Downtown Kalamazoo

Why is Kalamazoo killing the one-way streets?

The City of Kalamazoo is planning to switch Kalamazoo and Michigan avenues from one-way to two-way. We get your questions answered about this major development underway in downtown Kalamazoo.

When the city of Kalamazoo approved a $1 million engineering and design contract for a major renovation of downtown vehicle traffic a few weeks ago, we began to receive emails and letters from readers.

Why is this being done? How much will it cost? What roads are going to be converted from one-way to two-way?

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These are among the questions you had that we posed to city officials. (We threw in a few of our own as well.)

Here are the answers from the city officials involved in this process, as conveyed by the city’s Public Information Officer Jay Shatara:

Which streets are currently being planned for conversion?

The streets the city plans to convert to two-way traffic in the next 10-15 years are Kalamazoo Ave, Michigan Ave, Lovell St, and South Street.

Has the final decision been made about this?

Yes, converting these streets and updating others in and around downtown are in alignment with the city’s support of IK2025, the Master Plan, and the Complete Streets Policy. Exactly how this work happens and the timeline for this work is not yet determined. Staff estimates a 10-15 year process for the Streets for All projects.

a map of downtown Kalamazoo showing Kalamazoo Avenue highlighted
Kalamazoo Avenue is the first of the major one-way streets to be converted to two-way. Seen here in a city rendering, which shows the other streets to follow.

What is the timeframe when the conversion will be completed? How long will it take when orange cones go up?

Work on the Streets for All projects has already begun with work on Stadium and Westnedge & Park. Kalamazoo Ave is the first street planned for conversion to two-way traffic. Outreach and design began on June 22 and will run through December 23. It is estimated that construction would start in 2024 and that it would be a two-year process with work occurring between Harrison Street and Douglas Avenue.

What is the intended result of converting to two-way?

Safer and more comfortable travel environment for all users – personal vehicles, transit, pedestrians, and cyclists. Utility upgrades – many of these streets projects include an upgrade of underground utilities, some of which are among the oldest in the city. Better support of the downtown’s economic vitality. Improved connectivity between downtown, adjacent neighborhoods, and institutions such as WMU, K College, and Bronson.

Can you be more specific as to how this will “support … economic vitality”?

One-way streets as traditionally implemented by highway departments have had a primary purpose of moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible through an area with minimum stops. These objectives are not intended to provide access to businesses, commercial, residential or other activities along the streetsides. Moreover, the one-way streets often make accessing individual properties very difficult, forcing people to take circuitous routes. In addition, once people leave their vehicles they are forced to try to cross streets where vehicles are traveling at a high rate of speed, a very uninviting situation. By providing more direct access to properties along the new two-way streets, and making streets easier to cross and navigate, we make the streets and the area more inviting for all types of businesses and commercial ventures as well as residential and general community activities. Anyone who has tried to cross the five to seven lanes of Michigan Avenue understands the inherent danger of the street and its uninviting nature.

People currently use these streets to get from one part of the city to another via downtown. Will there be better or alternative routes to using downtown as a cut-through?

Besides the primary improvements on Kalamazoo and Michigan avenues, we will be making improvements on Lovell, North, and South Streets, and Ransom Street, all intended to facilitate the east-west traffic. Our studies show that we will be able to accommodate traffic, but we will have much safer speeds, less traffic noise, and fewer emissions that will make the entire area more livable. Moreover, our analyses show that for the average driver during peak periods, the time to travel from Harrison to Douglas will only increase two to four minutes. We are also planning and making improvements to north-south streets in the corridor, which have been neglected in order to accommodate the Michigan and Kalamazoo one-way schemes. These improvements will also allow us to retime signals and reoptimize traffic flows so that traffic generally flows better in all directions.

Will the traffic be slower due to either design or speed limit or both?

We intend to slow the speed of vehicles by designing the improvements so that drivers will drive slower naturally.  This is the only way to successfully slow traffic over the long-term and without excessive police presence and enforcement.

There’s already time and money spent on this project, prior to breaking ground. Why is it worth it?

Why is it worth it? Improved safety for all travels (high crash data), opportunity for downtown to reach full economic potential (not currently reaching per market studies), improve attractiveness of downtown and adjacent neighborhoods for housing development that will meet our community’s housing needs, realization of community vision as defined during Imagine Kalamazoo (and discussed for nearly 50 years after the initial on-way conversion)

The conversion of one-way streets to two-way is much more than just a change in traffic operations, it is a change in the way the city as a whole and its downtown will look, live, and feel for future generations. To make the best advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the city, it is necessary to spend money on planning and engineering so that we get it done right.

How will it impact parking?

Parking is important to a commercial corridor and to a downtown. Updating the parking system, including ramps and on-street parking, will be occurring in a parallel process. Parking will be considered during every phase of planning and design. We expect that during our engagement process, we will receive many comments about parking, both pro and con, and we will use these comments to help shape the best design possible, considering all the competing wants and needs of the downtown area and the city as a whole.

Exactly what will change: convert from parallel to angle parking? From 90 minute to metered? More street parking spots or fewer? Something else?

The exact shape of changes to parking has not been determined, that is part of the activity of planning and designing the conversion project.  We will be interested in comments shared during our engagement period to help us answer those questions.

Will the new roads include protected bike lanes – i.e. more than just a paint stripe separating vehicle from bike?

We intend to add bicycle facilities but the form they may take is still to be determined.  However, protected lanes separated by paint, curb, bollards, or parked cars, etc. will all be considered. In addition, the considerations will include the width of sidewalks, drive-lane widths, and the type and placement of amenities (street furniture and landscape).  We will consider input we receive in our engagement process to help us shape these ideas and the amount of funds we will have to build with.

What is the total cost for the construction part of this work?

Final construction costs have not been determined and will depend on a variety of factors including the extent of underground utility work being done as part of the project.

How much of this is direct from Kalamazoo city or county taxpayers? How much is covered by state, federal, or other funds (and how much for each)?

Funding for these projects will come from a variety of sources. City staff is working closely with Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study (KATS), the area Metropolitan Planning Organization that assists in distributing state and federal funds for infrastructure projects. City staff is also planning to seek grant additional funds from the federal government.

This makes it sound that no locally collected tax money or budget line will be used for the project. Can you clarify if that’s accurate?

We expect that we will use a combination of funds including federal-aid grants. Generally, federal-aid grants require some local match, so some locally generated funds including Act 51 funds will need to be used.

(Editor’s note: Public Act 51 of 1951 governs how state revenue for roads and bridges is allocated and spent. It includes state money that is shared with local governments.)

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