Making Connections: City Completes $7.7 Million In Sidewalk Work In Five Years

Five years ago, Traverse City commissioners and staff began improving connectivity and accessibility across the community by aggressively funding the construction and repair of new sidewalks. At the commission’s meeting at 7 p.m. tonight (Monday), local residents and representatives from groups such as Norte, TART Trails and Safe Routes to School are invited to celebrate the results of these efforts: over 20 miles of sidewalk that has either been built or reconstructed since 2016 and invested $ 7.7 million in accessible infrastructure.

City officials tonight will be giving a round-up of the work that has been completed since the city commissioners agreed to “allocate significantly more funds to sidewalks,” said City Manager Marty Colburn. That effort began with the 2015-16 financial budget and grew significantly in the years that followed, especially when commissioners agreed to commit $ 4.5 million to a city-wide citizen-raising, void and filling project. This 15-year bond, which will be paid off in 2034, enabled the city to complete sidewalk repairs worth a decade or more in just four years.

The pavement maintenance portion of this project, which ran from 2017 to 2019, included repairing over five kilometers of existing sidewalks with condition ratings of “bad” or “very bad”. This work was evenly distributed across Traverse City, including neighborhoods such as Slabtown, Central, Boardman, Traverse Heights, Kids Creek, and Oak Park, as well as around Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City Central High School, Eastern Elementary School, and the East Borders City.

Over the next two years, from 2019 to 2021, the city tackled the sidewalk gap and infill side of the bond project. This work resulted in over seven miles of new sidewalks being built in Traverse Heights, Garfield Avenue and East Front Street. According to ID documents, the project largely focused on the Traverse Heights neighborhood as the area “was identified as underserved with pedestrian connections”. City commissioners have highlighted the sidewalks after Traverse Heights – particularly around the neighborhood’s elementary school – as a top priority in the initial discussion of the bonding project. New sidewalks are now visible in several key corridors in the neighborhood, including Rose, Hannah, Carver, Barlow, Hastings, Garfield, and adjacent back streets.

A combination of loans, annually budgeted funds, and grants helped pay for another “bucket” of pavement work: $ 2.1 million to upgrade sidewalks as part of road reconstruction projects. Since 2016, the city has added 9.1 miles of upgraded sidewalks as part of the rebuilding of Garland Street, West Front Street, East Eighth Street, Randolph Street, and Parsons Road. These areas were primarily intended for major road reconstruction projects or, in the case of Parsons Road, a new roundabout which allowed the city to simultaneously improve the pedestrian infrastructure around the project sites.

The fourth and final category of sidewalk repairs included nearly $ 2 million in building or repairing 5.2 miles of sidewalk and walking path connections around 10 local K-8 schools through a safe walk to school grant. City officials used a “heat index” to gauge where students lived near schools and what routes they were most likely to take on foot or by bike to identify improvements that could be needed. Norte helped conduct “walking audits” in which students, parents and teachers came from schools and identified safety threats or traffic problems. All of this data helped the city identify specific improvements around schools that would improve accessibility and make it easier for younger students to walk and bike to class, such as the pedestrian island on Garfield Avenue The Oak Park Elementary School was installed near the Washington Street intersection.

According to a memo from Colburn, city commissioners who advocated walkability and prioritization of funding for repairs enabled nearly $ 8 million in work to be done in just five years. “The City Commission … has determined that pedestrian friendliness and respect for pedestrians are deeply ingrained values ​​of the citizens of Traverse City,” he wrote. “This is backed up by Traverse City’s master plan, which emphasizes that ‘transportation is important to our vitality and environmental health’.” Adopted roads that have “safe and convenient access for all legal road users, including pedestrians,” said Colburn. Staff looked forward to “completing the Sidewalk Maintenance Project, Sidewalk Gap and Backfill Project, Safe Paths to School Project, and several sidewalk projects in the context of roads to celebrate rebuilding which resulted in more than 20 miles of new or improved sidewalk connections. “

Local residents and community groups weighed in in response to the new sidewalk connections ahead of today’s meeting, including some neighborhood members providing comments to staff. “Our family is grateful that our daughter now has safe routes to meet friends, and independence has added confidence,” wrote a Central Neighborhood resident. Another Traverse Heights resident told staff that the new sidewalks “really brought us closer to our neighbors. We can talk and wave in passing. And I love what it did for the kids around the area! Sidewalks made it easier and safer for them to get to school, to the playground, to each other’s house and to chase the ice cream truck. “

According to the Groundwork Center, “Sidewalks are the essential seam in the quilt of city life. Pathways have the ability to improve health and create livelier neighborhoods. Thank you for prioritizing safe places to walk and roll for everyone. ”Encouraging members to attend today’s meeting, Norte wrote that“ Sidewalks are transforming neighborhoods ”. The organization added, “A new sidewalk immediately creates a convenient route to our favorite places like cafes, grocery stores, parks and schools. They provide a place to play, jog, go for a walk with the dog, or meet the neighbor we haven’t seen in ages. Sidewalks pave the way for the community to connect and grow; they enable resilience to be strengthened. They’re also encouraging more of us of all ages to get exercise and stay active. Sidewalks are a big deal. “

While the city is finalizing the books on an important chapter of its sidewalk work, other work to calm traffic and improve accessibility is still being developed or is still pending. In addition to the above work, the city recently expanded the Buffalo Ridge Trail to connect to the West Middle School and the new TCAPS Montessori School, working with community partners to complete the loop of the Boardman Lake Trail by next summer , and recently installed a chicane – a serpentine bend in the street that can be created with street paint and signs – on Fair Street for slow speed and through traffic near the Civic Center.

An intersection with a flashing light signal will be installed on Woodmere Avenue near the Traverse Area District Library, and the city has also installed speed feedback signs on Peninsula Drive, Hastings Street and South Cass Street to help slow traffic. Lodge says the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation have had ongoing talks about redesigning the Peninsula Drive / M-37 intersection near Bryant Park, but have since used barriers to narrow the intersection – a move He told the commissioners he believed it was effectively slowing down the traffic that comes down the peninsula into town near the popular beach. Lodge says he’s not sure if these temporary barriers will eventually fall, but he would “prefer to keep” them. The increase in staff could help the development department tackle even more projects: Lodge informs The Ticker that a new employee will join this week who has been specially hired to focus on traffic calming and transportation issues.

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