren’t even that aware of the project. The City likes to claim that they have had countless input sessions and have put out communications, but their performance in communications is lackluster–not everyone reads the Record Eagle and even then, the information provided there isn’t robust or nuanced. The information directly on the City’s website is robust, but lacks any sort of summary or breakdown of options.

    Like you said about today’s post, the RE’s tone through the years has assumed that the road is inevitable. It’s what people know and it’s what has been done before, so, well, it must make sense. What today’s editorial, which I missed, so thank you for highlighting it, misses is that there remains deep concerns that this will, for starters, not solve Old Town’s issues in the long run, destroy any chance of rethinking 8th Street into anything other than a car-cannon through a neighborhood and really hand tie the use of the space between the neighborhoods and Boardman Lake.

    I’m open to ideas and to learning more and look forward to the coming week’s discussions in the community. We all need to have them.

    Here’s what I’ve written on the subject.
    Andy at Hinge Line has described how this will cause more traffic.

    I’m working on my pros and cons list this weekend. I’ll consider any readers may have and want to share.

  4. Rick Shimel
    January 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    The point Gilman was making was one of protest. He, like me and many others, is tired of the endless consultant produced “studies” that cost a great deal of money and function primarily as political cover for commissioners and city staff that are decision adverse. He is correct in thinking that a decision either way is going to leave people pissed off. He is willing to take the heat. Good for him. He did not state that he wanted the city engineer to design a road and then the commission would support it. He wanted the city engineer to design a road and the city commission would vote on it. Big difference. He wants to give the Old Towniacs some resolution, up or down. Give me six more commissioners with the same attitude towards governance and I’m happy.

    I was very surprised to read your criticism of his approach since you have stated the same thing to me on more than one occasion. To paraphrase, “leaders are supposed to lead; they are supposed to make decisions.” Evidently that’s only true if you agree with them.
    I’m not an expert on transportation issues. I do live in Old Town and deal with more autos/traffic per day than any other neighborhood. You present yourself as an expert and I accept you as one. Do you have any practical, realistic solutions to offer? Hint; everybody take the bus is not a practical solution.

  5. chrisbzdok
    January 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    I agree with Rick that a solution is needed. The point of a “study” should not be to engage in a charrette process about whether something will be done because something needs to be done.

    A “study” (in other words, more technical work) is needed to update the data and to look at all of the solutions that are possible with circa-2011 engineering, and then engage the public on which of those solutions is best. That’s not hiding from a decision – that’s doing the diligence to make the best decision.

    I expect it will involve some combination of new pavement that is more network and less bypass, and some traffic calming on Cass and Union, and a creative solution at 8th St, all of which may be more feasible if the problem is defined as one related to an E-W corridor (Silver Lake to 14th to 8th to Munson and beyond) rather than a N-S corridor (South Airport to downtown and the parkway). But that needs to be determined by additional work. The work needs to be outsourced because our in-house resources have not produced positive results on relatively straightforward transportation problems, let alone one this complex.

    I appreciate this forum and read the comments regularly. I hope we will hear more from the public about possible ways to address this problem.

  6. Mike Grant
    January 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    While I certainly have sympathy for residents of Old Town in terms of contending with street traffic I believe it would be short-sighted to construct BLA as it is currently being proposed. It would undoubtedly take cars off of Cass but only to the detriment of other streets and neighborhoods, primarily East 8th Street and the neighborhoods to the east of Boardman. And while 8th Street (particularly between Boardman and Woodmere) has historically been a somewhat blighted area there’s no reason to worsen this situation by funneling yet more cars through there.

    There’s a significant lost opportunity in terms of investment in that area of 8th Street. The proximity to the sewer plant is a challenge, but there is no reason to believe that that area couldn’t be much more vibrant in terms of housing and commerce that would complement the City as well as the adjoining neighborhoods. It’s close to the central core of the City, as well as Boardman Lake. That improvement won’t happen, however, if the traffic is allowed to remain as bad as it currently is, let alone get worse.

    Long term I believe the effort should be to simply restrict the use of 8th Street as a cross-town route. I think the numbers generated by the Grand Vision consultants, as well as some of their narrative, present the picture that a good proportion of traffic on 8th street is simply cut-through that has no destination in the City. Obviously, constricting 8th street would force more of this type of traffic onto South Airport and Grandview Parkway. But, in the long term such as over a decade or more, as those routes also worsened, people would look for alternatives that just didn’t require crossing TC at all. Particularly as fuel prices continue to climb in the coming years.

  7. Rick Shimel
    January 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Mike, 20-30 years ago Old Town was a wreck of a neighborhood. Houses were literally falling down. People have poured tons of money into their homes and the results have been spectacular. We didn’t ask for government funding, feasibility studies, engineering plans, or any other assistance. We voted against being designated a historic district and declining the tax advantages offered. All we have ever asked for is some traffic relief, and we have been asking for decades.

    I bought into Old Town late. I’ve been here 12 years. My house was built in 1894 and was in such bad shape I did consider knocking it down and starting over. It wouldn’t have taken much to knock it down. I’ve put 150k into my house since I moved in and I’m very proud to have saved a piece of Traverse City history. My neighbors on both sides have spent more. The people across the street have spent more. That’s investment I can see out of my window. It’s happened throughout Old Town. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent by home owners and we pay taxes accordingly.

