Near civic experience

Last week, while walking to work, I had a near civic experience.

I was walking in the narrow one-way street heading into the Grand Traverse Civic Center. There are no sidewalks and it was more crowded with parked cars than usual. It can be a bit of cluster-bunch there. I’ve always thought it just needs a bit of intentional design to improve it.

As I was walking, a car approached from behind. I moved closer to the south side of the street to allow room, but I was headed to the north side to access the trail system. As the driver pulled by, I made my cross expecting him to continue into the Civic Center. Only he didn’t continue, instead he stopped and abrubtly started to back-up without hesitation–I was already crossing the street and now directly in his path. Luckily, I did notice even if he didn’t and bounced out of the way. As I stepped around the front of the car and the driver continued to back-up apparenlty oblivious to my presence.

I had a completely normal human reaction; I shot a stink-eye and mumbled an insanity. That was enough. No harm, just a reaction. Moving on. Then the car stopped and the driver rolled down the window to ask, “what did I do?”

“You almost hit me. You didn’t have a clue I was walking there when you began to back-up,” I replied, not quite knowing what to expect and still a little rattled by almost getting smacked by a sedan.

He got out of the car and began to walk towards me. By now the park fence was between us and we both approached each other; choosing to further engage. I wasn’t in the mood for a fight. Really, I thought, do I want to do this right now. Thankfully, neither was he.

With an uncomfortable smile, he explained how he had seen me and expected me to keep walking on the right. I said I understood and simply had a reaction to all of sudden having a car backing-up towards me. I pointed out how the bottle neck of the entrance didn’t help the situation and that extra caution was needed due to the lack of design considerations. He wasn’t expecting a discussion about street design, but agreed and said he sees the problem. We both agreed to watch out and shook hands as best we could through the fence.

All quite civic and civil.

That’s it. A story of civility from the wild streets of Traverse City.


  1. May 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Glad you were quick enough to get out of the way. Maybe you should send your post as a Letter to the Editor of the local paper and see if you can get the City Government to fix the problem.

  2. Nancy Griesinger
    May 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Gary, if you had been in the “wild streets” of Bonita Springs, Florida as I was when this exact same thing happened to me, you would have been called an effing b*tch and told to “get off the street you…fu*king B*tch!!.”

    Your encounter is another reason so many love living in “wild” Traverse City. People are civil here. Thoughtful, and with good manners and kindness in their hearts. There is a reason people are nicer here than there, and I think I know that reason, and I do not want anything to ruin it…lol..

  3. May 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Gary: I’ve often thought about how odd it is that we have this nice park in the city with fences all the way around it….which forces pedestrians to enter through one of several access points….and there are no sidewalks leading up to the park property from the West side where you almost got hit….combine the lack of sidewalks at this entry with the change from one-way to two-way traffic as well as school traffic, and we’re left with a recipe for disaster. The fencing at the Civic Center forces pedestrians to closely mix with automobiles on the West side….odd for a public space with a walking path……

  4. May 3, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Mike, some of that fencing is planned to come down, but not exactly sure where or the timeline. It was, however, part of the master plan (GTCounty) recently completed. I lost track of Civic Center Dr. recommendations, but it is something we’ve discussed here before. This wintery image (apologies) shows the cluster-bunching that can occur. Not disasters by itself, but coupled with entitlement for speed that some drivers exhibit, disaster, or near disaster, is quite predictable.


    Nancy, I’ve had plenty of experiences in our little city that run counter to this experience–we are not immune from displays of poor manners, lack of kindness and civility. In a lot of our public spaces, the design actually “encourages” it. Luckily, we are bit more relaxed than many places and often do take the time and energy to be civil–and yes, let’s all strive to maintain that.

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