Redesigning Division Street
By Beth Milligan | June 6, 2019
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will redesign a key section of Division Street either next year or 2021, introducing pedestrian islands, new sidewalks, and dedicated left-turn lanes at intersections leading into The Village at Grand Traverse Commons and Central Neighborhood.
Project plans announced by MDOT this week call for the construction of new pedestrian islands on Division Street (US-31/M-37) between Griffin Street and Eleventh Street. The grassy medians will offer a refuge in the middle of the busy highway for pedestrians crossing Division at Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth streets. The islands will “improve safety and crossing comfort for pedestrians” throughout the corridor, according to James Lake, communications representative for MDOT.
Plans also call for the construction of new sidewalks down the east side of Division Street and dedicated left-turn lanes at three intersections. Northbound traffic will now have a left-turn lane into The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, while southbound traffic will have left-turn lanes into Central Neighborhood at Twelfth and Thirteenth streets.
The project is estimated to cost $700,000 and could occur in either fall 2020 or spring 2021, depending on the timing of other construction work, according to Rick Liptak, manager of the MDOT Traverse City Transportation Service Center (TSC). MDOT will put the project out to bid next July. “We’ll be doing the job either into the fall or early in the spring because we know the importance of that corridor in the summer,” Liptak says. MDOT’s goal will be to “maintain as much traffic as possible in each direction” during construction, Liptak says, though work will likely require travel to be restricted to one lane in either direction at times.
MDOT will host a public open house on Tuesday, June 18 from 3pm to 7pm at Kirkbride Hall at The Village to provide an overview of the new design. “The open house is intended for the public to get a general feel for what we’ve identified and come up,” Liptak says. “We’re basically in the middle of design and have substantial design completed, so we’re looking forward to seeing what the public thinks for this area.”
The redesign is the first major project to come out of a 2015 Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study from MDOT analyzing possible traffic improvements on 1.2 miles of Division Street from Fourteenth Street to Grandview Parkway. The $500,000 study – which took nearly 18 months to complete – was paid for by the state’s Roads and Risks Reserve Fund and looked at environmental, historical, cultural, and feasibility issues for multiple design options in the corridor. A final report, prepared by consulting firm CDM Smith, outlined “preferred alternatives” or ideal design scenarios for several key intersections, including installing roundabouts at Grandview Parkway and Fourteenth Street.
On Eleventh Street, the report calls for installing a traffic signal and median at the intersection that has become a frequent source of accidents due to increased traffic attempting to access The Village, the Grand Traverse Pavilions, and Munson Medical Center. “Due to the amount of traffic on Division Street and the fact that there are no turn lanes or signals at some of the busiest intersections within the study area, Division Street has become a difficult road to navigate for both motorized and non-motorized users,” the report states. “One of the biggest issues is northbound left-turning traffic at Eleventh, Sixth, and Randolph streets and southbound turns to Twelfth and Eighth streets. Left-turning vehicles stop in the left travel lane, which reduces the highway to a one-lane road and can lead to frequent crashes.”
While the report recommends solving that problem with both a traffic signal and median at Eleventh, it also acknowledges challenges with a signal. For one, existing traffic volumes do not warrant a signal under MDOT criteria. Central Neighborhood residents also expressed concerns during the PEL process about “increased traffic” to the neighborhood as a result of a signal installation. A signalized intersection would also require the loss of on-street parking along Eleventh Street east of Division.
MDOT’s plans only call for introducing a median to the corridor, not a signal. The design is also meant to minimize the project’s impact on nearby parkland. Under Traverse City’s charter, any city-owned parkland that is divested to another entity – such as MDOT – must first go to voters for approval of ownership transfer. MDOT did seek and receive voter permission in 2012 to obtain up to 30 feet of park property along Division Street for possible traffic improvements, permission that is valid through 2022. However, Lake says the planned median design will not require MDOT to permanently acquire city park property, only to access it for temporary grading permits. The addition of the Eleventh Street turn lane will require realigning approximately 20 feet of city-owned trail, according to MDOT.
Raymond Minervini of The Minervini Group, which owns and manages The Village, says the planned improvements will make the Eleventh Street entrance (pictured) “a lot safer” for drivers. “You’ve got people coming from high speeds near Meijer, 50 miles an hour, and not slowing down much as they cross Fourteenth Street,” he says. “Then suddenly people are stopping and you’ve got cars making moves around those who are stopped to turn left. A lot of accidents happen at that corner because people are using the left lane to make a left turn.”
Minervini says he would welcome additional improvements on Division in the future to calm traffic and provide a better transition between the highway driving environment around Meijer and the neighborhood driving environment around The Village and Central Neighborhood. MDOT representatives hope the medians will act as a visual cue that will produce a traffic-calming effect, though the PEL report could also generate more projects along Division Street to further address traffic woes.
“I don’t think (this project) gets us all the way to where we need to be, but it’s better than nothing,” says Minervini. “We need to slow the traffic down before they get to Fourteenth Street. It’s about looking at everything in that area holistically.”