Home > Complete Streets, Crank, Design the Details, Economics, Editorial, Walking > Walking Garfield Ave. makes me cranky

Walking Garfield Ave. makes me cranky



Whose ROW is this anyway?

On Monday, I took the opportunity to walk home along Garfield Ave. with camera in hand.  The images in the slide show below really explain themselves. They show that Garfield Ave. is indeed a shit-hole an underperforming corridor with ample underused property with infrastructure devoted to the hey day of the automobile, for which the bill for its second life cycle is now due.

It is also a depressing place to have to walk. The sidewalks that are present are disconnected and often run into parking lots and parked cars like below.

Walking Garfield Ave.

This scene gave me pause, because I never really put it together before that the City has allowed the public right of way to be used for a private parking lot. It is happening throughout the Garfield Ave. corridor and, apparently, in several other places around the City. Somewhere in the history of the City, permission was granted or permission was assumed that granting the use of public space for a private parking lot was more important than providing connections for people on foot.

More and more I’m becoming comfortable with stating unequivocally that I’m a public space advocate. I know this about myself because when I see a scenario like this, where a private gain so egregiously encroaches onto public space, I get offended. I’m not sure there’s anything to be done, but I’d like my disappointment noted for the record.

More images as larger files on the MyWHaT Flickr page

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The condition and design of Garfield Ave. bothers me for a number of reasons. As one of the gateways into Traverse City, it’s an aesthetic and functional embarrassment and it doesn’t serve the adjacent residents as if they matter. The strip mall land use pattern underperforms economically and is highly inefficient, so when commissioners whine that we’re broke I want to hold up a giant poster of the land use they’ve supported over the last 30 years and…

The Planning Commission, on which I serve, identified Garfield Ave. for the Corridor Improvement Plan that the City has reviewed over the last 6 months. I had high hopes that this section of Garfield Ave. could be retrofitted, but after walking it this week, my hopes are a bit diminished. No fear, that shouldn’t stop me from trying and could just be the impact of exhaust and noise I took in while standing next to a stroad of cars going 40-50-mph for an hour.

Onward. Tally-Corridor-Ho. Welcome to Tree City.


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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of writers previously published here or any of the organizations, committees, commissions or other affiliation the authors may belong to, unless so stated.

  1. Brian Bourdages
    May 1, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Unbelievable. Just a week or so ago there was a story in the news about the folks and tree service who were heavily fined for cutting a tree in the city right of way on State Street. Thousands of dollars for one incident. I’m not saying that it was OK, and it made a strong statement about what happens to people who take private actions on public property. Knowing Deeerings (the tree service involved) and their solid reputation I honestly think it was some kind of mistake by a rookie employee or something. Now I look at these photos and see PERMANENT PARKING LOTS on public right of way!!! What kind of sick double standard is that? How many trees could those areas be supporting in “tree city” if there was even an opportunity to plant them? It sure would be nice for someone to take the time to investigate the permitting of these parking areas (or lack thereof) and determine if we’ve been giving away public property for crappy strip mall development while we’re fining people for touching it elsewhere without a permit….

  2. May 1, 2013 at 9:20 am

    A little devil’s advocate here.

    I don’t know that you’re making a specific policy prescription here (I suppose “retrofitting” could be a lot of things) but to the extent you’re talking about dramatically narrowing Garfield in a short period of time I think I would disagree that that would be a wise move. It seems to me that moves like that work when they’re done in the right context. For example, my understanding is that Kalamazoo made a pedestrian mall out of it’s downtown some time in the 80’s (?) and it nearly killed it. Evidently there was not enough demand for something that was not more accessible by car. I imagine that if TC had done something similar to its downtown after the mall(s) came in then there would have been a similar outcome.

    My point is that if somehow Garfield could be shrunk so as to make car travel through there more difficult (again, this may not actually be your prescription, and I’m sure you would call for much more than that) I think that the current auto-oriented businesses would do much worse and I think it isn’t likely that ones that were more ped/bike/transit friendly would do much better, because there simply isn’t enough dense housing in that area to support many businesses that cater to people that live close by. Maybe Nesbit’s is an exception.

