Monday night, the City of Saline leaders began what may be a long conversation about connecting Curtiss and Mill Pond parks.
Saline’s most prominent parks are only about 50 feet apart but they’re not connected. The Mill Pond dam disconnects the natural link that is the Saline River. For hikers and runners, US-12 is a major obstacle.
Park connectivity has become a running theme in the City of Saline. There are plans to connect Salt Springs Park to Curtiss Park and the proposed Saline River Preserve. The word “connect” appears in the proposed Parks master plan 54 times.
Jim Peters, a former city council member who now serves on the Parks Commission, is one of several Saline residents who believes the city must find a way to help residents safely cross U2-12. He’s had conversations with Mayor Brian Marl about connectivity. At Monday’s city council meeting, he asked the city to consider building a tunnel underneath US-12 or an island in the middle of the road.
Peters told council it was an issue of public safety.
“Right now when you come out of Mill Pond Park you’re only about 50 feet away from Curtiss Park. We’re asking people to cross at Mill Street. That’s 130 yards away,” Peters said. “Human nature being what it is people may cross right there. It’s a public safety issue. If we’re inviting people to cross US-12, we need to have safe ways to do it.”
Peters spoke of two options. The option he liked best was a tunnel made of precast concrete. Peters said this would allow hikers, runners and cyclists to cross under Michigan Avenue without having to stop and without fear of traffic. Peters acknowledged the cost of such a project and said a traffic island would be cheaper and still give pedestrians the ability to focus on one stream of traffic at a time.
To save money, Peters suggested council consider connecting the parks while Michigan Avenue was being reconstructed.
“If we don’t do it know, it may be decades before we get a chance to do it again,” Peters said.
Council members agreed with Peters’ premise.
“I concur with Mr. Peters’ concern about safety. Folks tend to cross Michigan Avenue and take the most direct route. We’re fortunate we’ve had no serious accidents yet,” Councilor David Rhoads said.
Councilor Jack Ceo said he understood the concern because he’s seen people crossing the street with fishing poles and small children.
The 2016 project will create a new traffic island near Oakwood Cemetery, which will gives people crossing the road between parks a safer option that’s a little closer. Rhoads also said the merging of the lanes on Michigan Avenue will happen further east, which should make crossing a little safer.
But a park connection across or under Michigan Avenue is not in the cards in 2016. City Manager Todd Campbell said the MDOT plans are locked in and the city would not be able to add such major elements to the project at this late date.
Mayor Brian Marl said it was probably not feasible to advocate for a tunnel to connect the parks at this time.
“I do think it’s critical to have a long-term vision for connectivity and there are a number of ways to enhance walkability,” Marl said.
“The concept of a tunnel is great. It may be 5-10 years out before things happen,” he said.
Marl thanked Peters for speaking to council about the issue and said he expected it was the beginning of a long conversation.
After the meeting Peters couldn't say how much a tunnel or island might cost. But he said whatever was done would be cheaper if it was done in conjunction with the 2016 Michigan project.
The draft of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan also alludes to connecting the two parks.
Attendees displayed their frustration with the lack of connectivity between Curtiss and Mill Pond Park. The lack of a sidewalk along the Mill Pond side of Michigan Avenue was frequently mentioned as part of this issue. Construction of a tunnel beneath Michigan Avenue was discussed as an option at both input fair and later in more detail at the Parks Commission meeting on December 8, 2015.