Building a more Connected City is one of ten goals in the City of Kalamazoo’s Imagine Kalamazoo Strategic Vision. That vision defines a Connected City as a City networked for safe and convenient walking, biking, riding, and driving. A group of four transportation items were approved by the Kalamazoo City Commission on January 7, moving Kalamazoo closer to becoming a Connected City and implementing policies to continue progress.
These items included:
Approval of a Complete Streets Policy for City of Kalamazoo street projects
Michigan Department of Transportation Jurisdictional Transfer of certain downtown streets
Adoption of an ordinance addressing the operation of bicycles on sidewalks
Adoption of an ordinance addressing the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians and bicyclists at crosswalks
During Imagine Kalamazoo, residents envisioned a transportation network that considered the needs of all users- a safe network that provides convenient access to all parts of the city that is designed for equitable access, comfort, and mobility of any and all users regardless of ability, age, income, or race.
One component of achieving this vision was to develop a Complete Streets Policy that will apply to all future street projects. This policy ensures that every street is evaluated for how it completes the transportation network and serves all users. This policy also incorporates an engagement requirement to reach out to the community to assist with input of upcoming street and infrastructure projects. Street projects are reviewed first by an internal technical committee using the Complete Streets Checklist. The checklist is meant to ensure that all aspects of the street are considered in its design. It also takes into consideration the type of street, width, speed limit, and surrounding area. In addition, the Policy establishes an advisory committee of residents and advocates that will support education, research best practices, and make recommendations on priorities. Applications will be sought starting in February for residents to join the advisory committee.
Kalamazoo’s neighborhoods, campuses, and downtown are currently divided by several wide, high-traffic streets. These streets create barriers for many Kalamazoo residents and visitors. The highway like design has made adjacent areas of the city less inviting and makes some pedestrians feel unsafe. Additionally, one-way streets can make it difficult for visitors to find their way downtown, adversely impacting Kalamazoo’s economy, according to a recent economic study. Until now, these roads were under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The need for change to these segments of road has been reinforced for decades and through many separate planning and outreach efforts. The City of Kalamazoo’s previous Comprehensive Plans and Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 demonstrate a clear desire for change related to these streets, specifically on Kalamazoo and Michigan Avenues. The 2017-18 Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) Study initiated by MDOT received numerous public comments requesting non-motorized transportation options, traffic calming, and two-way conversion. In a report issued in March 2018, the Urban Growth Initiative for Greater Downtown Kalamazoo stated “Improving Mobility” as a priority objective, specifically citing converting streets to two-way and improving non-motorized connections. A retail market analysis conducted by Gibbs Planning Group in 2017 found that traffic calming and two-way street conversion, along with other marketing and recruitment changes, could dramatically increase the amount of retail space that could be supported in Downtown Kalamazoo, generating up to an estimated $51.6 million in new sales.
In more than a year’s worth of discussions between the City of Kalamazoo and MDOT it became clear that for the community to achieve its vision of street network changes, it would be more advantageous for the City to operate these key road segments. Local control allows the City of Kalamazoo to explore potential future changes to achieve our vision to make our City easier to navigate, safer, and more connected, while spurring economic activity for businesses.
The agreement between the City and MDOT can be summarized as follows: The City will take over the jurisdiction and operation of certain roads and MDOT will pay the City the amount of money it would have spent on major repairs to the roads over the next 10 years.
The jurisdictional transfer does not initiate any immediate infrastructure changes, but local control of these road segments will create the opportunity to realize many aspects of the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 plan that relate to connectivity, transportation, and safety. In 2019, the City will work with the community, traffic engineers and planning consultants to plan and design potential future changes for these roads. This planning and design process will include extensive community input and will also use the Complete Streets Policy and traffic data analysis to formulate these plans.
The adopted ordinance addressing the operation of bicycles on sidewalks clarifies that bikes are allowed to use sidewalks, unless signed otherwise. The ordinance also sets forth the responsibilities of bicyclists using sidewalks. When using a sidewalk, bicyclists should yield to pedestrians and will have the same rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian. The ordinance will go into effect on June 1, 2019 to allow time for the City to install signage and educate the public.
In order to enhance safety and comfortability for pedestrians in Kalamazoo, the City has adopted an ordinance addressing the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians and bicyclists at crosswalks. The ordinance requires cars to yield to pedestrians at marked crosswalks in controlled and uncontrolled crossings. Controlled marked crosswalks are those at intersections that have traffic control devices such as stop signs and traffic lights. Uncontrolled crosswalks (also known as mid-block crossings) are marked crosswalks without traffic control devices. They typically connect destinations or sometimes streets that “T” into an intersection. These changes will go into effect on June 1, 2019 to allow time for the City to install signage and educate the public.
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