Public meeting to explore future of Southfield Road

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published December 5, 2012

 A rendering from Lathrup Village’s master plan shows the city administration’s vision for Southfield Road as a boulevard with green space and bike paths.

A rendering from Lathrup Village’s master plan shows the city administration’s vision for Southfield Road as a boulevard with green space and bike paths.

SOUTHFIELD/LATHRUP VILLAGE — When city officials of Lathrup Village envision the future of their city, they see thriving storefronts, abundant green space, plenty of dining opportunities and locals buzzing.

When they take a look at the center of their city, however, what they see is the harsh dichotomy that is Southfield Road: cars zipping by at speeds of up to 55 mph during the day, or bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling through the intersections in the evening hours.

“One of our biggest issues in Lathrup is the fact that Southfield Road cuts our city in half,” explained Matt Baumgarten, DDA director and assistant to the city administrator.  “It’s one tier under a freeway. If you were ever to try to cross a freeway by foot, it’s a petrifying experience.”

He said the conversation is nearly 15 years in the making for residents who live along the Southfield Road corridor, but the process to determine the future of Southfield Road is finally under way.

On Dec. 10, the Road Commission for Oakland County will host a public information meeting inside Lathrup Village City Hall for residents of Lathrup and Southfield to learn about six possible alternatives for a revamped Southfield Road and weigh in on the options.

Craig Bryson, public information officer for the RCOC, said the meeting is part of the process to gauge community members’ needs and wants for the road.

“The intent is to determine what the road will look like after the widening and reconstruction project. … People can offer thoughts and ask questions,” he explained about the project that will likely rely on federal funds to complete. “We are interested in finding out what types of uses there are for the road — motorized, non-motorized, the whole spectrum of road users and potential road users, ensuring that they have a voice in the process.”

Bryson noted that a boulevard has unofficially been a leading suggestion over time, though the Southfield Road corridor is broken into three segments (10 Mile to 11 Mile or I-696, 11 Mile to 12 Mile, and 12 Mile to 13 Mile), all of which differ in traffic needs and community interest.

“It is possible (the segments) could be different,” he said, noting that they are following the federally mandated process to determine the design. “It’s a fairly complex and rigorous process to make sure all stakeholders are heard and have the opportunity to provide input.”

Bryson added that it’s important for local residents to make their voices heard because it is essentially their road and a vital part of their community.

Baumgarten said no one knows that better that Lathrup Village residents and community leaders.

“We just want to combine the two sides (of our city) and be able to visit them on foot,” he said, noting instances like him having to drive to get lunch across Southfield Road, rather than being able to safely cross as a pedestrian. “It’s no secret that Southfield Road is dangerous with its size and traffic volume.”

Lathrup Village’s master plan specifically envisions Southfield Road as a boulevard with a median of greenery in the center, crosswalks installed, a reduced speed from the current 45 mph zone and an overall reduction of head-on collision hazards, he added.

Though it’s not the focal point of Southfield, the corridor’s largest chunk falls within its city limits and Southfield’s Planning Department also has a vision for the road.

Assistant City Planner Leigh Schultz said they are most interested in a road that is pedestrian-friendly to mimic the overarching goal for Southfield’s City Centre infrastructure.

“With the city of Southfield, we are more focused on the walkability of the area,” she said, noting the importance of input from business and property owners, as well as local residents. “We really feel like this is the time for people’s voice to be heard, if they have specific wants or desires.”

Schultz said, from a planning perspective, a median would be nice, but larger walkways and more frequent crosswalks are the priority.

Where both Southfield and Lathrup Village’s needs seem to intersect is in reducing the congestion and safety concerns, according to Schultz and Baumgarten.

“During rush hours, cars are backed up way more than they should be,” Schultz said, echoing Baumgarten’s concerns. “The existing level of service on Southfield (Road) is very poor and we want to make sure it’s considered.”

Both also agree that a pedestrian-friendly environment for walkers and bicyclers is crucial to a revamped corridor. Schultz said the hope is that pedestrians will inspire the design, rather than being an afterthought — all too common in major road projects of the past, she said.

Bryson said a firm start or completion date for any future improvements to the Southfield Road corridor could not be given, though representatives from the consulting engineering firm, the RCOC, and surrounding communities would be on hand at the meeting to sort through details, such as parking implications, economic impact and other concerns.

Attend the meeting

• The Road Commission for Oakland County, along with the communities of Southfield, Lathrup Village, Beverly Hills and Southfield Township, will conduct a public information meeting about the ongoing environmental assessment study of future improvements to Southfield Road.

• The public can join the open house-style meeting from 3:30-7 p.m. Dec. 10, inside the Community Room of Lathrup Village City Hall, 27400 Southfield Road, to learn about the corridor study, ask questions and offer input regarding the future of Southfield Road from Mount Vernon to just north of 13 Mile Road.

• This environmental assessment is being implemented in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and will be completed prior to moving forward with any engineering design for upcoming improvements.

• Those with disabilities needing accommodations for effective participation in this meeting should contact Brad Knight at (248) 645-2000 in advance to request mobility, visual, hearing or other assistance.