Home > Crank, Editorial, Parks and Recreation > Does A Tunnel Help Us Put The ‘Park’ Back into the ‘Parkway’?

Does A Tunnel Help Us Put The ‘Park’ Back into the ‘Parkway’?

One upcoming issue that might be addressed at tonight’s Downtown Development Authority meeting, Friday at the Parks and Recreation meeting and, according to the Record Eagle, very soon at a City Commission meeting (behind paywall) is the proposed pedestrian tunnel from Garland St. (warehouse district) to the Open Space. Let’s call it the people-tunnel.

The People-Tunnel

The people-tunnel received a mention in the Bay Front Plan, however, there wasn’t consensus or even a vote on it. In fact, it wasn’t recommended by the traffic engineer tasked with addressing accessibility issues along and across Grand View Parkway. The people-tunnel, however, has been in the long-term plans of the DDA and it tends to have default acceptance by most people, particularly city commissioners eager to see something accomplished and get people out-of-the-way of motorized traffic. I’m afraid, the latter occurs because it’s difficult to imagine anything ever being done to change the characteristics of the 4-lane trunk-line that bisects the City from the waterfront. Making certain we have a nice view of the bay when we drive remains a perceived priority.

Raising The Tunnel Above Ground

There’s no one more interested in providing comfortable and convenient access for people to get to the bayfront than me, however, I’m uneasy with spending $1,000,000 (+/-) on a people-tunnel to channel us underground in a single 15-foot wide place. The concept counters recommendations by the engineering consultant hired for the Bayfront Plan, because it narrowly addresses the overall issue and avoids the goal:

“Putting the Park Back into the Parkway.”

What's needed is a critical mass of people visiting our parkland. (photo: GLH)

Focus is needed on creating a sense of place along the entire waterfront by ameliorating the negative impacts of motor vehicles by reducing noise, pollution and speeds. There are short-term and long-term at-grade recommendations in the Bayfront Plan that 1) need to be considered a priority before a tunnel and 2) if there remains wide support for a tunnel, at-grade level recommendations need to be considered simultaneously to its design & construction. If we don’t begin implementing the recommendations for Grandview Parkway, 10…20…30-years from now the community we will be asking similar questions that we ask today: why did they put a highway along the bay and why is nothing being done!

There Are Positives To a People-Tunnel, But…

Herding the people underground would separate some from the motorized traffic, namely the hotel clientele & other people already on Garland St. Theoretically, it will also help those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, if they happen to be near there. However, it is only beneficial in one, very narrow, location.

Despite the risks, people on foot and bike will likely continue to use Union St. and Hall St. to cross Grandview after the tunnel is built, because these direct routes are the most convenient options for most users. The easiest demographic to imagine ignoring the tunnel are teenagers parking on Hall St.: motorized traffic on Grandview Parkway simply isn’t busy enough to make playing Frogger impossible. If the next step is to put up fences, that will only further delay the main goal of calming.

Other efforts to change the character of this section of Grandview Parkway, like enhanced crosswalks, street edge enhancements, and properly designed modern roundabouts support the longer term goal of the community to transform the character of the entire bayfront and allow greater access across the entire route. How far would $1,000,000 go towards this end? (It needs to be noted that the City is planning for a mid-block crossing further west on the parkway connecting Elmwood Ave. to the bayfront–that needs to be commended and supported.)


The cost to build the tunnel well and in a way that attracts people is proposed at around $1,000,000. The City can fund this by capturing the taxes from the new Indigo Hotel.  What I haven’t seen are estimates for is how much it is it to maintain the tunnel (lighting, drainage, upkeep and added security) as a year round, unlocked, accessible and inviting hole in the ground.

The question, and its a good one, has also been raised about why the hotel isn’t contributing any direct investment to the tunnel. As well, why is the tunnel a priority when it is bathrooms near the volleyball courts that have been a major community desire. Perhaps a reconstruction of the west side of the Open Space, including new bathrooms, could be funded by the hotel as part of the tunnel package. 

Proceed With Intent

I have no doubt that tunnels can be done well and have their place, but I’m not convinced that this is such a place. Grandview, although a state trunk-line, still runs through a city and is next to valuable parkland, parkland that we are trying to make world-class. As such, for the 2-4 mile long section through the city, we can require that it’s character meet our community’s needs. In places, posted speeds already meet our needs, but throughout the corridor the street is designed for speeds above what is suitable for a parkway.

We have an opportunity to begin designing the parkway for efficient, but slower and calmer traffic. Whatever direction the DDA and the City makes regarding this people-tunnel, I trust that the decision makers will keep the larger goal in mind: accentuating and creating an amazing place for people. Above ground.


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. JohnRobertWilliams
    January 19, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Gary thanks for including the gated tunnel pix! My pet peeve! The city in their wisdom, closes it off the tunnel, so that commuters can’t use it in the morning to commute via the bay, to downtown, thus killing off the value of absorbing the bay on our commutes to work or downtown. I cannot support any new tunnel plans until these gates are forever removed. Or, when the city ERECTS gates on the streets and locks them every night.

  2. chrisbzdok
    January 19, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Thanks for this Gary – you are posing all the right questions.

