Traverse City News and Events

Traffic Projects On Deck: Pedestrian Crossings, Front/Madison, Parking Rate Study

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 4, 2019

More than 1,500 people have responded to a Traverse City survey on a contentious four-way stop at the intersection of West Front and Madison streets, with city commissioners set to discuss the results Monday and consider the future of the design. It’s one of several traffic and parking-related projects on deck for the city.

City staff installed a temporary four-way stop at the intersection of West Front and Madison streets in July to address concerns from Slabtown Neighborhood about speeding and a lack of safe pedestrian crossings in the corridor. After commissioners agreed in October to extend the experiment another 90 days to allow city staff to gather more data on its efficacy, the city posted a public survey asking for input on the design. The survey cutoff was end-of-day Tuesday, by which time more than 1,500 people had responded, according to City Clerk Benjamin Marentette.

“It certainly speaks to how motorists feel about the installation of a four-way stop…the comments were that it requires a lot more commute time and is less safe,” says Marentette of the survey results. He notes that the majority of respondents self-identified as motorists – only 257 indicated they use the Front/Madison intersection as a pedestrian – with 35.5 percent of respondents identifying as city residents. The rest of participants belonged to categories including non-city residents, commuters, and business owners.

City staff are still synthesizing the survey results, which will be presented in detail to commissioners at their Monday study session, but Marentette acknowledges there appears to be strong negative pushback against the four-way stop. Commissioners will discuss the survey data and provide staff direction on whether they want to keep the intersection change permanent – a move that will require a vote at a future meeting – or to let the temporary traffic control order expire at the end of its 90-day trial, at which point the four-way stop would be removed.

Commissioners are also considering options to improve safety at other city intersections by installing year-round pedestrian signage in key corridors. Commissioner Tim Werner questioned last month why the city removes its in-street pedestrian signs from crosswalks between November and April, saying that many residents walk year-round and that the city shouldn’t focus exclusively on tourism season safety. Other commissioners agreed, asking staff to investigate options for year-round signage.

At this week’s commission meeting, City Manager Marty Colburn came back with a list of potential recommendations and reviewed the city’s snow-plowing process, which poses challenges to leaving signs up in the middle of the street during the winter, he said. Telling plow drivers to just drive around signs to avoid them “sounds good until you’re in a snow blizzard in the middle of the night, not good lighting, and you’re trying to push tons of snow,” Colburn said. “The last thing one of our drivers wants to do is kick up a 50-pound piece of steel into a vehicle, or worse yet, a pedestrian. So there’s a real concern of safety.”

Staff could work either internally or with a third-party contractor to remove in-street signs during snow events and then replace them when roads are cleared; at an estimated 40 snow events per season, those costs could range from $20,000 to $71,000 annually, Colburn said. A more appealing option to commissioners was putting pedestrian signs up on the curbs of either side of key intersections, a project cost estimated at $11,500 for 24 signs (12 intersections). “Being a pedestrian in this town is not always safe and trying to be a pedestrian in the wintertime makes it even less safe,” said Commissioner Christie Minervini. “If we as city commissioners can do something, even at a cost of $11,500, to promote safety for our residents who are walking, I would certainly be behind that.”

Other commissioners agreed, with Mayor Jim Carruthers saying that pedestrian signs “do affect people’s behavior” and Commissioner Ashlea Walter adding she’d love to see Traverse City act as a “leader in (being a) year-round pedestrian-friendly community, and not just in the tourist season. This would be an excellent opportunity to try that out at a relatively low cost.” Staff agreed to fine-tune a recommendation on ordering and installing curb signage and to bring it back for consideration at a future meeting.

Commissioners this week also postponed a decision on a request from the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to change city parking rules to prohibit car storage in parking decks. The DDA has been trying to combat vehicle owners purchasing monthly permits – which cost $48 and allow holders to park 24/7 in a city deck – and using them to store their vehicles long-term. DDA staff acknowledged the permit rates are so low that they’re undercutting parking costs at Cherry Capital Airport and in local storage garages, making the decks a more attractive option for owners looking to stash their cars. Long-term storage reduces the supply of spaces available for employees, downtown visitors, and other short-term parkers, staff said.

Commissioners acknowledged challenges posed by long-term deck storage, but expressed concerns about the proposal as written, such as an exception that would still allow DDA residents to use the deck for long-term parking but not other residents. The commission asked DDA staff to spend more time honing the proposal, especially in light of the DDA’s embarking on a new study that will analyze every parking rate in the city. Parking Director Nicole VanNess said the DDA is reviewing “every single rate” – including some that haven’t been adjusted in over a decade – and considering price changes, new parking offerings, different lengths of stay, and tiered rate structures to redistribute parking demand downtown and extend more options to drivers.

With recommendations likely coming soon to city leaders for changes to parking rates across the district, the DDA could address the parking garage storage issue by changing permit prices or offering differing tiers of permits that allow for different lengths of stay, commissioners and DDA staff agreed. “They do seek us out because we are below market (rate), and that’s why we’re looking at the rates right now,” said DDA CEO Jean Derenzy. “We haven’t touched the rates in quite some time, but that’s going to take time to be able to look into a thorough study of the rate structure.”

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