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Brian Beauchamp: Can Grand Vision Fix TC’s Big Division?Print

Thriving Communities | February 12, 2009 | By Brian Beauchamp

Some Traverse City residents want to the state to re-stripe busy Division St. from four lanes into three, with bike and left-turn lanes—as was done to this formerly four-lane highway in Lexington.

Traverse City’s Division Street is well named. It routes a major highway, U.S. 31, through the city’s east side, but very effectively divides the Grand Traverse Commons, the city’s most exiting redevelopment project, and Munson Medical Center, the region’s largest employer, from the downtown and a large swatch of the city’s most walkable neighborhoods. While it moves thousands of cars each day in and out of the city, Division St. is effectively a dangerous barrier for bikers and pedestrians who eschew the car when making this short cross-town trip.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday area residents got their first look at a draft Grand Vision, a 50-year growth and transportation plan that about 12,000 people from throughout the six-county Grand Traverse region helped to craft over the past 16 months. The draft, which is open to public comments until Feb. 18, reflects what a very large number of citizens clearly want: development pointed toward established villages and towns, and affordable housing located within walking or biking distance of jobs, shopping, and recreation. The participants want traffic to move well, of course, but not at the expense of getting around town safely without a car.

That pushed Grand Vision consultants to identify Division as a major corridor that they will analyze and engineer for improving flow for cars and safety for bikers and walkers.

As luck would have it, the Michigan Department of Transportation, a major financial supporter of the Grand Vision, has long had plans for resurfacing Division Street this summer.

However, MDOT officials say funding for Division only covers grinding up the existing surface and replacing it with fresh pavement that has better traction. So this necessary maintenance is not an opportunity for significantly changing the road’s design to help out walkers or bikers. Such projects, they explain, require funding from a different pot of MDOT money. That means skipping any redesign, even re-striping to make more room for bikes and turn lanes, while the crucial traffic artery is torn up during the town’s heaviest traffic season.

Some city residents don’t want to wait for their Grand safety improvements until after MDOT spends $4 million resurfacing Division St. Earlier last week a roomful of them showed up at a City of Traverse City Commission meeting to encourage members to make sure that this summer’s work on Division makes it more walkable and bikeable, as well as better for cars.

The commission unanimously voted to send a letter to the Grand Vision consultant team asking them to accelerate their engineering study of how best to improve walkability and bikeablity along Division St between the waterfront and 14th St., and send the study to MDOT.