    As you mentioned, the DDA is discussing big capital projects tonight at 5:30 in the training room, 2nd floor of the governmental center. Contracts for environmental assessment and geotech could be approved Friday morning at the DDA meeting starting 8 am at the governmental center. Staff has put this on a fast track at the request of the Hotel Indigo – because we make the best decisions when somebody is rushing us. 🙂

    In addition to all of the excellent questions you posed, one very practical one is: Who do we expect to use this tunnel? Are people downtown going to walk west from the signalized intersection at Union St? Are people in Central Neighborhood going to travel east to it, then reverse back west to go to the beach? Who walks 3 blocks out of their way to cross the street?

    The $1 million for this project is essentially unrestricted money. It is in the bank now and we can spend it on any project in the downtown, warehouse, or bayfront area. It is not money that is necessary to invest in order for the hotel to be built.

    Is this the most beneficial way we can spend $1 million of your money? If you think so, or if you think not – let the DDA know. Contact info for the board is at http://www.ci.traverse-city.mi.us/boards/ddaboard.pdf. Thanks for reading.

  3. Chris H
    January 20, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    What happened to the plan to make the Parkway a tunnel instead of tunnels under the road? Then we could get rid of the parking lots along the Boardman and have one big park from the river to the bay . But that might require another parking deck or two….

  4. January 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Chris, burying Grandview, or at least parts of GView, has been discussed in the community in the past and was discussed during the Bayfront Plan process. It’s my understanding that there simply isn’t a track record of success for tunnels, ped or motorized, achieving the desired goal of a great place for people, but there were also some real on-the-ground factors that made it even less practical.

    Some of those reasons were lack of space, known and unknown costs, long-term care, and the lack of vertical space between the surface and the water-table. As well, because there are numerous external impacts from motor vehicles, namely emissions, the tunnel wouldn’t really provide a use-able space over and around it after all the mitigating infrastructure was put in place. It would’ve not been a good place to be and it would have had a mound associated with it that would have blocked views from the river. Fine if you’re on the top floor of 101 Park St., but not so nice if you’re at the farmer’s market.

    In addition, it would have accomplished nothing long-term in regards to constricting automobile dependency and associated consequences, like sprawl. And at the same time, it would have at least doubled the price tag for the Bayfront Plan simply to serve the needs of providing for unobstructed pathways for people in motor vehicles, while still degrading the space.

  5. Jim
    January 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Tunneling the Parkway (for cars) would be great however far far to expensive to engineer and pay for. Look at the “Big Dig” in Boston, what a mess that was! Remember, MDOT is about moving traffic not people. The only safe way to get people across the Parkway is to stop traffic so people can safely cross, something MDOT does not want to do. Tunneling under is the safes way to get pedestrians across the highway to our beach front park. The Bay Front Plan called for 2 tunnels, rework the existing tunnel at Cass and build a new tunnel at the Garland Area. The idea was to make the tunnels open and wide so they are not so creepy but safe and enjoyable. I have been getting a good deal of “public comment” on this and it’s two thumbs up for a tunnel! I am personally tired of taking my life and my dogs lives at hand when trying to cross the Parkway. I am hearing from people with baby strollers, dogs, people with beach chairs and coolers all who say they want a safe way to cross the Parkway safely without getting hit by a car. Besides, by working with the hotel folks, I understand the city will be saving $1m on construction. Should we ignore a $1m savings over building some restrooms at the volleyball courts first?

  6. January 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Thank you, Jim. It’s nice to have more deciders contributing to the discussion.

    This is the first I heard of the $1-million “savings” and there was opportunity at the last parks and recreation meeting for that to be brought up by staff. It was referred to then as “some cost savings” associated with digging accomplished during the hotel construction.

  7. January 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Yes, pedestrian tunnels under major roads don’t have a great record. It’s one thing when you’re going under a narrow rail right-of-way, and quite another when you’re going under a multi-lane road. 15 feet isn’t wide enough to generate a feeling of safety or general comfort, not for such a long tunnel. A lot of folks would probably feel uncomfortable using it during the day, let alone at night.

    Here’s a particularly unpleasant ped-tunnel example from Portland:

    Pedestrian Tunnel in SW Portland

    This bicycle underpass in Boulder is much better, but note how wide it is:

    Image #1
    Ped Tunnel

    Image #2
    Ped Tunnel

  8. Max
    May 25, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I couldn’t agree more, John! I discussed this a while ago, I believe on a facebook entry, asking why in the world there are gates on the tunnel we already have and why it seems they are closed and locked whenever I want to use the tunnel.

    Jim Carruthers came along and said it once had something to do with the zoo. Ok, but there is no zoo there now. The gates are completely useless and pointless, unless you think it’s useful to annoy pedestrians wanting to actually use the tunnel.

    Another question I asked, which never got a response, was why in the world there are gates across the sidewalk of the bridge on Cass just south of Washington. I came across these gates, closed and locked, one night during one of the early film festivals and had to walk in the street to get where I was going. I can’t see any purpose to those gates, can you?

    Back to the topic of a new tunnel, I’m with you. I can’t support yet another tunnel just a block or two from one we already have when the one we have isn’t being managed properly.


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