Home > Complete Streets, Editorial > Record Eagle Assumes Too Much About W. Boardman Lake Ave.

Record Eagle Assumes Too Much About W. Boardman Lake Ave.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Apologies to subscribers who received a blank post with the same title earlier today. It went poof! I was able to reconstruct most of it…


Yesterday’s Record Eagle coverage of the W. Boardman Lake Ave./Old Towne Bypass is worth a read. It shows how limited and narrow the discussion of the BLA/OTBypass can be framed. It left me a few questions they might want to consider for future coverage.

  • Where’s the proof that the proposed road will “ease heavy traffic in the Old Town and Central neighborhoods.” And, how does it “create a quicker north-south route for drivers headed in and out of downtown.” The shortcut, “officials believe” doesn’t cut it? Who are the officials?
  • Where’s the context? If, the above assumptions are correct, we still have concerns over major impacts on 8th St., 14th St. and community wide. This decision will impact the community for 50 years. It’s not just about one-street or neighborhood.
  • Where’s the nuance? There are many who believe that this was the solution 40 years ago, but now the professional thinking about motorized traffic in cities has changed. New roads seldom relieve traffic concerns, because they often induce more traffic.
  • What are the options? Politically it might be difficult, but there are options. First and foremost, asking the City to first reconstruct and maintain the streets we already have and to do so with designs that we have asked for for 30-years. There are many of us thinking, studying and discussing these options. There are even some who live in Old Town with serious questions about the proposed road.

The BLA/OTBypass isn’t a simple issue no matter how hard supporters try to make it out to be. The Record Eagle’s coverage yesterday is an ill-fated approach that all but treats it as an inevitable solution by ignoring the wider context, options and perspectives.



Hey, Happy Lunar New Year. Help me celebrate the year of the Golden Bunny!



  1. February 3, 2011 at 8:52 am

    One more question for the writer: How does a road “spruce up” the west side of Boardman Lake?

    Roads create motorized traffic and create places where people don’t want to be–hence the original issue. How is that sprucing up the area?

  2. Chris H
    February 4, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I live in Old Town on one of the two main North/South arteries through this neighborhood. Traffic is a problem here. Cass street carries 13,000 + cars/day and Union St. 8,000+ cars/day, and these are summer traffic numbers (non-school day) from 2006, the traffic numbers are likely much higher. Research shows http://goo.gl/nHL7A that those who live on “busy” streets have fewer friends than those on “light” streets. Living on a “light” traffic street also correlates with a larger sense of “home territory” which is exactly what living in a city neighborhood should be about. I’ve lived in Old Town over 2 years now and have not yet met one neighbor across the street from me. Why? Because I never see them. Folks here don’t sit on their front porches or play with their kids in the front yard. Why? Because its not pleasant and its not safe.

    Now, is BLA the answer to this problem? In isolation, of course not. Building one road and ignoring the inherent problems in the current build of Cass/Union and the neighboring streets will not be enough. Traffic calming measures must be implemented on Cass/Union no matter what happens with BLA. Drivers on these streets need to know that they are in a historic neighborhood and road design must reflect this. 8th/7th streets must be opened up to two-way traffic (and front/state while we’re at it) so that vehicles heading East/West through town don’t need to use Union st or the central neighborhood zig/zag as a cut-through.

    Personally, I support the BLA project if completed in full (North and South phases). I think the trail upgrades and extensions and Boardman Lake Rec Area that are proposed along with the build of the road will “spruce up” the west side of the lake. Certainly much better than the railroad yard/”wye” that is currently there. BLA should be designed as a complete street, designed for 25mph (or less) and have safe and accessible crossings so the neighborhoods can access the trails east of the road.

  3. February 4, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Thank you, Chris. It’s the setting of priorities that’s been missing. I think that that robust traffic calming measures in Old Town need to come first (need to have happened 10-15 years ago) and that strategic plans for 8th St. and 14th St. need to be in place before we start thinking we can “shift” traffic elsewhere, because, in the end, that’s all the scaled down approach to the BLA does: shift traffic and provide for future increases in miles driven, much-of-which will continue to find itself on Cass. and Union. That is my fear, that we are trying to build our way out of motorized traffic instead of tackling land-use issues, public transit (park & ride for out of towners) and infrastructure that has a pattern of success in getting more people to walk/bike more and further for daily needs.

