A Better Barlow Street. Not a Wider, Faster, More Dangerous Barlow Street.

Things shoulders are for:

  1. Piggy back rides
  2. Standing on (only if they belong to a giant)
  3. Hanging a purse or messenger bag

Things shoulders are NOT for:

  1. Walking on in an urban context

In December, the Ticker reported plans for an estimated half-million dollar Barlow St. resurfacing project that includes “a paved shoulder that is wide enough for walkers and bikers and so forth,” according to Garfield Township supervisor Chuck Korn. To date, actual pedestrian safety features such as sidewalks, marked crosswalks and street lighting have not been mentioned publicly in plans for Barlow St.

For people who spend the majority of their transportation-related time behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, walking on a road shoulder may seem like a perfectly good idea. However, for those of us who occasionally or frequently have to walk on them know perfectly well that even the most accommodating road shoulders are no place for people on foot.

Road spray from cars and trucks, loose gravel that makes footing unsteady and speeding vehicles with drivers glancing down at their phones are the norm, not the exceptional shoulder walking experience. A recent Record Eagle piece further highlights how walking on the road shoulder, especially in winter months (at least 1/3 of the year in Traverse City) can be especially frightening and dangerous.

A wider Barlow St. design runs contrary to traffic calming principles that call for more narrow street widths to reduce vehicle speed and improve safety for people on foot and bike. This is important because a 2013 study tells us when vehicles and pedestrians collide, the speed of impact is directly associated with both pedestrian injury severity and death.

For example, in a car-ped crash with an impact speed of 20 mph, a pedestrian’s risk for severe injury is < 15% and risk of death hovers around 5%. However, when speeds increase to 35 mph, 1 in 3 pedestrians will be killed and risk for severe injury skyrockets to > 50%.

Barlow St. already has a speed problem. From South Airport to Premier Street, posted speeds are 45 mph. This portion of the corridor includes vital destinations like the Post Office and Secretary of State, as well as a quiet residential neighborhood directly adjacent to Barlow to it’s East. Posted speed then drops to 35 mph alongside the Town and Country neighborhood north to the City limits. There, mercifully, the posted speed finally drops to 25 mph.

Barlow St. in Garfield Twp. looking south near Premier St.

Garfield Township’s DRAFT Master Plan correctly identifies the Lafranier/Barlow corridor as (st)roads “which serve dense urban areas but lack adequate pedestrian facilities.” (page 17) The Corridor Planning section of the DRAFT Master Plan also mentions that, because of Barlow’s proximity to “walkable” employment in Traverse City and Garfield Township, “encouraging affordable housing should be a priority.”

The DRAFT goes on to note that the corridor has “high pedestrian demand but minimal pedestrian facilities” and that “Because of the built environment, separated sidewalks may be difficult to construct, but should be required wherever feasible. In the absence of sidewalks, designated bike lanes could accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists.” (page 38)

“Difficult to construct.” Difficult…but not impossible.

Sometimes the difficult decision, the more expensive decision, even the unpopular decision – is the right decision. But that’s leadership – making the difficult decisions. Yes, constructing sidewalks and crosswalks, adding lighting, striping a bike lane (or if we’re going to get crazy – adding a protected bike lane) is going to cost money. A lot of money.

But as a community, what do we value? Do we value our health and well-being? Because walkable infrastructure helps to improve that. Do we value our ability to walk down the street without being killed or injured? Because walkable infrastructure helps that, too.

We hope Garfield Township, in partnership with The City of Traverse City and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission decides that the health, well-being and safety of our community is of greater importance than a smoother, wider, faster Barlow St.

Thank you for reading. If you made it this far, maybe you agree that Barlow St. (and many other (st)roads in our community desperately need to be made more walk/bike/rollable for all people of all ages and abilities. If you agree, we need your help.


Call to action:

Leaders in Garfield, TC and the GT County Road Commission need to continue to hear from their constituents who value walk/bike/rollable community design. Please take the opportunity, this week, to share your thoughts specifically on Barlow St.

The ASK:

Barlow St. needs to be better.

Barlow St. needs a complete approach along it’s entire length.

Both TC and Garfield Twp. leaders, as well as the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, need to be contacted and encouraged to work together to get this done.

  • Barlow needs sidewalks. Wider shoulders will likely make Barlow St. less safe for people walking. 
  • Barlow needs marked and safer crosswalks.
  • Barlow needs proper lighting.
  • Barlow needs improved bike lanes.
  • Barlow traffic needs to be slower. Posted speed limits on Barlow are excessive. 45 mph from S. Airport to Premier and 35 mph from Premier to Boon is simply unacceptable for a residential area.

