The Northern Express asked and got answers to several questions we thought could help distinguish one candidate from another. Two candidates for mayor of Traverse City and six of the seven candidates for city commission responded to our survey. We did not hear back from commission candidate John Reid. The election happens Nov. 5.
Here’s a look at some local issues:
NE: Do you take a side on the bicyclistsversus-motorists debate that’s recently unfolded in the city? Should cyclists be ticketed for minor traffic violations? Should more resources be devoted to making the city more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians?
Michael Estes: The city has committed substantial resources towards bicycle and pedestrian venues, Cass Street is the latest example of these efforts with plans for this to continue. We’ve secured additional properties to continue the Boardman Trail and we’ve substantially added to the number of bike friendly routes in the City. My philosophy has been to promote public safety without the issuance of citations for minor infractions, the same has and should apply for bicycle riders.
Rick Buckhalter: I bike about 15 miles a day eight months out of the year, so I’m familiar with biking issues. The city should have a major plan and signage for getting people safely around town... streets which are dedicated for heavy bike usage... Portland or Eugene would be good examples to study. They are light years ahead of TC. The city should also have a consistent city-wide plan for bicycle parking.
Jody Bergman: The City has adopted a complete streets policy and I think it is important to be open to all forms of transportation: pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles. I am in favor of channeling additional resources into infrastructure, but those resources are currently not available. The current City Commission has made it a priority to fund infrastructure to the greatest level possible and has increased the general fund spending from $100,000 to well over a million dollars annually, with additional leveraged grant money that figure is several million. If cyclists are traveling on the street, they should be treated similarly to motorists. I feel a consistent application of the law would make it safer for all.
Gary Howe: I’m not interested in feeding a ‘this group’ vs. ‘that group’ mentality. The reality is that people simply want choices to get around that are safe, comfortable, and convenient. The City has made progress in this regard and yet has considerable room for improvement to ensure that no matter how we are getting around -- be it by wheelchair, on foot, on bike, by bus or car -- that people are treated like they are valued and that they belong.
Pat McGuire: Bicyclists must follow the rules of the road when on the road, and pedestrian rules when on the sidewalk. This likely means some active form of enforcement to drive this point home. Residents will not support more resources going for bicycle lanes and trails unless bicyclists hold up their end of the bargain.
Ross Richardson: Most of us are bicyclists and motorists, which makes it difficult to take “sides.” The city needs to make bicycling safer and more accessible through infrastructure improvements of sidewalks, trails and bike lanes. I chaired the Transportation Committee when on the Planning Commission, where we made significant improvements to city infrastructure. Much more needs to be done. We should invest in training and education for bicycle safety, especially for children. The bicycle-centric community needs to buyin to standard safety practices of helmets, lighting, and promoting adherence to rules of the road by bicyclists. We all need to set examples of good safety practices when we bicycle (and drive).
Jan Warren: It’s not a matter of taking sides. It is a matter of using more resources to make the streets safe for all modes of transportation, whether it’s bus, car, bike or foot. I have seen both motorists and bicyclists roll through stop signs, not yield to pedestrians in cross walks, run red lights, etc. and I think both groups should be ticketed equally for traffic violations.
Tim Werner: As a pedestrian, motorist, and bicyclist I was very aware of an overall increase in grace and courtesy after the tragedy this summer. That increase has largely dissipated, and we are back to a small percentage of motorists and bicyclists that aggravate both motorists and bicyclists.
NE: What would you like to see happen to Division Street in the coming years? Should traffic on Division Street be slowed? What can be done to make it easier for pedestrians to cross Division?
Estes: We’ve taken substantial efforts to improve Division with the passage of the public property ballot proposal and the allocation of monies for Division Street improvements, a first for the City on both issues. Division Street traffic will be slowed as we begin working with MDOT and consider boulevard, roundabout and a host of other traffic calming options. The commission has taken the initial steps in calming Division Street, it will take two to five years to achieve the ultimate solution.
Buckhalter: Division Street is a combination of two state highways and a city street. The MDOT rules on all issues because it’s their turf. Major changes are 5-10 years out because of funding cycles; however, MDOT has expressed a willingness to work with the city on traffic calming measures in the mean time. As to what would make Division Street easier for pedestrians to cross... a new mayor and commission would be a step in the right direction.
Bergman: The City has started the dialog with MDOT to make changes to Division Street and we should make that a top priority. In any design for Division Street there needs to be a focus on pedestrian crossings. Many ideas have been suggested, such as flashing light-activated crosswalks and pedestrian islands. I am open to the design features, but we need to keep this project moving.
