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Trucks or no trucks?
Meeting to discuss possibility of downtown bypass

by CJ Carnacchio

October 19, 2011

Can the needs of both pedestrians and truck traffic be balanced on M-24? Photo by CJC.
Should truck traffic be allowed to continue driving through downtown Oxford along Washington St. (M-24) or should the community pursue the creation of a bypass for these giants of the road?

That's the question the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) must answer before it can move forward with designing a new downtown streetscape that's more conducive to pedestrian traffic.

"(Truck traffic) has been identified several times as a significant obstacle to improving the pedestrian experience and viability of downtown," wrote Rod Arroyo, vice president of the Lathrup Village-based Birchler Arroyo Associates, Inc., in an Oct. 10 memo to the DDA.

The topic will be discussed during a 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26 meeting between DDA officials and streetscape planners to be held in the village community room at 22 W. Burdick St.

"The 500-pound gorilla is the amount of truck traffic that's rolling up and down the road," said DDA board member Don Sherman, who chairs the Economic Restructuring Committee, which will be hosting the meeting. "What, if anything, can we do to improve the situation?"

"I'm not saying that . . . yes, this is what we've got to do, but I still think it's something that we should at least have the conversation (about)," he noted.

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 to help calm motor vehicle traffic.

Trucks are viewed as an impediment to that goal 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 unsafe.

Arroyo indicated before the design process can continue, DDA officials must decide if they want the new streetscape plan to incorporate a Washington St. with trucks or without trucks.

Whether or not the community wishes to pursue creating a bypass that eliminates trucks from the downtown area will ultimately influence the type of streetscape that's designed (see shaded box below).

Arroyo warned that if the community chooses to go after a truck bypass, it's by no means a sure thing.

"Addressing truck traffic downtown is no small task," he wrote. "In addition to finding an appropriate alternative truck route, the Michigan Department of Transportation must agree, fund and build a sufficient transportation network to bypass the downtown area."

"Committing to pursue a truck bypass does not necessarily mean that such efforts will be fruitful, or that they will have immediate impact," Arroyo noted.

Sherman believes it's not too late to deal with downtown's issue with truck traffic.

"So many times over the years, I've heard people say that the time has passed for us to be able to do anything about this," he said. "I refuse to accept the fact that it's not possible to do something."

Referring to Glaspie St.,which runs parallel to M-24, he noted that "we've already got a truck route."

"It's just that nobody knows about it and nobody really uses it," Sherman said.

Right now, the only way for northbound traffic to access Glaspie St. is via a right-turn onto E. Drahner Rd. This can be a difficult and inconvenient thing for truckers.

Sherman suggested creating an "entry point" where the vacant Admiral gas station is on the east side of M-24, south of Drahner. The trucks could then travel along the former railroad easement, at a "very controlled, low speed," and access Glaspie St. from there.

"If you connect the dots, it's possible," he said. "It's just a matter of whether or not you can get the support behind it."

Although most of S. Glaspie St. consists of industrial properties, it also contains a number of residential properties, plus a village park and baseball fields.

N. Glaspie St. is an entirely residential area.

When asked his opinion about the idea of routing trucks past people's houses, Sherman replied, "Believe me, I'm very sensitive to it . . . Obviously, that's a challenge, that's a consideration."

"What's the right thing to do? I don't have, necessarily, all the answers for that," he said.

Sherman noted that TKMS, a local trucking company, is currently located on S. Glaspie St.

"These guys are already there," Sherman said. "And as long as they're moving in a manner that's controlled and at a good speed and everybody's on the same page, to me, they're already there."

Sherman's biggest concern is the possibility of mingling truck traffic with high school drivers.

Oxford High School is located on N. Oxford Rd., which becomes N. Glaspie St. in the village. Students frequently travel this stretch of road on their way to and from school.

"I don't like the idea of having truck traffic and high school students mixed together on the same piece of road," Sherman said.

One possible solution, according to Sherman, would be to extend E. Market St. a two-lane road that currently dead-ends at some undeveloped land to the high school and make it the "main entry point" for students, keeping them off N. Oxford Rd./N. Glaspie St.