Traverse City By The Numbers In 2020
By Beth Milligan | Jan. 19, 2021
2020 was a historic year for Traverse City, not only because of the pandemic but because of numerous plans that the city – while celebrating its 125th anniversary – continued to pursue despite setbacks related to the global crisis. City staff will unveil the results of those efforts tonight (Tuesday) to the city commission in an annual recap called "The Performance," which uses key metrics to evaluate how individual departments and the city overall are performing. The Ticker previews highlights from the report to show how Traverse City performed “by the numbers” in 2020.
The city received more than $12 million in grant funding in 2020, a significant portion of which was dedicated to infrastructure and capital improvement projects. Aging infrastructure and high water levels have “created challenges that are addressed continually,” according to staff. Key city infrastructure projects last year included:
> 13,583 center lane miles of crack sealing completed by the streets division
> $1.85 million in maintenance and upgrades at the city wastewater treatment plant. The plant treated 2.1 billion gallons of wastewater, while the water treatment plant treated 1.8 billion gallons of drinking water. The water treatment plant also tested more than 1,700 water samples for bacteria. The city installed 176 new water meters and 28 new water taps as part of an automated metering project, cleaned 8 miles and televised 3 miles of sewer pipeline, completed 335 home/business water connection inspections, and responded to 59 emergency sewer backup calls. More than $1 million was invested in water and sewer maintenance upgrades outside of the plants, including $875,000 for main repairs on Monroe, East Front, and Randolph streets and $200,000 to improve the Front Street lift station.
> Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) invested nearly $1.6 million to replace underground conduit, aged wire, and padmounted equipment in the Aeropark industrial complex to increase reliability for commercial customers, half of TCLP’s key accounts. The utility also launched its fiber network in October, making high-speed Internet available initially to 1,900 of the utility’s 12,700 customers, with more to come in 2021.
> Major road reconstruction projects took place on Randolph Street, Division Street, and the Historic Barns Park. The city also worked with The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay to improve water quality from the discharge at the Fourteenth Street storm sewer, and is collaborating with the TC Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to stabilize the river wall along the Boardman River in the alley between Union and Park streets.
Mobility improvements – those connected to transportation and sidewalks – also saw significant investment in 2020. Projects included:
> An estimated 3.3 miles, or 17,300 linear feet, of new sidewalk was added in the areas of Traverse Heights and East Front Street, bringing the total investment in the city’s sidewalk gap and infill program to $1.73 million. Between 2017 and 2021, nearly 20.5 miles of sidewalk will be built and almost $8 million invested between that program, the sidewalk preservation program, and Safe Routes to School. 2021 will mark the final year of the gap and infill program and include sidewalk infill in Traverse Heights and Garfield Avenue, while an additional 4 miles of sidewalk will be built around area schools.
> In an effort to increase public transportation use, Traverse City Parking Services invested in BATA’s Bayline, Destination Downtown program, and a bus shelter at Cass and Lake. Engineering staff worked with BATA to secure easements for bus shelters, bus stops, and bike racks at bus stops.
> Other mobility efforts in 2020 included committing funding to the completion of the Boardman Lake Trail, installing a bike crossing signal light at Eighth/Boardman, and implementing a shared streets program on Washington Street.
In addition to serving as part of the Joint Operation Center team that coordinated the community response to the pandemic, city public safety employees remained busy with normal operations in 2020. Highlights included:
> The TC Fire Department clocked 2,679 emergency responses, among them 50 structure fires, 1,911 emergency medical calls, and 13 water rescues. The department also installed emergency call alerting monitors in apparatus bays at both fire stations, updated computers and software, replaced obsolete fire nozzles and hoses, and participated in 6 Juvenile Fire Setter intervention programs, which help families who have experienced a fire due to a juvenile in the home.
> The TC Police Department moved forward with several initiatives in 2020, most notably purchasing 30 body cameras to be worn by on-duty uniformed personnel. The TCPD also joined the Angel Program, which provides resources for individuals struggling with substance abuse, and provided training to all sworn officers in crisis intervention and responding to calls involving individuals with mental illness. The Crisis Intervention Team is working with Great Lakes Community Mental Health to provide better resources and help individuals with mental illness avoid arrest and the jail system.
Numerous investments were made in 2020 in “green initiatives for a more sustainable future,” according to staff. Those included:
> Cleaning 1,680 city catch basins, collecting 6,000 yards of compacted leaves from city residents during leaf pick-up events, and planting more than 1,500 flowers in city right-of-way and public spaces.
> 105 trees were planted on city property, with another 1,646 trees pruned from July 2019 to July 2020 (the city previously was averaging only 350-500 trees pruned annually). Approximately 100 dead or otherwise damaged trees were removed. More than 1,000 seedlings were planted at Hickory Hills.
> The city joined the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a binational coalition of 131 U.S. and Canadian officials working to restore the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Other city green programs included working on a draft ordinance for riparian buffer zones, introducing an eco-friendly ice-melt alternative to sand and salt called Beet Heet, and supporting initiatives by TCLP to install an EV charging station on Hastings Street and launch an on-bill financing program to help residents pay for energy efficiency improvements.
Community Health, Quality of Life
According to staff, “the city pivoted in several areas to continue providing municipal services and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” While the pandemic caused a decrease in state and federal resources allocated to the region, careful recalibration kept the city “healthy in terms of financial stability” and on track for a strong 2021, the report states. Highlights included:
> The adaption of the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market to a virtual market, which generated $164,750 in sales for 49 vendors throughout the season.
> Raising $60,775 in donations in 10 days for the DDA’s Buy Local Give Local program to support local businesses during the pandemic and donating needed items to area nonprofits. The DDA’s Giving Thanks by Giving Meals program provided 631 meals from 8 downtown restaurants to 6 local organizations.
> In addition to closing Front Street last summer, the city also adjusted sidewalk café licenses to promote social distancing and extend operating timelines. Overall, the city issued 402 permits and licenses across 30 different categories of business. Other pandemic-related pivots included suspending utility shutoffs and penalties, approving 40 percent rent reductions for businesses operating on city property, and approving extended operation hours for Safe Harbor.
> The city streets division was responsible for 207.03 miles of snow removal during each snowfall, not including parking lots. The city also hosted more than 16,000 skiers at Hickory Hills during the 2019-20 winter season.
City efforts to keep operations running smoothly during the pandemic did not go unnoticed by outside observers. As in previous years, Traverse City racked up numerous accolades in 2020, including:
> Most Vibrant Art City (SMU Data Arts, September 2020)
> 10 Most Affordable Places to Retire on the Water (U.S. News & World Report, May 2020)
> Best Road Trips in the U.S. (Outside Magazine, August 2020)
> Prettiest Towns in the U.S.A. (Conde Nast Traveler, February 2020)
> America’s 50 Best Cities to Live (MSN Money, February 2020)
> Best Cities to Retire In (Lists For All, March 2020)
> Best Racing Cities in the U.S. (Race Raves, November 2020)
> Best Day Trip in Every State (Reader’s Digest, September 2020)
> Best Hikes in the U.S. (Conde Nast Traveler, July 2020)