Downtown Traverse City's Front Street has been called one of the “10 Great Streets” in the country – and tonight, city commissioners will consider a plan designed to replicate its success in five other key "corridors."
A committee of the Traverse City Planning Commission spent the past two years meeting with local business owners, residents and experts gathering input for the creation of a “corridors master plan,” which provides a series of planning guidelines and recommended improvements for Eighth Street, Fourteenth Street, Garfield Avenue, and the far west and east sections of Front Street beyond its downtown stretch.
“This project was the brainchild of (past Downtown Development Authority Director) Bryan Crough and (Grand Traverse County Planning and Development Director) John Sych,” says City Planner Russ Soyring. “They recognized areas of our community that aren't performing well in terms of property appreciation, vacancy rates and traffic conflict points, and thought we had an opportunity to transform those areas into great streets.”
The two-year study, which was funded by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant, provides both small and large-scale suggested improvements to the corridors. Key recommendations include moving buildings closer to streets and relocating parking lots to the rear, improving landscaping and treescapes, widening sidewalks, adding bike lanes, reducing traffic lanes and speed limits, and reconfiguring intersections to better facilitate vehicle volume.
“These corridors carry a great deal of traffic but don't look great – they are languishing compared to downtown, and they aren't servicing the businesses on them well,” says Soyring. “If we make them safer to cross, safer to walk and bike on, and more attractive, we could change the character of the corridors...and generate growth.”
The plan also encourages zoning and development of three or four-story buildings, rather than the typical one-story buildings with expansive surface lots found on the corridors, to increase the city and county tax base. Soyring notes the multiple-storied buildings on downtown Front Street “generate a phenomenal amount of taxes for the city.”
Given the number of complaints and opinions generated by traffic in Traverse City, perhaps the plan's most controversial recommendations are its calls for road “diets” on Garfield and Eighth streets – going from four to three lanes to make room for bike lanes – and widening Fourteenth Street to also allow for bike lanes. Intersection reconfigurations, including possible installation of roundabouts, are also recommended by the plan – which Soyring acknowledges are politically fraught, but crucial to resolving traffic congestion.
“I think the best model would be to first restripe some of the roads (from four to three lanes), reduce the speed limits and see how it goes,” he says. “If it backfires – if the traffic issues aren't solved, the roads aren't safer to cross, or traffic is being diverted to the neighborhoods – we'll hear about it right away and can restripe them back. But we won't know until we try it, and it's an inexpensive project to do.”
While the community has seen a proliferation of planning guides and visioning projects over the last decade – some of which have led to implementation, some of which have effectively disappeared – Soyring believes the corridors master plan has the potential to lead to concrete change, rather than just becoming another policy document that sits on a shelf.
“The planning commission already adopted the (corridors) plan as a policy guide, so we'll be looking to it as we make regulation changes and development decisions,” Soyring says. “If the city commission adopts it as well, the city engineering department can put it to use for projects we work on, and for capital improvements. If it goes through, I expect you're going to see implementation.”
Click here to view a copy of the proposed corridors master plan.