BerkleyJuly 24, 2012
Coolidge traffic study aims to make downtown improvements
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
BERKLEY — In an effort to find a compromise between traffic flow and pedestrian friendliness in downtown Berkley, city officials are conducting a traffic study along a one-mile stretch of Coolidge Highway.
On July 16, the Berkley City Council unanimously approved a $7,946 contract with the engineering firm Hubbell, Roth & Clark to perform the study. According to City Planner Amy Vansen, the vast majority of the money being used for the study will come from the city’s federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.
Vansen explained that the study will look at current traffic flow on Coolidge between 11 and 12 Mile roads, including such factors as average travel time and emergency response time, and use that data to determine the practicality of implementing some “road diet” or “traffic calming” strategies on Coolidge. These could include everything from reducing the number of lanes to lowering the speed limit to installing more traffic signals.
The city’s decision to move forward with the study was largely in response to persistent requests by Coolidge business owners, who have been seeking ways to give the area a more traditional, walkable downtown feel.
“We’re going to look at all our options,” Vansen said, “but we have to finally put this issue to rest. It has been talked about for a really long time. Of course we want to have a good shopping environment that is safe for pedestrians, but we also don’t want anyone sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic over there.”
Maureen Popkin, owner of June Moon Furniture Store and chair of the 18-member Coolidge Collection of businesses, offered two proposals that she believes will improve Coolidge.
One is to decrease the number of lanes from four to three — with one northbound lane, one southbound lane and a dedicated left turn lane — which she contended would establish a friendlier downtown atmosphere and create more space for on-street parking. The other is to keep Coolidge at four lanes but to install additional traffic lights at Dorothea and Franklin roads to help slow down speeding motorists. Popkin is also in favor of reducing the speed limit and putting in pedestrian crosswalks.
“We’re all really concerned about traffic flow and pedestrian safety on Coolidge,” she said. “Cars drive way too fast down that road; I can’t even tell you how many times someone (in a parked car) has gotten their side-view mirror taken off. We just want the city’s help in keeping our citizens and visitors safe. We want this area to be a shopping destination that looks and feels like a traditional downtown, but until the traffic slows down, that’s not going to happen.”
Popkin said that while she realizes the city has limited funds to address these issues right now, she would still like to receive greater support from city officials and the Berkley Downtown Development Authority. If major changes cannot be made to Coolidge, she would at least like to see steps taken to help businesses attract more “good” traffic while keeping most of the “bad” traffic away. Ironically, Popkin feels like the ongoing construction work at the intersection of 12 Mile and Coolidge has been a blessing in this regard.
“We don’t want all these commuters just using Coolidge as a thoroughfare, as nothing but a north/south cut-through road,” she said. “We want it to be a place where people park their car, get out and shop. The city has this attitude of, ‘That’s just the way it is,’ but the business owners are saying, ‘That’s not the way it has to be.’”
However, Berkley officials questioned the feasibility of transforming Coolidge into something resembling downtown Ferndale or Royal Oak. Mayor Phil O’Dwyer is hoping that the traffic study will give the city a better indication of what its options are and help to eliminate some of the public confusion on this topic.
“It’s a very difficult issue, but I think that safety considerations have to come first here,” he said. “With that in mind, I don’t know if we can find a solution that makes everyone happy. There are traffic calming measures that we can take, but whether or not that will help these businesses bring in more customers is another question entirely.”
Vansen said that she would like to do something similar to what was done last year at the 12 Mile and Woodward intersection: make the area safer for pedestrians via subtle improvements rather than attempting a massive overhaul.
“These business owners are really well-meaning people, but they’re not traffic engineers,” she said. “I believe in science, which is why I recommended that we do this study in the first place.”
And what if the study shows that Popkin’s ideas are a possibility for Coolidge? Vansen argued that business owners should not get their hopes up just yet.
“Even if it tells that we can make some changes and everyone agrees on them,” she said, “we would have to seriously think about, ‘Can we even afford to do this?’” she said. “That would be the next big issue for us to face: ‘Show me the money.’”
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