Howe: I would like to apply a lighter, quicker, faster approach to the edges of Division St. all the way out to the City limits. For example, moving towards a complete north/south sidewalk network, thoughtful planning for - and improvement of - the adjacent empty lots and parkland, and development of the Buffalo Ridge Trail head are just three things that will help lower the design speed and improve the experience in the corridor. The bigger fix is working with MDOT to move towards more efficient intersections that are safe and comfortable for all users.
McGuire: Division St. is a state highway and as such the City must work with MDOT on traffic solutions. For this reason I supported the City’s Division St. proposal on the November 2012 ballot.
Richardson: The city should be pressuring the state to lower the speed limit north of 14th St. Lower speeds will result in a safer, easier-to-cross street. Planning needs to continue on street design so that when the state finds the money to rebuild Division, we can produce a safer, slower street that works for all forms of transportation.
Warren: I would love to see the vision created by the Division Street Design Steering Committee further refined and implemented to slow traffic and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street. Ideas proposed included construction of 8 1/2 Street, a narrow street surrounded by parkland to provide bicycle and pedestrian access to Elmwood Avenue from a roundabout on Division, while other roundabouts were suggested at 14th, 11th, Front Street and the Grandview Parkway. Grass, sidewalks and tree lawns were envisioned from 14th to Front Street and concrete walking areas with benches, trees and landscaping from Front Street to the Parkway.
Werner: As a member of the Division St. steering committee, I would like to see the City implement the recommendations of the committee: http://www.ci.traversecity.mi.us/departments/planning/deptreports/RecommendationsforDivisionStreet7-20-11. pdf . Implementation of the recommendations would help bring speeds down closer to the posted limits.
BROWN BRIDGE FUNDS:
NE: Would you support an initiative to use money from the Brown Bridge Park fund to improve parks? For something else?
Estes: The Brown Bridge Trust Fund should be used to improve all of our parks. The Trust fund has substantial financial resources and a small portion of those should be converted into programs that produce a direct benefit to the public. We need to replace and add trees, build trails, make structural improvements to playground equipment and otherwise improve recreational opportunities for our citizens.
Buckhalter: No, I would not support something as vague as using the funds “improve parks.” The Traverse City residents just got a royal screwing with the paving of Clinch Park, the selling of the iconic Spirit of Traverse City for $20, a $650,000 bathroom that’s ugly, and a splash pad that nobody wanted ($350,000) which sprayed you know what on toddlers. Hickory Hills may be on the chopping block next with the current commission. No trust whatsoever.
Bergman: I would support using money from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund for projects with lasting impact for the citizens of Traverse City. I believe that is the intention of the Charter and that is why I supported putting off the ballot proposal until there was a clear direction on what the money would be used for. I feel we need to be fairly specific on the intentions of any money spent from the Fund.
Howe: Strategic investment in City assets is critical and we are beyond fortunate to have the Brown Bridge Trust Fund as a resource. My preference is that the fund not be accessed simply to purchase a wish list of items, but that we also use it to 1) leverage other funds and investment 2) implement a long-term plan for a thriving, well-maintained park’s system, and 3) be targeted to achieve the biggest impact – thinking about the needs 30-40 years out. The discussion over the Brown Bridge Trust Fund is a great opportunity to create and strengthen genuine community engagement and partnerships.
McGuire: I would support limited use of Brown Bridge funds for capital improvements to our parks. Cash in the bank is fine, but it’s... cash in the bank. Substantial enhancements to our parks on the other hand can actually be enjoyed by our current and future residents.
Richardson: Obviously, this is up to the citizens of Traverse City. I am willing to put the question on the ballot so that the voters can decide. Ballot success will be more likely if the city is as explicit as possible about how the money will be spent. Some of this work has already been done, as neighborhood associations have submitted proposals for park projects. And a top priority should be the Brown Bridge Quiet Area itself.
Warren: I could support asking for a vote of the people to use money from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund to pay for improvements to city parks, but only if the specific parks to be improved and a description of the enhancements planned were very clearly and widely communicated to the citizens of Traverse City.
Werner: I will support such an initiative, if it is well thought out and structured to benefit current and future residents of Traverse City. As with all capital improvements, there needs to be a sustainable operations and maintenance plan.
NE: Are there currently just the right number of festivals each year in Traverse City, not enough, or too many? If too many, which ones should go?
