It literally divides Traverse City – a noisy, traffic-choked thoroughfare stretching from Fourteenth Street to Grandview Parkway that separates downtown TC from Munson Medical Center, the Village at Grand Traverse Commons and several west-side neighborhoods.
At least one city commissioner believes Division Street – the site of frequent accidents and hazardous crossing conditions for pedestrians and cyclists, particularly at its intersections with Eleventh and Seventh streets – could benefit from a positive revamp, beginning with the street's name. At tonight's Traverse City Commission study session, Commissioner Jim Carruthers will present a proposal to rename the corridor Water Street, a name he says is more positive and more reflective of the values of the community.
“Division is a negative term – it emphasizes separation,” Carruthers explains. “This is the main route that brings people into town. It should be positive. Changing the name won't fix everything...but it could maybe help change people's perceptions of that area.”
Carruthers says the idea of renaming Division has been floated around the community for years, but never acted on. His goal tonight is "to get the ball rolling” on a citywide discussion of the issue, which – should it garner enough commission and public interest – could move into ad hoc committee study or other review processes for possible enactment down the road.
Changing the name of a major transportation corridor comes with its fair share of logistical challenges and expenses. Should Division be rechristened, all road signs and markers bearing its name would need to be replaced, and businesses, residents and lot owners bordering the corridor – 85 parcels in total – would need to update their marketing materials, tax documents and identification papers to reflect the switch.
A possible delay in response time for emergency calls could occur if residents neglected to properly update their contact information, noted Grand Traverse County 911 director Jamel Anderson – to say nothing of the general day-to-day confusion that could result among residents and visitors accustomed to the street's current moniker.
City engineer Tim Lodge consulted with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) on the proposed change, but did not receive conclusive feedback from the organization on the concept. City planner Russ Soyring said the idea “was not supported overall” at a recent Traverse City Planning Commission meeting.
Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes says he would not oppose changing Division's name if residents and commissioners supported it, but believes the city's top priority should be what he calls “real solutions” to the corridor's woes. He points to a recent TC ballot measure narrowly passed by voters empowering MDOT to work with the city on intersection improvements at Division and Eleventh as an example of such “concrete” improvements.
“I agree the street is truly a division; it's a problem,” Estes says. “But changing the name by itself isn't going to fix that problem.”
Carruthers, however, counters that major infrastructure changes such as those described by Estes are still several years off, and that changing Division's name is a “simple, positive, administrative” step the city could take in the meantime to begin the process of the thoroughfare's transformation.
At least one major user group along Division agrees a community-wide discussion about its name has the potential to yield positive results. Raymond Minervini of The Minervini Group, which manages the Village at Grand Traverse Commons and has long struggled with traffic issues stemming from the Village's location near Eleventh and Division, says that regardless of whether Water Street is ultimately the best new name for the corridor (commissioners could consider or suggest other options), the overall conversation on renaming the road is one worth having.
“We've always felt there could be a better name for (Division),” he says. “When you look at the nature of the street...'division' is such a negative name for it. Maybe we can find a better fit. I say we get a dialogue going and find out.”