Advocacy Newsletter: Do You Whistle When You Shovel the Sidewalk?

Advocacy Newsletter, January 28, 2020

We believe that an advocate’s work starts at the front porch, includes a
nice snow shovel, and a tune you can whistle.

Hello Friends, 

I hope January is treating you well. This month’s Advocacy Newsletter has a few items to highlight from this first month of year 2020, so let’s jump in.

First, Norte Neighborhood Advocacy established an advocacy committee to assist with strategic planning, provide feedback as issues arise and on-the-street observations and perspectives from across the region. We also look to this group to fuel creativity, camaraderie, and collaboration among citizen advocates across the region. Advocating needs more merriment!

Our inaugural committee members represent the geographic reach of our growing community, from Northport around the bays to Elk Rapids and Kalkaska. Here’s a big-orange thank you to the 12 rockstars on the committee. If you see any of the following people, give them a warm Norte thanks and perhaps share your dreams for a better community.

Thank you Kelly Primo, William White, Jeanne Esch, Corrine Wetherbee, Connor Miller, Janice Beyer, Lauren Dake, Kaischa Smith, Bill Danly, Tracy Halasinski, and John Roberts. The committee is chaired by the newly elected board president, Chris Hinze.

If you have questions or suggestions, please email Chris at

The Bike Life
Are you ready to join Matt on Winter Bike to Work & School Day? 

Quick Spins

  • It’s that CIP Time of Year – CIP is short for Capital Improvement Program or Plan. Local governments use the CIP to review the 5-6 year major infrastructure plan annually. Typically, the further out a project is, the more visionary it is. An appropriate CIP integrates planning between departments and aligns with the budget and policy priorities from previous years. Current major projects proposed for Traverse City include five different bridge projects, reconstruction of Garfield Ave. (Front to Hannah), several neighborhood parks, the Boardman Lake Loop extension, continued sidewalk gap infill, and the annual street reconstruction program. If you want to understand the upcoming walk and bike projects and see where your own positive influence might be useful, there is a public hearing for Traverse City’s CIP on February 4th. If you’re not in Traverse City, you can visit your local government’s website for their CIP process (I’m happy to help, just reach out).
  • Fixing the Stroads – Coined by Strong Towns to describe dangerous, multi-laned corridors, that underperform by almost all measures, stroads are street/road hybrids that need fixing. The City of Traverse City recently asked for our input on How to Make Our Major Corridors More Inviting. After you review our list, let us know your own suggestions. Send them my way and if they are relevant to Traverse City, share them with the city planner, Russ Soyring at
  • 2020 Advocate Academy –  Next Thursday, we begin another year in partnership with Groundwork Center to kick off the third annual Advocate Academy. In the six weekly meetings, participants work together to develop strategies and approaches for effective local advocacy related to the Pro Walk/Pro Bike initiative. There are a few spots left, so learn more and enroll today. Bring a friend!

The snow is still falling, so after viewing our snowy PSA, consider joining the Great Northern Michigan Shovel Experiment.

Be safe. Have fun. Keep advocating for all things great.

Gary Howe
Advocacy Director

P.S. Did you see Norte’s new color? We went Platinum as a League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Business. We join Higher Grounds and Boomerang Catapult as certified businesses in Northern Michigan. Want to join us? 


1. Take Norte’s Community Walk, Bike Survey

Have a friend who is always talking about the streets and traffic? They can sign up below.

Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy

VIDEO: Winter Walk Wednesdays to Bus to Greenspire School

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? 



Winter Walk Wednesdays with the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation

Norte Goes Platinum!

Norte is stoked to announce we’ve been recognized as a Platinum Bicycle Friendly Business from The League of American Bicyclists. We’re joining nearly 1,400 local businesses, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies in a shared commitment to building safer, stronger, and better-connected communities.

Norte joins two other area businesses in this recognition: Higher Grounds Trading Co., known for its coffee-by-bike delivery service, and downtown investment firm Boomerang Catapult.




The Bicycle Friendly Business program is run by The League of American Bicyclists. It provides recognition and guidance for businesses to showcase and enhance their bicycle-friendliness. As Northern Michigan embraces and promotes more walking and biking, we want to celebrate the companies that are part of the solution. Part of that Norte’s goal is putting northern Michigan’s businesses on the national map for bike friendliness and then celebrating the heck out of their achievements.

“We are proud supporters of Norte’s efforts to get more people outside and living healthier, more active lives. Our Bicycle Friendly Business certification will hopefully serve as a model for others: if our small business can do it, anyone can do it,” said Emily Modrall, Boomerang Chief of Staff. “Norte helped make the application process easy and successful. I look forward to seeing a cluster of BFBs in Traverse City. We can put Traverse City on the map as the most bike-friendly business community around.”


Bicycle Friendly Business certification provides national recognition for businesses that are leaders in wellness, sustainability, and corporate responsibility. It also serves as a unique recruitment tool for retaining and attracting talent. The BFB application provides useful feedback on ways a business can become even more bicycle (and walk!) friendly. The League is a link to resources, ideas, and best practices.

Check out our Business Champion program and let us know how we can help your business apply for Bicycle Friendly Business certification.

Learn more about the League’s Bicycle Friendly Business program at


Bicycle Friendly Business is a Service Mark of the League of American Bicyclists; used with permission.

Advocacy Newsletter: ’tis the season for gratitude, exploring, and advocating – always!

Advocacy Newsletter, December 5, 2019

Hello fellow citizens,

As we roll into the holiday season and the gifts to come, I encourage us to look back on the gifts we’ve already experienced throughout 2019. As Norte’s Advocacy Director, for me, that means countless new relationships established and others renewed through a shared cause of safer streets and destinations that provide us great places to be ourselves. Thank you to all our community partners, Business Champions, citizen advocates, mentors, and supporters who make this work richer. Here’s to more and better in 2020.

One of the most significant programs we rolled out in 2019 was the Explore Academy class, “Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape your Community.” The 24 middle and high school students who participated in the program were some of the most exceptional people I was honored to meet this year. With a mix of ages from a blend of schools, they quickly established the program on a strong foundation.

“Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape your Community,” was made possible by a developmental micro-grant from League of Michigan Bicyclists. The class developed over the summer of 2019 in partnership with Megan Olds of Parallel Solutions. We also owe thanks to the support from TC West Senior High and TC Central High civics programs for offering the program as an extracurricular program.

Read the recap at Exploring the streets for opportunities and delights.

Are you thinking about winter cycling? 
Norte’s staff is here to offer encouragement, advice, and a hot cup of coffee.


  • East Bay All the Way – The buzz for better access and more choices to get around is on track in East Bay. Read our latest update.
  • Traverse City Crosswalk Signs – This past Monday, city staff presented several possibilities for City Commissioners to consider in order to maintain the deployment of the popular in-street pedestrian signs at 12 crosswalks throughout the winter. Under consideration is an option to place additional curb mounted signs, thus maintaining extra signage throughout the year. Support for year-round attention and encouragement of walkability deserves our appreciation. Please send city staff and commissioners encouragement for recognizing the importance of year-round safe access at  
  • To Stop or Not – Traverse City continues to take public input regarding the four-way stop sign trial at W. Front and Madison Streets. They are currently processing over 1500 survey results. The intersection is a tricky one and the right tool for regulating who gets to go when is generating lively debateYou are encouraged to share your thoughts with the chair of the traffic committee, Assistant City Manager, Penny Hill, at 
  • Garfield Township Trails – This past Wednesday, 17 Michigan State University students presented conceptual plans for extending the Buffalo Ridge Trail from the YMCA to the Taqueria at Zimmerman Rd. The concepts included connections to the growing neighborhoods along Silver Lake and South Airport Roads and a healthy dose of placemaking attractions. Next year, the Lower Buffalo will be paved from 14th St. to Silver Dr. These conceptual designs are early ideas for an extension that would connect schools, businesses, and the YMCA to residents to South and West of the City. If you are interested in the concepts and want to support this trail, email Garfield’s Planning Director, John Sych at 
  • Snow, Snow, Everywhere Snow – The region has come a long way over the past decade in maintaining clear sidewalks, trails, and bus stops year-round. For example, the Mall Trail is being plowed by TART thanks to the pro-bono services of Johnson Outdoor Services and the County, East Bay, Acme, and Garfield Townships, the City of TC, and others have implemented a plan to clear the East-West multi-use trails all winter. There is a regional effort to be celebrated. Send your snowy-gratitude to County Facilities Manager, Joe Berry, at, TC Director of Public Services, Frank Dituri, at, and in Garfield Township, Supervisor Chuck Korn,

Do you have some extra energy for moving some snow? Burn off some calories through Norte’s Great Shovel Experiment and/or with one of our community partners, BATA. The transit service needs volunteers for its Adopt-a-Stop Program.

