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Five Ways to Beat Traffic in TC: Improve South Airport RoadPrint

Thriving Communities | January 6, 2014 | By James Bruckbauer

Thousands of cars hustle down S. Airport Road each day, mostly at rush hours, making it completely unsafe for anyone traveling on foot, bike or bus.

You’re not an official Traverse City-area resident until you’ve sat at a traffic light on South Airport Road at rush hour, frustrated at the lack of movement. It seems like the traffic lights have all plotted behind your back to prevent you from getting where you need to go.

South Airport Road, the region’s main east-west route, is choked with industrial parks, strip-malls, fast food joints—and lots of cars. It’s a busy road for motorists, and dangerous for people who bus, bike or walk. But a series of small changes, like improving those inefficient traffic lights, could keep you moving.

South Airport became the region’s “strip mall” road in 1974 when it was widened from two to four lanes and attracted heavy traffic and development between Garfield and Cass roads. In 1991, part of it was widened again to five lanes to accommodate the area's first regional mall. Since the new development was only reachable by car, it’s not surprising that the road is now beyond its traffic capacity. Thousands of cars hustle down the road each day, mostly at rush hours, making it completely unsafe for anyone traveling on foot, bike or bus.

While some local officials believe a major bypass around Traverse City would relieve congestion on the busy road, our scarce transportation dollars would be better spent on lower-cost and more effective solutions that are proven to work and carry public support. Tweaks in how the road is designed could help motorists get from point A to point B faster and more efficiently, relieve the stop-and-go during busy times, and make it safer for people traveling without a car.

Here are a few options:

·      Make intersections more efficient by re-timing traffic lights so that they stay green for motorists driving the speed limit, or by constructing roundabouts.

·      Combine commercial driveways and add “service drives” shared by several businesses so that cars traveling to neighboring destinations don’t re-enter South Airport.

·      Add turn lanes only to or from new service drives to separate slow and fast moving vehicles.

·      Add sidewalks and encourage property owners to develop buildings closer together so that people can park once and walk to their destinations.

·      Improve transit service along the road and provide bus-shelter turn-outs for buses to pick up and drop off passengers.

·      Reduce the number of Traverse City commuters who drive alone to work.

Thankfully, some changes are already on the way. The Grand Traverse Road Commission, under the leadership of Jim Cook, plans to improve the timing of traffic signals, and Garfield Township officials said they are interested in creating new designs for the area.

Improving South Airport is just one of a set of strategies to reduce congestion in the Traverse City area, including improvements to Division and Grandview Parkway, upgrading Keystone and Beitner roads, and making it easier for people to get around without a car.


James Bruckbauer is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s transportation policy specialist. Follow him on Twitter at @jimbruckb. Reach him at