    This is as opposed to, say, around where you live, where I think that there is enough density, as well as the infrastructure (sidewalks, narrower streets, zoning), such that if the City had the guts to slow 8th and add ped/bike/transit improvements then you would probably see more and more viable retail along there which catered to people in the neighborhood. I think where you live is similar in that regard to maybe Cass, Union, and West Front, where you’ve got an arterial running through a neighborhood that has density and some or all of that same infrastructure.

    Not that it wouldn’t hurt to have this corridor planning document say we should put Garfield on a diet (maybe it does already, but I doubt it) but in the absence of that sort of thing I put my hope in the increasing attraction and densifying of the downtown and its surroundings continuing to increase the car traffic to the point that folks in the surrounding neighborhoods say, hey, we need to provide more ped/bike/transit improvements and put some of these roads on a diet. And hopefully have that phenomenon then cascade out from the downtown to the surrounding neighborhoods. Of course, that’s not really what’s happened so far. So far we have Old Town militating for a bypass so as to shove the traffic onto somebody else, and probably residents in general starting to say let’s put a moratorium on downtown development because I’m tired of waiting at 14th and Division for 30 seconds more than I used to on my way to Meijer. So probably we should just sit tight and wait for $5/gallon gas and that’ll just sort this all out because at that point people in the City (and the townships) will be clamoring for everything (housing, retail, services) to be closer in so that they don’t have to drive.

    By the way, I miss you having the open posting on your blog where people could comment/thumbs up/thumbs down. This probably will not come as a shock to you considering I was maybe one of the biggest users/abusers of that system. But just saying…

  3. Doug
    May 1, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Gary: Right on! I work on Hastings Road, 1 block east of Garfield. I bike the route you walked fairly regularly, what a pain dodging cars parked at the dealerships, figuring out how to taverse ditches, landscaping, etc. Sidewalks are sparse along Hastings as well, a hardship for those on foot/wheelchair accessing Father Fred’s. In the winter it’s not unusual to see motorized wheelchairs traveling down the middle of Hastings road, since the right-of-way is buried in snowdrifts. I have been told that sidewalks are not required for leased properties, which are abundant along Hastings?

  4. Richard Miller
    May 1, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Beyond doubt, ALL the traffic corridors, certainly within our city, require renewed attention and serious upgrading from the viewpoint of safe pedestrian circulation. But, as a long-time central city resident, allow me to widen the question a bit further. In those neighborhoods where sidewalks have been a long-established residential amenity the city has been and remains consistently lax in disallowing car parking which overhangs and obstructs the public sidewalk. (I can recall having to ask a neighbor, a TC police officer, to please cease from continually parking his own vehicle in a way that entirely blocked the sidewalk in front of his house.) There are communities where such offenses are subject to a citation. It’s time that Traverse City was among them.

  5. Meika
    May 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    LOL – I’m posting at least one dead-end sidewalk picture on Tuesday! What a mess.

  6. June Thaden
    May 1, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Gary — I second all you wrote today. Until we accept the idea of the common good, and don’t get so wrapped up in rules that an airport commission doesn’t see fit to accept a sign (from a veterans group) saying Welcome Home, Troops (or something like that) with the insignia of the Army, Navy, Air Force,Marines & Coast Guard, just because it doesn’t doesn’t fit in a non-existent sign code. Or maybe, really, because it comes from an “unpatriotic” group — Veterans for Peace. It’s “American” to fight wars, defend the right to have whatever guns you want, and sing patriotic songs to honor the military, but really not to honor them when they come home. And heal their wounds, as best we can. And especially when they come home realizing the need for peace, and not constantly wanting another war. Beat the drums. But don’t do anything positive to make the US of A a country to once again be proud of.
    And for God’s sake don’t look to the future — and push for a big buck with fracking, and tar sands, and pipe lines when if we burn (i.e. use, and make big profits) the current reserves of petroleum products we will cook the earth beyond human being’s ability to survive. Let alone have water to drink.

    Thanks, Gary, for fighting the good fight. The only thing we can do.
    But don’t be too expecting of results.

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