Estes: The City has started rewriting several items that effect festivals/events in our parks and, in particular, the Open Space. The problem with trash is already being resolved in the permitting process, additionally the City has stated that the issues of event frequency, noise and fees will be resolved with the public process that began on September 23. I’m confident we’ll have reduced levels for noise, the frequency of usage will be diminished and fees will be increased.
Buckhalter: Traverse City residents like to party (including me), but we are starting to suffer from doormat syndrome. Some festivals are great and some suck wind. The city residents (in some manner) should choose what they want and how often they want them... not the mayor and commission... you can’t trust them!
Bergman: I do feel we have some specific issues with noise and location. The Open Space is a premiere venue and we have to safeguard it from becoming “overused” for events. I like to see things happening in Traverse City, but need to balance that with the desires of the residents. The Cherry Festival and the Film Festival have proven track records of success, but other than that the market will dictate which festivals will stay and which will not return.
Howe: Opportunities exist for the City to become a stronger partner with events to ensure that they are well managed and that negative impacts are avoided or mitigated. I’m not as concerned about the absolute number of events as I am about the ability of the City to manage them and good management may indeed include some number and schedule limitations. I’d also like to see the City develop a coordinated branding effort around events with a focus on attracting the type of events desired to better ensure we receive the economic, social and environmental benefits desired.
McGuire: I don’t believe it’s the absolute number of festivals so much as the burden they individually and collectively place on the community in terms of days they occupy the bayfront, noise, trash, parking, traffic etc. I think we need to ease the overall festival burden, but that doesn’t necessarily mean cutting the number of festivals.
Richardson: The National Cherry Festival & Film Festival are both broadly supported by the community. Beyond these two community icons, festivals in the Open Space should be limited and rental fees increased.
Warren: I would not propose that any of the festivals currently taking place in Traverse City be eliminated. They serve as essential economic drivers for our community, and many local businesses rely on revenue generated during these festivals. I think it’s a matter of getting the impact of the festivals under control: raising event fees high enough to cover the costs of keeping park land and surrounding areas clean and undamaged; modifying the noise ordinance to include lower frequency noises, etc.
Werner: The current number of festivals at the Open Space is probably close to the right number. The Open Space is a very valuable piece of real estate, so I think that it is great that the City is having the conversation about the frequency, volume, and pricing of festivals. The City’s current and future policy should reflect the needs and wants of city residents, downtown merchants, and the surrounding community.
NE: Anything you would like to add?
Estes: Traverse City is the most vibrant community in Michigan, we need to stay on that path, ensure that taxes are not raised and that economic development continues. In the last six years the City has increased spending on streets, sidewalks and bike paths from $100,000 to almost $1.5 million while lowering city taxes, that trend also needs to continue.
Buckhalter: The police force has been quietly downsized by the mayor and commissions....to save money. The COST is drugs near schools and violent crime. We had a proactive police force....now we have a reactive force. They do a terrific job with the officers they have, but they can’t be everywhere at once. This needs to be corrected sooner rather than later. The fire department is being set up by the mayor and some on the commission to be shut down without a vote of the people! Incredible! Who the hell do they think they are? Like the police, these guys are terrific. They respond to about 3,000 emergency calls a year and get there in three minutes or less... all for an (apparently) outrageous $4 a week per household.
Bergman: I think it is very important to continue to look for opportunities to add jobs and affordable housing choices to our community. Our community is starting to attract and retain younger people who want to make Traverse City their home. This is very important to the future vibrancy of our city. Managed economic growth will allow us to have the amenities we enjoy, while keeping our taxes in check.
Richardson: I believe there is no point in pursuing Grand Traverse Metro to provide city fire service. This was always sold as an efficiency measure, but the potential savings aren’t great enough to justify the disruption. We do have a clear path for generating revenue through primary ambulance transport, and I think that should be the focus of our efforts.
Warren: We need to attract talent to our community in order to ensure that our economic development efforts are successful and local businesses prosper. We hear frequently that young adults in their 20s and 30s would like to move to Traverse City, because it is such a great place to live. If we have the talent here, jobs will be created; with good jobs available (and affordable workforce housing in town), we will attract these young, talented workers.
Werner: As a possible source of funding for infrastructure improvements (sidewalks, streets, curbs, traffic calming, etc.), we should revisit the findings of COFAC regarding the $1.4 million paid by City tax payers for County services not received. Please see http://TimForTC.com/Money%20 For%20Infrastructure