There’s a new plan to fix Division Street in Traverse City. The street has long been considered one of the most dangerous routes in northern Michigan, especially for people walking or biking.
Four years ago, voters agreed to give up some city park land for the project. Now the plan is in the hands of the city commission.
Traverse City Commissioner Gary Howe says the section of the road between 14th Street and the bay is confusing and dangerous.
“It’s trying to do a lot, all in a very tight space and in a context that kind of pushes back against it,” says Howe. “It disconnects two neighborhoods. It’s difficult to navigate, no matter what mode you’re in. It has several intersections that are in the top ten of the most dangerous in northern Michigan, let alone the city.”
The new plan from the Michigan Department of Transportation calls for a stop light at 11th Street, new sidewalks on the east side of the road and two new roundabouts – one at 14th Street and another at Grandview Parkway.
Howe likes the roundabouts but says they might be polarizing in the community.
“Roundabouts are, I like to say, an elegant compromise,” he says. “The test will really be for the decision makers to really look at the facts, look at the numbers, look at the arguments going forward and not just make decisions based on opinions.”
Terry Coleman, club manager at the Elks Lodge, calls the roundabout plan “ridiculous.”
“It’s already congested,” says Coleman. “We don’t know how that’s going to work with the trucks coming through here and the traffic and pedestrians. Nobody has really come up with a good, honest solution on what’s going to make it a better intersection. A roundabout is definitely not in our line of thinking.”
To add insult to injury, a chunk of the Elks Lodge’s land would need to be taken to fit in the new roundabout.
An eye for pedestrians and bicycles
TART Trails Executive Director Julie Clark is an advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians. She says she likes the proposed roundabouts on Division Street, but the devil is in the details.
“The design is critical,” says Clark. “Because you can make it so it’s a very difficult challenge to get across a roundabout. The point of roundabouts is that they move automobiles … quickly and fluidly, and if you don’t design them well, you make it very difficult for a pedestrian and a bicyclist to get across.”
Clark is happy that new sidewalks are in the final plan, and she wants to see wider medians – what she calls “refuge islands” – for pedestrians.
But what she says is really important is to slow down the traffic.
“I don’t think we’re going to land on perfection, but if you are expected - and it’s designed - to go 25 miles per hour, that’s a lot safer environment for pedestrians and bicycles to cross and use Division Street,” says Clark.
'A big improvement' for drivers
One especially tricky maneuver for drivers on Division is turning left – pretty much anywhere.
Raymond Minervini makes a left turn onto 11th Street every morning on his way to the office at the Grand Traverse Commons. He’s happy the Michigan Department of Transportation wants to put in a new stop light at the intersection.
“When I’m doing it, I’m always looking in my rear-view mirror to make sure there’s not somebody on their cell phone coming up behind me at 45 miles an hour,” says Minervini. “So I think, from a safety point of view, that would be a big improvement.”
Minervini has also been participating in the planning process for Division Street for the last five years. He says the amount of time that’s been spent talking about plans has left him just a little bit cynical that he’ll ever actually see it finished.
“I just want to see it built at some point,” says Minervini. “We’ve been talking about it for so long, and we’re hitting it at a point when there’s no state highway money. So, it’s going to be a while.”
The plan is now in the hands of the Traverse City Commission, which will discuss it Monday night. But there is a ticking clock on the project. If Division Street is not finished by 2022, another public vote would be needed for the city to give up that park land.