Street projects progressing throughout Downtown
Published on August 30, 2023
A more lively and vibrant Downtown Kalamazoo is on the way, thanks to the street infrastructure work that is ongoing throughout the city and meant to make Kalamazoo safer, more connected, and more livable.
Through the Streets for All initiative – an effort to create a connected City of Kalamazoo and have streets that meet the needs of the community, provide safe transportation for everyone, and foster a more vibrant Downtown – crews have been hard at work on infrastructure improvements and changes along the main thoroughfares of Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Avenue.
“Our primary objective in the changes to Michigan Avenue has been to reduce crashes and control speeds,” said Dennis Randolph, traffic engineer, City of Kalamazoo. “It has been difficult for pedestrians to cross Michigan Ave., and the speeding, dodging and weaving have made the street dangerous for everyone.”
Both Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Avenue will over time be converted into two-way throughfares in the coming years. Michigan Avenue reconstruction is expected to start in 2026 after Kalamazoo Avenue is completed. Due to its poor condition when the City took over jurisdiction from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), crews have taken a series of steps to maintain it until full reconstruction begins. This work involved recent pothole patching and then a protective seal called a “fog seal” to help deter further deterioration.
“While doing the fog seal, we felt it would be an appropriate time to deal with the issue of serious crashes on both Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Avenue,” said Randolph. “Studies show both streets, which account for about 1.5 percent of the city’s centerline street mileage, account for about 7 percent of all city crashes. Many of the crashes are speed-related, both in excessive speed and a wide variation in speed among drivers going from 25-30 miles per hour to 45-50 mph in the same traffic stream.
“A significant contributing factor to the speeding is that there were too many lanes for the traffic using the street,” Randolph continued. “There has been a great deal of dodging and weaving, as well as unnecessary passing. This has led to many rear-end crashes, sideswipe crashes, and rollover crashes.”
City simulations that show two through-lanes as the most appropriate lanes for Kalamazoo and Michigan Avenues, along with the newly fog-sealed surface, gave traffic engineers a chance to remark Michigan Avenue with the appropriate number of lanes and new lane width.
“Eliminating excessive lanes and narrowing lanes to a standard 11-foot width meant there was extra pavement left,” said Randolph. “With the emphasis on building streets for all types of transportation, we have converted this excess pavement to a bicycle track. And by moving parking away from the curb, we have provided buffered protection for bicyclists and an emphasis that the pavement is not just for car and truck traffic – an important safety measure.”
While the new pavement markings on Michigan Ave. are temporary, traffic engineers have observed a marked reduction in dodging and weaving and excessive lane changes. They also have observed a reduction in excessive speeders, and more people are traveling together in organized “platoons” or vehicles traveling in a coordinated manner.
“Many more drivers are operating their vehicles at or near the posted speed limits of 30 and 35 mph,” said Randolph. “The signal progression is working much better, and it appears the overall number of stops has decreased. And with fewer lanes, we see that it is much easier for pedestrians to cross the street both at signalized and non-signalized intersections.”
Over the next several weeks, crews will install traffic signs along with special bicycle signals, and signals are anticipated to be operational in October. The traffic signals will be timed so that there is effective traffic progression – at the posted speeds of 30 and 35 mph – so that drivers can progress with minimal stops from the intersection of Stadium Drive and Howard Street to Harrison Street and Kalamazoo Avenue, and along Stadium Drive and Michigan Avenue.
Additional street projects are taking place now and over the next several weeks in and around downtown, impacting traffic in the area:
- Sewer lining work on Kalamazoo Avenue involving pipes that had deteriorated and need to be repaired before city crews begin the two-way conversion.
- Over the next several weeks, sewers on Michigan Avenue also will be relined, resulting in lane closures.
- Work recently begun in the Ransom Street improvement project will stretch until next summer and will result in street and sidewalk improvements as well as water and sewer improvements.
- Bridge repairs on East Paterson is anticipated to be completed by mid-October.
The bottom line, according to Randolph, is that safety is the City of Kalamazoo’s primary objective. “By managing speeds and driver behavior,” he said, “we not only make downtown movement safer but also reduce noise and air pollution. We also are not seeing travel through downtown being slowed. In fact, it appears that progression is working better. The only drivers being slowed down are those who have thought they could travel 50 mph through the downtown business district, presenting a hazard to everyone else on the street.
“This certainly has been a big change, and as we try to catch up on years of deferred maintenance, we know it has been disruptive. But in the end, we will have good infrastructure and much better streets that are safe for everyone to enjoy.”