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Five Ways To Beat Traffic in TC: Manage the DemandPrint

Thriving Communities | January 15, 2014 | By James Bruckbauer

Summertime congestion on South Airport Road in Traverse City. 

Traffic is a hot issue in Traverse City, especially when summer rolls around and visitors flock to the area from all over the county. It’s a top issue among neighborhood groups, elected officials, and everyday commuters. Too much traffic hurts our quality of life.

Yet much of the debate focuses on how to move traffic from one area to another, rather than ways to actually reduce it. Unless we give visitors and workers more options for getting around, congestion will increase.

Since most cars on our busiest roads are heading into Traverse City, not trying to get around it, local leaders should focus on reducing the number of cross-town and commuter car trips.

If just an additional 10% of Grand Traverse area workers carpooled, bused, biked or walked to work, at least 5,000 cars would be taken off local roads. That’s roughly one-fourth the number of cars that drive on Division Street each day in both directions.

Despite the great strides we’ve made creating safer bike routes and improving public transit, locally we’re only scratching the surface in providing reliable, convenient options for commuters and building things close enough together so people can walk or bike to work.

In fact, one of Traverse City’s largest employers recently found out that more than 170 employees live within about five miles of each other in another county—and nearly every one of them drives to work alone.

When we surveyed more than 1,500 local employees last year, we found that many workers want more transportation options like transit, biking, and walking, but they felt that those options aren’t available, and if they are, they aren’t convenient.

So how do we reduce the amount of cars on the road and still grow?

·      Encourage developers to build more housing, services, and retail close together in neighborhoods so people don’t have to drive across town to meet their basic needs.

·      Improve express bus service between Traverse City and surrounding cities and villages, regardless of county lines, so local workers can take a bus to work.

·      Charge the right price for parking. The price of parking should be based on supply and demand so that spaces are available for those who want them.

·      Encourage employees to “smart commute” by offering free bus passes or paying employees to bike to work.

·      Explore community-wide bike-share and car-share programs so area workers can still run errands and leave their car at home.

·      Prioritize bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians when improving local streets. (More people will bike when it’s safer.)

Reducing the demand for driving is just one part of a set of strategies to reduce congestion in the Traverse City area, including improving DivisionGrandview Parkway, and South Airport roads, and upgrading Keystone and Beitner roads.

MLUI launched a new program called Local Motion, which is dedicated to helping commuters carpool, bus, bike and walk to work.  On Feb. 24, join the Local Motion team for an event called Buses Without Borders at the Hagerty Center. We’ll discuss the best ways to improve transit service across county lines.

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