Traverse City News and Events

Short-Cut Or Neighborhood? Residents Raise Alarm About Peninsula Drive

By Craig Manning | Jan. 15, 2021

Some consider it the “cut through,” a quick way to get from downtown to Old Mission Peninsula. But Bruce Byl and his neighbors along Peninsula Drive between The Blue Goat and Bryant Park consider it their neighborhood, and an increasingly dangerous street. Byl and his neighbors are asking city officials for additional speed limit enforcement and other safety upgrades – and changes might finally be coming.

“I don't think we're perceived as a neighborhood, per se,” Byl says. “I think we're just perceived as part of M-37, and as a quick straight shot to the city.”

Byl thinks the problem is a combination of drivers being careless, sudden speed limit shifts, and intersection designs that allow cars to turn onto Peninsula Drive without slowing down.

That treatment of Peninsula Drive as an alternative thoroughfare is not new. Byl acknowledges that eastbound and westbound drivers have long used the stretch of road to avoid the traffic light at Garfield Avenue and Front Street. However, Byl has felt in recent years that the problem was getting progressively worse – something his research confirmed. Citing traffic counts from the City of Traverse City, Byl says there was a 79 percent increase in vehicles on the 900 block of Peninsula Drive between 2017 and 2018. (The city has not updated its traffic count documents since February of 2019.)

Captain Keith Gillis of the Traverse City Police Department (TCPD) tells The Ticker that accident numbers at the Peninsula Drive/Front Street intersection have followed a general increase trend in recent years, climbing from 23 in 2016 to 28 in 2019. In 2020, TCPD only tracked 13 accidents at that intersection, though Gillis notes the lower number could be an outlier due to how the pandemic has affected driving habits.

In November, Byl launched a neighborhood campaign asking the city to take action in making Peninsula Drive safer. In a November letter to City Manager Marty Colburn, Assistant City Manager Penny Hill, Engineer Technician Jessica Carpenter, Police Chief Jeff O’Brien, and Planning Director Russ Soyring, Byl urged immediate measures. “How do we collectively go about resolving this issue once and for all?” he wrote. “How do we create a SAFE neighborhood street before a tragedy occurs? When will we be able to retrieve our mail, enter the street from our driveways or walk/bike in the pedestrian paths without the constant threat of speeders and distracted drivers who have proven they have no respect for our neighborhood?”

Kathleen Matkovich and Kim Smith, homeowners who live on the affected block of Peninsula Drive, are happy there is finally a discussion about the road’s traffic patterns. Both are parents who say the prevalence of speeding cars affects everything from where they let their kids play to how they get their kids to school.

“There's a bus stop on our street, but I don't trust [the drivers on our road] enough to walk down to the bus stop,” says Matkovich, whose daughter is four years old. “As my daughter gets older, I would definitely be worried to let her walk home, if she ever wanted to.”

“I don’t even let my kids go to the mailbox,” Smith says. “My kids are 16, 13, and seven, so now I have a new driver turning out onto that street and that also terrifies me.”

Since November, a dialogue between Byl, his neighbors, and city officials has led to a list of initiatives that could affect the future of Peninsula Drive. Colburn tells The Ticker that TCPD has already ramped up its scrutiny of the street and warns local drivers that traffic stops and tickets will likely be more common.

Other steps could include “traffic calming” tactics such as narrowing the driving lanes and widening the shoulder, adding more speed limit indicators, installing permanent or seasonal speed bumps, and installing radar signs tracking speeds.

The city planning department has "potential traffic calming for Peninsula Drive" included as a proposed project in its six-year capital improvement program, which is on the docket for consideration at the planning commission's meeting Wednesday.

As for more significant overhauls, Byl has suggested everything from putting in a roundabout by Bryant Park to closing the Blue Goat intersection entirely. Colburn says the city already has plans in place to revamp and narrow the Peninsula/Front Street intersection in 2023. That project could solve two problems: slow down cars by creating more of a 90-degree turn onto Peninsula Drive, and create a safer pedestrian crossing by the Blue Goat. A redesign of the Bryant Park intersection, Colburn notes, might be further off, due to some question about who is responsible for that part of the roadway.

“On M-37, there had been a plan by the state to turn over that portion [of Peninsula Drive] to the city, and the city was willing to receive it,” Colburn explains. “That process has been stalled because there’s been further discussion and debate between the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, and Peninsula Township.” He adds that the city is taking this matter “very seriously” and will be working with the state, the county, and the neighborhood to identify the best short and long-term solutions.

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