Letter to the Editor: Traffic calming

Dear Editor,

The issue of traffic calming has been around for as long as I can remember. I have heard that the establishment of a historic district in the 70’s and becoming a city in 1992 was at least in part to control what happens on Main Street.
When I ran for city council in 2005, traffic was a major issue. Some wanted to limit it as much as possible, which is still a desire by many today. Given that it would be difficult if not impossible to do that on a state highway with a growing community around us, I proposed to see how it could be better controlled to benefit the Village of Clarkston.
One measure to accomplish that was to re-write the city’s sidewalk ordinance which apparently had been around in some form since 1915. That is odd since I have yet to find a record of actual sidewalks prior to the 1950’s. I updated the ordinance to meet state and federal (ADA) guidelines but ended up voting against it as most of the council at that time did not want to commit to something better than we had then and now. Construction and maintenance of the city sidewalks remains an issue and concern to this day and limits pedestrian access to and from places like the library, schools, and businesses as well as general accessibility.
In 2009, I arranged a Walk Audit of Main Street, sponsored by MDOT and conducted by nationally known walking consultant Dan Burden. An internet search of his name will provide you with a lot of information. In attendance were several members of the City Council and Planning Commission, MDOT, Sally Elmiger of Carlisle Wortman Associates, Brian Pawlik from SEMCOG and about 20 other interested people. After a walk down Main Street and several of the side streets, we all met in the lower level of the Union to go over what could be done. One of the easiest solutions suggested was to paint a line about 5 feet off the curb to give the appearance of a narrower Main Street and pull traffic away from the curb and sidewalk.
In 2010 as a contributor to a sub-committee of the Planning Commission, we created a Complete Streets proposal for the city to look at how all forms of transportation could be better addressed, particularly non-motorized transportation and slowing traffic on Main Street. A Complete Streets Ordinance is highly recommended by every consultant I have talked to and provides a legal standing when demanding slower and safer conditions from MDOT and other governing agencies, as well as access to grant possibilities. Unfortunately, this was rejected by the City Council (Council meeting minutes for July 14 and July 26, 2010). Complete Streets policy is a law in Michigan, adopted in 2010 to, “…provide appropriate access to all legal users…whether by car, truck, transit, assistive device, foot or bicycle.”
It is my understanding from comments and discussion, that past and present city managers have had discussions with MDOT about conditions on Main Street along with desired changes. Unfortunately, this is not well documented, if at all, and the city managers have been operating without formal direction from the council as to what is desired. This again lessens the chance of any positive or planned response from governing agencies.
According to a November 6, 2013 Clarkston News article, then city manager Carol Eberhardt wanted mid-block pedestrian crossings at 90 North Main and bike lanes as well as re-timing of the traffic lights. Based on a meeting I attended at that time with the MDOT engineer, the bike lanes were going to be done when they re-striped Main Street. For unknown reasons, it never happened. Again, this was done without a plan or official policy, at least none that I can find.
I have attended numerous training sessions on traffic calming, pedestrian, and bicycle facilities as sponsored by SEMCOG, MDOT and various communities, as well as belonging to several organizations that deal with these issues such as the Association of Pedestrian & Bicycle Professionals (www.apbp.org), Strong Towns (www.strongtowns.org) and the League of Michigan Bicyclists (www.LMB.org). All recommend a comprehensive plan if for no other reason than it is unlikely to all be done at once and a plan needs to be in place when it is.
I am sure you are all familiar with the crashes on Main Street and the pedestrian injuries. If you are not familiar with the history, light poles and trees have been taken out by vehicles for as long as they have been here. Fortunately, there have been no deaths to residents but there have been injuries and countless near misses as I can personally testify to. The question is how long this can go on with ever increasing traffic and it seems ever increasing speeds.
The current discussion by the Planning Commission and Council of radar speed signs on Main Street and Miller, as well as those already installed on Holcomb, has again raised the same issues that have been raised in the past. While radar speed signs have shown some ability to slow traffic, they are not a comprehensive plan, will not slow all traffic or prevent all crashes. There should be a comprehensive policy and plan to deal with these issues and to provide guidance and direction to the next city council, planning commission, and city manager.
Norm Cox of Greenways Collaborative in Ann Arbor has been dealing with these issues for many years. He and I first met when he was doing pedestrian planning for Oakland County and then at various training sessions including bicycle planning in Lansing with the League of Michigan Bicyclists. His website www.greenwaycollab.org can give you better insight into what he has done. I called him to see what steps could be taken as it is my opinion that professional guidance is needed from those who better understand the issues, particularly in dealing with MDOT. I have talked to many of the pedestrian and bicycle planners at MDOT, those working for MDOT, and nationally recognized planners in this field. They have all been very helpful. I believe the problem for the city has been talking to traffic engineers who want to move the largest volume of vehicles as fast as possible. I do not believe that is the best or appropriate solution for the Village of Clarkston.
It is my opinion that a few minutes of discussion with Norm, or someone of similar understanding, would be highly beneficial to the city in determining what steps need to be taken and what steps have the best chance of success. Brian Pawlik of SEMCOG is also very familiar with these issues and the city is a member of that organization, as is Independence Township. In addition to the planning aspects, there are grants available, but they do take preparation and matching funds so again, planning is needed.

Cory Johnston

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