A Better Barlow Street


barlow street happy hour (1)

We at Norte! can’t thank YOU enough for your passion, energy and dedication to a better Barlow St. To the 30+ of you who walked, biked, or drove to our Pro Walk/Pro Bike Happy Hour at Sail Inn – thank you for your time and your willingness to create change.

And that change is going to be hard. If you had a chance to catch the UpNorthLive story on the event, you’ll hear a GT County Road Commission Board Member state that the infrastructure improvements that will improve the safety and equity of Barlow St. are “outside of the scope of work of the road commission.” Thankfully, earlier this month Traverse City Commissioners voiced unanimous support for a $4.5 million investment in sidewalks in the City – which is likely to include sidewalks for Barlow St. from Hannah St. south to the city limits at Boon St. However, this plan is yet to be formally approved and still needs support from city residents – and would leave arguably the most unsafe portion of Barlow St. (from Boon St. to S. Airport Rd.) still without sidewalks.


So this leaves us with two options:

1) We can be thankful that the City of Traverse City has future plans for Barlow sidewalks and accept that sidewalks south of city limits will just be “too hard” to get done.


2) We can challenge the status quo and start to push back. We can start to demand that the money we all pay toward our city/township/county/state road budget be spent to serve ALL road users – especially on roads like Barlow which are in a dense, mixed residential/commercial setting and have a proven track record of being unsafe. We can support and encourage the City, Garfield Township and the County Road Commission to come together to plan, build and maintain a safe and complete Barlow St.

Based on the conversations we had at the Sail Inn last week, I’m going to assume we’re going with option # 2. So where do we go from here?

If you haven’t already, please communicate to Traverse City, Garfield Township and GT County Road Commission leadership WHY you want a Better Barlow St. and your ideas of WHAT this would look like. All of the people listed below will benefit from hearing your voice.

Your street. Your leaders. Your voice.

TC City Commission, Planning Commission, Manager, Engineer and Planner: CityCommissioners@traversecitymi.gov, planningcommission@traversecitymi.gov, mcolburn@traversecitymi.gov, tlodge@traversecitymi.gov, rsoyring@traversecitymi.gov

Garfield Township Supervisor, Planning Director and Trustees: ckorn@garfield-twp.com, rlarrea@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

GT Country Road Commission Board, Supervisor, County Highway Engineer: cbrown@gtcrc.org, jgillman@gtcrc.org, amarek@gtcrc.org, mmckellar@gtcrc.org, wmouser@gtcrc.org, jcook@gtcrc.org, jjohnson@gtcrc.org

You can also use our handy-dandy form to give your feedback on Barlow St. and this will be automatically forwarded to all of the above individuals: https://goo.gl/forms/f0ji35X8u8zZdD8g2

Norte! is working to facilitate a discussion between the City, Garfield Township and Road Commission to encourage the three groups to work together to create a more equitable Barlow St. We will keep you posted on details ASAP.

Continue the conversation for A Better Barlow St. in your neighborhoods, schools, and businesses.

Check out the photo gallery by the talented Matt Coleman from our Pro Walk/Pro Bike Happy Hour for a Better Barlow HERE.


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 10%. However, when speeds increase to 40 mph, 4 in 5 pedestrians will be killed.

speed ped graphic

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.

Barlow St. in Garfield Twp. facing north near the post office.

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.

Traverse City Commissioner Gary Howe writes,

I encourage everyone to drive down Barlow Street, from Carver to South Airport, and count the number of people waking dangerously on the side of the street. Each time I find myself on this street, I start counting the cringe worthy moments when someone is put into a dangerous situation because of the lack of infrastructure and design to address the urban context.

It is dangerous by design to have a high speed street without sidewalks, bike lanes, and nary a crosswalk within sight. This is on all of us. The recent death and countless injuries are on all of us for not addressing the needs of all along Barlow Street.

I urge all of us at the City, County Road Commission, and Township to find the political will to transform Barlow Street into a safe, comfortable, and inviting corridor. I’m afraid the rural solution of widen the roadway with wider shoulders is highly inadequate and will likely worsen the problem. Wider streets equal faster speeds, faster speeds equal a decrease in safety and even more unequal treatment for those on foot, wheelchair, or bike.

The City and the Road Commission have passed Complete Street resolutions. We have done so because streets designed for everyone create a better, more equal, and more prosperous community. Let’s find the will do what is right on Barlow Street.

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.