    I hear a lot of new urbanism chatter on this blog. I present you Old Town. In our neighborhood we have churches, schools, grocery stores, specialty shops, factories, etc. We have big houses, little houses, rentals, duplexes, apartments, and condos ranging from architecturally interesting to architecturally significant. Everything is accessible by bike or foot. It is a great place to live. We just need some help with traffic. Do you have any solutions?

    The city manager has stated that we need to re-look at BLA because things may have changed. If we continue to wait for the winds-of-change to stop before we move forward on anything we will never move forward. One thing the winds-of-change hasn’t affected is the traffic problem in Old Town. Do you have any solutions?

    I applaud your, and Gary’s, vision for 8th street. I’m 60 years old and born and raised in TC and I can honestly state that 8th street has never looked better. Sure, it sucks, but it sucks less than it ever has. 8th street needs the same thing Old Town needed; personal investment. To hold Old Town hostage to some future (not likely) 8th street redevelopment makes little sense to me. Traffic didn’t stop OT from taking a stand and saving a neighborhood and it shouldn’t stop any future hope for 8th street. We’ve done our part to make TC a better place can the community help us with a traffic problem or not?
    I didn’t wake up after my first night in Old Town and discover Union St. had a lot of cars. I did buy my house knowing that the City was aware of the problem and had given plenty of lip service to providing some relief. I’m still waiting. Do any of the experts on this blog have a solution for us? I am not interested in hearing what won’t work. We pay taxes now. We are a vital neighborhood now. Please don’t throw us under the bus because of some future development that may or may not happen and may or may not add to the tax rolls. I’m asking for help, please.

  8. January 9, 2011 at 6:26 pm


    Thank you as usually for the comments. First of all, I’ve never presented myself as an “expert” in the manner that I interpret your comment, meaning transportation engineer or planner. I’m a passionate learner, questioner and neighbor who is interested in how the transportation field and its results impacts our community. I’ve applied myself in this regard over the last few years and do, as you know, get exited about these issues.

    I’ve also expressed here, elsewhere and with you my appreciation for commissioner Gillman. As far as I can tell, he calls it how he sees it. That honesty is appreciated because it helps us put his comments in context of his previous comments. On the subject of the Boardman Lake Ave. he has previously stated his preference for the road to be completed as a 35-40 mph corridor. This, despite professional evidence to the contrary that a road built to fit that design is not the most efficient way to move motor vehicles through a city (there is an optimum speed somewhere around 25-28mph, which allows easy flow of cars to travel closer together, and if designed for even slower speeds there is increases in contextual bonuses like increased safety and noise/pollution abatement). It’s in that context that I understood his “draw a line” and let’s vote comment, and it is my understanding that he would vote for whatever road (within reason, obviously) that Tim Lodge designed. He has made comments to that effect in previous meetings. He could certainly surprise me and he often has. It’s another endearing trait of his.

    You’re right, perhaps I was being a little contradictory.

    As for solutions, I can only fit so much into one post! But, um, I believe that a traffic calming strategy is a realistic solution. I also do believe that social change is a realistic solution, and, over-time and with the help of some gentle nudges, that includes reducing our dependency on a single mode. I also believe that new streets CAN be part of a realistic solution, but we aren’t there yet with the BLA project and to treat it as inevitable I think is to choose the known and easy over what could be a moment where TC finally gets serious about the complaints over motorized traffic.

    Do I have more ideas? Sure, but I also think it is here where professionals, working with the community, need to develop them. I see that process as an excellent learning moment. I’m questioning the narrowing of the scope because some of the clues to how best to proceed most likely are not found in the field of engineering. The concept of induced demand applied to streets is actually best described by behavioral economists, and in our case, hiring a consultant who can crunch the information and data presented by the engineers, planners and the community as a whole into something that sheds light on that concern. It’s a subject I need to write more about. I look forward to your future comments.

  9. January 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I just wanted to add, that I’m in complete agreement that something can be done in Old Towne sooner rather than later. I left my conversations with the loudest advocates in Old Towne with utter frustration to how the conditions along Cass have been ignored. Currently, 2 blocks or so of Cass St. is on the CPI for 2012. Why not the entire 7 block section? Why not something that is innovative? We might not hit a grand slam with one year of improvements to Cass St., but it will certainly score some pointsruns. (had to fix my sport analogy)

  10. Brian Haas
    January 9, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Rick, as another Old Town resident, I am in complete agreement with you on (almost) all of your points. We do need help on traffic and that’s been known for years, but I am definitely opposed to the BLA process and concept.

    Solutions? One only needs to look at numerous examples throughout the US, Europe and Asia to find very creative solutions to the very same problems we’re facing here in Old Town and the rest of Traverse City. Those examples usually include removing roads, not building new ones.

    Possible Solutions: Put 8th Street on a road diet (2 lanes plus a center turn lane); traffic calming on the full length of Cass, Union and Lake Streets; open 8th Street back to two-way traffic; try alternatives to the signaled intersections at 8th St/Cass and Union. A combination of some or all of these could potentially achieve the outcome we’re looking for in our neighborhoods without a permanent ribbon of asphalt.

    So far the City Staff’s only solution to our traffic issue is to build another road. Brilliant! Except if this doesn’t work, we’re stuck with more traffic and a permanent division between the neighborhoods and the Boardman Lake area. I guess I’m just shocked that this is only idea that City Staff could come up with. Perhaps we need to experiment with new traffic calming ideas AND get new City Staff.

  1. January 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm

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