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Our Choice: What Kind of Road for Boardman Lake?Print

Thriving Communities | February 21, 2011 | By James Bruckbauer

Traverse City officials want your input on a new road that may be built along the west side of Boardman Lake. The road proposal, which has a long history, dating back to 1970’s, will either be a bypass or a lever for new construction in a long-underutilized part of the city.

The first of two community forums on the West Boardman Lake District will be held this Wednesday night, Feb. 23, at the Government Center, in Traverse City. Citizens from throughout the region are encouraged to attend the forum and speak their minds. The process will help shape the area for next 100 years.

Many Old Town residents have been looking for a way to get rid of heavy traffic on Cass and Union Streets. They want a bypass that will give out-of-town commuters more choices for driving across the city.

But others, including the MLUI, are skeptical that a new road would provide the solution Old Town residents are seeking.  In fact evidence indicates that adding a road to reduce congestion usually accomplishes the opposite: more congestion.

If the goal is to create a faster, alternate route for cross-town traffic, then a new road should be a fast one, with dangerous curves, that blocks residents from Boardman Lake, one of the city’s most treasured assets.

But a different, well-designed road could be a great asset to the community, if it’s part of a bigger strategy to create a vibrant, walkable neighborhood filled with pedestrians, shops, and housing.

In other words, as proposed, this project misses the most vital element of quality community design—a clear, well-thought-out plan that looks at the big picture.

We already have a good example of how to handle this issue correctly: the recently approved new Silver Drive access road into the Grand Traverse Commons. It demonstrates that any new road must be designed to include all forms of transportation, especially bikers and pedestrians.

In designing that new road, residents used the Grand Vision to tell officials they wanted less investment in new roads and more investment in transit solutions.

So, instead of reacting to our community’s constantly increasing traffic congestion by merely building another new road, the city should focus on attacking the source of the problem—by reducing the need for automobile use.

As a new Traverse City resident who’s moved here from West Michigan, I’ve seen roads that separate and harm the community and roads that unite and enhance a community.

Not surprisingly, the ones that enhanced the community were part of a larger plan—one that was dedicated to preserving our sense of place, not merely to moving cars along as quickly as possible, no matter the consequences to everyone else.

City residents should take a look at this plan and make their voice heard.

James Bruckbauer is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s transportation policy specialist. Reach him at james@mlui.org.