    This isn’t meant as a challenge, but more of an observation concerning the Donald Appleyard studies about traffic volumes and social exchanges (thank you for reminder, by the way, it’s something I’ve been meaning to write about). While these studies certainly apply to Traverse City, I often wonder about the impact our car culture, in particular our alley/garage culture, has on the results locally. I’ve lived on some of the most quiet streets in Traverse City and never known the neighbors across the street and I’m one of those overly-friendly neighbors. I didn’t know them because no one uses the front entrance except to pick-up the mail or buy girl scout cookies. In fact, how typical is it to hear the front doorbell and I think, “man, what do they want now.”

    On our observational walk of Old Towne last week we noticed, for the most part, that it is very walkable and, despite being rush hour (albeit winter) it was actually quite pleasant (it gets worse near 14th, which was horrible). We did notice the absence of people utilizing the on-street parking on both Cass and Union. I throw that out there simply to state their are cultural and behavioral traits, that can change, at play here.

    Unless we start constricting some automobile use, we will always be dealing with a traffic problem and the past pattern is that we simple shift it around to be someone else’s problem and I’m not aware of where that’s been a success. This is what I trust we can work together to avoid and that your thoughtful attention to the overall project make seem likely to happen.

  4. Katie
    February 4, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Hello All, Gary makes great points regarding BLA as it was covered (using the term loosely) in the Record Eagle. It seems that there are a number of people, current Old Town residents & Commissioners alike, who seem to feel that BLA was ‘promised’ years ago and thus it is a point-of-honor issue or something to go ahead with it now. Inherent in that position is isolation of thought…..as Gary pointed out, not exploring current technologies, nor integration with the total City, especially on a ‘go forward’ (next 50 years) basis. THUS…..the only way to try to stem this mentality is for LOTS of people to show up at the two Public Input Sessions, to ask questions and express challenging viewpoints (in a professional manner of course). First one is Feb. 23 (don’t know time or place yet). If there is not a big crowd, or the crowd is obviously just Old Town ‘pro-BLA’ and nothing else, then I think we all know what is going to happen….$5.5 Million spent on (Phase 1 of) a road without foresight to the future.

  5. Greg
    February 4, 2011 at 11:21 am

    If I understand Chris correctly, tax payers need to spend millions of dollars so he can meet the neighbors. Why not move. This “so called” problem of traffic was prsent two years ago when you moved to Old Town, now you want it fixed?

  6. February 4, 2011 at 11:43 am

    There is a responsibility for the City to ease the traffic burden. We’ve invested heavily in getting automobiles into downtown, and storing them for 8 hours/day, without applying measures to reduce and calm motorized traffic that passes through the neighborhoods. It is, however, a question of what is most appropriate.

    Aside: would love to see more dense node development at the edge of the city (i.e. 14th, 8th Garfield) to reduce the need for all things Traverse City to be in a 6 block radius downtown. The Commons is a great example.

  7. Rick Shimel
    February 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Katie—I have lived in OT for twelve years and I followed the traffic debate for years before that. I don’t remember anyone promising to build the BLA at the commission level or the city staff level. I do remember the mayor publicly thanking the OT Neighborhood Association for their support of the OT parking deck without screaming about being neglected for decades. He said he wouldn’t forget us. He didn’t say build the road. Maybe others were promised something but I wasn’t privy to it.

    Greg—(above) fabulous logic. Are you suggesting we take a snapshot of TC and nothing can change?

    Gary—Cultural change is the long term solution. I see it as at least three generations away. Economics, or, our race to the bottom, may move that up a bit. I’m all for doing something now while we wait. If you and I are right about cultural change it doesn’t matter what we build now… cultural change will fix it.

    I’m surprised that you found the observational walk pleasant. By the time the group (about 10) got to my house heads were down, shoulders were slumped, and, I swear, it looked like everybody just wanted to get in their cars and drive off. I stood in my front window wildly flailing my arms around and I couldn’t get anyone to look up. Nobody. It was at the end of a cold walk.

    To all—this issue is being framed as an Old Town problem. It is not. It is a community problem that happens in OT. We have plenty of auto capacity for our neighborhood. It’s your cars that cause the problem. To suggest that OT is just trying move their problem may be a convenient argument but it is a very shallow argument.

    I’m not attached to the BLA concept and while I’ve followed this debate I never expected anything to change. Still don’t. I will be supporting the OTNA with whatever direction they desire to go in.

