Traverse City News and Events

TC DDA Eyes Plans For Two-Way Conversion Of State Street, Boardman Avenue

By Beth Milligan | April 21, 2022

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members will discuss a recommendation Friday to convert State Street and the section of Boardman Avenue between State and Front streets to two-way traffic, a project that could first kick off with a test period over this fall and winter.  

Chris Zull, lead traffic engineer for Progressive AE, will present findings to the DDA board Friday from a traffic modeling study the firm completed exploring the impacts of converting downtown Traverse City’s street grid to two-way traffic. While Zull’s report won’t be released until Friday’s meeting, DDA CEO Jean Derenzy says the consultant is recommending converting State Street and the one-way portion of Boardman Avenue to two-way traffic. 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. Progressive AE also analyzed converting Front Street to two-way traffic as part of the study, but is not recommending the DDA change that corridor, according to Derenzy.

Derenzy says the DDA decided to study two-way options for several reasons, including wanting to “reinforce a ‘to’ mobility strategy for downtown, versus a ‘though’ strategy.” The DDA also hopes to slow traffic on State Street, which occurred during the 2020 two-way conversion. “It definitely slows the traffic, and it’s less confusing to the driver,” she says. “When you’re in downtown, you don’t need fast traffic. You need low traffic.”

Slower traffic helps with not only safety but economic development, according to Derenzy. For example, with two new eateries – a relocated Cousin Jenny’s and Playa Bowls – soon opening in the Socks Construction building near the Park Place Hotel, customers could easily access those and other State Street businesses from both directions without having to navigate the Front-Union-State directional pattern currently in place. “There’s less doing the loop,” Derenzy says. Two-way traffic improves overall grid flow and circulation and encourages more private investment along accessible streets, Derenzy says.

Converting Boardman Avenue to two-way traffic between Front and State will also help with that flow, according to Derenzy, as well as diverting vehicles away from Boardman neighborhood. The DDA is seeking ways to better protect downtown residential neighborhoods from spillover traffic and parking impacts. A two-way flow will allow drivers trying to get to the Eighth Street/Boardman intersection to do so by heading directly south on Boardman Avenue from Front Street –  instead of cutting through neighborhood streets, as many drivers currently do.

According to Derenzy, Progressive AE collected traffic data in June and July 2021 to model impacts of a two-way street conversion downtown. Because bridge construction was going on during that time, the firm also looked at historical traffic capacity to model traffic conditions and patterns under normal conditions when no construction is underway. Progressive AE also conducted Interviews, public engagement sessions, and surveys with property owners, businesses, residents, and elected officials as part of the study. In addition, one-on-one meetings were conducted with the city’s public works department to review how two-way traffic would impact maintenance, especially winter plowing.

Addressing concerns over plowing and the impacts of two-way traffic on the State Street entrance to the Hardy Parking Garage will both require the DDA to take steps before going straight to a permanent two-way conversion. With board support, Derenzy says the DDA will seek to pilot the two-way flow this fall and winter to see how the layout works in cold-weather conditions. The DDA will also have to pick one of two options – a “minimal” approach or an “upgrade” approach – to reconfigure the parking deck entrance to handle two-way traffic. That’s because the deck’s existing exit/entrance layouts, turning radiuses, and ticketing machines are configured to handle cars coming from the west, not the east.

In the “minimal” approach, estimated at $70,000, the current entry and exit lanes would be reversed. Instead of drivers pulling a ticket when they enter the garage – since the ticketing island wouldn’t be properly configured – the gates would simply be left up. That will require drivers to go a pay station and pay by license plate, with permit holders also registered by license plate. Derenzy acknowledges it will be more difficult to enforce violations with the gates left up, estimating it could cost the DDA a 40 percent revenue loss at the deck.

In the “upgrade” approach, estimated at $400,000, the DDA would construct a new ticketing island between the reversed entry and exit lanes so drivers could pull a ticket as usual. Additional pay stations would also be installed. Derenzy says she’ll recommend that board members go with the “upgrade” approach, noting that the new equipment is already budgeted for in 2025 in the city’s capital improvement plan. Ordering it early could reduce conflict points and driver confusion at the deck and make for a more successful pilot; even if the two-way conversion experiment fails, the new equipment will still be needed and used at the garage, Derenzy says.

DDA board members will talk through Progressive AE’s findings Friday and have a chance to “digest” the report before making a decision on the pilot, with city staff and commissioners also weighing in, Derenzy says. If the DDA moves forward, part of the process will be determining metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the pilot so “we can determine it was successful or not and if (a two-way conversion) is a permanent solution,” Derenzy says.

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