Walking and biking advocates hope to convince MDOT on vision for Ann Arbor's North Main corridor
But while city officials and citizens leading a 14-member task force may have ambitious ideas for achieving those goals with pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists in mind, it's the Michigan Department of Transportation that gets final say on much of what happens on North Main Street.
"It's good to be the king," quipped David Santacroce, chairman of the city's North Main-Huron River Vision Task Force, referring to MDOT at a recent community meeting.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
City officials are hopeful MDOT will consider some of the community's ideas for improved walking and biking amenities in conjunction with that project.
Some of the ideas coming out of the task force that can't happen without MDOT approval include reducing traffic speeds along North Main, adding new crosswalks, putting in a roundabout for traffic coming off the highway at M-14, and maintaining a signalized railroad crossing at Lake Shore Drive into Bandemer Park where the current at-grade crossing is at risk of closing.
The task force also has expressed interest in widening the Main Street right-of-way and improving and extending the sidewalk on the east side of North Main from Depot Street to and under M-14 to enhance pedestrian and bike access to West Huron River Drive.
Santacroce said there is a continuing dialogue between the city and MDOT on the many issues along the corridor and he doesn't sense that the relationship is hostile — just two different parties with different issues and different constituencies, and limited pots of money.
Mark Sweeney, MDOT's regional manager in Brighton, declined to comment Friday on the task force's ideas that are still in draft form.
"MDOT has always been on record as supporting complete streets initiatives," he said. "However, we cannot comment on recommendations that have not been officially presented to us by the city."
The task force, which was formed by the Ann Arbor City Council last May, is expected to submit its final report with recommendations to the council by July 31.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Nearly 100 people packed the Community Center this past Wednesday night to hear the latest plans from the task force and give feedback. Opinions were mixed about the various ideas on the table — some are more popular than others — but most seemed to agree there's at least room for improvement along the corridor.
"For the most part, I think people were appreciative of the work the task force has done and supportive of most of the preliminary ideas we put out there," Santacroce said. "For some ideas, there were mixed reactions, and probably no one in the room agreed with every one, but the point of the meeting was to make sure the task force had identified all the issues."
Santacroce hopes more people will add their voices online at A2 Open City Hall by the Tuesday deadline for submitting comments.
Erica Briggs of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition said her group is launching an advocacy campaign to convince MDOT to seriously consider ideas for North Main.
"There are some things that we're really going to need to get active on as a community, and the city can only do certain types of advocacy work," she said.
One of the issues the WBWC will be focusing on, Briggs said, is the threat that MDOT could close the only legal railroad crossing off North Main into Bandemer Park at Lake Shore Drive.
"We'll be stepping up in the next couple of years and really trying to make sure that people are telling MDOT they do not want to have Lake Shore Drive closed," Briggs said, "and telling MDOT that we need to have the street construction done sooner rather than later."
Briggs said she's excited about ideas like putting in new crosswalks, including a user-activated signal to cross North Main from Bluffs Park to Bandemer Park at Lake Shore Drive. She said it's also important to be talking about slowing traffic coming off the highway onto North Main.
Task force member Darren McKinnon, a representative of the Water Hill neighborhood in the area, said widening the road right-of-way and installing sidewalks on the west side of North Main need to happen before the city can make a case to MDOT for pedestrian crossings north of Depot.
"What we're being told is, if you don't put in a sidewalk, there's nothing to cross to, and so you're never going to get a crosswalk," he said.
But the task force does believe it's possible in the short term to establish new pedestrian crosswalks across Depot at Fourth Avenue and across Main at Depot.
Rough plans released this past week also show a pedestrian bridge proposed over North Main and the railroad tracks that act as a barrier to the river. The bridge would start at Wildt Street and go over the road and tracks before spiraling down at the Border-to-Border Trail next to Argo Pond.
The task force is continuing to look at options for tunneling under the railroad tracks just north of Depot and Fourth Avenue to provide access to a future park at the MichCon site, too. And from there, the tentative plan is to have two pedestrian bridges crossing over the river to Argo Park and the Border-to-Border Trail — one bridge on each side of Argo Dam.
Two generic images included in a presentation given Wednesday night show what development can look like next to public riverfront amenities, though they're not intended to depict the MichCon site specifically.
"They're meant to evoke a vision," said task force member Julie Grand, chairwoman of the city's Park Advisory Commission. "They were just an example of what a private-public riverfront can look like, not necessarily our riverfront — just how private development and public parks can co-exist."
DTE Energy is still sifting through proposals from developers interested in the site. That could include restaurant, retail, residential, commercial office space and medical office uses.
In addition to the MichCon site, the task force will be recommending public open space uses for the former city maintenance yard at 721 N. Main as part of the Allen Creek Greenway.
Other ideas being kicked around include an improved boat launch at Bandemer Park, an improved two-lane bridge to make Bandemer Park more accessible, widening the Border-to-Border Trail at some points, a park-and-ride lot at M-14 and Barton Drive to help take traffic off North Main, and a tunnel under the railroad tracks north of M-14 to link the Barton Nature Area with Bandemer Park.
"You may have seen there's some rail sitting out there now waiting to be installed," he said. "Most of the track work will be done this year."
He said the stretch from Kalamazoo to Battle Creek is expected to be up to 110 mph by Christmas, and the stretch from Battle Creek to Dearborn should be done by the end of next year.
"They obviously can't go 110 mph through some of these curves along the Huron River. However, they probably will be going faster," he said.
As for the at-grade crossing at Lake Shore Drive, he said it's not a simple matter, and it's worth noting the newer equipment will be quieter, "so you may not hear the train."
He said the crossing was always pretty safe until earlier this year when a train hit a car stopped on the tracks.
"One of the problems with Lake Shore Drive is that's not just out in the open country. That's in the middle of a railroad yard, believe it or not," he said. "There are multiple tracks, and there may very well be additional tracks put in there, so you could have the crossing blocked when people are switching or doing something, depending what happens, for example, with commuter trains here."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.