$2 Million In Sidewalk, Trail Expansion Upgrades Planned
By Beth Milligan | Nov. 9, 2019
Nearly five new miles of sidewalk and trail expansion is planned around 10 Traverse City schools next year – the culmination of a four-year effort to provide safer walking and biking routes for students.
City staff held an open house Friday at the Governmental Center (pictured) to unveil the $2 million Safe Routes to School (SR2S) plan. Staff have worked since 2016 with nonprofit Norte and Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools (GTACS), Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD), and Trinity Lutheran Church & School to identify areas where new infrastructure would improve safe student transit to school. The city was awarded $2 million in conditional grant funding – $200,000 per school – from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for improvements that could include sidewalk construction or repairs, new trails, improved intersection crossings, bike lanes, traffic-calming measures, and signage upgrades.
Ten K-8 schools within city limits were eligible for improvements, including Willow Hill Elementary, Central Grade School, Eastern Elementary School, Traverse Heights Elementary, Montessori School at Glenn Loomis, Holy Angels Preschool and Elementary, Immaculate Conception Elementary School, Trinity Lutheran School, and TBAISD’s New Campus School and Oak Park Campus. Staff used a “heat index” to gauge where students were living in proximity to schools and the most likely routes they’d take to walk or bike there. Norte assisted in conducting “walking audits” where students, parents, and faculty would fan out from schools and identify safety threats or traffic challenges. All of that data helped staff “come up with a whole bunch of different projects and select the ones that would provide the most access and bang for the buck,” says Norte Executive Director Ty Schmidt.
The proposed design shows planned new sidewalk construction around several schools, including on Eastern Avenue and College Drive near Eastern Elementary; Fair Street and Garfield Avenue near TBAISD Oak Park; Hill Street near Willow Hill; Second Street near Immaculate Conception; Maple, Oak, Wadsworth, Pine, Locust, and Griffin streets near Central Grade, Glenn Loomis, and Trinity Lutheran; and Barlow Street near Traverse Heights. The proposed sidewalks for that last project stretch down Barlow from Carver Street to Gladewood Lane, helping cover the Town & Country mobile home park, where many Traverse Heights students live.
“We really wanted sidewalks further along Barlow, but there just weren’t enough students in those sections to justify that,” says City Planning Director Russ Soyring. “But we were able to get them just south of the city limits into Garfield Township.” Negotiating with property owners has been a significant part of city staff’s workload for the project, such as obtaining easements on Barlow Street for sidewalks to go through the corridor. Property owners elsewhere in the city have been notified where sidewalks are intended to cross their driveways or yards, in some cases being routed around hydrants or requiring tree removal; some of those owners attended Friday’s meeting to ask questions and give feedback on the plans. Soyring says their input will be taken into consideration along with all of the preliminary surveying and engineering work already completed by the city, which – along with easement approvals – must be submitted to the state by December 6 for final sign-off.
In addition to new sidewalks, the SR2S plan calls for traffic-calming markings on Boon Street, new designated bike lanes on Rose Street, and trail connections through the TBAISD New Campus property from Silver Drive to Division Street and from Eastern Elementary across Northwestern Michigan College’s property to College Drive. NMC trustees will be asked to approve an easement for its trail connection later this month, Soyring says.
State officials will give final approval of the SR2S plan this winter – a process that could include some tweaks to the list of projects, Soyring notes – with the city going out to bid in March. “We’d be looking at construction starting in May,” says Soyring. “We’ve been given the opportunity to do it over two years, so it could be that we do half of it in 2020 and the other half in 2021.”
After working on the project for four years, Norte's Schmidt says he believes the SR2S plan will be “transformational” for the community. He notes the plan also includes educational outreach and planning initiatives with participating schools to ensure their policies and procedures are friendly to students biking and walking. That could range from making sure enough bikes racks are on campus to having bigger philosophical conversations about school start and end times.
“I think it’s a game-changer for this little town to get two million dollars and five miles of new infrastructure with sidewalks and bike lanes, especially coupled with the city’s sidewalk acceleration program,” says Schmidt, referring to a $4.5 million sidewalk gap infill and repair project already underway citywide. “It’s not just the kids that will get to use these improvements. It’s all ages and abilities. It’s a big deal.”