Traverse City News and Events

City Leaders To Weigh In On Proposed TART Trail Expansion

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 29, 2022

Racing against the clock of a planned spring 2023 start date of the complete reconstruction of Grandview Parkway – a once-in-a-generation project expected to significantly redesign the downtown highway and have a months-long traffic impact next year – Traverse City planning commissioners and Parks and Recreation commissioners will weigh in next week on plans to widen and extend the TART Trail as part of that project. Consulting group Progressive AE is helping city, Downtown Development Authority (DDA), and TART Trails staff with a conceptual design plan to more than double the trail width in places – up to 16 feet wide – and eventually extend past the Senior Center down Peninsula Drive to the Bryant Park intersection. Support from city officials could give TART Trails staff the green light to work on finalizing engineering plans and securing funding so trail work can happen at the same time as road reconstruction next year.

City planning commissioners will review the TART Trail expansion at their 7pm Tuesday meeting, while Parks and Recreation commissioners will discuss the proposal at their 6:30pm meeting Thursday. City commissioners and DDA board members are also expected to review the project at upcoming meetings. According to a memo from City Planning Director Shawn Winter, the Grandview Parkway project “provides an opportunity to address non-motorized transportation improvements along the corridor” in addition to redesigning the road. The downtown TART Trail experienced over two million trail visits annually in 2018 and 2019, according to trail counters, and “the increasing trend in trail use is expected to continue,” Winter says.

Despite the trail’s heavy usage and its premium location along “a world-class waterway and bayfront,” according to TART Trails Executive Director Julie Clark, the trail is only 6-8 feet wide in many stretches and doesn’t have enough capacity to handle growing summer traffic. “It’s simply not enough space,” says Clark. “We are looking at expanding the trail size and separating uses, so it’s a better and more comfortable trail experience for users.”

Conceptual design plans show a 16-foot-wide trail with 10 feet dedicated to bidirectional bicycle use and six feet dedicated to pedestrian use. “The added width will address the capacity limitations and new pavement markings or physical separation of pedestrians and bicyclists will address user conflicts by creating space for modes operating at different speeds,” according to Winter’s memo. He noted that “careful attention is being paid to any potential impacts widening the trail would have on the waterfront parks,” adding that “there are instances where the pedestrian and bicycle components of the trail could separate to preserve existing trees.” The trail alignment is proposed to shift north along the volleyball courts to reduce winter snow buildup that occurs now due to plowing, while a proposed raised crossing at Marina Drive would slow down vehicles as they approach the trail crossing.

The expanded trail would pass Delamar Traverse City, Sunset Park, the Traverse City Senior Center, and NMC’s Great Lakes Campus. A future trail connection could lead east from the Senior Center beach to and down Peninsula Drive, opening up the opportunity “for future connections to NMC, Traverse City Central High School, Eastern Elementary, the Civic Center, and other points of interest in and around the base of the peninsula,” according to Winter. However, staff noted that the trail may need to narrow as it heads east due to right-of-way constraints and anticipated decreased usage. “Staff recommends further design work and time for more input to understand how a trail facility or improved non-motorized access might support community needs and address current issues of speed, traffic, and lack of safe non-motorized access along Peninsula Drive,” Winter wrote. “Staff also believes further focus is needed to provide improved non-motorized access at the intersection of Garfield and Front.”

Winter and Clark are part of a group of community leaders meeting regularly with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) as the state works to finalize its design plans for Grandview Parkway. MDOT will hold two virtual public meetings next week on the reconstruction plans on Wednesday and Thursday from 5pm-7pm, including a question-and-answer period. State officials are likely to address non-motorized improvements as part of those meetings, with MDOT stating that the reconstruction project will “improve safety at several intersections for all users of the highway, and make it more convenient and comfortable for crossing pedestrians and bicyclists.” Noting it is working with TART Trails and Norte on design components, MDOT said it plans to add a “pedestrian crossing at Peninsula Drive with an island refuge and wider sidewalks; add a pedestrian crossing and improve geometry at Front Street; improve the pedestrian crossing at Division Street; and partner with TART and the city to accommodate extending the trail to the east (Sunset Park, Hagerty Center, and Senior Center) and widen where possible.”

Winter and Clark agree MDOT has been open to ideas and feedback on design components for the project, including the TART Trail expansion. “Our hope is to be able to make improvements to the trail at the same time as the Parkway improvements are happening, because that's going to have a massive construction footprint,” says Clark. “We want to make sure we’re as tied together as possible. Ideally we'd love to see the trail expansion unveiled at the same time as the Parkway’s grand opening. We spend the year of 2023 under construction and then it’s done, so the community only has to go through it once.”

Clark acknowledges that timeline will require an “ambitious” effort among consultants and city and TART Trails staff to get feedback from all the various city boards on the trail expansion, finalize design and engineering plans, secure funds, and obtain property easements from groups like NMC and Delamar to widen the trail on their properties. Winter and Clark say they’ve already had positive conversations with those property owners and are gathering input on their design needs, though no easement agreements have yet been finalized.

Speaking by phone with The Ticker while on the Boardman Lake Trail loop – another project that required aggressive regional collaboration to complete – Clark says she is “optimistic” the TART Trail expansion can happen in conjunction with the Grandview Parkway reconstruction if local partners are on board. “We think we can do it,” she says. “We’ve got our work cut out for us the next six to twelve months, but the first step is finding out, what does the community want? If this is embraced by the community and identified as a priority…and there’s a coordinated effort between all the partners, it can happen.”

Photo credit: Progressive AE

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