Please consider contacting TC, Garfield and GTCRC leaders with your thoughts on a Barlow St. that serves all users. We can’t wait for an another death or serious injury. The time is now.

Garfield Township contacts (Supervisor, Trustees, Planning Director): ckorn@garfield-twp.com, lmcmanus@garfield-twp.com, jblood@garfield-twp.com, molly@mollyago.com, sjdenterprisestc@gmail.com, sjdenterprisestc@gmail.com, deeschmuckal@hotmail.com, dan@gtdieselservice.com, rlarrea@garfield-twp.com

Traverse City contacts (City Commission, City Manager, City Planner): CityCommissioners@traversecitymi.gov, mcolburn@traversecitymi.gov, rsoyring@traversecitymi.gov

GT Country Road Commission contacts: Board: cbrown@gtcrc.org, jgillman@gtcrc.org, amarek@gtcrc.org, mmckellar@gtcrc.org, wmouser@gtcrc.org

Manager – Jim Cook: jcook@gtcrc.org

County Highway Engineer – Jim Johnson jjohnson@gtcrc.org

A few suggestions:

  • Our elected leaders and City/Township/Road Commission staff have an extremely difficult job and are, without a doubt, doing what they believe is best for their community with the resources that they have. Please take the time to sincerely thank them for the work they do on our behalf.
  • How has the lack of safe walk/bike infrastructure impacted you, your family, your neighbors? Our leaders need to hear the stories of how an unsafe Barlow St. is impacting area residents.

Thank you for your efforts to help make the Grand Traverse Region a more walkable, bikeable and rollable place for all people. Please join our advocacy grupo and help be part of the solution.

La Para Dorada: A Great Traverse City Shovel Experiment Award

golden shovel (2)

In my wheelchair on a snowy morning, I would, in past winters, take a breath and hunker down… preparing to take on not just the inches of snow but the traffic. Getting to where I needed to go required rolling down Cass Street itself rather than the sidewalk. Snow prevented my wheelchair from crossing the bridge and continuing down the walk. I’d protect my dog and myself the best I could.

One morning this winter I turned onto Cass and I stopped. Was the bridge really shoveled? It was! No longer did I have to face the morning traffic in the dark and in the snow. Bill not only shoveled the bridge, he extended his shoveling and inspired others to talk to property owners, who then shoveled their walks.

By the last of winter everyone, abled and differently abled… could go move down the sidewalk of Cass from Lake Street to State Street without inches of snow impeding their way. Thank you most sincerely, Bill. You made my life, my dog Luke’s life, many lives… easier and safer this year. You are a hero!” ~ Jeanne Esche

It’s with this glowing nomination that we are proud to give the inaugural Para Dorada award to Bill Palladino for his Cass Street Bridge heroics this winter. You rock, Bill. Thank you!


With 42 intersections, bridges and bus stops adopted, The Great Traverse City Shovel Experiment was a success. Thank you to EVERYONE who participated during our first season. We’re going to make some tweaks and bring it back bigger and better next winter.

Are you passionate about a more walkable, bikeable and rollable place for all people of all abilities in Traverse City? Please join our advocacy grupo and help be part of the solution.

A new Eastern Elementary is coming: Let’s make it walk/bike-tastic

El Grupo Norte

Awesome news!

Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) is coming to Eastern! The City of Traverse City is seeking a grant to improve the infrastructure for walking and biking around many in-town elementary schools. The goal is to make it safe, convenient, and fun for children, including those with disabilities, to walk, bike and roll to school.

When routes are safe, walking or biking to and from school is an easy way to get the regular physical activity children need for good health. SRTS initiatives also help ease traffic jams and air pollution, unite neighborhoods, and contribute to students’ readiness to learn in school.

As part of this process, parent and student input is critical.

A Walking/Biking Audit will be conducted at Eastern on Monday, March 13th after school as a crucial part of the planning process. This will be an opportunity for parents, students, staff and administration to get out into the community and walk, roll, or bike actual student routes and assess their safety. We will be looking for hazards, and begin to identify possible solutions. Think better traffic calming, crosswalks, bike lanes, sidewalks, lighting etc.

Let’s make the new Eastern walk/bike-tastic.

We will break into groups to assess on-site safety at Eastern as well as routes to/from neighborhoods such as Orchard Heights, Highland Park, Indian Woods, East Shore, Oak Park, and Oak Wood.

Meet at the west side bike racks at 4p. Training will be provided by the SRTS team. Bring your kids! Dress for the weather. Snacks provided! Plan for 2 hours.

