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Woodward, I-696 plans call for closing lanes, filling in underpass

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published February 25, 2015

 Robert Gibbs, of Gibbs Planning Group, discusses ways to incorporate a complete-streets philosophy at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Interstate 696 during a presentation at the Pleasant Ridge Community Center Feb. 17.

Robert Gibbs, of Gibbs Planning Group, discusses ways to incorporate a complete-streets philosophy at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Interstate 696 during a presentation at the Pleasant Ridge Community Center Feb. 17.

Photo by Joshua Gordon

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PLEASANT RIDGE — Short- and long-term, city officials and residents along the Woodward Avenue corridor near Interstate 696 want more walkability and safer conditions, even if it means filling in an underpass.

Roberts Gibbs, of the Birmingham-based Gibbs Planning Group, twice presented to city and community members at the Pleasant Ridge Community Center Feb. 17 how to make the Woodward and I-696 intersection fall more in line with a complete streets philosophy.

Within the next three years, Gibbs said, he hopes that paint, safety cylinders and some new vegetation would make the area more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, but in the long term, whether that be 10 or 30 years, he said the goal is to bring Woodward back above I-696 and eliminate the underpass.

“We have a vision that someday Woodward Avenue would be turned back into a street from a highway,” Gibbs said. “The avenue in our study area, it has become a freeway and we think that is unworthy of these communities and want to turn it back into a street or an avenue. Someday, we hope the avenue will be lined with shops, restaurants and houses and be the center rather than the edge.”

In its current state, Gibbs said, communities treat Woodward like the edge, or outskirts, of the community, and there are plans to build parking structures in spots, which Gibbs likened to making Woodward a “back door.”

Gibbs added that within 2 miles of Woodward Avenue, which runs for 27 miles from Detroit to Pontiac, 500,000 people, or 5 percent of the state’s population, live in the area. Similarly, Gibbs said, there are 170,000 households in the 2-mile area and 300,000 of the state’s employees.

Huntington Woods, Royal Oak and Pleasant Ridge, in collaboration with the Woodward Avenue Action Association — a nonprofit organization that is looking to produce a complete streets master plan this summer for the 27-mile corridor — hired Gibbs Planning Group to study the Woodward and I-696 intersection.

“Our goal is to make Woodward a better place to live, work and play,” WA3 Executive Director Deborah Schutt said. “For a long time now, Woodward has been autocentric and very well serves the automobile. However, it doesn’t very well serve pedestrians, transit or cyclists.”

By bringing Woodward out of the underpass and above I-696, Gibbs said, the area would recapture a lot of real estate that could be used for businesses and bicycle lanes. With an underpass, Gibbs said, real estate along the intersection suffers and businesses struggle to stay afloat.

“The underpass has hurt real estate values and a lot of businesses have a hard time there,” he said. “It ought to be a great place to open a restaurant, but for a number of reasons it is not walkable and can’t support business there. Research shows if you build a walkable city, it has very positive impacts on real estate.”

While filling in the underpass is the long-term goal, Gibbs said, renovations to the underpass won’t be needed for probably 20 years, so his team also presented short-term plans to help make the area safer for people trying to visit downtown Royal Oak or the Detroit Zoo.

During the study, Gibbs Planning Group concluded that roughly 65,000 vehicles travel north of the Woodward and I-696 intersection every day, while about 45,000 travel south, so one lane going each way should be eliminated on the south side.

For Pleasant Ridge specifically, Gibbs concentrated on the intersection of Woodward and Main Street, just south of 10 Mile Road. Because of the way the intersection was designed with four lanes, Gibbs said, a vehicle could round the corner at 75 mph in an area where homes are only a few feet from the street and people cross to reach the zoo.

To try and slow traffic and make the area easier to cross, Gibbs suggested painting the left lane to deter traffic from using the lane as well as painting in a green bicycle lane and possibly putting up safety cylinders to make pedestrians walking in the area feel safer from traffic.

Paint would only be the first step, Gibbs said. If studies showed the area could manage with the loss of one lane, he would suggest a permanent closure of the lane and more permanent bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks.

And that wouldn’t be the only area to receive a paint makeover, as Gibbs also suggested using paint on the south lane going east on 10 Mile, as well as the west lane at the intersection of the Woodward service drive and westbound 10 Mile.

“A lot of the recommendations call for miles and miles of paint, which is a new traffic-calming technique,” Gibbs said. “You just paint what you want and see if it works. If it is safer, you move to the next step, and if it is not, we try to come up with another proposal.”

Gibbs hopes to make another presentation in a few months as he continues to collect feedback from community members. Bus rapid transit could affect the plan, as several groups continue to study putting a bus rapid transit system in the median of Woodward.

By bringing a more complete-streets philosophy to the intersection, Schutt said, it would encourage up-and-coming families to stay in the area, as the current generation is looking to use alternative modes of transportation outside the automobile.

“If we want to go into the 21st century with any kind of success, we really need to accommodate all users,” she said. “We are finding the millennial-type of folks are getting out of school and getting jobs and are very much attracted to neighborhoods where they can walk and bike and take transit. We want to entice the new generation to live here and be prosperous here.”

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