Color-Coded Construction

Work starts in earnest for Fifth and Division streetscape

Utility workers marked up the sidewalk on the southwest corner of Liberty and Division, in preparation for the DDA's Fifth and Division streetscape project. CLR means there aren't any lines in that location for the utility corresponding to the color of the marking . (Photo by the writer.)

We began with a question: What do the new multi-colored letters and symbols along Division Street mean?

Yes, the stretch of Division between Madison and Detroit streets is getting an overhaul – as part  of an Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority project. And yes, utility workers have been marking up the sidewalks for weeks.

But how to decipher these urban hieroglyphics?

In the process of answering that question, we also learned the answer to this one: What’s the connection between deer hunting and asphalt?

And along the way, we got an update about the work, which started this week on South Division, between Packard and Liberty, as well as a more general overview of progress on the DDA’s Fifth and Division streetscape project. 

A Years-Long Process

In 2003, the DDA embarked on a program to change the look of the city’s two major one-way arteries through downtown: southbound Fifth Avenue, and northbound Division Street. Pollack Design Associates of Ann Arbor did the initial schematic work, which was later developed into a more detailed design by Beckett & Raeder Inc., an Ann Arbor landscape architecture and civil engineering firm. Beckett & Raeder is also a consultant for the DDA’s Fifth Avenue underground parking garage – construction of that structure, in the lot next to the Ann Arbor District Library, is being coordinated with the Fifth and Division streetscape project.

In July 2008, Ann Arbor city council signed off on design plans for the streetscape changes, which will add about 100 new parking spaces, bike lanes, landscaping, LED lights and other features. Then in February 2009, city council approved the selling of bonds to finance the estimated $7.1 million project, which will be paid for using the DDA’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund. The project also received a $1 million transportation enhancement grant, administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

At the DDA’s July 1 meeting, John Splitt – a board member recently elected chair, who also sits on the group’s capital improvements committee – reported that the bid for this phase of the project along Division and Fifth had been awarded to Eastlund Concrete Construction of Holt, Mich. That firm had given the lowest bid, coming in at around $2.5 million – about $1 million less than Beckett & Raeder’s estimate. The project’s second phase, which hasn’t yet been bid and doesn’t have a firm start date, will include work in the Kerrytown area, including rebricking the streets.

A large Eastlund truck was parked on Division when The Chronicle dropped by the work site on Tuesday. So, what work was being done that day?

What You See, What You’ll Get

First, to the utility marks. The Chronicle asked Adrian Iraola of Park Avenue Consultants, the project manager for this effort, for a guide to the colors. He delivered it off the top of his head:

  • Fluorescent green = storm sewer
  • Blue = water
  • Red = electrical
  • Yellow = gas
  • Orange = telecom (fiber optics, phone lines)
  • White or pink = indicates where workers will cut into the concrete or asphalt.
Workers at the intersection of Liberty and Division use white spray paint to mark a line for cutting into the pavement.

Workers at the intersection of Liberty and Division use white spray chalk to mark a line for cutting into the pavement. The man kneeling on the right is holding the end of a string that's being used as a guide. (Photo by the writer.)

In light of recent heightened attention to sidewalk marks, we also queried Iraola about the substance used to make these marks. In most cases, he said, workers use spray chalk – they have permission to do so.

Some final marking was being done on Tuesday at the intersection of Liberty and Division – workers were using white spray chalk to indicate where lines needed to be cut in the pavement. At that intersection and several others, bumpouts will be made to widen the sidewalks, and brick pavers will be used instead of asphalt. [Link to PDF of design for Division between Liberty and Huron.]

In addition to marks that indicate where the utilities run, stencils have been used to mark the word “SIGN” in green at various locations. The green stencils  show where the city’s new wayfinding signs will be installed. That’s yet another DDA project, a $923,000 effort that will place nearly 200 signs around the downtown area to help people find parking and destinations like government buildings, theaters and museums.

Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, said they’d just received approval from MDOT for the signs – the agency’s OK is required for signs on state transportation arteries, including Main and Huron. MDOT said the shade of red that is planned for signs on Main is too close to the red used in stop signs, so that color will be “tweaked,” Pollay said.