Be safe. Have fun. Advocate for all things great.

Gary Howe
Advocacy Director

Have a friend who is always talking about the streets and traffic? They can sign up below.

Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy

Exploring the streets for opportunities and delights

“Overall, I was surprised by how much I liked this. At first, I was skeptical, one, because my dad signed me up for this without asking. But I gave it a try and ended up liking it. It gave me a new perspective on the community that never would have seen. Thank you!”

Norte designed and launched its inaugural “Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community” course this fall. The program created opportunities for teens to learn more about community design and infrastructure, and the way these elements impact our experience of the community. This will, we trust, help them engage and learn how they can affect positive change.

The foundation of this course is a belief that when we explore our communities with curiosity, careful attention, and intention, undoubtedly, we begin to see things that we haven’t noticed. We then start to ask questions. What is this? Why is it here? How does it impact my experience of this place? Ultimately, as we continue to explore, we begin to see both what we like and appreciate, and how we might make improvements. The process becomes part of our own story and the story of our community and our role in shaping it.

For six Sundays, 24 students aged 13-18 gathered for 90-minute meetups. These meetups introduced them to the built environment, planning concepts, mobility challenges, and the role citizen advocates play in shaping solutions to community issues. In the end, students identified opportunities they’d like to champion and developed an action plan for change.

“The strength of the Explore Academy is to show teenagers that they are part of the community, have a voice, and can help to make it better through advocating and taking action on something that they strongly believe.“

The meetups incorporated six themes aimed at introducing the students to tools and ideas to help them engage with and see the neighborhood. On most Sundays, students spent half of the session exploring the surrounding area by foot or by bus, before returning to discuss observations and ideas. The two most popular meetups, week three and week five, incorporated longer student-led walks. In these walks, students proved proficient in applying concepts introduced in previous meetups. For example, they quickly learned to empathize with others when evaluating a space or a piece of infrastructure that is an obstacle or creates isolation.

The most popular exercise was the “Frame It” task from Meetup 3, The Experienced Neighborhood. The students were sent (in the pouring rain!) by bus to one of the more challenging spots in Traverse City and were asked to walk back. They were instructed to document the positives and opportunities for improvement with photos, using a blue frame to frame the former and orange for the latter. “Frame It” is a coding method adapted from a similar concept invented by landscape architect Isami Kinoshita in Toyko in his attempts to animate public life.

We trust that Explore Academy graduates will continue to pursue ways to impact their community positively. In the near term, students left with a plan of action on a specific opportunity identified during the program. Long-term, we hope that they took away a fundamental understanding that our communities are shaped by design. Each design element in our community represents a choice and value. We want them to understand that someone or someones made a decision. Because of this, another approach is always possible. Decisions can be influenced and can change.

Cities, neighborhoods, and communities are continually evolving. Our job at Norte is to help those who wish to shape them to understand those evolutions better. The skill to be developed is to observe one’s community by reflecting on personal experiences and those of others, researching the issue, then telling your story to shape the community. Done well, the impact will result in one’s values being represented in the community.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

“Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape your Community,” was made possible by a developmental micro-grant from League of Michigan Bicyclists. Norte developed the program over the summer of 2019 in partnership between Norte’s Advocacy program and Megan Olds of Norte Business Champion Parallel Solutions. We owe thanks to the support from TC West Senior High and TC Central High civics programs for offering the program as an extracurricular program. And, finally, thank you to the engaged and motivated students who made the program a success. We look forward to working with all of them in the coming years.

* The above quotes are from anonymous student evaluations 



Are you thinking about winter cycling?


Believe it or not, the climate is not the deciding factor on whether or not people cycle. People the world over, including the Grand Traverse region, cycle year-round, and through all sorts of weather. In fact, some of the world’s most bicycle-friendly communities share our wintery climate. The leaders do so by investing in dedicated infrastructure and its maintenance.

That said, there are certainly some best practice tips the individual can use to make winter cycling more appealing. Gear heads certainly have all sorts of advice. Still, for everyday neighborhood cycling, it doesn’t take much to enjoy the quiet, snowy thrill of rolling along on snow.

Norte has visited this topic before. Our Traverse City Bike Life series highlights tips from local champs like Kyle SmithPatrick MierClaire Karner, and Norte Program Director, Ben Boyce. Our Executive Director, Ty Schmidt, even presented at the International Winter Cycling Conference in Montreal a few years back.

There are two things in common in all of these stories: 1, winter cycling, isn’t by default complicated. It’s still as easy as riding a bike. 2, there are magical moments in winter riding. There’s simply nothing like the quiet of less traffic, streets muted by a layer of snow, while snowflakes gently fall.


For this post, I asked Norte staff for one piece of advice that other recommendations may miss.

  • Ty Schmidt: “A fancy bike isn’t necessary. Take the turns wide. And, smile.”
  • Ashlea Walter: “Be social! There is power in numbers and if there are two or more people cycling in the winter together, it’s more visible and more fun. I usually walk more in the winter though than bike, and plan extra time in my schedule.”
  • Jamie Burley: “Don’t feel guilty about it. Bike when you can, drive if you want. Either way, be considerate of others. We’re all just trying to get somewhere.”
  • Mike Decker: “Keep your bike clean and well maintained. Dedicate a space out of the elements to store it and wipe it down regularly.”
  • Ben Boyce: “Slow down, watch out for ice, and cut through the Oakwood Cemetery whenever possible. It is awesome in the winter!”
  • Gary Howe: “On sloppy, slushy days, I recommend walking. If the distance is too far, combine your trip with a bus ride. You might even take your bike on the bus if you know conditions will improve on your return.”
  • Roger Amundsen: “Dress the part. Being on your bike in the snow is awesome, but it’s considerably less awesome if you’re underdressed or overdressed. My advice is to always layer well and to dress for about 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature you’re riding in. You don’t want to ride with a chill, but you also don’t want to overdress & end up overheated by the time you get where you’re going.”
  • Abby Havill: “Walking or biking outside in the snow can be truly magical. With proper attire, it’s so much easier to enjoy the cold, and it’s lessons of calm and quiet. The earth seems to slow it’s pace in the winter whilst being covered in the layer of white magic. Therefore, it’s a perfect invitation to slow down for yourself. We must pay closer attention to our bikes and the movement of our body in relation to our bikes in the winter because of the ice and sometimes slush. It’s far more invigorating to get your bike tires over a mound of frozen ice and snow than it is to do so in your vehicle. Just saying…”

Our Volunteer Director, Mike Decker, also contributed a winter cycling 101 he previously wrote.

Mike’s Winter Commuting 101

  • The fatter and grippier the tires, the better.
  • Replan your route based on conditions. Your summer bike commute won’t work here.
  • Get off the bike. Sometimes it’s the safest option. Get back on when the road is better.
  • The sidewalk is your friend. In a pinch, get up on it. 
  • Invest in a good pair of lights. 
  • Wear the right clothing. Running/skiing/hiking stuff transfers well for biking. Bright and reflective is a plus, while a pair of bike-specific winter gloves are absolutely worth the cost. 
  • Don’t mess with ice. Put a foot down, get off the bike, bike on the sidewalk until it’s clear. 
  • Avoid cars but assert yourself when necessary. If the bike lane is full of snow and ice, get into the street. Cars treat bicyclists like lepers in the winter; they’re more afraid of hitting them.
  • Install some flat platform pedals. Your feet won’t slip off, and you can wear boots.
  • Find a good space to store it in your home or garage. And, keep it clean. Invest in Simple Green and dilute it with water in a spray bottle. Find rags and wipe down bike if it gets dirty. Clean that drive train!
  • Utilize Norte Clubhouse Member Program. You’ll have access to a workspace where you can clean and maintain a bike. A year’s membership and a great investment. And, a great gift!


If you’re new to winter riding, why not join others while exploring the Christmas decorations around Traverse City. Wednesday, December 18 is Norte’s annual See the Lights ride. A slow roll in the snow passing by some of Traverse City’s best-lit homes. If you need the perfect winter hat, we have the Very Orange Winter Hat to top off your gear.

On February 7, 2020, join us for the annual Winter Bike to Work and School Day. You and your co-workers can commit now at The goal is to put little ol’ Northern Michigan on the Winter Bike to Work map. Winter bike to work also includes a happy hour, which might be another pro tip for winter cycling!

TC Rides to See The Lights


Connect your business to the Pro Walk/Pro Bike movement with an annual Norte Business Champion sponsorship.



Advocacy Newsletter: Does your street pass the halloween test?

