The many hats found along TC’s Division St.

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Yes, no, maybe so…

The last few weeks I’ve been asked several times, by several people, what I thought about Traverse City’s City Proposal 1 to dispose of a strip of parkland along Division St. My first response is to roll my eyes. Then change the subject. If they insist, they might get the 40 minute rant and even that is a truncated version

However I end up voting, I’ll be second guessing myself the moment I walk out the door. The UpNorthMedia discussion helped me realize that we are being asked to actually give a wider corridor to MDOT; once it is done it is done, albeit with a sunset clause and a future City Commission approval clause. The tension exists not with the parkland, but with the lack of strategy and shared vision around this corridor and this ballot initiative.

Can a flawed process be corrected mid-stride?

Objectives from last 3 years

It’s fine to say, “we all agree we want a safer street”, but the problem arises with the different interpretation of what a safer street means. Undoubtedly, that discussion will occur internally and externally. It will come from citizens pestering public officials and professionals who serve many masters, including their own engrained approach to designing roadways and public space. That’s to be expected.

What aggravates here is a version of that process already occurred over a three-year process, costing hundreds of hours of volunteer time, struggles to agree on some basic steps, and now we are being told this is a first step. To those involved, this is a recursive 15th mile marker in a marathon that never ends.

I’m first and foremost a citizen. I want to see a better community and I’m invested enough to work for that by seeking out diverse opinions, working through conflicts, informing myself, developing the necessary questions to move ideas into implementation, and honoring processes. That said, for argument’s sake, let me pretend that I can segregate my different mode choices into  distinct personalities. I’m not a citizen, I’m a motorists, pedestrian, bicyclist, or a something else entirely. This is the myopic view of political process that attempts to put people in this “interested party” or that “interested party” and something I try to avoid. However, for the sake of argument, let me answer how I may view this ballot proposal at this time wearing those different hats.

  • The Motorist: I’m all revved up about this proposal. The intersection with the most crashes and the intersection with the 10th most crashes in Traverse City are in this stretch. 14th & Division and 11th & Division crashes have conservatively cost those impacted, mostly people in cars, $3.5 million dollars in property damages and injuries over the last 3 1/2 years. This excludes the public cost of responding to them and the increase surveillance of them with each crash. And, despite the smoother surface, this corridor still gets my heart rate up every-time I drive it. With MDOT and the Chamber in support and willing to put time and staff time being involved, I can trust that the ultimate design will reduce some of that stress.
  • The Pedestrian: I’m trippin’ over it. Finally, there’s something tangible to vote on and there seems to be momentum in providing me a refuge somewhere in this corridor to cross the street. The final design may or may not slow cars down, but I’ll have that refuge at an intersection or along the corridor to give me  bit more control. I’m likely still not going to let my children or 80-year-old grandma cross on their own, but it looks like finally, something is going to be done to bridge the division. I hear I might even get a complete sidewalk network out of it.
  • The Bicyclist: I’m coasting. MDOT has previously ruled out a road conversion that might consider a street with bike lanes. I’m curious about a similar street in Lansing where MDOT (LSJ) just put bike lanes on. That gives me some hope, but certainly not trust. I’m a bit frustrated that a focus on what the City of Traverse City can do in its own right of way, including parkland, has been put on hold as the community responds to this ballot proposal. That troubles me as a trailhead at the future Buffalo Ridge Trail connection, along the old railroad bed just south of 14th St., not only would serve me as a bicyclist, but would also assist to calm traffic by providing a place for activity along what is now avoided space. What’s in this for me? They aren’t even addressing the silly one way crossing at 7th St.
  • The Transit Rider: I’m waiting; always waiting.  Not sure where I fit in the plans. Central neighborhood continues to complain about me. MDOT doesn’t want me on Division St. and I don’t want to wait on Division St. Have you stood along there? It’s a hell hole. I still don’t have a convenient trip across town and I wonder what would happen if the time, energy, and money focused on engineering a solution was focused on increasing ridership. Could we not reduce the number of single occupant trips being taken to and from the hospital with a bit of investment? Wouldn’t this relieve some of the traffic?

Reality is more nuanced

Of course, the majority of us wear all of these hats and we simply want better streets across the City and the wider community. We want safe and convenient choices. We want added value to our community. Like the people living next to Division St., we want to go to bed without the house shaking. We want to pull out of our driveway without fear. We want to be able to use our front yard and the front room in our house.

