City offers a new choice for MLK Boulevard changes after vocal opposition

Postcards mailed to 1,600 residents seeking feedback on two options


THURSDAY, April 11 —Lansing Westside Neighborhood residents who were unhappy with the city’s plan to remove the tree-covered islands on a stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard have been offered an alternative to keep them in place.

The new plan would preserve the trees and islands between Ionia and Lenawee streets and keep MLK’s existing six-lane configuration. It would make just a few smaller changes to accommodate a state-funded, two-way conversion project on Ottawa and Allegan streets that began this spring. 

But it would mean not getting a bike lane and considerably more green space.

The original plan would reduce the lanes to five and remove the islands and trees and add the greenspace and a bike path on the east side MLK on state property that the city would maintain.

On Friday, the city’s Public Service Department mailed over 1,600 postcards to property owners on both the east and west sides of MLK, asking them to vote for one of the two options and mail back their responses.

The decision to send the postcards came after the department held two public meetings, on Feb. 29 and March 2,  and heard enough concerns from residents that public service director Andy Kilpatrick decided to seek more feedback. 

“We're always trying to think of exactly how we would solicit input from residents,” Kilpatrick said. “The decision here was made based on the fact that we wanted to include as many people as possible who are in close proximity, those who may not have attended either of the two meetings, and residents who didn't really know much about the proposed plans.”

The new plan, listed as Option 1 on the postcards, would keep all six lanes plus the islands and most of the trees on them. However, 35 of the 90 or so trees in that stretch will need to come out either way for a water main project scheduled to begin this summer.

In either scenario, the city would replant a new tree for each removed, Kilpatrick said.

Option 1 would also maintain median crossovers and left and right turn lanes. To accommodate the two-way conversions of Ottawa and Allegan, the city would need to construct a southbound left turn lane at Ottawa and increase the size of the curb radii at the corners of northbound MLK at Ottawa and Allegan for right turns.

In this configuration, which Kilpatrick said factored in 2024 traffic volumes, westbound Allegan Street traffic would need to use the crossover at Michigan Avenue to turn left onto southbound MLK.

Option 2 would move forward with the initial plan to remove one of the six lanes on MLK, plus the trees and islands in the middle. The roadway would be reconfigured to two lanes in each direction with a center turn lane and medians. The city would also add a bike path on the east side of MLK.

If residents opt for Option 2, changes required to accommodate the two-way conversions on Ottawa Street and Allegan Street would include moving the east curb line of the southbound roadway to the east between Kalamazoo and Ionia streets to accommodate two lanes in each direction with a center turn lane.

It would also modify the median between Ionia and Ottawa, add medians between Michigan Avenue and Ottawa Street and between Chelsea Avenue and south of Kinsley Court and add a button-activated flashing beacon for pedestrians crossing on Michigan Avenue.

Kilpatrick said the five-lane configuration factored in current traffic data as well as pre-pandemic studies, meaning it could withstand an influx of downtown growth. He suggested that the six-lane plan under Option 1 may not offer as much flexibility.

Since the postcards were sent out last week, Kilpatrick said the department received their first batch of responses yesterday, while another 40 or so arrived today. In addition to the postcards, Kilpatrick has made a comment form available online. 

He said he expects “a divided response.”

“At this point in time, I hesitate to say which way it will be going, because I think we're going to see a significant increase in the number of responses coming in tomorrow and Monday,” Kilpatrick said.

The postcard requested responses by April 12, but Kilpatrick noted that the department “will continue to accept” them after that.

“Some people might look at it and know exactly what they want to do and send it back the same day. For others, it might take them a couple of days to figure it out,” Kilpatrick said. "We wanted to set a date that would allow us to move as quickly as possible in one of these options. While we didn't want to leave it open-ended for weeks and weeks, we will continue to gather input.”

Once enough feedback arrives, Kilpatrick said his team will “try and figure out if there's kind of clear-cut preference” while also looking at the response rates.

“I think the other thing that we should weigh is that it's a public street, too, so anyone can use it. Which means it's valid for anyone to comment on — no matter where they are, or whether they live in the city or not,” he said.

Kilpatrick expects to have an update in April after the city collects and studies the responses to both the postcards and the online comment form. Residents interested in weighing in can do so at

The original plan was estimated to cost $3.3 million. A price tag on the new plan was not immediately available.

Regardless of which plan the city chooses, Kilpatrick said the project will still take three months to complete and that he expects it to be finished by the end of the year.

While he still anticipates the MLK work to start in July as originally planned, Kilpatrick noted that an adjacent water main project that was originally set to begin this month, ahead of the MLK work, has been delayed. Therefore, he said,  the MLK timeline could also shift slightly.

“Depending on exactly what happens with that, we might be doing some of the road work at the same time. It might even mean we won’t start until later in July, or even August,” Kilpatrick said. “As long as we start that by sometime in August, we should be OK.”

Even after the postcards were mailed last week, at least six westside residents spoke out against the project during the public comment portion of the City Council meeting on Monday, while one downtown area resident supported it.

Mitzi Allen was in the former camp.

“The medians were initially installed based on an environmental impact statement from 1985, aiming to reduce noise and light glare and provide safety for the pedestrians. Removing them could compromise the safety and well-being of residents, as well as disturb the traffic calming measures in place,” she said.

Allen told the City Council she was concerned for the safety of students who cross MLK to get to school. She also touched on the fact that the city had previously taken the homes of over 100 residents, mostly on the east side of MLK, for a previous project done on that stretch in the 1990s.

“The remaining residents of this affected area have already endured significant changes in the past. It’s disheartening to see history repeating itself, with little consideration for the community's well-being,” Allen said.

“I urge the city to slow down this project and conduct further study,” she concluded.

As Allen left the podium, downtown resident David Ellis came up and called the project “fantastic.”

“Everything about this project is objectively good. I'm incredibly shocked to finally see something from the city that I’m not recoiling in disgust from,” he said.

Ellis differed from Allen and other residents who spoke out of concern for pedestrian safety.

“As someone who has walked to and from Sexton every day from my time in high school, I'm very, very familiar with crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard,” Ellis said. “The current design as it stands is not safe for pedestrians, period.”

Of the islands and trees set to be removed under the original plan from earlier this year, he said: “It’s not a place people go to enjoy themselves.”

“It has 13-foot lanes designed like a freeway with skimpy little crab apple trees dotting the medium between it. This is a trash and debris-filled lump of dirt that you can’t enjoy. By readjusting the road and bringing that green space to the side of it, you can actually put a park in that people can go to and enjoy,” he said.


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