Design will try to control them
November 02, 2011 - Renewed talk of possibly creating a specific, alternate route for the truck traffic traveling through downtown Oxford was short-lived.
During a special Oct. 26 meeting of the Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) Economic Restructuring Committee, the consensus among officials seemed to be the trucks will stay on Washington St. (M-24), but there will be attempts to control their behavior and speed as they travel through the downtown area.
"It appears that we're going to be focusing on a (streetscape) design where trucks are still going to have a role through downtown," said Rod Arroyo, vice president of the Lathrup Village-based Birchler Arroyo Associates, Inc. Back in July, the DDA authorized spending $52,500 to develop a streetscape plan that employs the principles of the Complete Streets concept, which basically means redesigning the downtown to make it more pedestrian-friendly and help calm motor vehicle traffic. Officials hired Birchler Arroyo Associates and Grissim Metz Andriese Associates, of Northville, to design the street and sidewalk improvements.
However, before the design process could proceed, the firms needed to know if officials wanted to pursue creating or designating an alternate route (or bypass) for trucks to move them off Washington St.
The presence or absence of trucks greatly influences the new streetscape's design.
"There will be improvements that will totally transform the way it feels as a pedestrian. But it won't be the same as if the trucks are gone," Arroyo said. "It's a balancing act. You can't have everything perfect, but you can certainly make it a lot better."
Trucks are generally viewed as impediments to creating a pedestrian-friendly downtown given the large quantity of them that travel along M-24 on a daily basis, the high noise levels they generate, and how they make many pedestrians feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Although gravel haulers are usually the first image that springs to mind whenever truck traffic through Oxford is discussed, DDA Chairman Kevin Stephison noted the issue goes well beyond just them.
"We're not just looking at gravel trains," he said. "We're counting semi-trucks, the big, the small, any commercial vehicle coming though town. M-24 does serve as a connection from I-75 to I-69, so we get a lot of semi-trucks carrying their loads up to points north."
The impact of all those trucks is something that's felt by everyone from pedestrians to downtown merchants. "Anybody that was on the (Sept. 22 walkability) audit (through downtown) got to see and feel and smell and taste and hear those trucks on an up-close and personal basis for two hours," noted DDA member Anna Taylor.
Despite all the problems generated by the trucks, Taylor expressed her concerns about how long it could take to create or designate an alternate route for them.
"We don't know how long we would have to wait," she said. "We could be waiting for years for the road commission to do the necessary work, to find something that's more viable than maybe even Glaspie St. Quite frankly, I believe we would be able to get (the Michigan Department of Transportation) to move quicker than we would actually be able to get the road commission to move.
"This is the dilemma that we have. We could wait another 15 years and not do anything – never improve the quality of what we have on the street now. Or we can start taking some steps as far as traffic calming. We could start enforcing some braking laws or noise control ordinances."
"The challenge of finding an alternative route is one that's obviously very significant and very complicated and controversial," Arroyo explained. "It's a major undertaking to do something like that."
However, Arroyo explained that "if you accept the fact that you're going to have" truck traffic, "there are certainly significant things we can do through the streetscape design process to make it much more inviting to pedestrians" and slow traffic.
"Although it's not going to address things like the noise issue," he noted. "You're going to have the noise. You might be able to mitigate it slightly, but it's still is going to be a significant issue."
Arroyo said the streetscape can be designed with elements that "send a message to the vehicles passing through that this is a place where pedestrians are sharing the right of way with you. You need to slow down and you need to respect that.
"You can make significant improvements to the pedestrian experience even with the trucks there. It's not going to take away some of those negative impacts of the trucks, but you can design with it."
There are many elements the new streetscape design could employ to influence trucks to slow down and act in an appropriate and respectful manner.
Those elements include increasing the number of traffic signals, adding landscape barriers along the edges of the road to separate pedestrians from the street and extending the curbs at pedestrian crossings (also known as "bump-outs") so as to narrow the roadway.
Such design elements could encourage truckers to seek their own alternate routes, so as to avoid travelling through downtown.
"If we make it more uncomfortable for them to be there, some of them may start seeking out some of those routes," Arroyo said. "The extent to which they'll reroute themselves is still unknown. It's hard to predict that.
"You certainly will have some success that way. It's really a question of how far do you go?"
There was talk of possibly of encouraging trucks to use other streets in the downtown area such as Broadway and Mill.
Officials discussed how instead of having northbound trucks turn right off M-24 onto E. Burdick St., they could be encouraged to turn right onto Broadway St., then left on Glaspie St. where they could pick up E. Burdick St., which turns into Lakeville Rd.
"Some truck traffic would likely increase on Broadway as part of this overall concept, but not all of the truck traffic would be going there," Arroyo explained. "You don't want all the traffic there, but you want some of it there. You're trying to use the various systems that you have in place to spread the load so to speak. That's how true downtowns work well – there's more than one way to get where you need to go."
Referring to previous traffic studies and plans, Arroyo noted how the idea of shifting some truck traffic to Broadway St. is "something that predates our being involved in the process."
It was discussed how Mill St. could be utilized by local delivery trucks – and other traffic – to access M-24 (via Broadway St.) as opposed to going through the congested intersection of Washington and Burdick streets.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.