A Better Barlow Street. Not a Wider, Faster, More Dangerous Barlow Street.

Things shoulders are for:

  1. Piggy back rides
  2. Standing on (only if they belong to a giant)
  3. Hanging a purse or messenger bag

Things shoulders are NOT for:

  1. Walking on in an urban context

In December, the Ticker reported plans for an estimated half-million dollar Barlow St. resurfacing project that includes “a paved shoulder that is wide enough for walkers and bikers and so forth,” according to Garfield Township supervisor Chuck Korn. To date, actual pedestrian safety features such as sidewalks, marked crosswalks and street lighting have not been mentioned publicly in plans for Barlow St.

For people who spend the majority of their transportation-related time behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, walking on a road shoulder may seem like a perfectly good idea. However, for those of us who occasionally or frequently have to walk on them know perfectly well that even the most accommodating road shoulders are no place for people on foot.

Road spray from cars and trucks, loose gravel that makes footing unsteady and speeding vehicles with drivers glancing down at their phones are the norm, not the exceptional shoulder walking experience. A recent Record Eagle piece further highlights how walking on the road shoulder, especially in winter months (at least 1/3 of the year in Traverse City) can be especially frightening and dangerous.

A wider Barlow St. design runs contrary to traffic calming principles that call for more narrow street widths to reduce vehicle speed and improve safety for people on foot and bike. This is important because a 2013 study tells us when vehicles and pedestrians collide, the speed of impact is directly associated with both pedestrian injury severity and death.

For example, in a car-ped crash with an impact speed of 20 mph, a pedestrian’s risk for severe injury is < 15% and risk of death hovers around 5%. However, when speeds increase to 35 mph, 1 in 3 pedestrians will be killed and risk for severe injury skyrockets to > 50%.

Barlow St. already has a speed problem. From South Airport to Premier Street, posted speeds are 45 mph. This portion of the corridor includes vital destinations like the Post Office and Secretary of State, as well as a quiet residential neighborhood directly adjacent to Barlow to it’s East. Posted speed then drops to 35 mph alongside the Town and Country neighborhood north to the City limits. There, mercifully, the posted speed finally drops to 25 mph.

Barlow St. in Garfield Twp. looking south near Premier St.

Garfield Township’s DRAFT Master Plan correctly identifies the Lafranier/Barlow corridor as (st)roads “which serve dense urban areas but lack adequate pedestrian facilities.” (page 17) The Corridor Planning section of the DRAFT Master Plan also mentions that, because of Barlow’s proximity to “walkable” employment in Traverse City and Garfield Township, “encouraging affordable housing should be a priority.”

The DRAFT goes on to note that the corridor has “high pedestrian demand but minimal pedestrian facilities” and that “Because of the built environment, separated sidewalks may be difficult to construct, but should be required wherever feasible. In the absence of sidewalks, designated bike lanes could accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists.” (page 38)

“Difficult to construct.” Difficult…but not impossible.

Sometimes the difficult decision, the more expensive decision, even the unpopular decision – is the right decision. But that’s leadership – making the difficult decisions. Yes, constructing sidewalks and crosswalks, adding lighting, striping a bike lane (or if we’re going to get crazy – adding a protected bike lane) is going to cost money. A lot of money.

But as a community, what do we value? Do we value our health and well-being? Because walkable infrastructure helps to improve that. Do we value our ability to walk down the street without being killed or injured? Because walkable infrastructure helps that, too.

We hope Garfield Township, in partnership with The City of Traverse City and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission decides that the health, well-being and safety of our community is of greater importance than a smoother, wider, faster Barlow St.

Thank you for reading. If you made it this far, maybe you agree that Barlow St. (and many other (st)roads in our community desperately need to be made more walk/bike/rollable for all people of all ages and abilities. If you agree, we need your help.


Call to action:

Leaders in Garfield, TC and the GT County Road Commission need to continue to hear from their constituents who value walk/bike/rollable community design. Please take the opportunity, this week, to share your thoughts specifically on Barlow St.

The ASK:

Barlow St. needs to be better.

Barlow St. needs a complete approach along it’s entire length.

Both TC and Garfield Twp. leaders, as well as the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, need to be contacted and encouraged to work together to get this done.

  • Barlow needs sidewalks. Wider shoulders will likely make Barlow St. less safe for people walking. 
  • Barlow needs marked and safer crosswalks.
  • Barlow needs proper lighting.
  • Barlow needs improved bike lanes.
  • Barlow traffic needs to be slower. Posted speed limits on Barlow are excessive. 45 mph from S. Airport to Premier and 35 mph from Premier to Boon is simply unacceptable for a residential area.

Please consider contacting TC, Garfield and GTCRC leaders with your thoughts on a Barlow St. that serves all users. We can’t wait for an another death or serious injury. The time is now.

Garfield Township contacts (Supervisor, Trustees, Planning Director): ckorn@garfield-twp.com, lmcmanus@garfield-twp.com, jblood@garfield-twp.com, molly@mollyago.com, sjdenterprisestc@gmail.com, sjdenterprisestc@gmail.com, deeschmuckal@hotmail.com, dan@gtdieselservice.com, rlarrea@garfield-twp.com

Traverse City contacts (City Commission, City Manager, City Planner): CityCommissioners@traversecitymi.gov, mcolburn@traversecitymi.gov, rsoyring@traversecitymi.gov

GT Country Road Commission contacts: Board: cbrown@gtcrc.org, jgillman@gtcrc.org, amarek@gtcrc.org, mmckellar@gtcrc.org, wmouser@gtcrc.org

Manager – Jim Cook: jcook@gtcrc.org

County Highway Engineer – Jim Johnson jjohnson@gtcrc.org

A few suggestions:

  • Our elected leaders and City/Township/Road Commission staff have an extremely difficult job and are, without a doubt, doing what they believe is best for their community with the resources that they have. Please take the time to sincerely thank them for the work they do on our behalf.
  • How has the lack of safe walk/bike infrastructure impacted you, your family, your neighbors? Our leaders need to hear the stories of how an unsafe Barlow St. is impacting area residents.

Thank you for your efforts to help make the Grand Traverse Region a more walkable, bikeable and rollable place for all people. Please join our advocacy grupo and help be part of the solution.


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