City government has dropped the ball on two occasions involving road issues over the past year in Traverse City, and some residents are wondering how we managed to get so far off course.
As a result of these embarrassing, counter-productive gaffs, some feel that a city which prides itself on being a beacon of progress has been set back years.
It started with the news last year that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) had plans to simply resurface Division Street, the north-south artery that funnels thousands of cars from West Bayshore to Meijers and the mall.
Advocates of “traffic calming,“ including TART Trails, protested that MDOTs plan was short-sighted and inadequate. They argued that the time was right to re-engineer Division as a safer, slower route that would take pedestrians and cyclists into account.
But the die had already been cast, and apparently, the City of Traverse City had been asleep at the switch when it came to educating MDOT on what hundreds of local citizens desired via the recent Grand Vision study. MDOT shot back with a like it or lump it message and we got no upgrade for Division Street whatsoever.
Last week, there was an uproar over a near-identical situation with nearly identical results. In the current debacle, MDOT is moving ahead with a plan to resurface 8th Street, the corridor that runs east-west across mid-town.
Too late to offer their input, bicycle advocates learned that the plan is virtually set in concrete in MDOTs view. Federal and state funds have been committed to the project, so weve got another like it or lump it situation: either Traverse City moves ahead with a plan from the city engineer that had little citizen input, or we lose close to $1 million in road dollars.
Last week, more than 100 members of TART Trails and the Cherry Capital Cycling Club vented their dismay at a city commission meeting. TART Trails Director Bob Otwell presented a plan that would provide for traffic calming on 8th Street along with bike lanes, the planting of new trees, and BATA bus stops.
The plan is a good fit for TCs Master Plan, the Grand Vision, and the spirit of a new bill going through the U.S. Senate that calls for a national commitment to pedestrian- and cycle-friendly roads.
Plus, it would take no great shakes to accomplish. The major “improvement“ would involve simply restriping the street to include bike lanes.
But tweaking the plan would of course be impossible in MDOTs view. Instead, Traverse City would be required to ditch the whole project and start all over, possibly losing its transportation dollars.
As such, the mayor and commission are seeking a third option, possibly including an expensive retrofit of 8th Street once the current plan that everyone seems to hate is implemented.
Heres an idea: perhaps TC needs a sort of ambassador or delegation to MDOT that could establish diplomatic ties with the road bureaucracy to beg the favor of their royal highnesses and plead the wishes of the local peasantry.
Why? Because as several cyclists and physicians pointed out at last weeks meeting, this isnt about just roads -- its about public health. Times have changed and were moving toward a society where pedestrians, bicycles and mass transit are seen as positive alternatives to the pollution, waste and danger of Americas car culture.
On that score, 8th Street is a bummer. One resident noted that due to its fumes and the roar of traffic, it is one of the most unpleasant streets in town to walk down (much less travel by bicycle).
“Horrible would be more on target. Eighth Street is like the straightaway stretch in a roller derby where cars jockey back and forth for position, run red lights, and exceed the 25 mph limit by nearly twice that speed at times. Not to mention drivers texting and fiddling with their cell phones. Cyclists: if youre looking for an assisted suicide conduit, this is it.
As one citizen notes, we need to change the psychology of 8th Street from its current status as Thunder Alley to a far calmer thoroughfare before anyone considers cycling alongside its traffic. Even if MDOT relents and allows a more enlightened plan to go through, the addition of bike lanes alone wont fix 8th Street unless there is some very thoughtful and inventive input on traffic calming.
A Burning Question
Heres a appeal to attend the forum on Biomass: A Burning Question being offered by NMEAC on Monday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Traverse Area District Library.
Traverse City Light & Power has held four pro-biomass meetings for the creation of several wood-burning plants in the area.
As stated here before, however, biomass is a short-sighted, non-solution that seems likely to wreak irreparable harm on Northern Michigans forests as one power plant after another consumes the trees that sustain the regions tourism and recreational lifestyle.
It has been argued that biomass represents the cheapest power source for alternative energy at present, compared to wind, water or solar.
One might argue that you could also burn your garage for fuel, and then the upper story of your home, and your furniture along with the dog and cat, and so on. But would that be wise?
Assuming that our forests are an expendable, endless “resource“ for burning is a reckless interpretation of alternative power. Once those forests are gone, the spirit of Northern Michigan will go up in smoke with them -- and so will our tourism and recreation-based economy.