Traverse City News and Events

Downtown Two-Way Street Conversion, Civic Square Demolition On DDA Agenda

By Beth Milligan | June 16, 2022

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members will consider approving a two-to-four-year pilot project Friday to convert State Street, Pine Street, and Boardman Avenue to two-way traffic, and will also vote on a $109,000 contract with Elmer’s Crane and Dozer to demolish the former bank building and drive-thru at the corner of Union and State streets – the future home of a new downtown civic square.

Two-Way Downtown Streets
After commissioning a traffic modeling study from consulting firm Progressive AE, whose report this spring recommended converting some downtown Traverse City streets to two-way traffic, a subcommittee of the DDA board worked with firm representatives and city staff to evaluate next steps. The subcommittee’s recommendations will be presented to DDA board members Friday, including a request to approve a pilot project for two years – with the potential to expand the study for two more years beyond that – to convert State Street, Pine Street, and Boardman Avenue to two-way traffic. As part of its traffic study, Progressive AE also looked at converting Front Street to two-way traffic, but ultimately did not recommend changing that corridor.

State Street was temporarily converted to two-way traffic when Front Street was closed to vehicles in summer 2020 to make more room for pedestrians during the pandemic. DDA CEO Jean Derenzy previously told The Ticker the DDA decided to further explore two-way options for several reasons, including slowing traffic on State Street – which occurred during the 2020 two-way conversion – and improving vehicle flow and accessibility downtown, including making it easier for customers to reach businesses.

The subcommittee looked at examples of other communities that changed downtown streets from one-way to two-way and cited several examples of positive outcomes in its report to the DDA board. In West Balm Beach, Florida, retail vacancies dropped from 50 percent to 0 percent and property values substantially increased when Clematis Street was changed to two-way traffic. A two-way conversion project on Vine Street in Cincinnati, Ohio, saw increased economic development and improved access and visibility for businesses. New Albany, Indiana, converted more than four miles of city streets to two-way traffic; the city’s police chief, Todd Bailey, reported a subsequent decrease in pedestrian accidents, speeding, and vehicle crashes. “It has been our observation that the new designs allow for motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians to all interact in a much smoother manner,” Bailey said in the report.

The report also outlined improved transit options when moving from a one-way to two-way corridor. “One-way streets require transit stops to be located on two different streets for the same route, causing confusion,” the subcommittee noted. “On a two-way street, the stops may be located across the street from each other, making the system more intuitive for users.” Additional turning movements, recirculation, and more vehicle miles affect buses and other transit options in a one-way corridor, according to the report, and can lead to higher fuel costs and impacted timetables for riders.

Converting State, Pine, and Boardman on a trial basis for a few years will allow the DDA to “implement, iterate, tweak, adjust, monitor, and operate mobility infrastructure all while coordinating the timing of the pilot with construction and maintenance activities,” according to Chris Zull of Progressive AE. “Additionally, it is recommended that the pilot project seek routine feedback from staff, stakeholders, and the public, collect key data points, focus on outcomes-based decision making, and clearly identify measures of success.”

If approved by the DDA board, the pilot project would next go to the city commission for approval on July 20, followed by an anticipated fall launch of the street conversion. Derenzy has allocated $400,000 in the 2022-23 DDA budget – which will be adopted by board members Friday – to pay for upgrades at the Larry C. Hardy Parking Garage to accommodate two-way traffic on State Street. That would include reversing the current exit and entry lanes and installing a new ticketing island and additional pay stations. Deck equipment upgrades were already budgeted for in 2025 in the city’s capital improvement plan; Derenzy recommended accelerating the investment to align with the pilot project. The report notes additional changes will need to be made in the study area, including potential signal modifications and the removal of islands at the Pine/Front, State/Boardman, and Boardman/Front intersections.

Civic Square Demolition
DDA board members will consider approving a $109,000 contract Friday with Elmer’s Crane and Dozer to demolish the former bank building and drive-thru at the southeast corner of Union and State streets. The DDA purchased the property from Huntington Bank last fall as the future site of a long-planned downtown civic square.

According to a memo from Derenzy, work will begin on demolition as soon as possible after contract approval, with Elmer’s expected to complete the project within 50 days. The company would be on deadline for “substantial completion” of demolition by September 13, the memo states. “Once the building is demolished, the site will be restored with grass and not be used as a temporary parking lot,” Derenzy wrote. Costs for demolition will be covered by a $2 million grant the DDA received from the state of Michigan in 2018 for the civic square project. Rotary is expected to release another $1 million in funding for the project shortly, a grant first announced by the organization in 2018.

A civic square has been included in DDA planning documents for nearly three decades. Uses proposed for the space have ranged from a winter ice skating rink and dedicated site for the downtown Christmas tree to a space for live music and public performances to park amenities like benches and fountains. The DDA will issue a request-for-proposals (RFP) later this summer to find a firm to lead the community through a design process for the civic square. In the meantime, Derenzy says the DDA is “working on ideas to activate the space (for public use) for the fall and winter of 2022.”

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