There was grumbling among some residents before the meeting even started: “They’re going to do what they’re going to do, it’s already a done deal.”
But the half-dozen city staffers who met with neighbors at Forsythe Middle School last Wednesday presented a variety of different options for how the resurfacing of Miller Avenue between Maple and Newport roads could be undertaken. Construction on the project could begin as soon as 2010, but far more likely is a 2011 start, according to project manager Nick Hutchinson, who’s a civil engineer with the city.
Some irritations from neighbors did surface in the course of the meeting. But reached by phone after the meeting, Hutchinson said he thought it was a healthy exchange and that the project team had been able to collect a lot of useful information.
A point of agreement in the room was the need to address a variety of concerns beyond improving the road’s surface, even though the poor condition of the pavement was the impetus behind the project. To Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, the project represents an opportunity to implement some aspects of the city’s non-motorized transportation plan: (i) installation of sidewalks where there are currently gaps on the south side of Miller, and (ii) widening of bicycle lanes from 3.5 feet to 5 feet.
To Susan Bryan, a city parks planner, and Jerry Hancock, natural resource and environmental planning coordinator, the project represents an opportunity to manage storm water runoff better and to soften the impact of runoff on Allen’s Creek, both in terms of volume and quality.
And the questionnaire circulated at Wednesday’s meeting reflected those goals. Among other questions, the survey asked residents to rank the following components of an improved road cross-section in order of importance:
- On-street parking
- Creating less paved surface
- Storm water improvements/rain gardens
- Bicycle lanes
- Wider lawn extensions
The availability of on-street parking appeared on the list, because some of the alternatives being considered would reduce the amount of street parking.
But one resident pointed out – after multiple people at the meeting had weighed in expressing their support for a signal light at Miller and Newport – that the list about road cross-section components didn’t offer an opportunity for residents to express their concern about the necessity of hazard controls, which had clearly been common thread across many comments. In response, Hutchinson encouraged residents to write in anything they felt was important.
The issue of putting a signal at the intersection at Miller and Newport did arise on multiple occasions. Residents sketched a picture of Miller Avenue during peak morning and afternoon traffic times as an unending stream of vehicles that made it nearly impossible to exit their driveways. The stream included SUVs, school buses, and AATA buses, one woman said: “It’s not just beautiful little cars, it’s heavy traffic!” She was alluding to the sketched-up diagrams that were provided on easels and on handouts, showing the current road cross-section configuration with various alternatives.
Based on its current cross section, Miller Avenue is divided into two sections: (i) Newport to Saunders, and (ii) Saunders to Maple. Current road cross-section configurations plus sketched examples in .jpg files are availble here: Newport to Saunders, and Saunders to Maple.
In response to the frequent calls for a traffic light at Miller and Newport, Les Sipowski, traffic engineer with the city, explained that the city had undertaken studies in the past and that another one would be done in connection with this project. But he said that past studies of traffic volume did not indicate a signal was justified. Sipowski said that such decisions are based on “warrants,” which is the vocabulary used in the traffic engineering field to describe the thresholds or standards that need to be met in order to install a signal. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices indicates that eight such warrants are:
- Warrant 1, Eight-Hour Vehicular Volume
- Warrant 2, Four-Hour Vehicular Volume
- Warrant 3, Peak Hour
- Warrant 4, Pedestrian Volume
- Warrant 5, School Crossing
- Warrant 6, Coordinated Signal System
- Warrant 7, Crash Experience
- Warrant 8, Roadway Network
There’s a hump in the road at the intersection that somewhat limits sight distance, but Sipowski said that it still met the guidelines for the indicated speed limit of 35 miles an hour. However, he said that if the construction work gave the city an opportunity to flatten the hump to improve sight distance, then they would do that.
At a couple of different points, residents said flatly, “I don’t care what your study said, we need a signal there!” One resident explained that the number of vehicles measured as going through the intersection might not reflect the fact that people use Pinetree as a cut-through around it – even school buses, she said, though they’re not supposed to.
Sipowski assured residents that as far as a traffic signal went, “It’s not that I’m opposed to this, it’s what I do for a living!”
One resident, a dedicated cyclist, suggested that focus needed to be put on reducing the amount of traffic on Miller – looking at the problem holistically. He suggested that much of the peak-hour traffic was due to parents dropping their kids off at Forsythe, or at the Mack Open School (at 7th and Miller). Ways of reducing that kind of traffic should be looked at, he said. After years of cycling, he said, he did not know how much longer he could continue to put his life at risk to ride along that corridor.
Sidewalks and Funding
Another major resident concern was that the stretch along Miller is included in this season’s city sidewalk repair program – property owners are required to maintain and repair the sidewalks in front of their homes. The concern is that residents might be required spend money on replacing sidewalk slabs this year, only to have the sidewalk torn up and reconstructed in a year or two. Hutchinson said that he was coordinating with the director of the city’s sidewalk program, Brad Kluczynsk. However, he alerted residents to the fact that they would probably see the painted silver circles appear, indicating a needed repair, and would receive letters. He said they could call him for clarification. Said one resident, “You’re going to get a lot of calls!”
For sections on the south side of Miller where there are currently no sidewalks, Hutchinson said that one typical means of financing construction was through a special assessment – owners with property fronting the sidewalk pay. However, he said it was hoped that would not be necessary, depending on how the funding for the whole project came together.
It will be paid for out of a combination of funds: the 2006 street reconstruction millage; water and sanitary sewer funds, and state revolving funds for storm water improvements. This last item is the same funding mechanism being used to finance other projects affecting the Allen’s Creek drainage area, including one on the property of Pioneer High School. The revolving fund is a loan that would be administered through the water resources commissioner’s office (formerly known as the drain commissioner).
Storm Water and Rain Gardens
Some of the project components that might be funded with the loan administered through the water resources commissioner include the idea of reducing the width of paved surface, and using the lawn extension area for a bio-swale – essentially an elongated rain garden. At the Wednesday meeting, it was Susan Bryan, landscape architect with the city, who presented the possibility of using rain gardens as a way of letting some of the water from the road soak in to the ground, instead of trying to lead all of it to directly to storm drains using a gutter system.
The day after the meeting, The Chronicle took a pass through the corridor of the project looking for photo opps to illustrate various aspects of the project. The front of Jeremy Sobczak’s house brought together a couple of different aspects. For one thing, Sobczak’s house is one place where the sidewalk ends – and if the non-motorized plan is implemented, that would change. For another, Sobczak has already installed a rain garden in his front yard, with the assistance of a program administered by the county’s water resources commissioner.
Sobczak is graduating this spring from the University of Michigan with a degree in sustainable landscape design. He took the time to show The Chronicle the hoop house he’d built behind his house, where he has greens already emerging from the planter boxes inside the structure, which is built from electrical conduit draped with double-layered plastic – all supplies acquired from Stadium Hardware, Sobczak said.
Hutchinson said that there were a couple of slots that needed to be filled yet on the design advisory committee by residents who live along he corridor. [If you're interested, contact Hutchinson at nhutchinson AT a2gov.org] The DAC will meet in mid-April, and from mid-April to mid-May, city staff will work on conceptual drawings. In late May there’ll be another DAC meeting, and sometime in June there’ll be a second public meeting. Construction is expected to start in winter/spring of 2011.