Bourgoin: Road Diet for Michigan Avenue a Preposterous Concept

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 08/22/2014 - 02:19

(Editor's Note: Council member Lee Bourgoin presented this document to city council and read excerpts from it during the meeting.) 

Car-less Jeff Speck who wrote the Walkable City in 2012 was an art history student who then studied architecture.  He says that shaping the spaces (p.72) is “. . . most often gotten wrong. . . people also enjoy, and need, a sense of enclosure to feel comfortable as pedestrians.”  The principles in his “Ten Steps of Walkability” require picking winners, those less likely to fail.  Most walkable (p.25) are very dense urban cores.  He advises that (pp.72, 253) certain streets, “. . . will remain principally automotive.  This is as it should be, but cities must make a conscious choice about the size and location of their walkable cores, to avoid squandering walkability resources in areas that will never invite pedestrians . . . would bankrupt most cities.”

He (p.81) says “. . . traffic congestion is the main topic of civic complaint in most American communities” and unimpeded highways for quickly moving suburbanites (p.78) have “. . . seemed to work out well enough economically . . .”  A road diet (p.166) to make auto-dominated push-button-signal Michigan Avenue walkable is seen (pp.26, 253-254) as “ . . . a preposterous concept . . . the main corridor out of downtown, that has been dolled up with the latest streetlights, tree grates, and multicolored pavers, as if these modifications will create walking in a place where there is almost nothing to walk to. . . not worthy of our attention.  Let it go.”

In small ex-urban towns he (pp.71, 254-260) advises, “ . . . where can spending the least money make the most difference? The answer, . . . walkable neighborhoods . . . likely only in those places . . . where most of the key ingredients are already in place.”  The street width plus building height of South Ann Arbor and North Ann Arbor fit his spatial definition criteria for retail browsing in small public areas (pp.164, 239-241, 257) having “ . . . blocks that average less than four hundred feet . . . the key measure of a place’s spatial definition is its height-to-width ratio, . . . with a 1:1 ratio historically considered the ideal . . . fronts of buildings . . . porous and deep . . . active, open and lively edges . . .  new activities and sights to see about every five seconds.”

He advises shaping already pedestrian-friendly streets by filling in missing-tooth areas (like a fudge shop with outdoor seating next to Benito’s), deliveries in rear alleys, places to sit, trees, and awnings.  Since (p.71) hidden parking “. . . is destiny. . .”  Saline should expand the northeast parking lot, buy the back portion of 135 W. Michigan plus the pit for parking to allow gatherings at the back of future development, and obtain parking behind Sun Engineering while seeking from a new owner (p.241) better window-to-wall ratios as well as a pedestrian plaza effect along Henry Street.  He advises connecting separated walkable areas like (p.187) the safer “ . . . leading pedestrian interval . . .” that gives walkers a couple of seconds head start across US12, welcoming bikes like a grant-funded path from the future population-booming west side, and altering in subtle ways (p.242) by ensuring that form-based design codes create inviting active facades.

State law and the Saline City Charter prohibit directly or indirectly using one’s position for financial gain.  Mr. Girbach and Mr. Rhoads, with family property ownership on US12, seem too involved. They have joined with Mayor Marl on committees: to push taxes up by shifting money into industrial park projects; to propose yet higher taxes for streets; to pay for a path to Milan; and to change laws to pay for sidewalks at Ford, that it neither wants nor will maintain. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Regarding the last paragraph, here's what Mayor Brian Marl said about it at Monday's council meeting:

“The point that’s made about impugning people’s integrity – we’ve talked about that before. I find it inappropriate,” Marl said. “The latter part of that paragraph, I don’t know where it comes from. It seems as if it was conjured up in NeverNever land.”

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