Traverse City Commissioners last night decided to keep working on a proposal to calm traffic on Division Street with a series of roundabouts. The commission showed reserved support for the idea. The goal is to make that stretch of U.S. 31 safer and easier to cross. Many questions remain about a project that would take years to put together if voters approved it.
Not one person stood up at the meeting to speak against roundabouts. A few people said they'd driven on roundabouts in the U.S. or in other countries and recommended them.
"The first time I experienced a roundabout, I had just gotten off a 14-hour flight. I was driving on the wrong side of the road, with a stick shift with the steering wheel on the wrong side and the stick on the wrong side and a screaming two-half-month old baby in the back. And I figured it out," said Traverse City resident Brian Slawnik.
Hearing nothing but praise for roundabouts may have surprised commissioners since discussions on the internet are peppered with comments about roundabouts being a disaster or a joke. Commissioner Mike Gillman said just that morning he heard a radio host invite listeners to call in with their thoughts on the subject.
"And 55 minutes later he says, "Is there anybody in this town that's for roundabouts?" Because every call that came in opposed them," said Gillman. "So we've got two communities out there."
Proposal full of complexities
There were concerns expressed at the meeting last night but they were about specific details. For example, one part of the proposal would involve a new road through the Grand Traverse Commons near Munson Hospital. Traverse City resident Rick Buckhalter said that might encourage cars coming from the west to cut through that neighborhood.
"This is supposed to be a quiet hospital area," says Buckhalter.
There are also technical problems still to be worked out, a big one being how to design a roundabout at Front and Division where local businesses, including a new doctors' office, occupy three of the four corners.
Voters would need to approve the project because parkland must be given up to widen the road in some places where roundabouts would be built. A vote could come as early as August though it wasn't clear how the city will sort out all the possible issues that voters might object too. The full plan drawn up by traffic consultants has a roundabout at 14th, 11th, 8 1/2, and Front streets and Grandview Parkway. There may be other combinations however, and commissioners even discussed having voters approve pieces of the plan separately.
The city manager said quick action may be advisable. That's because state and federal support will be needed and there are some key politicians in Lansing, like State Senator Jason Allen, who could tout it before they leave office in December. If the commission decided to move quickly, it could make a decision in late May setting up the August ballot question. Even so, it would likely be six years or more before a roundabout was built in Traverse City.