Does this ballot proposal get us closer to any of that? I’m not certain it matters either way. On November 7th, whatever the result, there remains a lot of work to do. Regardless of the vote, there will be an opportunity for interested parties, hopefully those with a holistic approach, to participate in a process likely of their own creation. If you are concerned about Division St., I recommend that you not worry too much about the vote result. The result will only  be one street sign guiding the process forward.

Yes or no, that’s up to you; informed by the many hats you wear. But, the end result of a better street that better serves the context of a neighborhood and an entry point to a city will not be determined by this vote. It will be determined more from the level of engagement you are willing to give to it over the next 10 years.


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  1. October 15, 2012 at 11:32 am

    As always Gary, you have touched on many points and hit many others. I find myself in agreement with most of them and for me the simple fact that we can’t get MDOT to move forward without a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) is the over-riding consideration. Their policy is that they won’t do one if you don’t “own” the land and without granting the right-of-way we are at an impasse. So as much as I am concerned for how the process gets worked out, it seems to me to be a necessary (required) first step. Getting MDOT to change the process seems like a longer and less likely result than allowing them to do an Environmental Impact Assessment, so I urge you to put on whatever hat it is that allows you to Vote YES on Proposal 1.

  2. October 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Well done Gary. I think I’m going to put on my hat that says “Division Street is a Cluster#^@&”, vote Yes and then stay engaged to make sure that the city and MDOT do it right.

  3. October 15, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Hard to agree to give up park land in order to build bigger roads, but MDOT views this referendum as an indicator of how interested the Grand Traverse community is in actually changing Division St., and how close to the top of the stack of projects it will be in MDOT’s future. Margaret Barondess, MDOT Environmental Services Mgr. said as much at the League of Women Voters of Grand Traverse Forum at TADL late last month.

    She also expressed a very seasoned negative initial reaction to the idea of “taking green space for roads,” but the proposal puts important qualifiers on this property grant in terms of a time limit and City approval of the eventual plan(s). She argued strongly in favor of the ballot proposal, as all of the panel members at the ‘forum’ did.

    Also hard to agree to any ‘deal’ before you know what the process or outcome will be, but remember that a vociferous and involved citizenry has much affect on matters like these.

    Traverse City has been mulling and discussing Division Street for years and years. Look at Proposal 1 as a chink in MDOT’s armor of indifference!

    I am voting YES on Proposal 1 next month.

  4. Mary Ann Moore
    October 16, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Thoughtful letter, Gary.. However, to vote no on this just stalls whatever final solution the city and MDOT recommends. We know Division Street needs to be altered in some way to make it a safer and more efficient road, and if we vote no on the parkland we are just delaying that improvement. We didn’t even own that land 10 years ago and now we have citizens appalled at “giving our park land away.” We will have the final say on this, whether it becomes a boulevard (my wish) or a round about. The important issue here is that it cannot be used for another auto lane. Since the city will have the final vote on this issue, VOTE YES!


  5. MS Anderson
    October 22, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I’m really not sure how widening part the street only to have it bottleneck further down is really going to be a long term solution. It seems like all of the newer construction down on Front street is really restricting any future effort to widen the entire street for better traffic flow and safety. As of now, it seems that simply widening everything won’t really fly long term. That train seems to have left the station….. and all the effort about multiple roundabouts seems not plausible as of now after so much talk, effort, and planning.

    One of the contributing problems I see is that all types of traffic is routed down the Division St. corridor whether it is coming into Traverse City proper or just passing through. What about routing traffic which is simply passing through somewhere else? Perhaps better region wide load balancing could help. Focus on just Division is probably limiting the options.

    As far as Division St., I’m not sure how unilateral widening of a limited section will enhance the experience for pedestrians, cyclists or residents with concerns over noise. Crossing to the Commons is fraught with peril to say the least. Encouraging more traffic doesn’t seem a wise strategy.

    It seems like simple solutions like a turn lane or making 11th street a right-turn-only onto Division St. could help.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but so far I haven’t seen any ideas which really deal with the overall problems of safety and traffic flow. Not sure MDots charter will come up with anything residents would want to live with either.

  6. CarolD
    October 30, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I hope engaged/civic-minded individuals with a vision of improved transportation for all will run for City Commission over the next 10 years. I plan to vote “yes” on City Proposal 1.

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