By James Bruckbauer
---- — On Nov. 6, Traverse City voters can take a crucial step on one of the most important transportation challenges facing our city: Division Street.
Almost everyone around town agrees: Division Street needs to get better. Its speeding cars have buried the city's character, safety, and sense of place.
Its intersections are among the most dangerous of any other in town. And it separates young families in town, including my own, from hiking trails, businesses, our hospital and a thriving neighborhood on our city's west side.
Recognizing that streets should connect, not dissect, Traverse City commissioners made a commitment last spring to make the street safer, starting with short-term, lower-cost solutions like speed radar signs and better sidewalks.
At the same time, commissioners pledged to jump-start the long-term planning and design process for changes that could dramatically improve traffic flow, make the street safer for families, and reconnect our city's east and west side.
To begin the long-term process, though, Traverse City voters must first assure the Michigan Department of Transportation, the agency that manages the street, that they're not wasting valuable resources if they plan and review options for larger improvements.
The department wants to know if we'll give them flexibility as they design or if we want to limit designs to the area they already manage.
So on Nov. 6, Traverse City voters will be asked if they would allow MDOT to include less than two acres of city-owned land if and when new designs are proposed for the street.
Don't be confused by the ballot question language.
Even though it sounds like we're "disposing of parkland" immediately, don't worry.
When we vote "yes," we won't give up one inch of land. It only makes the land available for planning.
It will take many years, studies, tests, and public forums before any new designs are proposed. Not only that, future city commissioners must approve any proposed design before any land is transferred.
What's even better is that this step won't cost taxpayers a dime.
This is simply the next step in a long-term process that could spark one of the most inclusive community-driven planning processes to date.
And throughout the process, your voice will be heard.
The state recently adopted a "complete streets" policy that says that the agency must make sure their plans align with community values and are based on citizen input.
I believe we can work collaboratively with MDOT to design a street that meets our community's values and goals.
I believe we can design a street that blends, not divides, neighborhood values with the need to move people and goods efficiently.
We can work together to build a street that improves traffic flow and is safer for people to travel along and cross.
If we reject this proposal, we delay big improvements to Division for many more years, and young families will have to keep waiting for their chance to cross.
I encourage you to vote yes for a safer Division Street.
About the author: James Bruckbauer is a 12th Street resident and transportation policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute; by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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