Advocacy Newsletter, October 31, 2019

Greetings Community-Engaged Ghouls and Goblins,

Happy Halloween! Today is the walktastic holiday celebrating compact, friendly neighborhoods. We observe this holiday of walking by getting into costume, saying hi to neighbors, and sending the young ones onto strangers’ porches for sugary sweets.

The most walkable neighborhoods attract the most trick-or-treaters, so give your neighborhood the Halloween walkability test tonight. Here are key elements to recognize.

  1. More Doors – More doors per mile = more candy per minute.
  2. Porches and Stoops – Doors you can find and porches to welcome you.
  3. Short Setbacks – The closer the porch is to the sidewalk or street, again, the more candy per minute available.
  4. Wide Sidewalks, Skinny Streets – Central Neighborhood is Traverse City’s ultimate Halloween destination due to 6′-8′ sidewalks, healthy trees, and streets narrowed by parked cars.
  5. Healthy Grid – No one has time to get turned around on Halloween. True walkability is found in neighborhoods that connect without switchbacks and backtracking.

On average, children are twice as likely to be killed in a crash on Halloween than any other day. That’s the scary part of Halloween. Use caution and consider leaving the car parked tonight. Instead, join the crowd of scary celebrities, ghosts, and werewolves on a walk. Here are some Halloween safety tips by Safe Kids Worldwide (also in Spanish).

Here are a few upcoming opportunities to help raise the Halloween walkability score for more of the Grand Traverse region.


Friday, Nov. 1, 12:45 to 3:30 – Community Tree Planting Event with ReLeaf Michigan, DTE Foundation, and City of TC. Meet at the corner of Grant and Carver St. to help plant 14 trees in Traverse Heights.

Wednesday, Nov. 6, 5:15 – Planning Commission Open House to collect feedback on the draft Street Design Manual (PDF). The City of Traverse City is a leader in the region and the state for Pro Walk/Pro Bike initiatives. It was one of the first to deploy in-street crosswalks signs, invest in urban multi-use trails, and install a protected bike lane. However, there is plenty of room for improvement in street designs, the process of review, and complete street network planning. This current document is intended to provide design guidance for all city streets.

The quick history is that it is a result of a failed attempt to pass an active transportation plan going back to 2013. The stated goal for the city is safe, inviting, efficient, and inclusive access and this document is seen as an incremental step towards that end. The planning department would specifically appreciate comments on streets and routes to expand the bike network and solve problem intersections. Your comments from Norte’s Advocacy Happy Hour on August 29 have been shared. Hopefully, there is also room to include more commitment to complete streets designed for all ages and abilities. I encourage you to review Traverse City’s Street Design Guide, attend the meeting, and share your opinion.

If you’re looking for inspiration, Vancouver’s transportation AAA design guidelines are a progressive model – All Ages, All Abilities (PDF), as is Boulder’s Low-Stress Walk and Bike Network Plan.

Friday, Nov. 8, 12:00 to 2:00 – Public input opportunity to review preliminary Safe Routes to School plans. This is a chance to have questions answered and to speak in favor of specific aspects of the plan. Norte is already gearing up for the Safe Routes programming in the 10-schools connected to this grant. This meeting will review the preliminary plan for the sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic calming associated with the Safe Routes to School infrastructure grant of $1.9 million awarded to the city. You can review the schools involved and sign up to be kept up to speed at Norte Safe Routes.

If you can’t make either of these public input meetings, you may email the City Planner Russ Soyring, and and the Traffic Committee Chairperson Penny Hill, 

The All Ages, All Abilities approach to bike facilities.


  • Suttons Bay Strong – There will be a Norte led walking audit next week in Suttons Bay as part of Suttons Bay Strong. The walk begins at 4:30 by the flag pole at Suttons Bay Elementary. Everyone with an interest in a more walkable village is invited. If you’re a parent of a student in Suttons Bay, please take this Safe Routes to School survey by November 11.
  • Kalkaska Strong – Norte is also helping Kalkaska Strong prepare for a Safe Routes to School grant. We need parents of Kalkaska students to also take the Safe Routes to School Survey for their schools by November 11.
  • Community Walk, Bike Survey –You value what you measure and Norte values your input on how the Grand Traverse region is doing to promote walking and biking by design. Our annual survey is now live and ready to document why you walk and bike? As well as why you don’t? You may take it once or at different times throughout the year.  The Community Walk, Bike Survey takes about 5-10 minutes.

As always, there’s plenty of ways to plug-in at Norte. Please check the Norte calendar for events of interest.

Be safe. Have fun.

Gary Howe
Advocacy Director

Sign up to have pass this newsletter delivered to your inbox or pass it on to that friend who is always talking about streets and traffic.

Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy

Get to Know the Candidates: Office of City Commissioner, Traverse City

This week, Norte offered the 10 candidates for the five open seats for City Commission of Traverse City an opportunity to speak to the Norte community. We started on Monday with the Office of Mayor and followed up yesterday with the two candidates running for a partial term race for City Commissioner.

Today we hear from the six candidates running for three four-year City Commissioner seats. All candidates were asked to keep their answers to 450 characters. All answers were published as submitted, unedited, and without annotation in the order responses were received.

Office of City Commissioner, City of Traverse City (Four-Year Term)

To start, please describe the most memorable walk, or most memorable bike ride, that you have experienced. This could have been anywhere in the world, for any duration, for any purpose. What made it so memorable?

Evan Dalley:  My most memorable bike ride was when I first rode the perimeter of Mackinac Island. Lake Shore Drive as it winds around the island provides stunning views of Lake Huron and the Straits, but is mostly impressive for being 100% car-free! I don’t remember exactly how old I was at the time but I do remember being struck by the freedom of having a whole road I could ride my bike on without any fear for my safety. There should be more places like that.

Katy Bertodatto: Washington Street to try to find a way to say goodbye to a friend. There were still marks on the pavement where she lost her life riding home. I hit my knees next to her ghost bike and fell apart in a fit of sadness and rage. I was angry when they took down her white bike and paved over the marks because for them it was disturbing to see the literal last marks she left on the world. I still see her everywhere. I haven’t ridden my bike since 2013.

Roger Putman: In 1998 as the first executive director of TART Trails when I walked the Leelanau Trail for the first time. It was mostly gravel and was the target of a great deal of opposition from adjacent land owners along the route, as well as having a large mortgage that had been taken out to preserve the 100′ wide by 17 mile piece of property for public use. I am proud of having the privilege to help develop and preserve this exceptional trail.

Dave Durbin: My first Century Ride (100 miles) was with a friend and we went from TC to Northport to Empire and back to TC on a beautiful fall day. Memorable because it felt like a culmination of all my life’s rides. Throughout life I’ve ridden for fitness, for transport, for pleasure and out of necessity. Growing up on a dirt road in northern Michigan, my Huffy meant freedom to me. Without the lifetime of riding, that Century Ride wouldn’t have happened.

Amy Shamroe: When I was 10, I saved up and bought a Cool Waves 10 speed. It was the coolest bike ever. One day my best friend, brother, his friend, and I all went for a random ride and ended up going up and down every street in the neighborhood where I lived. We were gone for hours. It was a magical sense of exploration and freedom I had never known before and it allowed me to see something so familiar through totally different eyes.

Ashlea Walter: So many! If I have to pick just one, it was my daily bike ride when I was a college student living in Erlangen, Germany. I lived in a little village outside of the City and there was a beautiful, inspiring web of protected bike lanes and forest trails that I took to town. It was the first time that I experienced a completely different way to get myself independently and confidently EVERY place I wanted and needed to go via bike. Inspiring!

Please define effective leadership in the local context. Provide in your answer, a specific example of leadership that has impacted your willingness to serve as an elected official.

Evan Dalley: Local leaders should be patient, humble, have a passion for their community, and – most importantly – should actively listen to the members of their community. Grand Traverse County Commissioner Betsy Coffia is a great example of a leader on the local level who has these characteristics. More than anyone else, she has inspired me to seek elected office myself.

Katy Bertodatto: Leadership in the local context is about knowing what tools you have and how to use them. Grants, subsidies, funding sources, but most of all people. Leaders know that they don’t know everything and they surround themselves with people who are willing to research and learn and advocate. Jean Derenzy does this with the DDA. Warren Call does this with TraverseCONNECT. And I will do this on City Commission.

Roger Putman: Effective leadership means listening to all points of view concerning important issues and making informed, educated decisions that affect the community in a positive manner. In the case of the City Commission, leadership begins with the citizens who are served by those elected officials. Traverse City citizens are engaged and their leadership is an important asset to our process.

Dave Durbin: A strong local leader is one who can understand issues, work with people from different backgrounds, bring consensus and then take action. While in office, Gov. William Milliken showed this type of leadership. He was more interested in finding the right solutions and was a consummate gentleman. He considered ideas from the other side if they contributed to a better option and I think this type of leadership encourages good ideas and unites us.

