During the entire two hours of the Michigan Avenue Road Improvement Project Open House, the cafeteria at Liberty School was packed with people discussing the future of Saline’s main thoroughfare. Amidst the cacophony of voices, small groups were engaged in meaningful and often well-informed conversations.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is planning to upgrade the section of Michigan Avenue between the Millpond Dam and the Maple / Old Creek intersection. The project is scheduled for April 2016, but city input on the plans needs to be submitted very soon.
At the open house, representatives of the consulting firm, URS were present in force to answer questions. These included the project engineer Sean Kelsch, landscape architects Paul Reinhold and Mark Wrona and transportation engineer Troy Van Orman. Many city staff members and elected officials were also present.
Five stations with poster displays addressed different aspects of the project. Considerations included whether to create a boulevard with center islands, whether to add on street parking or midblock pedestrian crossings, what medians should look like and what lighting would be incorporated.
People came to the meeting with differing agendas and ideas, but the exchanges were civil. Everyone seemed to realize that the final plan must represent a compromise between competing interests. An example is the option of parallel parking spaces vs. midblock crossings.
If you maximize your parking, it’s hard to have the midblock crossings, because you can’t have on-street parking within 100 feet of a midblock crossing,” said Van Orman. “It’s what the community desires more. Are they set on having a midblock crossing or would they like to see more on-street parking.”
Councilman Jim Roth has made pedestrian safety his top concern. He said he would like to have a HAWK system (High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacon) to make crossing Michigan Avenue much safer. But he recognizes that such systems stop traffic and “one of the important things is to get that traffic through and out.”
John Waterman of Saline is an advocate for bicyclists. He would like to see more done to make bicycling safer in the city and on Michigan Avenue.
“Michigan Avenue has a middle finger toward cyclists, Waterman said. “Stay off this road. Don’t come near here. We don’t want you here.”
Waterman was referring to the whole of Michigan Avenue, not just in town. Still he thinks that application of the WATS Complete Streets Plan should lead to better consideration for all kinds of traffic downtown. If bike lanes cannot be added due to insufficient space maybe they can be built on parallel streets one block north or south.
Local barber Marty Flint of Excalibur Barber Shop took an idea from his location in the Wallace Block on South Ann Arbor Street. There is an underground connection between the Wallace Block and the Union Block on Michigan Avenue. Maybe a tunnel under Michigan Avenue could accommodate pedestrians and non-motorized traffic seeking to cross the road.
Cindy Czubko, President of Saline Main Street, said that the tunnel idea had been considered further west to connect Curtiss Park with Millpond Park, but that tunnels are prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless she noted that a tunnel in Petoskey that connected the downtown to the waterfront was very effective.
Several attendees criticized the concept of preventing left turns from Michigan Avenue onto Ann Arbor Street. This would speed traffic flow through the city and make it easier to coordinate the lights by eliminating a left-turn-only phase at this intersection. However it would be confusing to drivers and would divert traffic onto minor streets.
City Engineer Gary Roubal emphasized that you can only do what is practical, logical and feasible. He spoke of the need for a balanced approach.
“It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Roubal said. “Papa’s is bad, Momma’s is bad, one’s just right.”
Many people at the meeting wrote comments on a form provided and deposited them into a suggestion box. City officials and URS representatives will analyze these ideas in formulating a final plan.
City Clerk Terri Royal said that a PowerPoint presentation that was shown at the open house will be made available soon on the City of Saline website. Residents should be able to obtain more information there.