Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Road Flares

When you are on the road and have a problem you light a flare to send a signal. What signal will Traverse City send?

When the barn on Lake Avenue was burning earlier this winter the Traverse City Fire Department woke up all the neighbors at 2:30 AM by banging on doors and telling them to get ready to evacuate. The TCFD made the decision to let this barn burn rather than risk contaminating the Boardman River with the fertilizer stored inside. How is that for foresight? My neighbors and I loved that barn, but we also love that the TCFD made that decision. A barn, or even our houses, are temporary and can be rebuilt, the Boardman River will outlast us and cannot be redone.

What does the community value?

My wife and I moved here in 1999. There were signals that drew us here. The wind turbine on M-72 was new, Outside Magazine had just named the area a top destination. We visited with the goal of making Traverse City our permanent home. We camped at DH Day and drove slowly through the leafy neighborhoods looking at rentals. We saw that Traverse City was the ideal mix of urban and un-paved spaces. We saw signs that Traverse City was starting a wave we wanted to ride.

Look at this picture from Anderson Aerial Photography (visit the link for a huge version of the file).
What a place! My wife and I feel fortunate that we have been able to make a life here.

When you look at the area from the air the Boardman River is like a necklace draped over the landscape, giving the community a jewel to appreciate amidst the urban fabric.

I value that in-town Boardman Lake supports mink, beaver, red winged blackbirds, fox, bobcats, swans, loons, buffleheads, and a wide variety of sport fishing opportunities. Doesn't everyone get some pride out of telling out-of-town friends that we can hear loons - from downtown! Where else would this be possible?

What does the community value?

More car capacity or more capacity for the things people enjoy?

This winter I have seen my neighbors using the area where the Boardman Lake Avenue will go as an impromptu sledding hill; a safe space for teaching children how to XC ski; a play area for people and their dogs. Spring is coming and one of my favorite things on the first nice day is to grab a snack at Oryana followed by a walk over to Boardman Lake while experiencing the warm sunshine and the first red-winged blackbirds of the year.

This is what I value.

But now the City is calling this the West Boardman Lake Re-development project. I feel as though the City is appealing to our values by re-badging a road building project as parks and trails and we'll just throw a road in there for good measure. Thus I have become skeptical of the entire process. I have the sense that the City has already decided that a road is going to be built and all that matters now is how.

Though I am skeptical of a new road I am proud of my neighborhood. I am thankful to live in neighborhood where there is a small number of residents who care enough for the health and safety of their neighbors that they volunteer their time to make our neighborhood a better place. It is difficult for families with two careers, two kids, social engagements, and many other commitments to make it to the Neighborhood Association meetings so their dedication is appreciated. But Neighborhood Associations are not elected bodies, and never did I think they were decision making entities. Perhaps I missed it but I was never given a survey about my thoughts for a Boardman Lake Avenue. I never saw a neighborhood meeting where the pros and cons of a new road were discussed.

Because the dedicated tiny band of volunteers who are our Old Town Neighborhood Association were promised a road, they weren't promised a solution. The assumption was made that they were equivalents so the discussion never came up. But a road is not a solution.

Those of us who are in opposition to a road want the same thing as those who were promised a road - we all want a solution to traffic speeding through our neighborhood. It is well known in Engineering Departments that adding roads decreases overall traffic efficiency. They know about the Braess Paradox. Why didn't anyone tell the Old Town Neighborhood Association?

I am not opposed to building Boardman Lake Avenue to be divisive, I oppose it because I love my neighborhood and my neighbors and I want the best solution for all of us - all of us in Old Town and in Traverse City.

I want to find a traffic solution that signals to everyone that we develop our city for people, not cars.

I want to signal that we value financial responsibility, the well-being of our residents, and the health of our land and waters.

A flare is not only a signal to "come here", but it can also be a warning. These arguments are some of my road flares:

-History: Ask yourself this - if there's too much traffic going through your neighborhood what is the better solution, creating more capacity for more cars or making it easier for traffic to go around your neighborhood (e.g., on S Airport Rd)? History shows that a community has NEVER built a road like Boardman Lake Avenue and seen a decrease in traffic in the neighborhood.

-Financial: once the road is built the brownfield money spent on it is no longer available for any other projects. Where does the money come from when residents in Slab Town and Traverse Heights demand solutions too? How does Traverse City justify on-going maintenance costs of a new road while other streets are in need of repair and modernization, and with the City facing a $30+ million pension shortfall?

-Safety: A new traffic signal where Copy Central and Midtown are will lead to more congestion and more access points onto Eighth St. More access points create more opportunities for accidents.
Pedestrians who want to access Boardman Lake Trail will now have an additional road to cross, and a road that will be designed for a high volume of traffic. This will make it difficult for families who bike from Oryana to the Boardman Lake trail to do so without risking a conflict with a speeding vehicle.

-Health: There is known contamination between Cone Drive and Boardman Lake. Another unknown is how much more pollution will be encountered, therefore the remediation costs are unknown. And if this corridor is polluted who will build there? Plus, excavating through contaminated soil will threaten Boardman Lake. This road will increase salt and sediment runoff into Boardman Lake too.
And for Midtown residents, an extra traffic light here will lead to more waiting traffic polluting their air.

Traverse City has a chance here to reject the failed road building policy from the past and embrace a solution that makes the neighborhoods more livable.


Would we build Eighth St the same way today? Would we bisect the City with a four lane street that pedestrians cannot cross?

Would we build Grandview Parkway the same way today? I think that if we were given the chance to do it over we would not cut ourselves off from the Bay.

Would we build Division St the same way today so that this busy street blocks pedestrian access to 500 acres of parkland?

So why would we try to build a new street that will block easy access to Boardman Lake, the library, and the Boardman Lake trail? Is that what we value?

I believe that we value solutions.

Traffic is like a giant bucket of water. Or a dam with an insatiable amount of water trying to get over it. You start with some trickles of water coming from a few holes. You make new holes and the water doesn't come out of those existing holes any more slowly, but you do get your feet wetter a whole lot quicker. Add more roads and all we'll end up with is a flood of traffic.

Add more capacity for people and we signal the reasons why we love living in Traverse City.

[this was Part 3 of what ended up being a three part series. Earlier posts are
Part 1: Traffic is a Gas
Part 2: You Can't Undo A Road]