Amy Shamroe: Local leadership is listening to citizens, using facts from staff and experts, and crafting the best possible policy for the City. Over the last four years I have served on four different Commissions due to unusual turnover. In that time I have lead on projects like Fiber to the Premises and 8th Street. Leading on policy through these changes taught me valuable leadership lessons that will be an asset on a new Commission.

Ashlea Walter: Effective leadership is listening with an open mind, being open to change, empowering others to be a part of action-oriented solutions, and focused on inclusion of different, often marginalized voices. An example of leadership that has inspired me is Michigan Representative Rachel Hood in Grand Rapids. She is a mother, business co-owner with her husband, strident and passionate environmental protector, and coalition-builder. She gets stuff done!

How is a Traverse City of the future, one that is stronger, better connected, and more walk and bike-friendly different than the Traverse City of today?

Evan Dalley: Today’s Traverse City has a lot going for it, but a future, stronger city will have more and better-protected bike lanes for bicyclists to travel, more dedicated non-motorized roads and trails, more and wider sidewalks, engaging and inspiring public spaces where people can mingle, an economy less reliant on tourism and service industry jobs, and neighborhoods where people of all income levels and backgrounds can afford to live.

Katy Bertodatto: My primary concern is safety as we move toward a more walkable, bike-able community. I see every major road project moving forward taking into account safety and support for those who choose to walk and bike. Connecting sidewalks and providing safe walks to school is important and I’d like to see more of that.

Roger Putman: The most important emphasis is to reduce the volume of vehicles on our City roads to help relieve congestion by promoting increased public transportation (park and ride) options along with ensuring bike lanes / paths and sidewalks headline any road improvements and developments in the City.

Dave Durbin: In the future Traverse City, more people will be able choose to safely walk or bike to their destinations (work, social, meetings, entertainment) and BATA will have enhanced routes to transport people throughout Traverse City and neighboring communities. Hopefully more pathway options to connect commerce and residential hubs will make the option to bike or walk more appealing thereby minimizing our reliance on motorized vehicles.

Amy Shamroe: Traverse City of the future will have developments with little to no parking. Easily accessible BATA stops will be built into reconstructions and be in all neighborhoods with more frequency. The City will have human sized bike lanes on streets. We will continue to move the emphasis from cars to people and work with partners for best practices. Education and outreach will make citizens advocates for these approaches.

Ashlea Walter: It’s different than the TC of today, but we are making progress. My vision of a stronger, better-connected TC would be to see more protected bike lanes, in addition to clearly-communicated (painted/delineated) bike lanes and sidewalks all over the region connecting ALL neighborhoods and businesses, and our surrounding communities outside of the City with clear access to businesses, schools, work, etc. via walking and biking.

The City of Traverse City will soon complete a dramatic reconstruction of 8th Street from Boardman Ave. to Woodmere Ave. What is your first response to the new 8th Street? What do you hope that the city can learn from the process and the design?

Evan Dalley: I hope the city will replicate the charrette process for future large-scale projects like the Eighth Street reconstruction, while also finding additional ways to gather public feedback. The more participation we have from all stakeholders in projects like this, the better the outcome. I hope also that the city will continue to look for ways to provide and enable multi-modal transportation options in future street reconstructions.

Katy Bertodatto: It’s done! And it’s beautiful. The process took forever but the construction took a very reasonable amount of time. My children ride their bikes from central neighborhood to the library and I am beyond excited that they have a safe lane with a buffer for their commute. There are other corridors that would benefit from a similar redesign and I hope to be a part of that.

Roger Putman: It depends on who you listen to. There has been a great deal of negative feedback from drivers who thought the project would eliminate the backups and traffic congestion. Refer to my answer to Question 6. I think the project examples a better way to recognize that pedestrians, bicyclists and those with disabilities are just as entitled to commute and expect safe routes throughout the City as someone in a car.

Dave Durbin: The traffic calming steps and lighting are effective, providing more of a safe neighborhood feel. The pedestrian component is a vast improvement both in walking 8th St and crossing it. I feel like a separated street level bike lane may work better, but overall this project is a win for the community and for the 8th St Corridor’s future development. Now that we have this working model, I hope we’ll continue to learn for future city projects.

Amy Shamroe: It has transformed how we interact with the street in the best way. It is not perfect. I have said since the start some will be disappointed no matter what because it does not look like their personal vision. In the end though it is an excellent realization of the community discussions that lead to its plan. It is a good model for involving citizens and interested parties on major City projects.

Ashlea Walter: I love the new 8th Street and it’s just the beginning of how we can create a corridor for all uses (pedestrians, bikers, cars, buses) on a very human-centered scale. It’s not perfect, but it’s significant progress. What we can learn from this is that progress is messy and imperfect, and not to shy away from conflict, but to embrace this part of living in community together. Continue to dream and act BIG.

Finally, what are you for?

Evan Dalley: I’m running to give back to a community that has given me everything I have. As your city commissioner, I will be a fierce advocate for the working people of our city, for the creation of affordable housing options in our community, for the creation and expansion of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, for the protection of our precious natural resources, and for smart and sustainable growth. Together, let’s create a Traverse City for All.

Katy Bertodatto: I am for responsible economic development and growth. I am for protecting our neighborhoods and supporting our businesses. I do not believe those two things are mutually exclusive. I am for a commission that is action oriented and ready to get to work.

Roger Putman: I am for many things, but especially those efforts that protect our environment and natural resources. On a different scale, I am for maintaining a positive outlook and interaction that can achieve remarkable results through respectful debate. I am for the people of Traverse City and for a stronger community.

Dave Durbin: I’m for a better quality of life for all. This means better physical health, mental health, financial health, and spiritual health. A commonality for communities with the best health and longevity (like Blue Zones), includes people who get exercise from their everyday activities. A walkable/bikeable city contributes to that. Whether or not TC ever becomes a Blue Zone or even wants to, it’s good that we’re moving in that healthy direction.

Amy Shamroe: I am for a Traverse City that looks forward to what can be, builds on what we have been doing in recent years to improve infrastructure and quality of life, and aims to lead the way for communities in our region and state.

Ashlea Walter: I am for community connection, high quality of life for ALL, inclusion, equity and equality.

Part I | Part II | Part III

Election Details

This fall, the Traverse City City Commission has a total of five seats open on the seven-member council. The fives seats are spread across three separate races. There is the race for Office of Mayor, which is a two-year term and the race for three four-year City Commissioner terms. Additionally, this year there is a special election for a partial two-year term to replace a City Commissioner who recently stepped down. Follow these links to check your own ballot and to double check that you’re registered.

Election Day is officially on November 5. Many voters have already started casting ballots via no excuse absentee ballots. The candidates receiving the most votes in their individual races will be sworn into office on November 11, 2019, at 7 p.m.

Get to Know the Candidates: Office of City Commissioner, Traverse City (Two-Year)

This week, Norte offered the 10 candidates for the five open seats for City Commission of Traverse City an opportunity to speak to the Norte community. We started on Monday with the Office of Mayor and on Wednesday we will hear from the six candidates running for the three four-year City Commissioner seats. Today, we hear from the two candidates running for a partial two-year term race for City Commissioner.

Candidates were asked to keep their answers to 450 characters. All answers were published as submitted, unedited, and without annotation in the order responses were received.

Office of City Commissioner, City of Traverse City (Two-Year Term)

To start, please describe the most memorable walk, or most memorable bike ride, that you have experienced. This could have been anywhere in the world, for any duration, for any purpose. What made it so memorable?

Christie Minervini:  I had the opportunity to visit Venice in the mid 1990s and still consider it to be my “happy place.” Though it was a literal maze of narrow streets, they were all clean, walkable and easy to navigate. I loved exploring the shops, restaurants, museums and cafes all filled with happy people. It was the kind of place where I felt safe and welcome — pedestrians all greeted me with a nod, smile and eye contact!

Tom Mair: Two – Detroit-Mackinaw City round-trip and Windsor-Montreal one-way. Biggest confidence builder .

Please define effective leadership in the local context. Provide in your answer, a specific example of leadership that has impacted your willingness to serve as an elected official.

Christie Minervini:  Effective local leadership is about research, engagement and collaboration. I have a long history of volunteer leadership, but the development of a permanent seasonal emergency shelter for Safe Harbor stands out in this case. Here, being a leader required intensive study, public engagement and education, effective lobbying and inter-agency collaboration, plus the ability to take on a tough project and see it through to completion.

Tom Mair: Leadership is taking responsibility to always be early so as to set an example of perfect attendance and earning trust by knowing that some people inherently don’t trust their employer or government. You need to earn – I earned the trust of the Sheriff and Jail Administration and many others. It took some time .

