Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 23, 2012

Decision looming on city park land

Six-block long strip needed to make Division Street safer


TRAVERSE CITY — City voters must soon decide whether to surrender a strip of park land for improvements to Division Street, and which way they turn may come down to a matter of trust.

City commissioners want voters to grant future commissioners the ability to give a strip of park land on the western edge of Division Street to the Michigan Department of Transportation. The strip is six blocks long, is up to 30 feet wide, and runs from Eighth Street south to 14th Street and includes two corners at the 11th Street intersection.

MDOT officials told the city they wanted a public vote taken before they invest any money redesigning Division Street, a state highway that serves as Traverse City's main north-south artery.

"This is about taking a step to demonstrate to MDOT that as a city we are interested in looking at making this a safer street," said Jeanine Easterday, city commissioner. "I witnessed a couple of accidents on Division this summer and it truly is an unsafe corridor."

Local attorney Grant Parsons has embraced the role of vocal opponent to the ballot measure, though he doesn't live in the city. Parsons said his concern is the lack of any written documentation about MDOT's intent, and if officials want to raise or lower speed limits on Division.

"I think the city is buying a pig in the poke," Parsons said.

If voters approval the ballot question, the city commission assumes authority to transfer the property to MDOT, though such a move isn't required. A future city commission will make that call after members review MDOT's design plans.

The ballot proposal prohibits the city from transferring the property to provide for an additional lane of through-traffic, but does allow turning lanes.

Parsons was involved in a previous effort to thwart MDOT's proposed widening of Front Street to five lanes, said adding a center turn lane to Division would make it more dangerous for pedestrians, not less so.

Dolores Choiniere lives on Ninth Street and wants to trust city commissioners, but said she hasn't yet made up her mind on the ballot question.

"They are there to act on our behalf and have the best interest of the community at heart," Choiniere said. "Yes, I believe I do trust them, but it's a tough one."

Twelfth Street resident Kathy O'Neil lives a half-block from Division Street and opposes the measure.

"It's like giving a blank check to somebody," O'Neil said. "We have gotten nothing, not even a hint of what they want to do."

Easterday trusts MDOT to put safety ahead of traffic flow, but said residents don't have to share her trust. Whatever plan MDOT develops for Division Street won't go forward without citizen support, she said.

"People in this community are engaged and involved and I believe they will vote for a future commission that will indeed respect the direction we want to move as a city," Easterday said. "It is one of the strengths of this community."