How to Make Our Major Streets More Inviting?

Traverse City’s major stroad, Garfield Avenue


Improving Major Streets

Recently, the City of Traverse City has been exploring ideas to improve major corridors for people on foot, bikes, wheelchairs, and other human-scaled means of getting around. This effort certainly isn’t new, and past efforts haven’t been without success. Last year’s improvement of two relatively new crosswalks on Grandview Parkway is a case in point. The HAWK signals have made the crosswalk additions considerably safer.

Also, the five corridors study, W. Front and 8th St. Form-based code recommendations, and the Eighth St. visioning process all have specific recommendations for positive changes that are applicable across the region. We here at Norte are also big fans of NACTO’s Urban Design Guide.

Most recently, the new and improved section of Eighth Street provides real-life successes that can be made standard. The following isn’t comprehensive, but it’s some highlights from 8th St. that apply to corridors across the region.

  • Narrow travel lanes – 9′-10′ travel lane widths on all city streets. Skinny streets save lives, reduce noise pollution, save money, and allow reallocation of space for other uses.
  • Narrow Turning Radius – Tightening up corners shortens crossing distance and slows the driving speeds. (We’re excited to see MDOT’s improvements at Peninsula Drive!)
  • Pedestrian Scale Lighting – Done well, it increases comfort and safety while creating a welcoming context. Both W. Front St. and Eighth St. have been made more welcoming with lighting.
  • Separated, Protected Bike Lanes – TC’s major streets are a critical part of the network. Many people who are comfortable on a bike on neighborhood streets, lose that confidence on TC’s major streets.
  • Raised Crosswalks – Not only do raised-crosswalks slow traffic speeds, but they also improve accessibility by improving drainage. This time of year, it is really noticeable.

TC’s 8th Street, before and after


With a few exceptions, all of Traverse City’s major streets have official speed limits set at 25 mph. That’s an opportunity because the primary objective should be streets designed to encourage minimum speeds. Where current speeds are posted higher than 25 mph, we recommend adopting targets to reduce them by design and practice.

One suggestion to achieve this is reconfiguring the streets to only two lanes by default with any re-construction. With under 15,000 cars per day, there’s little need for Garfield Ave. to continue to be a four and five-lane stroad. The City also currently dedicates considerable space to turning lanes that needlessly run the full length of a corridor. Installing raised and protected midblock crossings on a street like 14th St. would help break long blocks up while also lowering speeds.

A running thread for #SlowtheCars

Make Streets Sticky

Ultimately, creating sticky streets where people feel welcome and can’t help themselves but linger is the goal. For the most part, Traverse City has achieved this downtown and serves as the model for future planning needs to embrace.

At this week’s City Commission meeting, city officials will be discussing this topic under the narrow agenda concerning setbacks. The focus on the walking environment is appreciated. We trust that the discussion will be expanded to include more substantial impacts like the ones listed above.


What are your suggestions for major corridors in the City and elsewhere across northern Michigan?