How is a Traverse City of the future, one that is stronger, better connected, and more walk and bike-friendly different than the Traverse City of today?

Christie Minervini:  I applaud the progress that has already been made in terms of pedestrian and cycle infrastructure, but we have a long way to go. I look forward to the completion of the Boardman Lake Trail, more complete sidewalks and streets and better connectivity and accessibility for those with disabilities. Sidewalk clearing in the wintertime is another area I’d like to see the City and business community focus on.

Tom Mair: I need to say that the community owes it to Norte for teaching kids how to ride on the road. These valuable lessons will last a lifetime .

The City of Traverse City will soon complete a dramatic reconstruction of 8th Street from Boardman Ave. to Woodmere Ave. What is your first response to the new 8th Street? What do you hope that the city can learn from the process and the design?

Christie Minervini:  I think the City has learned that it’s all about public engagement. I’m proud to have participated in a process where the community came together to craft the plan, and that we were able to compromise and accommodate the needs of drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. It’s so cool to see people walking, cycling and using 8th Street in a way that never happened prior to the reconstruction! And I look forward to seeing the economic benefits as well.

Tom Mair: The relief that it is nearly complete. The lack of a traffic light – at 8th & Boardman – is a glaring example of an unfortunate circumstance. The next commission needs to look east and west on 8th and make the road more connected.

Finally, what are you for?

Christie Minervini:  I’m running because I have a desire to protect, nurture and grow Traverse City in a way that honors our history and small-town character while providing the quality of life and opportunities that we need to thrive. Our leaders need to balance the potential economic and tax-generating benefits of development with the desire to maintain the qualities that make us special — I will work hard to meet these challenges and to achieve these goals.

Tom Mair: I am for Traverse City being a Model City – not for the nation – for Michigan and the Great Lakes. I have recently toured many city’s in Michigan and Wisconsin on the Lake Michigan shoreline and I see things we are not doing and I see things the other City’s are not doing that we do. We have a lot to learn and share .


Part I | Part II | Part III

Election Details

This fall, the Traverse City City Commission has a total of five seats open on the seven-member council. The fives seats are spread across three separate races. There is the race for Office of Mayor, which is a two-year term and the race for three four-year City Commissioner terms. Additionally, this year there is a special election for a partial two-year term to replace a City Commissioner who recently stepped down. Follow these links to check your own ballot and to double check that you’re registered.

Election Day is officially on November 5. Many voters have already started casting ballots via no excuse absentee ballots. The candidates receiving the most votes in their individual races will be sworn into office on November 11, 2019, at 7 p.m.

Get to Know the Candidates: Office of Mayor, Traverse City

This fall, the Traverse City City Commission has a total of five seats open on the seven-member council. The fives seats are spread across three separate races. There is the race for Office of Mayor, which is a two-year term and the race for three four-year City Commissioner seats. Additionally, this year there is a special election for a partial two-year term to replace a City Commissioner who recently stepped down.

This week Norte offered the 10 candidates for the five open seats an opportunity to speak to the Norte community. We begin with the two candidates for the Office of Mayor, followed tomorrow by the two candidates for the partial term race, and on Wednesday with the six candidates running for the three four-year seats.

Candidates were asked to keep their answers to 450 characters. All answers were published as submitted, unedited, and without annotation in the order responses were received.

Office of Mayor, City of Traverse City (Two-Year Term)

To start, please describe the most memorable walk, or most memorable bike ride, that you have experienced. This could have been anywhere in the world, for any duration, for any purpose. What made it so memorable?

Shea M. O’Brien: The most memorable ride I have ever had was a Traverse City slow roll as a child. My dad, sister and I all left from our home in the Traverse Heights neighborhood, rode through Old Town and into the Central Neighborhood to visit the public library. It was a pure and simple ride. It’s burned into my memory because it was such a care-free and safe ride. People driving their vehicles gave us plenty of room and waved as they passed by us.

Jim Carruthers: My hike along the Inca Trail in Peru. Hopped of the train along the Urubamba River and traversed Mt Machu Picchu through the Intipata ruins, “the place of the sun,” to the Sun Gate of the iconic city of ruins. Spectacular views of the river valley below and mountains in the distance, with colorful butterflies fluttering everywhere. The history and wonderment of a past civilization highlighted the tranquil scenery of this mountain.

Please define effective leadership in the local context. Provide in your answer, a specific example of leadership that has impacted your willingness to serve as an elected official.

Shea M. O’Brien: I would say effective leadership is listening to those who speak but also recognizing that what they say is not the only perspective of the issues. You have to make the right decisions knowing that it may upset people. During my grandfather’s career as a Traverse City Realtor he often had to make decisions that he knew may upset the community but would help Traverse City thrive in the long run.

Jim Carruthers: As a leader I have persevered scrutiny and ridicule for supporting a more progressive and connected community through diversity as a gay man. Ive worked on several referendums and 4 successful campaigns myself, gaining value in communicating with our citizens while passing a controversial nondiscrimination ordinance. This has ultimately made TC a much more welcoming community for everyone and a place I’m proud to be the Mayor.

How is a Traverse City of the future, one that is stronger, better connected, and more walk and bike-friendly different than the Traverse City of today?

Shea M. O’Brien:The TC for Tomorrow is a population diverse in ages and incomes. A place where people can begin their lives and build equity in attainable housing. A place where we are connected to our community through neighborhood sidewalks, safe bike paths, a civic square and activated parks. Density in neighborhoods that are near transit, bike paths and business corridors to mitigate the need for a vehicle. We must grow responsibly.

Jim Carruthers: Having worked for almost 30 years on renewable energy policy, planning and building of the regional multimodal system of trails, streets and sidewalks and developing a smart growth and traffic calming network, I’ve help create the foundation for a strong future in TC. Let’s keep up the momentum and continue making TC better for tomorrow.

The City of Traverse City will soon complete a dramatic reconstruction of 8th Street from Boardman Ave. to Woodmere Ave. What is your first response to the new 8th Street? What do you hope that the city can learn from the process and the design?

Shea M. O’Brien: My first response to the new 8th Street is, it will be a place for all to enjoy. I’m also impressed with how quickly the project has moved along and I’m looking forward to walking and biking to the future businesses. I know the city has learned that we value feeling safe while biking and walking, I’m hopeful that the city has learned that we value those willing to take action.

Jim Carruthers: My first response is Wow! Look what we as a community can do, together, with outreach, planning and bring groups together to build a better street where everyone can feel safe. What we have learned is that a community like ours, can change status-quo options and think outside the box, to provide a street that shows a sense of community that is comfortable and safe for all users. Let’s work together more to create great streets in TC!

Finally, what are you for?

Shea M. O’Brien: I’m running for mayor because I was raised here by two loving parents. I grew up on Fern Street, I attended Traverse Heights Elementary and Central High School. I work in this community, I volunteer in this community and I want to give my children and other people’s children the opportunity to thrive in this community. I want to work with city staff, other elected officials, area shareholders and the citizens to create a TC for Tomorrow.

Jim Carruthers: I’m for better understanding of all things. Better communication to help get things accomplished and continuing our great efforts at making our city, Traverse City, a better place for everyone.


Part I | Part II | Part III

Election Details

Election Day is officially on November 5. Many voters have already started casting ballots via no excuse absentee ballots. The candidates receiving the most votes in their individual races will be sworn into office on November 11, 2019, at 7 p.m. You can check the Michigan Secretary of State website to double check that you’re registered.


Week 4: Grand Traverse Youth Mountain Bike Team Update

 Week 4 newsletter

This season has flown by as fast as a 2nd grader skids through a rear tire! Tuesdays’ rain cancellation gives me about 10 minutes to crank out a quick newsletter to everyone involved in this awesome collection of kids, bikes, and energy! Thanks for all the support!

  • Team Orange is looking really nice out there, but we can always be nicer. This letter was in this week’s Express:

The coaches and I hatched a plan last week to keep the kids off of the Civic Center path before and after practice, and I’d like to ask you parents to give the park trail users a break as well by waiting for your kids in the grass, and being aware of all the traffic that this path gets in an afternoon. Lots of neighbors on the trail!

  • A friendly reminder to not use That’sa Pizza’s parking lot for pick up and drop off–it’s only for patrons. Free parking is on Fair St. and in the Civic Center Parking lot.
  • Can’t wait until the Iceman? Peak2Peak, arguably the prettiest mountain bike course in the state, therefore the country, is right around the corner. This is a super fun race: Sign up soon!
  • Tour de Traxs for the 6-16 year old crowd is the same day as the big  Peak2Peak. Full details and registration link here.
  • Is your child enjoying this after school program as much as we are? We want to keep the awesome bike riding energy going all the way to November, so we are opening an extra, 3-week season for the kids and coaches to meet at Timber Ridge Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:00.  Keep an eye on for registration details later today.