March 14th is the rain date.

Parents who can not make it to the audit are encouraged to weigh in via this survey:


A follow up Action Planning Session is also planned for April, 17 at the Governmental Building in the Planning Department at 6p.

Stay tuned for info on more spring walk/bike audits at Traverse Heights and Immaculate Conception.

Get involved with our Traverse City-wide Safe Routes To School initiative!


Bikes + Adventure + Traverse City = Best Summer Camp Ever

Make your summer bike-tastic! The Bike Más Project, our adventure-based summer camp for awesome kids going into the 3rd – 6th grades, is back in 2017!

 The Bke Mas Project teaches urban bike safety skills through empowerment, education, and adventure. Much adventure!

The Bike Más Project camp goers will:

  • Explore Traverse City on your bike and discover its awesome places
  • Learn how to bike safe and bike smart
  • Develop bike repair and maintenance skills
  • Become a bike handling ninja
  • Build confidence. Get fit. Have FUN!

Dates for kids going into 5th/6th grades:

June 12 – 16
July 10 – 14
August 7 – 11

Dates for kids going into 3rd/4th grades:

June 19 – 23
July 17 – 21
August 14 – 18


9:00 – noon

Camp meets at the Norte! Clubhouse at the Civic Center



All campers receive:

“We participated in this program last summer with two of our children. They both absolutely loved it. Not only did it get them out and physically active, as a biking family, the Norte! group taught them critical bicycle safety skills while instilling the love of cycling through making it incredibly fun.” – Amanda DeBruyn

Limited spots available. Sign up today!

register button

Many scholarships available. Apply HERE.

Learn more about last year’s summer camp HERE.

The Norte! Kids Bike Library has a couple bikes and helmets to loan out too if needed.

Email us at hello@elgruponorte.org with questions.

TC Bike Life: Shea O’Brien



by Shea O’Brien

As I was walking passed the old city library, you know, the one on sixth street near downtown, I had this moment of nostalgia that forced me to write. A moment that opened up some clarity into why I love riding my bicycle.

I have such a deep flowing memory of when my Father was a stay at home Dad. I had just learned to ride my bike, only after falling many times, and my sister was walking and talking. My dad put her in the child seat on his bike and we set out on an urban adventure.

Now, 2 miles obviously isn’t far, but to a kid who just started riding without training wheels it’s on the other side of the world. We rode down Fern street and crossed Eighth street, what was my father thinking?! But he had the confidence in me which caused me to be just as confident. I was always such a cautious kid but that day I threw caution to the wind.

I remember riding through all the neighborhoods, my sister’s long hair blowing in the breeze and the birds singing a song of summer time. The sun warming my face, causing me to freckle. It was all so exhilarating but also kind of centering, meditative. I was in a zone. Cars gave us plenty of room as we hugged the curb. I never feared that anything bad would happen. My dad rode fast, I kept up. He slowed down, I did too. We all talked. We all laughed.

We arrived at the library 20 minutes later, a bit sweaty but, who cared? I had just ridden my bike, by myself for what seemed like an eternity and I felt so cool! We spent the day loading up on books and headed for home. The sun was low, dusk had somehow crept up on us but, again, there was nothing to fear, we had gotten here, we can get back. Dad took us on a completely different route, through downtown on State street to the neighborhood, up to Rose and through the trees at Traverse Heights to home again.

I learned so much that day. How to ride “long” distances, where the library was located, how to be sure of myself, that all roads lead home. And so many other life lessons I hope to instill in my children someday.

In this moment of clarity I realized when I’m out on my bike, I’m chasing that meditative state I felt so long ago. Some days it’s as simple as a quick ride to work. Others, I find myself having ridden to Sutton’s Bay. All to attain a feeling of cool confidence, assuredness that everything is just fine, you are exactly where you need to be.

Biking is transportation for so many. Biking is sport for so many. But for me it is one of the purest forms of nostalgia, getting back to my roots, being childish and having fun. It’s a way for me to express my idealist thought that life is meant to be lived, not worked for.

So, to that end, let’s all get out there on our bikes, on our feet and live.


You can follow Shea’s adventures on Instagram at @shea.m.obrien


TC Bike Life is a story series featuring ordinary people doing ordinary things on their bicycles in Traverse City aims to create awareness for the growing presence of people on bicycles in Traverse City, one story at a time.

Like to ride bikes in Traverse City? We’d love to tell your story too! Click HERE to answer a few short and easy Qs.

Email us hello@elgruponorte.org for more details.