Commission approves new street design for Rail District

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 4, 2018

 The Birmingham City Commission approved a concept plan that aims to decrease traffic speeds, maximize parking, and improve walkability and bikeability  in Birmingham’s Rail District.

The Birmingham City Commission approved a concept plan that aims to decrease traffic speeds, maximize parking, and improve walkability and bikeability in Birmingham’s Rail District.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

BIRMINGHAM — Residents and businesses in the Rail District have a clearer picture now of how the city could improve traffic conditions along the stretch of Eton Street between 14 Mile and Maple roads.

During its regular meeting Dec. 4, the Birmingham City Commission voted 6-1 to approve the concept plan from the city’s Multi-Modal Transportation Board to redesign Eton with islands, a bike lane, bump-outs, and other features that would ideally reduce traffic speeds and improve pedestrian crossing in the area.

According to City Engineer Paul O’Meara, the plan includes a curb extension and bump-outs at crosswalks, which would serve to narrow the street and shorten the distance that pedestrians need to walk to safely cross the street. A new bike lane would be added, lined with raised bumps on the street and vertical markers at every block, which would be visible if the barrier bumps were covered by snow.

The design was created, Planning Director Jana Ecker said, with the city’s multimodal goals in mind to make the neighborhood friendly for drivers, bikers and pedestrians. There are also efforts to make access to nearby parking easier with crosswalks and wider sidewalks connecting lots to popular destinations along Eton.

Residents have complained about parking and traffic in the Rail District for several years, since Griffin Claw Brewing Co. arrived on the scene and became so popular that visitors parked on nearby residential streets as opposed to parking lots that are slightly farther away.

“There have been a lot of concerns over the past couple years as the Rail District has grown: how to slow traffic, how to address crossing the street. I think this plan — although there are different ways of approaching this to achieve those goals — this does achieve many of those goals. It’s a good, solid concept plan to really consider moving forward,” said Commissioner Mark Nickita.

To build the design as suggested by the MMTB would cost $1.5 million, though as much as 80 percent of that cost could be mitigated by federal grants. Part of the commission’s task in approving the road design was to instruct the city to submit the project for those grants.

Nickita suggested that elements of the plan could also be achieved by painting the road, instead of physical additions like barriers for the bike lane and markers.

Mayor Pro Tem Patty Bordman suggested the painting be done anyway in advance of being approved for the grants to fund the project as a test for proof of concept. The commission opted to decide at a later date on whether to implement a trial period.

Commissioner Rackeline Hoff voted against the plan.

“I think widening sidewalks, narrowing Eton Road and making crosswalks more visible will be great improvements, but I prefer shared vehicle (and) bike lanes rather than the green painted bike lanes that I’ve seen in other cities,” Hoff explained in an email.

The city should know in the spring whether grant money is approved for the project. Nickita noted that if Birmingham isn’t awarded any grant assistance, the commission would need to decide at that time whether to implement the plan with street paint or dip into incremental funds and drawing the work out over multiple years.