Home > Crank, Cultural Movement, Design the Details, Editorial > The BLA/OTBypass Discussion Continues…Is It A Road? Or, A Place?

The BLA/OTBypass Discussion Continues…Is It A Road? Or, A Place?


Over the past 5 days I’ve appreciated the discussion about the West Boardman Lake Avenue/Old Town Bypass. Brilliant stuff; keep it coming.

It is reflective of the potential this project has to be a force that brings the community together. Unfortunately, it also has the potential of creating another divide in the community with its narrow focus on further subsidizing our automobile habit as a solution to the problems associated with that very habit.

The Confidence Gap

The City, staff and earlier commissions, haven’t done themselves or the citizens a favor through 30-years of at best ignoring, at worst working against, the concerns of the neighborhoods. No one knows this more astutely than the long-term residents in Old Town. As some of them consistently point out, they have been at it for 30-years; they are fed-up and ready for something. Anything.

This is the real promise that has surfaced, that because it was an accepted solution 20-years ago that it remains one for today. BLA/OT Bypass proponents now have something to lose, albeit just an assumption that this road would work. To convince them that they have more to gain with a holistic approach is nearly impossible: loss aversion kicks in heavy when we perceive to be losing more than we stand to gain.

Echoing a reader’s comment from the weekend, there is the added problem that there simply isn’t the trust that the City is capable of steering an effective, quality based process for a new road, because they have yet to prove that they can apply the needed measures to our current streets. When I think through the consequences of the BLA/OT Bypass being built over the next year or two, the term “boondoggle” comes to mind. My own state of loss aversion also kicks in because of the high hopes for the West Boardman Lake corridor, as well as the pleasant connection between my home on the Eastside to my friends and businesses in Old Town that I now enjoy. The trail and the pedestrian bridge are valuable assets.

There remains too many potentially disastrous unknowns and no guarantee it even adequately addresses the issues on Cass and Union and Lake. Some unknowns we must live with, but ignoring or sugar-coating the possible negative impacts, either through obfuscation or ignorance, will only further erode community confidence. We will be left with yet another physical and social divide.

Form Influences Behavior

The discussion over the weekend recognized the philosophical nature of the BLA/OT Bypass debate. Can government influence behavior? I differ in outlook from comments made by Rick and Chris on this point because infrastructure design isn’t neutral.

If you build for automobile traffic, automobile traffic is what you will get.

I’m not an ideologue on the subject and recognize that there is historical legacy we are inheriting; we will continue to spend millions of dollars a year subsidizing our automobile habit whether I like it or not. However, I also fully recognize that any influence I have today will primarily be realized tomorrow; others will inherit my generation’s legacy.

It isn’t about giving everyone a bus pass or cycling shorts, those glib suggestions demean the discussion. It’s about investing in the future for what we intend to leave behind and the solutions just may include bus passes. “Growth” needn’t assume expensive, in costs, externalities and opportunity, outlays for one form of transportation.

Unfortunately, the previous generation was caught-up in wider, faster and increasingly costly urban designs that prioritized motor vehicle mobility over creating neighborhoods and places to be. It was a choice and it is influencing today’s behavior and our choices.

Still, I don’t think the cultural change is 3-decades away. It started yesterday and we, as a city, a community, are running late. If the City moves ahead with building a new road, it’s not the end of my world. It will just represent another 30-50 years of the things as they are and another road that we have to cross.


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  1. Chris H
    February 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Perhaps a the BLA project can add both a road and a place. The Andrews University Plan for Old Towne (Commissioned by the PLANNING DEPARTMENT of TRAVERSE CITY, 2002) outlines a specific plan for the old town neighborhood based on “Ten Principles of Good Urban Neighborhood Design (adapted from Congress of New Urbanism). One of the specific recommendations of this study was “the immediate construction of the Boardman Lake Boulevard and its adjacent public street and square infrastructure” (p vii). The study recommends creating many new public squares in old town, two of which would be between BLA and 10th (fronted by Oryana) and BLA and 12th street. Now, these squares are not included in the current design, but perhaps they could be included after the public comment sessions. Wouldn’t this help add a sense of place?

    As far as bus passes and bike shorts go, I didn’t mean for that to be a “glib” comment. I am one of those who prefers self-propelled transportation over the automobile, but in this town, in this state, I am in the minority. I am a Detroit area transplant, like many northern mich. residents, and car-culture here runs deep (see Chrysler’s super bowl ad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKL254Y_jtc). Change here may not be 3 generations away, buts its a lot more than 2-3 years.

  2. Brian
    February 7, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Chris, I think that creating a sense of place with the BLA is a good idea if it were to be built. The Andrews University study had many excellent ideas and its unfortunate that the City shelved it as soon as the report was completed.

    A question that I have with creating a sense of place with the BLA corridor, is with all the access / crossing points. Will that deter traffic from using it as an alternative to Cass and Union? Isn’t that the point of the BLA? I know that the proponents of the BLA would like a straight shot from south of 14th St to 8th St. with no access points. I think I’d rather see a plan for a series of traffic calming and road diet options on our entire city street grid AND build the public squares — minus the BLA.

  3. February 8, 2011 at 8:14 am

    For those who haven’t seen it, the St. Andrews University study was completed in 2002. The study itself isn’t an engineered plan, however, as a concept, it has lots of ingredients to like but it isn’t a detailed analysis. At $10,000, it wasn’t meant to be. That might be part of the reason it was shelved.

    The study is largely conceptual and part of the process to move forward with its suggestions would be to have staff explain to the community the portions of it that are possible, the costs for the publicly funded sections, the realistic timeline for implementation and a path to the private development that it calls for. We can’t just pick and choose portions of it without an over-all strategy. I’m not opposed to exploring it as a community project similar to how the Your Bay Your Say conceptual turned into the Bayfront Plan this past year, but nothing in it needs to be assumed as required. They created a concept, not a plan. The community is now exploring it.

    The group of students who worked on the St. Andrews Uni. study realized that past decisions about traffic in TC were “piecemeal” and lacked a connection to a community wide traffic plan. In their presentations, they made clear that they didn’t support simply shifting traffic to other areas, and that is precisely the caution being raised. The design calls for a “traditional neighborhood district” (TND) zone to be created in Old Town, something very similar to my idea of a creating a model Traffic Calming District in Old Town. As well, the study calls for a redevelopment of 14th St., which was’t in the area of focus, but was realized to be a significant piece to the puzzle.

    I uploaded a digital file of it on Scribd although the quality isn’t that great.

    Send me a message if you’d like a better copy emailed to you.

    View of their West Boardman Lake Ave. Concept (a lot has changed)


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