Next Up! A Walk and Bike Network Designed for Everyone

Advocacy Newsletter, October 1, 2019
Greetings Neighbors,

Many of us have attended community meetings where consultants wow us with transformative illustrations of what a street could become. Perhaps the crowd grumbles, saying, “That won’t work here.” Nevertheless, we walk out of the meeting dreaming about our own streets. We persist for decades working on a project. And then, finally, transformation happens. A street is narrowed by 27%, a protected bike lane is installed, and people wanting to cross the street have multiple safe options.

Congratulations everyone! Traverse City’s new 8th Street has turned illustrations into reality. It isn’t perfect, but it is transformative. And it’s a marker of what’s possible when the common goal is access for everyone. That work continues on multiple fronts:


On August 29, Team Orange came together for beverages, solidarity, and giving voice to ideas for Traverse City’s bike and walk network. Most of us have done these brainstorming exercises before. Sometimes the process feel repetitive. Sometimes we wonder, “Is this even useful?”

With the new 8th Street in mind, I argue, wholeheartedly, “Yes!”… {read more}


At Norte, my job is to advocate for healthy, strong, happy communities, doing what I can for safe and reliable access for people of all ages and abilities. I work with individuals, businesses, schools, and municipal bodies to find constructive, implementable solutions to the complex opportunities of public policy, design, and infrastructure.

When it comes to technical solutions to public transportation problems, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is an indispensable resource. Their urban guides, education program, and news feed are rooted in the values and ethics our communities need and deserve from transportation planners and engineers.

Last month, I attended NACTO’s Designing Cities 2019 in Toronto. I’ll be processing the week of workshops, tours, and keynotes for a long time. A week of sharing space with 1000 professionals dedicated to building “cities as places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life” is a cure for anyone who occasionally thinks, “That won’t work here.”

Toronto was chosen to host this year’s NACTO because of its recent success in implementing an improvement plan for accessible transit, walking, and biking. I was tweeting up a storm, along with many others, and I’ve included some highlights in my report.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


  • Skip the Carline – Tomorrow is Northern Michigan Walks to School Day. Even if you don’t live within walking distance, as Ty reminds us, you can always Park & Stroll! Do you have a Park & Stroll route recommendation for a school near you? Let us know.
  • Cheers – Thank you to Norte’s First Year Business Champions. We appreciate your support deeply! It was great to see all of you who made it to Silver Spruce for the first Compañero.
  • Election Watch – Traverse City’s City Commission is set for a big change, with 5 of 7 seats on the ballot. On October 7, 8, and 9, Norte will publish responses to our candidate questionnaire. In the meantime, here’s my primer on local government.
  • 8th Street Walking Audit – If you’re interested in helping plan it, let me know. This is a great opportunity to grade a street that we can assume will get some high scores (
  • Park It Here – Norte Bike Racks are ready. These racks support our Excellent Bike Parking program and aim to encourage better access across northern Michigan.

Talk Soon.

Gary Howe
Advocacy Director

Please pass this newsletter on to that friend who is always talking about streets and traffic. They can sign up at our Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Page.

Are you seeing this newsletter for the first time? Are you ready to engage and represent? Sign up below to receive the occasional Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Newsletter. It’s delivered once or twice a month and is always packed with information and ways to plug in.

Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy

Engage and Represent: Serve on a Local Board or Committee

As local communities gear up for November elections, this is an opportune time to remind Team Orange that there are plenty of additional ways to engage and represent in your local government. Across the Grand Traverse region, several volunteer boards and commissions have open seats. Serving on a board, commission, or committee is an excellent way for citizens to be involved and find their voice for local initiatives.

Below you will find a list of regional opportunities, and resources for many volunteer opportunities. Each municipality handles these citizen appointments differently, but typically openings will be listed online. There is never a wrong time to apply and express interest in serving, even if there are no current openings. Typically, you can do this through the Clerk’s office. Unless otherwise stated, you must be a resident in the municipality that you are seeking an appointment.


Traverse City is always accepting applications and you can do so by going to the Clerk’s office or visiting the City’s website. The following boards have vacancies. Links go to their descriptions, schedules, and minutes.

Apply through the Clerk’s office by filling out this application form (PDF) and returning it the City Clerk.

There are vacancies on 11 of Grand Traverse County’s boards and committees. Please visit their website for the full listings. Below are the openings for opportunities most relevant to our mission for promoting happy, healthy, strong, communities. Note, Parks and Recreation oversees policies related to the Civic Center.
Apply to Grand Traverse County by sending a resume and application form (PDF) to or delivering it to the County Administration at 400 Boardman Avenue.

Leelanau County has openings for the following opportunities.

  • Planning Commission
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Airport Commission
To apply, there is an extensive application form (PDF) and a complete process description (PDF). For more information, For more information, please contact Executive Assistant, Laurel Evans, Download a complete list of expiring terms for all boards and committees (PDF).


  • Garfield Township has openings (PDF) on Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation, and Grand Traverse Joint Planning Commission (think the Commons). If interested, you can download the Board Appointment Policy and Application (PDF) and send a completed copy to Garfield Township to the attention of Supervisor Chuck Korn, 3848 Veterans Drive, Traverse City MI 49684. You may also email him at
  • East Bay Township posts openings on boards and commissions under employment postings and you can see updates by going to the drop down menu, “How do I…” on their website. Each board is different, but typically a letter of interest is requested. If you are interested, you can email Township Supervisor, Beth Friend,
  • Blair Township, apply and express interest by contacting Township Clerk, Lynette Wolfgang.
  • Long Lake Township is always seeking applicants to serve on Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation. To apply, download the Application for Appointment (PDF) and return it to Township Supervisor, Karen J. Rosa, or deliver it to Township Hall at 8870 North Long Lake Road.
  • Elmwood Township asks interested parties to send a completed Application to Become Involved (PDF) form and resume to 10090 E. Lincoln Rd. Traverse City, MI 49684 or email it to Township Clerk, Connie M. Preston, Committees of interest include Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation, Marina Committee, and Public Safety Committee.

For vacancies in Kalkaska County, download this full listing of boards and committees (PDF). The term ending column will give you the current openings. To apply, send an email of interest to  County Clerk, Deborah Hill,

Are you interested in a municipality not listed here? Or, have questions on what it takes to serve on a board or committee, send Norte’s Advocacy Director a message at

Engage and Represent!

Norte Launches Planning Program for Teens

For Immediate Release


August 22, 2019 — Traverse City, MI.  Norte Advocacy is introducing teens to urban planning this fall. Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community is a six-week, student-informed practical course rooted in experiential understanding of how communities are planned, built, and changed over time. 

The program’s six weekly meetups will be facilitated by Norte’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Director, Gary Howe, and owner of Parallel Solutions, Megan Olds, and will feature guest speakers from Traverse City’s professional planning community.

“Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community is built around a series of on-the-ground exercises that delve into student experiences and perceptions of community,” said Olds. “Young people have a real interest in learning how, and why, communities work and, in some cases, don’t work. Through the course, we hope to help them develop the skills to identify experiences related to community and place-based design, understand different lenses and contexts, and advocate for the things they want to see in their neighborhoods and community.”

The program is open to 13- to 18-year-olds interested in community leadership and planning. Students will graduate with advanced observational and communication skills in neighborhood planning. Course participants will shape the course’s direction, and will be supported by the Norte Advocacy team in any post-program efforts they decide to undertake.

“The things we can learn about any community are boundless, and when we start to learn about a community from other perspectives, the possibilities for understanding and supporting our neighbors are endless,” said Howe. “The Explore program is designed to give students layer upon layer of tools and skills to create a solid foundation for a lifetime of informed engagement.” 

The course is structured around six unique ways to explore a community, including experiencing mobility challenges from the perspective of someone using a wheelchair and seeing a streetscape through the eyes of an engineer. The advocacy curriculum will grow from participant-defined goals and projects.

The program runs September 29 through November 2 with weekly, 90-minute Sunday meet-ups in locations determined by planned experiences, weather and student input. The class costs $35 per participant, with scholarships available. The program is sponsored by the League of Michigan Bicyclists and Parallel Solutions. Sign up for the program is open through September 8. 

