WITH THE PARTICULAR DEMANDS of winter upon us, it’s a good time to take a look at the issues surrounding the challenges of getting around in Marquette. Seasonal differences mean that walkers, bikers, and drivers have to make the necessary adjustments to go here and there, efficiently and safely. But, to be sure, getting around these days can be a test, regardless of the season.
At this week’s Traffic/Parking Advisory Committee meeting, the various areas considered to be problems in our traffic system were reviewed, with potential solutions considered. Such as they are.
Unfortunately, solutions are often hard to come by. Like when you have an older city, designed for a certain amount of traffic, but conditions change when everybody south of the 45th parallel believes what they see on Facebook and decides they have to visit Marquette. Have you ever seen our streets as crowded as they’ve been the past two summers? And you can bet your snow tires they’ll be busy this winter, and even more so again next summer.
Of course, none of this is a problem… unless you leave your house. Whether you’re walking or driving, you need to keep your head on a swivel, lest your next T-bone is of the collision kind. Other than just general congestion on most of our busiest streets and walkways, there are a few spots of more urgent concern. City Planner Dave Stensaas addressed the Traffic/Parking committee and outlined a few of them…
The schools- Parents have always dropped off and picked up their kids, but since the pandemic, it’s become more of a common practice. Both Graveraet Elementary and Bothwell Middle School in particular become gridlock central twice a day. Graveraet parents are backed up all the way onto North Third while Bothwell’s bottleneck impedes neighborhood traffic, unrelated to school pickups. Throw in kids who walk, who have to navigate busy streets and sidewalks and winter snowbanks, and, well… they get a test in survival unlike any they get at school.
North Third Street- Where do we begin? When you include both vehicles and pedestrians, it’s one of our busiest streets. Back in 2015 a bike lane was added to accommodate the two-wheelers. It’s a question as to how many actually take advantage of the dedicated lane, but it’s a fact that the street is considerably narrower. If you find a place to park on the street, make sure you look twice before you fling open your door.
At the same time the bike lane was added, more parking spaces were too. Business owners welcomed the additional spots, but cross traffic at many corners now requires the delicate balance of watching for pedestrians while “inching forward” until there’s no going back.
Lakeshore Boulevard and the Bike Path- As our beaches become more popular and housing continues to gravitate to the lake, Lakeshore and the parallel bike path have seen a commensurate increase in usage. Though it’s called a bike path, it accommodates a comparable number of walkers and joggers, with or without kids and dogs. And the recent appeal of e-bikes brings a motorized element to a route that doesn’t need an increase in intensity.
South Front Street- South Front? What’s the problem? By next summer the reconstruction will be finished and we’ll be able to cruise in and out of the city with relative ease, right? Well, the problem, as outlined by Stensaas, is for pedestrians from the south Marquette neighborhoods who want to go to South Beach. Unless you cross at the Genesee Street light, about three football fields down the way, you’re taking your life in your hands. It’s a great place… if you can get there.
Speed Limits- Some of our speed limits, particularly on the state highways in the city, are just too high. Just one example is M-553 past Rippling River and Marquette Mountain. Problem is… MDOT and the State Police control the speed limits on those roads and they use a formula to determine where to set them. It’s difficult, but maybe not impossible, to challenge those determinations.
There are also the speed limits the city controls, but they’re generally appropriate for our neighborhoods and business districts. Generally.
There’s a solution somewhere to each of these issues. But, in addition to the usual bucket of logistical problems… there’s also the cost. Like every other project on the city’s to-do list, it’ll take community advocacy and a financial commitment to make it happen.
The Traffic/Parking Advisory Committee, after having been fairly idle during the pandemic, is back, with a new cast of concerned citizens. Chairperson Barb Owdziej hopes to see them address these and other concerns regarding our streets. “Our list is growing in terms of the issues that the committee would like to see addressed, in terms of intersections, speed and parking issues.”
Owdziej is an ardent advocate of making Marquette more pedestrian friendly. She’s focused on “pedestrian safety and making pedestrian flow a priority. It’s about facilitating walkability of the community for health, environmental and financial reasons. Dare I say even potentially housing issues?” Meaning, I think, if someone doesn’t have to spend money on transportation, they’ll have more in their budget for housing.
Until, or if, physical changes can be made to the aforementioned problem areas… and others, we will have to be the change. Slow down. Be extra courteous. Set an example. It’s not that hard.
Did you see the new business at the corner of Hewitt and Fourth? What used to be a party store and laundromat is now… a party store and laundromat!
Introducing Kenny’s Corner Store. Owner Matt Blondeau has put considerable time and money into a building that’s been vacant for a few years now. He’s still filling out his inventory, but the OPEN sign is lit and the beer is cold. The laundromat, with upgraded conveniences, will be open soon.
Sure, it’s not the biggest business to open in Marquette, but it’s just as meaningful. It’s a welcome addition to an older neighborhood, and new life in a dormant building. Blondeau says it’s about more than just business. “We want to fix that corner up and make it a nice spot for everyone in the neighborhood. If all goes well we plan on doing the exterior renovation next year.”
We’ll be looking forward to that. See you at Kenny’s!