  8. Chris H
    February 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Cool, looks like the pot got stirred a bit. Hopefully this will continue when the public comment sessions are held in the coming weeks. This is not just an old town issue, it is a city and community issue and all of our concerns should be heard. I agree that 8th & 14th streets will be impacted and this issue needs to be looked at closely.

    Greg-Of course I understood that traffic was an issue when I bought my home 2 years ago. I love my home and my neighborhood so I don’t want to move. However, I do see this as an opportunity to IMPROVE my neighborhood. I also see this as a way to IMPROVE the city. Why not relocate a railroad turnaround outside of the city limits? Why not connect the trail down to south airport? Why not add a new north/south route into town?

    Traverse City is a cool place. This is a place that people desire to live and its only going to continue to grow. The TC metro area population grew almost 10% from 2000 to 2010 while the city population has remained nearly constant. This means more people are living outside the city limits and will need a way into the city. While I’d love to hand everyone outside of the city limits a BATA card and some bike shorts, thats just not realistic. The city needs new infrastructure to match its growth.

  9. Brian
    February 4, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    An issue that I have with the BLA is that the City has not demonstrated through any of their discussions, that they have a clue as to whether or not this will improve our neighborhoods. So far, the only argument is that if BLA is built, people will simply drive down the BLA and not Cass/Union — as if they’re building a parking lot — basic addition and subtraction doesn’t always apply in transportation planning.

    It seems that most of us understand that the current discussion needs to include our existing street grid — 8th and 14th / Union and Cass — and what needs to be done with these streets in order to make a possible BLA function properly (and would a BLA need to be constructed at all?). I don’t trust City staff to address this stuff after the fact.

  10. Mike Grant
    February 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Ultimately a decision has to be made as to whether the 8th Street corridor (say 8th from Boardman to Garfield) is going to be a thru-way for cut-through traffic or is going to be a neighborhood arterial street. The City in its Master Plan is committed to making the area around the Depot into another dense mixed-use commercial area. And that area of 8th from Woodmere to Garfield is indicated to be a neighborhood area. A neighborhood area, mind you, on par from a planning perspective with any other neighborhood in the City. I would contend that neither of these goals are consistent with even the current level and speed of traffic on 8th Street. It’s unquestioned that BLA will only increase the level/speed of that traffic, that’s what it’s designed to do.

    I would contend that the City needs to start taking its own Master Plan seriously. It’s not in the interest of the City and its residents to continue to sacrifice the 8th Street corridor to traffic. I believe that if you look at the numbers that came out the Grand Vision traffic study you’ll find that if not the majority a fairly high proportion of the 8th Street traffic is cut-through traffic. I.e., people from outside the City just passing through. Most likely to and from Munson and the schools probably. This is traffic that will be there whether or not 8th Street becomes a neighborhood arterial. If it becomes more difficult to traverse 8th Street then that traffic will go to South Airport or Grandview Parkway.

    I don’t see why City residents and property owners should sacrifice their quality of life and their property values in order to accommodate this cut-through traffic. I would prefer to re-plan/design 8th Street in order to make it no longer the raceway it is, and only then consider building a BLA. Or, at the very least, build BLA so that it’s an extension of the neighborhood street grid and not the raceway that it’s currently designed to be. But, in the long term it is simply not in the interest of the City and its residents to continue to simply give away the potential of what is its core in order to mainly accommodate people that want to quickly travel across town.

  11. February 5, 2011 at 11:08 am

    There is a lot here to respond to, so Ill save specific comments for later. However, I do want to encourage visitors to weigh in with new ideas or to support ideas already expressed. Only a few of them will admit it, but City staff and commissioners do read this BLOG on occasion. Comments here aren’t useless and if anything help us all formulate our understanding of the issue.

    Also, in response to Rick’s observation from the warm confines of his home on Union St., looks can be deceiving; you should have bundled up and joined us. The 15 people who walked south on Cass St. and north on Union St. were likely just fending off the head-wind, poorly shoveled sidewalks and ready for a beer-we’d already been out for an hour. Still, once we were served a beverage and sat around discussing the walk, expressions perked back up.

  12. Jamesb
    February 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

    “That is my fear, that we are trying to build our way out of motorized traffic instead of tackling land-use issues, public transit (park & ride for out of towners) and infrastructure that has a pattern of success in getting more people to walk/bike more and further for daily needs.”