Learn more and sign up:  Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community

If you are interested in donating to the program’s scholarship fund or in becoming a corporate sponsor, please email Gary Howe at or contribute directly: Donate to Explore

# # #

Program Facilitators

Megan Olds has dedicated her 20-year career to community growth and development, land and water conservation and restoration, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation. She was a former Director of Regional Planning at Networks Northwest, and served as a past board member of the Michigan Association of Planning and of Michigan’s Complete Streets Advisory Council. She worked for seven years as the Associate Director and Director of Development for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Pairing her professional experience in community and organizational development with a personal zeal for building trust and openness in decision-making, Megan founded Parallel Solutions in 2014. You can find out more about her firm’s services, clients, and recent projects at

Gary Howe brings over 10 years of direct experience in creating and advocating for public policy and planning processes that support healthy transportation and socially-engaging public spaces to his role as Norte’s Advocacy Director. He served as a City Commissioner for the City of Traverse City from 2013-2017, in addition to serving on the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, and on the boards of Neahtawanta Center, SEEDS, and International Affairs Forum. He is also a writer and New York Times-published photographer with over 20 years of teaching experience in China, Taiwan and Traverse City, including 15 years as an adjunct instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. You can see some of his photography on Insta at @GLH_Image and follow his writing and advocacy on Twitter @GLHJR.

What grade would you give Garfield Avenue?

Greetings Citizen Advocates,

I’m writing to relay the results of the Garfield Walking audit, share a peek at our first protected bike lane and invite all of you to help with three tasks: 1) map Traverse City’s future bike network, 2) suggest candidate questions for upcoming elections, and 3) invite you to participate in the PeopleForBikes annual survey.

On July 18, two-dozen engaged citizens took part in a walking audit of Garfield Ave Walking. We were joined by representatives from the City of Traverse City’s Planning and Engineering departments, Planning Commission, Michigan Department of Transportation, and Team Norte, including graduates of the Advocate Academy.

Giving the mixed contexts and conditions of the corridor from Bryant Park South to Hannah Avenue, it was a challenge to zero-in on one takeaway other than that there are a lot of opportunities for changing this corridor into a street that is safe and inviting for all ages and uses. The aggregate score for that specific question was a dismal 32%. Contributing factors that need to be addressed include:

  • Confusing and missing crosswalks
  • Missing and narrow sidewalks
  • Heavy and noisy motorized traffic
  • Wide (and prioritized) driveways

There were also some positives. Sections of sidewalks and many ramps were just built in July. Participants also learned about the coming improvements to the intersection of Peninsula Drive and M-37 by Bryant Park. This notoriously wide and nearly impossible-to-cross intersection will be narrowed by nearly 50% and squared off. This will slow people in cars down and improve the visibility of people on foot or bike.

Did you know? Wherever there is a T-intersection, like here at Webster and Garfield, it is a legal crosswalk. There are 6 of these unmarked and undefined crossings along this corridor.

The results of our audit will be used by Traverse City and MDOT to seek additional improvements in coming resurfacing projects. If you couldn’t make this walking audit and would like to contribute an observation, nominate a street for a future walking audit, or contribute a donation to support these efforts, please do so with our Walking Audit Survey. You can review the full report and images at Walking Audit Results.

The big news this week was that 8th Street construction will likely be done in just over a month, barring any major weather interruptions. For many of us who have enjoyed the quieter streets, the reopening may be bittersweet. However, the wider sidewalks, protected bike lane, street trees, midblock crosswalks, and roadway that is 27% narrower will make up for it. Who’s looking forward to this new experience?

First Look: 6-foot sidewalk, divider, and 6-foot separated bike lane.
Do you bike in TC? Do you want to bike more? We have an opportunity to come together, take out our sharpies, and identify Traverse City’s future bike network. We know where the current multi-use trails, bike lanes, and even a few sharrows are located. Where should the next protected bike lane be? What about the first protected intersection? If you’re interested in contributing to our movement, let me know today (reply to this email or at Once I have the numbers, I’ll schedule advocacy happy hour where we will mark-up a giant map. Currently considering, August 29. You can view the City’s multi-use transportation map  here.DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR CANDIDATES FOR TC CITY COMMISSION? 
There are local elections this fall in Traverse City and the ballot will feature 2 candidates for Mayor, 6 candidates for 3 four-year seats, and 2 more for a two-year seat on the 7 member Commission. Norte will be inviting each of them to take our Pro Walk/Pro Bike survey which we will then publish. Submit your questions here for consideration.

Lastly, I encourage everyone to participate in PeopleForBikes annual survey. If we can generate 50 or more responses from Traverse City that data will kick out a ranking to be compared with other communities. It’s quick. It’s easy. Everyone is encouraged to participate no matter how often, where, or why you ride. Take the survey: PlacesForBikes 2019 Community Survey.

PeopleForBikes is an amazing national organization and true Norte partner for creating happy, healthy, strong communities. They contributed $7,500 towards the coming traffic garden and pump track at the Civic Center!

Norte’s Neighborhood Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy has been busy this summer and it seems like it is only just beginning! We will soon be offering Norte-styled bike racks, the Business Champion program is picking up steam, and an exciting new educational program for teens is about to launch – watch for Explore your Neighborhood, Shape your Neighborhood program soon!

Talk soon!

Gary Howe
Advocacy Director

Please pass this newsletter on to that one friend who is always talking about streets and traffic; they can sign up at our Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Page.

Are you seeing this newsletter for the first time? Are you ready to engage and represent? Sign up below to receive the occasional Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Newsletter. It’s delivered once or twice a month and is always packed with information and ways to plug in.

Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy

Mid-summer shout out to citizen advocates

Greetings everyone!

I hope your July is full of enjoyable walks to local cafes and easy rolls past long lines of people stuck in traffic. Ah, summer. Nothing quite like it. And, for your summer advocacy fun, we have many opportunities to engage and represent.

I encourage you to take some time to read Kaischa Smith’s story in our latest blog post. Recovery Through Advocacy, One Step at a Time is an interview about her near fatal crash last July 22 at Elmwood Ave and Hall St. News about crashes is too often distant, lacking in broader perspective, and the human element. Kaischa’s words are a personal and powerful reminder of the importance of the Pro Walk/Pro Bike movement. We’re all in with her goal for safer crosswalks for everyone, everywhere – we certainly need them!

Sunday/Monday, July 21/22, time TBA. 
Please help share her story, and consider joining her on the one-year anniversary of the crash with a flower planting outing (details at the end of her interview).

The improved crosswalks at Elmwood Ave and Hall St have been in place almost a month. They’ve been surprisingly well received! Now that locals are used to them, it’s time to collect some data. If you’re interested in some participatory observation, MDOT has provided us with a checklist that will help identify issues and improve signal timing. Let me know if you can help with group or solo observation.

Thursday, July 18 4 pm
Bryant Park (walk to Hannah Ave)
Due to sidewalk construction, the Garfield Ave Walking Audit is happening on Thursday, July 18. Meet at 4 pm at Bryant Park and we’ll walk to Hannah Ave and back. MDOT and the City of Traverse City officials will be on hand to participate and introduce future projects. If the June date didn’t work for you, here’s your opportunity to join!

RSVP to (What’s a walking audit?)

Recently, the City of Traverse City addressed long-standing concerns at two intersections: Boon & Barlow, and Madison & W Front. Both now have stop signs that control right of way. In theory, the stop signs will improve access for people on foot and bike, as well as people in cars. They should also reduce severe crashes, a particular concern on Barlow. If you frequent these intersections, please send me your observations. I’m curious not only in compliance, but behaviors (and speeds) after someone leaves the intersection.

How are these new stop signs working for ya?   

Finally, we’d love to have more people reading the advocacy emails.  You can send a friend to sign up at our Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Page.

Thank you!


Gary Howe
Advocacy Director

Are you seeing this newsletter for the first time? Are you ready to engage and represent? Sign up below to receive the occasional Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Newsletter. It’s delivered once or twice a month and is always packed with information and ways to plug in.

Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy


Recovery Through Advocacy, One Step at a Time

by Gary Howe, Advocacy Director

Last July 22, Kaischa Smith was riding her bike to the Leelanau Trail from her home in Traverse City. A beautiful midsummer stillness was in the air. But before she reached the trail, it abruptly gave way to a storm of trauma and disorientation. A driver going 35 mph in an Audi crashed into her while she was crossing Grandview Parkway at the Elmwood Avenue crosswalk.

The impact was devastating. Both of her legs snapped. Her right elbow shattered. She suffered internal injuries. Given her pre-existing blood clotting disorder, it is remarkable she survived. Smith owes her life to the exceptional efforts of emergency responders and health professionals.

Kaischa came to the Norte Clubhouse this spring to share her story because she wants to help make crosswalks safer for everyone, everywhere. Since then, she has told her story multiple times to the press. One account of her experience can be found in the June 22 Northern Express. She has also participated in the Lucinda Means Advocacy Day in Lansing, and has advocated for people crossing Traverse City’s Division Street to have more and safer options as the Michigan Department of Transportation works on its upcoming Division Street reconstruction

I recently sat down with Kaischa so that she could share her story directly with the Norte community. 

It’s been almost a year since the crash. How are you doing?