After checking out the work at Liberty and Division on Tuesday, we headed south to the intersection of Packard and Division, viewed as a gateway into the downtown area. It was easy to see why those markings are crucial. Nick Nomura of Rauhorn Electric was operating an excavator, carefully digging out dirt next to an electrical line running to the street crossing sign.

His colleague, Covey Hawkins, stood in the ditch giving verbal instructions and hand gestures to indicate how close the machine’s scoop was to the line. They knew where the line ran because it had been previously marked before they began digging.

Covey Hawkins, left, and Nick Nomura of Rauhorn Electric excavate at the southwest corner of Packard and Division.

Covey Hawkins, left, and Nick Nomura of Rauhorn Electric excavate at the southwest corner of Packard and Division. They're working around an electrical line that spans the ditch, just in front of Hawkins' shovel. (Photo by the writer.)

We got some clarification about the ditch digging from Beckett & Raeder’s Christy Summers, who’s helping coordinate the project. They plan to bury some of the utilities at that intersection – not the DTE lines, but some of the lower-hanging wires for AT&T and other telecom firms, and possibly for street lights or traffic signals, she said. Conduit pipes will be laid in the trenches, through which wires will be run – it’s a way to make the intersection less “unsightly.”

The city is doing work at that intersection, too – they’ve been coordinating with the DDA project, Summers said. As part of the city’s work, metal “mast arms” will be put up to hold the traffic signals, rather than using the current span wires. The city is also resurfacing Packard – currently, the eastbound lane is closed between Fifth and Division.

Summers said that Fifth and Division will remain open to traffic during the project, though some lanes might be closed for certain periods. Access to businesses along that stretch will also be open, she said.

The DDA work along Division got started a little later than they’d hoped for, Summers said. They’ll work as long as they can through the fall, depending on the weather and the availability of materials. It turns out that deer hunting season plays a role in this: Because many construction workers are deer hunters, Summers said, it’s often difficult to get supplies of asphalt on or after the season’s opening day, Nov. 15. “You always have to ask who’s going to be working on opening day,” she said.

That means work on Division will likely continue into the spring of 2010. The Fifth Avenue piece of the project will begin then, too.


    August 5, 2009 at 11:45 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the informative article. After looking at the design plan for Division between Liberty and Huron, I am struck by the number of ugly, streetscape-unfriendly buildings.

    Even the AA News building, which architecturally is OK, presents nothing more than an ugly and imposing wall along Division.

    Firestone is a smelly, greasy mess.

    The Instant Furniture Rental (or whatever it is now, I can never keep track) is hideous 1980′s design which cannot seem to do anything right.

    In short, the design plan has quite an uphill battle.

  2. By Matt Hampel
    August 6, 2009 at 2:26 am | permalink

    Back in 2006, I wrote an article on a small segment of the improvements that were planned around Community High. I resurrected it for references: link to Communicator article.

    The biggest thing from that was the addition of new crosswalks from CHS to Kerrytown. It looks like those are still in the plans. I also see some sort of marked crosswalk from the AADL to Blake, which will be fantastic.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    August 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm | permalink

    I’m curious about the raised intersection design on Fifth between Kerrytown/Farmer’s Market and CHS. Matt, your article is really helpful–I wonder if that part of the plan is still operative.

    Also curious to know how the drop-off lane in front of the AAPL is going to work. It seems like they may be improving the car access but damaging the pedestrian access there.

    By the way, what’s in the future for the Ann Arbor News building, anyone know? Looks like Firestone is marked for redevelopment in the plans.

  4. By Juliew
    August 6, 2009 at 6:09 pm | permalink

    I’m glad they are making these changes, but it is really hard on pedestrians at the moment because they are closing both sides of the intersections so you have to walk in the street. At least it gets it done quickly. Matt, I agree that a crosswalk from Community to Kerrytown would be great. I’m surprised more people don’t get injured there with the way it is now.

    There was some discussion of the wayfaring signs on ArborUpdate last year: link to ArborUpdate thread