    Right on!

    If the reduction in traffic is the goal, I’m curious what indicators the City will use to measure the results of the BLA. Do they have measurable results in mind? Reduced traffic on Cass/Union? Over how long?

    Any progression with proposed commercial/residential mixed-use centers surrounding the City will have a direct impact on the traffic volume in Old Town as well (e.g. Acme developments).

  13. Jamesb
    February 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Chris, I’m not sure I understand you’re last paragraph.

    Are you suggesting the that the city continue to build infrastructure to accommodate those choosing to live outside the city limits?
    Shouldn’t those choosing to live outside the city have to adjust to city residents desire for quality of life, not the other way around? Shouldn’t investments in infrastructure be made accordingly?
    One of the reasons for growth outside the City is the fact that TC continues to accommodate those who live outside of the city. It’s usually at high cost to it’s own residents and a low cost to non-residents. (When I say those outside the city I’m referring to residents of the County, not tourists.)

    Don’t we want to see infrastructure investment go to encouraging people to live within the City instead of encouraging people to live outside of the City.

  14. Chris H
    February 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    James – Yes I do think the city needs to do something to accommodate those living outside the city limits. Traverse City is where these people are coming to spend their money on healthcare, shopping, entertainment etc. Think of how much the area had grown in the last 30-40 years, but how many new roads have been built since then? The cass rd. extension to s. airport in the late 70’s is the most recent I can think of.

    I also agree with most of you that simply building new roads is not enough to solve the city’s traffic issues. Investments in public transportation/non-motorized transportation also need to be looked at as part of the bigger picture. But Rick brought up a good point that this requires a cultural change that will take decades to bring about.

  15. Chris H
    February 5, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    As far as new ideas…The City of Stockholm came up with an interesting solution to their traffic problems. They started charging drivers for entering their city and reduced traffic 22% and emissions 14% http://dai.ly/b2OtNr

  16. February 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    First, I live in Old Town — and just crossing the street from my house to get to Oryana is one of the most dangerous things I do. My corner is a “rat run” for many cars. During the day there are always cars coming from all directions. My wife is for the proposed by-pass: she, like many of you, cannot imagine people changing their behavior. People love cars, will always choose a car no matter how many alternatives we say are just wonderful: biking, public transportation.

    I am against the bypass. I say behavior can be changed. As Chris points out, part of the answer is congestion charging: see pages 165 to 170 in Traffic, an absolutely wonderful book by Tom Vanderbilt. “With congestion pricing, the traffic…will finally be made to act like the traffic in things, with market prices reflecting and shaping the supply and demand.” The book contains the answer to Old Town’s traffic problem: make cars guests in our cities.

    “When Dangerous roads are safer” Chapter seven in the book Traffic. I cannot sum up all that is in the chapter, in the book (all of you must read the book), but basically, tear down all signs that allow drivers to pay attention to signs & not their surroundings. When a driver is a “guest” on a city street, he/she slows down, pays attention to everything: children, bikers, walkers…. There are solutions to Old Town’s problems and More Roads are NOT the solution.

  17. Jamesb
    February 7, 2011 at 10:39 am

    If infrastructure is built to accomodate those living outside of the City, the users, at the very least, should help pay for the costs of that infrastructure.

    Under the current structure of this project, the majority of the users will not be paying the costs.

    If tax-increment financing is used, the City residents will be paying, while the County residents (outside the City) will be benefiting.

    This setup encourages people to live outside the City, since they’re not paying for the infrastructure that they use.

  18. Tim W.
    February 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    It was brought to my attention late last week that the City is essentially holding the West Boardman Lake Trail hostage. While work could easily go forward on the Trail (City, TART, Township, and County working together), the City holds the easements and will not let the project get going. Instead, the City is rolling the Trail into the BLA project. I see this as an attempt by the City to force those in favor of the Trail to support BLA, and I dislike the approach.

  19. Chris H
    February 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    It it my understanding after conversations with the City Manager that all aspects of this project could be approved independent of the others (ie trail only, road only, trail & road, wye only, etc.)

  20. Sharon Flesher
    February 8, 2011 at 8:47 am

    There’s a guy from Houghton who has moved to Stockholm for two years and is writing about his transportation experiences at http://divorceyourcar.blogspot.com/

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