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Note to Greilickville: Focus on People, Not Just Cars

Parking and traffic continue to be focus

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Last week, I listened closely as Jack Kelly spoke enthusiastically to a group of planners about Elmwood Township’s efforts to make the area along M-22 north of Traverse City a coastal town center. It’s an area that, given the right investments, could become one of the region’s top waterfront destinations.

Kelly, the township’s supervisor, said the township is creating a Greilickville Commercial Corridor Master Plan along the busy road on the west side of Grand Traverse Bay. He said officials and residents want to create a vibrant town center on M-22 to compliment the recently completed Grielickville Harbor Park. The effort would align with plans to renovate one of the region’s most popular marinas and would connect the area into the TART Trail.

Many people involved believe a corridor plan will make the marina town a waterfront destination and not just a drive-thru for motorists heading to Suttons Bay and Northport.

I agree with them.

Kelly, in his remarks, also brought up a challenge that many local leaders face: how we get people to our destinations.

To date, however, most plans and discussions in the township have focused on moving cars, not moving people.

He said that parking demand and traffic congestion are their main concerns.

“The need for adequate parking there is only going to grow,” he said in a recent Record Eagle article. “Parking is a key piece of what we want to do along that corridor.”

Despite its location along one of the region's busiest bus routes, Greilickville doesn't have a bus stop.

And he’s not the only one concerned about parking and traffic. During the last meeting of the Commercial Corridor Task Force — a group that includes township officials, businesses, non-profits, and transportation agencies like MDOT and the Leelanau Road Commission — officials spent most of the time discussing how to move cars, widen roads, and get people from the west side of busy M-22 to the east side waterfront.

To ease their concerns, the township board recently purchased land from a private developer in order to add more parking on the west side of M-22, across the street from the Grand Traverse Bay. And to get people across the busy road, township officials are evaluating options like pedestrian tunnels or a pedestrian overpass on M-22, two options that bring along with them a pretty high price tag for township taxpayers.

Rise Rasch from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), on the other hand, thinks the best solution is to make it safer for pedestrians to cross at the street level, manage traffic better, and look at transit options to get people to the soon-to-be-popular bay front destination. A traffic study, they say, could also help determine the best way to manage the traffic.

MDOT is right on the money on this one. The transit and bus stop discussion needs to be elevated.

After all, most people know that development follows transportation. In order to develop a truly walkable, vibrant downtown center, we need to move beyond planning just for the automobile and plan around people and transit. And they need to start now.

Grielickville is in the best position to do just that.  Right now, Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) takes travelers back and forth from Traverse City to Northport along its Northport Village Connector route. It’s one of BATA’s busiest routes. And, despite its location between Traverse City and Suttons Bay, Elmwood Township does not have a stop.

Without a bus stop, people like me who prefer to take the bus, will skip Grielickville and shop in the more transit-friendly Suttons Bay.

It’s the future, too. For the next 20 years, this region will see a shift from car-dependency to a region with transportation choices. For young people moving to this region, cars will not be the only way we choose to get around.

For northern Michigan waterfront destinations, options other than a car are critical. Most polls show that Michiganders prefer transportation investments that allow them to access this state’s wonderful natural resources without having a car.

Elmwood Marina customers, for the most part, need adequate parking. And proper management of that parking will be critical to the town’s success.  But, unless Greilickville takes a serious look at bus stops and planning around transit, a lot more folks over the next thirty years will be spending their money in Suttons Bay.

James Bruckbauer is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s transportation policy specialist. Follow him on Twitter at @jimbruckb. Reach him at james@mlui.org.

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