Traverse City News and Events

Here's The New Design For Eighth Street

May 21, 2016

Three traffic lanes. Two protected cycle tracks. Pedestrian sidewalks and mid-block crossings. Green landscaping featuring flowers, bushes and trees.

That’s the new vision for Eighth Street unveiled Friday at an open house at the Park Place Hotel Dome following a public week-long charrette process. More than 200 residents attended meetings Monday and Wednesday to help narrow down design options to reach a final preferred plan for the corridor stretching from Union Street to Barlow Street.

Residents overwhelming favored a three-lane design featuring two travel lanes and a center turn lane. In what will be the first street plan of its kind in Traverse City, the design also calls for eliminating bike lanes from the road, instead introducing protected “cycle tracks.”

Such tracks – one going in either direction, mirroring the flow of traffic – offer bicyclists their own designated path off the road next to the sidewalk. A tree lawn between the curb and cycle track further buffers bikes from cars and allows for scenic landscaping in the corridor.

“The presence of a cycle track doesn’t deny a bicyclist the right to travel in traffic with cars,” Doug Farr of consulting design firm Farr Associates explained. “The legal right exists for the bicycle to be in traffic.” But for users who’d rather not risk the road, cycle tracks offer a protected way to travel the corridor and are safer than on-street bike lanes, he said.

The preferred design also calls for raised mid-block crossings with landscaped islands, which would provide “refuge” spots for pedestrians trying to cross the corridor.

While Farr Associates unveiled only a simplistic sketch of the preferred design Friday, the firm hinted at several major recommendations likely to be included when a complete detailed schematic is presented to the community on June 29. Those include eventually realigning Railroad Avenue and Woodmere Avenue to merge into one consolidated intersection with Eighth Street, and extending Station Street all the way up to Boardman Avenue.

Farr also spoke of encouraging more “lake-to-lake” streets, or roads that extend from Boardman Lake to Grand Traverse Bay. He cited as an example the possibility of adding a signal at Franklin Street and creating pedestrian access from that road down to Boardman Lake as a way to better connect neighborhoods now divided by Eighth.

Desired building heights and zoning preferences will also be reflected in the final design. Farr noted that a majority of residents favored buildings between four and five stories tall along Eighth Street, calling it the “sweet spot” in a range of options that went as high as 10 stories. Feedback became more conflicted when residents were given the option to create limited tall-building quadrants – called “gateway” zones – at either end of the corridor near Woodmere and Boardman avenues.

“Unlike the street section, we’re not getting a clear signal (on building height),” Farr said. He noted the firm could potentially host one more public workshop before June 29 to “drill down” on resident preferences for development along the corridor. Many residents expressed a willingness to allow taller buildings if such projects included workforce housing – a scenario Farr said could be written into the zoning plan.

In terms of actually implementing the new design, many of the features could be tackled in phases, according to the consultants. One scenario that jumped to the top of the list for immediate investment was improving the alleys both north and south of Eighth Street, said Farr. He explained that upgrading the alleys and providing better rear access to businesses could allow many of the front driveways along Eighth to be consolidated or eliminated, significantly improving traffic flow.

Upgraded alleys could also provide “reliable parallel routes” during the complete reconstruction of Eighth Street in 2018, Farr said. “Businesses do take it on the chin during streetscape projects,” he said. “It’s a tough period. Also drivers who use this corridor to get to and from work and home will be inconvenienced for the duration of construction. So having reliable parallel routes is (important).”

City Planning Director Russ Soyring tells The Ticker he agrees the city could first consider prioritizing alley improvements in the coming months in preparation for the 2018 reconstruction project. That project – which was the catalyst for both the experimental lane restriping on Eighth Street and the planning charrette – is where the majority of the new design features will likely be considered for implementation.

“It could be done in segments, but there are definitely economies of scale that let you mobilize equipment if you want to do the whole thing,” Soyring says. “I would hate to do an incomplete street. I’d rather just tear it up and do it all at once.”

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