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Too noisy, too fast, too congested

'Walkability' isthe buzzword in downtown Oxford

Walkability expert Dan Burden gives his opinion on the problem facing downtown Oxford Photo by A. Moser. (click for larger version)
November 17, 2010 - Oxford's walkability got a preliminary exam by one of the nation's top walkability experts.

The results: downtown is too noisy, too fast and too congested.

Walkability expert Dan Burden, after spending three hours in Oxford, shared those results with a group of leaders and business owners gathered at the Oxford Schools Administration building, Nov. 10

"The biggest thing I see when watching your traffic . . . is it's too noisy, it's too fast and there is a loss of civility," Burden said. "That is the good news. The bad news is you have a lot of traffic congestion and you can't go anywhere."

However, he didn't let the shocking news dampen the mood of the crowd for long.

"I have worked in Michigan towns enough and worked in towns throughout America enough, that I can speak with a pretty high level of confidence -- you can do some pretty amazing things," he said.

Burden is the executive director of the Walkable and Liveable Communities Institute and has helped more than 2,700 cities in the United States and around the world become pedestrian friendly. He has worked with 300 communities in Michigan, including Lapeer, Brighton, Howell and Traverse City.

When he says there is hope for downtown's walkability, he means it.

"You have a really great town, you have great bones. The pattern of your blocks, the layout of your town, the location of your buildings is something that many towns would love to have and you got it," Burden said.

"It's now a matter of polishing the jewel and all the things you can do," he added.

Before speaking about some options for N. Washington, which he called the "big gorilla," Burden said a Complete street policy is needed.

The policy states transportation planners and engineers should design and operate the roadway with all users in mind, including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

What can Oxford do? He said turning N. Washington into a boulevard would be the ideal, complete with a median and shrubbery on either side of the road.

"The median and boulevard gives you the beauty, the function, the safety and allows you to have more parking," he said.

He suggested narrowing the lanes to nine or 10 feet, explaining by narrowing lanes forces drivers to become more careful.

"When you have a nine or ten foot lane, you have to be vigilant, and when you are driving a car, vigilance is a good thing," he said. "You have fewer crashes. If we are worried about sustainability and getting the best functions and uses out of our streets, we probably don't need 12-15 foot lanes."

The idea of a roundabout was something Burden was not considering, based on the amount of daily traffic and available space.

Oxford averages about 30,000 vehicles rumbling thru town a day.

He praised curb extensions in town, but thinks more could be done with them. Curb extensions allow for a motorist and pedestrians to see each other better, resulting in lower turning speeds and a shorter distance for pedestrians to cross.

He also suggested installing islands, to further reduce vehicle turning speeds.

Burden said current traffic signals were "three generations old" and needed new ones. He would like to see at least two more signals added downtown.

Other ideas he mentioned were two traffic crossings, redoing the pedestrian cross walks and adding color to the parking spots.

Anna Taylor, owner of Pink & Charlie, said when the time was ready, Burden would come in with four designers and spend three days studying and mapping out a plan for Oxfordl

Oxford resident Rod Charles asked Burden about a timetable.

Burden said they would have to do the study, which would require interviewing the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Road Commission For Oakland County, followed by a presentation with his findings and suggestions. How quickly the project would be completed boils down to one thing: funding.

"It just depends what your resources are and how quickly people can assemble the money," Burden said.

Madonna Van Fossen, director of the Downtown Development Authority, said it was critical to get the Village Council, the DDA, the Planning Commission as well as the business owners, residents and property owners all on board.

Burden agreed.

"Once that vision is locked down and it goes before the city council and the city commission and you guys defend it, then you are handing MDOT exactly what they want," he said. "It's a done deal; it's a package, bow and ribbon and they can just start building."

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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