Schor sees neighborhood improvement where some westsiders see a step back

City plan would add green space, reduce lanes of traffic, he says


FRIDAY, March 1 — Where some westside residents see a loss to the community because of a proposal to remove the islands and trees in the middle of a stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard,  Lansing Mayor Andy Schor sees an opportunity to improve it.

“Now is the time to look at the future of that corridor,” Schor said. “When it was widened decades ago, it cut a swath through a vibrant neighborhood. We do not need seven lanes of traffic here and have a great opportunity to amend this, upgrade underground infrastructure, increase green space, and plant more trees along this stretch of road.”

Scott Bean, the mayor's spokesperson, said the city’s plan calls for replacing the northbound lanes of MLK from about Kalamazoo to Ionia streets with green space. He said the city’s “intent” is to include a bike path as part of it. He said it would be state property, although the city would maintain it.

More than 60 people attended a city-hosted open house yesterday to voice their concerns over a proposed project that would remove the medians and trees on MLK between Ionia and Lenawee streets.

Many who attended the Letts Community Center session believed the project was already set in stone. However, city Public Service Director Andy Kilpatrick said that the plans have not yet received any bids from contractors since the city requested them on Feb. 5. The deadline is Tuesday. An effort to get bids last year was unsuccessful.

“This sounds like it’s already approved,” resident Mitzi Allen said to Kilpatrick near the start of the meeting.

“It’s not approved, because the mayor has final review on that,” Kilpatrick replied, suggesting Schor could decide against removing the islands.

“The project is essentially not approved until a contract is signed with a contractor. If bids come back, depending on what public input is here, the mayor could choose whether to sign it or not,” he said, adding that “there are plans in place and we’re getting costs from contractors.”

The plan would involve removing the islands and green space sections on that stretch of MLK to create a five-lane roadway — two lanes each way for traffic and a turning lane.

This development became necessary, Kilpatrick said, to accommodate new traffic patterns resulting from another project that’s set to convert Ottawa and Allegan streets from one-way to two-way by the end of 2024.

The board of the Westside Neighborhood Association voted 4-0 Wednesday against the plan. However, three members were absent and one chose not to vote because it was her last meeting. The four opponents were Allen, Heath Lowry, Jane Nicol and Heidi Frei.

Carla Michaud said she heard about the project a few days before the meeting took place. She showed up because she didn’t want to lose the existing median green spaces, which she and her husband frequently cross when they walk from their west side home to the CADL downtown library.

“I’m concerned about aesthetics, and it seems like they’re just all on the technical. It’s a major road that’s adjacent to a significant neighborhood, and I don’t think they’re necessarily considering the aesthetics, pedestrian safety, or things like that as much as they should,” Michaud said.

Work on an adjacent sewer separation project is expected to begin soon regardless of the bid status of the MLK reconfiguration project. That process will involve removing 35 trees from the median green space because workers will have to dig there.

Were the MLK project to move forward in its current form, an additional 54 trees would need to be uprooted.

But Kilpatrick noted that one tree would be planted for each one removed and new ones would be planted on the east side of MLK, where the swath of new green space Schor referred to would be created. 

 Kilpatrick said the department worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation to evaluate three scenarios for the boulevard section to accommodate two-way operations on Ottawa and Allegan streets.

The department and MDOT concluded that the plan to eliminate the islands and turn MLK into two lanes of traffic each and a turn lane would promote the most effective traffic flow.

When the request for bids was placed, city engineer Mitch Whisler said the city hadn’t been looking at any other options aside from the proposal to remove the median space entirely in favor of the five-lane reconfiguration.

 Since then, in part due to resident feedback, Whisler said the city has looked at three alternatives that would allocate some space for significantly smaller median spaces.

 “If medians are included, they will be installed at the completion of this project,” Kilpatrick added.

 The department provided comment cards to gather feedback on these alternatives.

 “We’ve made a point to collect those comment cards to see if people would like to see a median in that center turn lane in certain sections or an island on the west side,” Kilpatrick said.

 “The disadvantage for those, to either properties or streets on the west side, depending on where the medians would be, you would again not be able to make those left turns in or out of the side streets or the properties depending on where the median is,” Kilpatrick said. “The advantage to that is for aesthetics. We would have some green space there, and you could put landscaping there. So that would be a balance of what is more important.”

 Kilpatrick said the department would consider these comments and follow up with residents who included their information on a sign-in sheet.

 “We are planning to engage with the residents again, probably at another public meeting,” he said, noting that he doesn’t presently have a time or date set for that meeting.

 Heidi Frei, a resident who has led the charge for “more transparency” regarding the plans, was slightly more optimistic after the meeting.

 “I think it's good that they want feedback. You know, I heard him in front of everyone say that this isn't a done deal. So, we have that on record,” she said.

Not all westside residents came out of the meeting feeling heard, however.

“My reaction was, they didn’t really want our comments. It was like it was already a done deal. I don't think they've worked in a lot of questions very well, and it still seems like it's a project that's going on without our input.” Steve Rall said.

Residents urged Kilpatrick to provide an update as soon as possible. If the city receives no bids for the work, there will be more time to work through those issues to find a viable compromise.

In the meantime, Schor said, the city “will take a look at the comments submitted, along with the current road design plans, and consider all options moving forward on this project including any potential design modifications.”



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us