A vehicle turns onto Front Street in downtown Traverse City.

There's no two ways about it: The city's one-way downtown streets generate strong opinions that often flow from opposite directions.

And those discussions may become increasingly pointed, since a group is reviewing street alignments downtown and talking about changes to the city's long-time directional traffic structure, including one-way stretches on East Front and State streets.

A recommendation could come by fall.

Many believe the current system aided downtown's commercial revival. But critics contend one-way traffic is nothing more than a remnant of archaic planning that creates confusion and forces downtown motorists to endure additional trips.

"It's anti-traffic calming, it's anti-business," said John Robert Williams, a downtown commercial photographer who dubbed downtown street routes "dysfunction junction."

"If Front Street works just fine east and west of downtown as a two-way street, why can't it work as a two-way street downtown?" Williams said. "There's not one rational reason for one-way streets downtown."

Others are convinced the downtown street system works just fine. R.E. "Boots" Wolff, a retired pharmacist who began working downtown in the 1940s, remembers two-way traffic downtown and believes the shift to one-way streets benefited the commercial district.

"If it isn't broke, don't fix it," Wolff said. "I don't see a problem it's going to solve."

Angela King, who visited downtown for the first time last week with her family from Detroit, didn't find the street system confusing and said it led them to other parts of downtown off the main drag.

"It gives you an opportunity to see the whole area," King said.

The city maneuvered through the downtown street debate in the late 1960s, when changes stirred plenty of opinions. Rob Bacigalupi, deputy DDA director, said the move included a city advisory vote and officials changed Front Street to one-way, then switched back to two-way traffic, and finally decided on the present system.

The goal was to create smoother traffic flow through the city's central business district, in an era when Front Street featured major retailers like J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Woolworth and Montgomery Ward.

"There was a lot of debate about it," Bacigalupi said.

Some City Hall officials applaud the two-way street system concept.

"I really embrace the two-way street," City Planner Russ Soyring said.

One-way routes tend to lengthen trips as motorists sometimes have to a circle a block to reach their destination, and can be confusing to visitors, he said. The current system is supposed to be safer for pedestrians because they only have to look one way to cross, but one-ways also may create faster traffic and boost dangers for those on foot.

City traffic counts show that Front and State streets downtown, in their one-way sections, handle 5,000 to 10,000 vehicles per day. Grandview Parkway on the north end of downtown sees more than 20,000 vehicles per day. Soyring said it's time to recognize changing traffic patterns as downtown evolves as a commercial destination instead of a pass-through route.

"If you really want to pass through, you have the parkway," Soyring said.

Urban planners who've visited the city in recent years suggested the city rid itself of one-way streets in the downtown district, Bacigalupi said.

"It's a commonly held recommendation in the urbanist planning world for two-way streets," he said.

But officials acknowledged drawbacks to two-way streets downtown. Without some lane adjustments and potential intersection changes, traffic backups could occur when a motorist wants to make a left turn. Delivery vehicles and parallel parkers also could block traffic.

"I'm not in favor of going back to two-way streets," said Kerry Glaesmer, owner of Votruba Leather Goods Co., among East Front Street's oldest businesses. He recalls the two-way street era, including traffic that backed up for blocks in each direction as vehicles tried to park.

"That's why they changed it; it was such a logjam," he said.

Downtown attorney Chuck Judson serves on the traffic study committee devised by the city's Downtown Development Authority. City officials will have to consider safety issues, traffic flow, impact on downtown businesses and surrounding neighborhoods and infrastructure costs, Judson said.

"When you make a recommendation, it's important that you avoid unintended consequences," Judson said. "This situation, like a lot of things, will result in a compromise that takes all these things into consideration."

DDA Director Bryan Crough said officials have discussed the concept with some neighborhood representatives, but have yet to sit down with downtown merchants, which could happen by late summer.

"We're not on a fast track here," Crough said. "We recognize that there are a lot of issues we need to talk about."

Trending Video

Recommended for you