Well…I’m doing. That doesn’t sound like much, but to me, it means a lot. Part of my identity and personal pride was in being an active, capable, independent young woman. The injuries I sustained from the crash stripped that from me. I couldn’t stand, walk, use the bathroom, bathe, dress, or do a myriad of other daily activities without help. It’s taken this whole time to not just regain those abilities, but to do them without debilitating pain and with better efficiency, stamina, and confidence. Yes, I’m doing. I’m so grateful and proud of myself for that.

A few weeks ago you met me at the new and improved crosswalk on Grandview. You crossed for the first time since last year. It was very moving to witness what was clearly a powerful emotional experience for you. After you crossed, you took some time to decompress. Can you walk us through what was running through your head? 

Oh boy. How can I put this in words? I’ve heard it put that we have a full keyboard of emotions available to us but that we have a tendency to deny ourselves the right and humanity to play all those “emotional keys.” If we’re leaning in and fully engaging with life though, we allow ourselves to strike them all. And they don’t have to be played one at a time. It’s possible to hit an entire chord built of terror and grief and gratitude and pride, and then move right on to the next notes. It’s a bittersweet melody, but it’s beautiful. I really felt it all in that moment – and over the course of this year, for that matter.

So there I was crossing Grandview with that powerful emotional song inside, in tears, and trying to catch my breath. And around me was the morning rush hour audience in their cars at full stop. Then just as I cleared the road, someone near the rear of the line started honking because the front cars weren’t proceeding right away through the flashing red lights. You know that record scratch sound? It felt kind of like that, and I remember thinking, “Wow. What a poignant example of our social interactions.” So many of us carry around some really heavy yet invisible baggage. I wish we all would be just a little more patient, a little more kind. Life’s hard sometimes.

In the spring, you came to Norte’s Clubhouse wanting to engage with Norte advocacy. A definition of advocacy I like is “actions of public support for a particular cause or policy” – in particular, causes or policies directed toward those most vulnerable in a community. With that in mind, why is engaging in advocacy work important to you?

I think there are two sides to this coin for me – a personal side and a community side. For starters, I scrolled through the social media response to the crash when I was in the hospital. Call it my morbid curiosity getting the better of me.

That was a major punch in the gut. There was so much bickering and victim shaming and so little condolence. And a lot of the narrative about the event – and our roadways, crosswalks, and commuting roles in general – was uninformed, even prejudicial. To watch and listen to the narrative of “my” story – and the driver’s story, for that matter – be grabbed and perverted by public discourse created another layer of trauma for me. Being able to find and use my voice has been a way to recover something intensely personal.

At the same time, the power of our attitudes and words really hit home. I don’t want the crash to define me. There’s so much more to me than that, and frankly, I don’t feel like a human tragedy. I’m a survivor, and more and more, a thriver. I would much rather people discover who I am as a person, how I’ve moved forward from adversity, and how I’m using the power of my story to advocate – and hopefully transform – the roadways in our community to better consider the safety of everyone who uses them.

You have really put yourself out there during these last few months. Thank you for stepping up as a citizen advocate! What’s the initial experience been like as you tell your story? And, what are some of your goals going forward?

It’s been an important part of my recovery. Recovering from trauma involves so much more than recovering from injuries or illness. So much is about recovering your Life – with a capital “L.” I feel empowered. It gives me hope that good can come from even the worst situations. I can’t erase that the crash happened, but I can whitewash it with as many positive experiences as possible to dilute the trauma. The result is something more constructive and encouraging.

For me, the common goals of the opportunities I pursue boil down to supporting and advocating for safer, more equitable roadways for all users. That could entail pursuing changes in how our roadways are designed, policy changes, or plugging in wherever political support is needed. I want to see more safer crosswalks and really appreciate the changes at Elmwood and Hall Streets. 

I also hope sharing my story builds compassion, patience, and personal accountability in how we move and interact in our community. Crashes like the one I experienced are thankfully rare but can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any moment. 

It may be too soon to fully answer this, but we know that survivors of roadway crashes often carry with them lasting impacts. There are physical injuries, of course, but also psychological trauma. I know you’re aware of these, so I’m curious if you can describe that transformation.

I think the most transformative impact was something I realized while still laying on the pavement after the crash. I realized that living was not – and is not – anything to take for granted. And, that my presence or absence in the world was going to matter in a more significant way than I ever imagined, even if only to my family.

Eventually, it didn’t take long for waves of cards, flowers, hospital visits, and other gestures from friends and school family to roll in, and I realized that my existence mattered to more people than I expected. That’s a really empowering realization to make, and I feel immense gratitude. I’m not only deeply appreciative for my life, family, and friends – it extends to countless other members of our community who serve us, and me directly, in the public safety, health, and wellness arenas.

As a result, I choose to engage with life more consciously, openly, and actively, not just with and for my family and friends, but also by leaning in to my community. A deep sense of gratitude has been personally transformative for me, but it’s been magnified and socially impactful when expressed in words and actions.

If you’re grateful for someone or something, don’t hold it in. Let it out and watch what happens.

Anything you’d like to add or share with the Norte community?

Do your part as an individual because at the end of the day, the only way we can improve our community is by consistently holding ourselves personally accountable, managing our own behaviors, and continually advocating for safer conditions on our streets. We need to be role models on the road, no matter if we’re walking, biking, scooting, or driving. There is definitely transformative power and strength in numbers. Let’s do this together!


You’re Invited: Kaischa will be planting flowers at the base of the new crosswalk signals at Elmwood Ave. to celebrate her year of recovery. She invites the Norte community to join her. Plans are tentative for the morning of July 21 or July 22. If you’re interested in joining Kaischa, please email

For more information on the rules regulating the new crosswalks on Grandview Parkway at Hall St. and Elmwood Ave., read our introduction to HAWK signals. To see how you can join Norte’s advocacy efforts and sign up for advocacy alerts, visit our advocacy page

Why language matters and accidents aren’t accidents

by Gary Howe, Advocacy Director

Implicit bias in the language we use to discuss walking and biking was a key topic through the 2019 Grand Traverse Advocate Academy.  For example, we talked a lot about windshield bias and how it informs policies, designs, and use of public spaces. It’s a large part why we need pro-walk, pro-bike advocacy. There’s also a need for citizen advocates to be aware of how their own language shapes discussions. Too often, we use language that categorizes people based on their mobility choice; our fellow citizens become pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. This puts our neighbors, and their behavior, at a distance from ourselves.

The reality is that how we choose to move about the community doesn’t define us. Most people I know use many different modes of travel depending on their needs, comfort level, and what’s available. I’ve challenged myself to embrace the multi-modal within me and within every one of us. I strive to have empathy for everyone I meet on the road of life, regardless of how they are moving about. I believe it will lead me to be a better advocate: if I advocate for improvements that benefit everyone, instead of just a few, my efforts will be more effective. (See the Language Matters Cheat Sheet below.)

Institutional Language

Another aspect of language bias is found in the media and police reports covering traffic crashes. We don’t have to look very hard to find language bias in media as often the headlines are enough to give many of us pause: ”Pedestrian Hit by Car.” It’s as if autonomous vehicles are already here! Or this one from the 2006 Traverse City Record-Eagle: “Car strikes, kills pedestrian.” This passive, clinical language obscures agency. In addition to dropping pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist, try replacing “car” with any other inanimate object and see how it sounds. “Man hit by hammer.” “Piano strikes, kills woman.” “Banana slams into drugstore.”

In a recent Outside Magazine piece, Joe Lindsey examines the issue of language’s legal impact, highlighting two studies that connect language bias in media coverage and police reports. Quick-breaking news coverage laden with implicit language bias tends to anchor blame on inanimate objects, regardless of the facts. There are real consequences for everyone involved, legally and personally. 

Forging a Better Path

Team Orange can commit to more accurate and inclusive language. We can check ourselves when we fall into categorizing others based on mode choices. And we can catch ourselves when we use the word “accident” to describe predictable and preventable traffic crashes. Consider signing your name to the “Crash Not Accident” website: pledge to stop saying ”accident.’

Saying accident instead of crash is most unhelpful framing. First and foremost, it suggests that nothing could have been done. And it suggests that our car-centric land use, street designs, and policies are unchangeable. This is unacceptable. As a society, we must demand answers and accountability for the 6 million car accidents crashes and 40,000 deaths a year on US streets and roads alone.

These so-called accidents are preventable. As Lindsay notes:

‘Accident’ conveys inevitability. You can trace virtually every crash to something upstream, whether human error, poor street design, or something else. Almost every crash is preventable.

The Pledge:

I will not call traffic crashes “accidents.” I will educate others about why “crash” is a better word.

What’s your experience?  


*Above graphics from, Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting

Further reading: