If you’ve been on Central Campus since the start of the semester, you know it’s impossible to miss the construction on State Street. The project, which began in early June closed the section of street between William Street and North University Avenue. The project is designed to remove the border from this space, making it more accessible to pedestrians and, in the warmer months, to outdoor dining. While the project was originally scheduled to be completed by Labor Day, a number of factors caused that date to be pushed back to October at the earliest. Beyond its immediate impacts on pedestrian traffic and commerce, this project revealed a number of issues with Ann Arbor’s public transit system and advanced the debate about Ann Arbor’s walkability ( or lack thereof).
building project directly interrupted the flow of traffic coming down State Street. More importantly, it also temporarily created a jumble of pedestrian walkways, which, on average, constitute a bigger part of the movement in this area of Ann Arbor relative to vehicles. From orange plastic rails to noisy machinery, the flow of pedestrians and local store businesses have been largely disrupted.
Pedestrians are not the only beneficiaries of the disarray of this project; buses, which many students rely on, face the problem of navigating the chaotic street. This transportation system is especially important for students who need to travel between Central Campus and North Campus, who can now expect a delay in their journey. Bus schedules have a history of problems prior to this project, and prolonged construction can only exacerbate bumpy bus schedules, potentially causing more setbacks and unreliable transportation.
Moreover, this construction has a disproportionate negative effect on students with disabilities. Coupled with the narrow space between the orange plastic railings, the uneven and lumpy rubber padding makes it difficult for students with disabilities to cross State Street.
Overall, the construction project’s unexpected delays have made it even more inconvenient for students and residents of Ann Arbor. As the State Street construction project indicated in its Facebook page, “Phase 1 will take place in the summer of 2022 (June 1 – Labor Day).” As we approach this project proposed end dateAnn Arbor residents eagerly await its completion.
So what will State Street look like once we’re on the other side of this construction project? In an attempt to convert a core area of Ann Arbor into a space that can be shared more equitably by citizens, the “Woonerf Design”, an urban planning strategy developed in the Netherlands and Belgium has been adopted. It would give State Street a new makeoverwith a fully tiled road and curbless sidewalks.
First and foremost, a new road will benefit car and bus drivers who over the years have grown accustomed to unnecessarily bumpy rides on State Street. It will also improve sidewalks by making them smoother and taller, benefiting not only those who get around on foot, but also those who use bicycles, roller skates and skateboards, who between cracked sidewalks and poor roads, must choose the lesser of two evils.
At its core, this project aims to improve the way of life for the citizens of Ann Arbor, and if its vision truly comes to fruition, State Street will become even more of a social center than it is now. For locals, this would add another location to the list of “fun places to go with your family,” in Ann Arbor. Store and restaurant owners ultimately enjoy the benefits of a more socially active space: more customers and, in the case of restaurants, more outdoor seating space.
Students will be among the greatest beneficiaries of this project. The new widened sidewalk layout will reduce travel times between classes and, as mentioned earlier, make cycling and skateboarding safer and faster. The flip side, however, is that cars and buses will have to deal with slower traffic, as this type of road minimizes the difference in size between the sidewalk and the road.
While the changes to State Street are a step in the right direction, Ann Arbor’s urban improvement doesn’t stop there. The city is filled with small problems that could be solved by quick projects. For example, everywhere in Ann Arbor, the streets – busy streets at that – lack the necessary crosswalks. Adding crosswalks between the University of Michigan Art Museum and the Law Quad, East Quad and the Ross School of Business and at several locations along State and Huron streets would go a long way to making Ann Arbor a safer and more accessible place to live and walk.
Beyond that, the city and university bus systems need a massive overhaul. This editorial board’s discussion of how the construction of State Street would eliminate the right-turn lane quickly turned into a discussion of the multitude of short- and long-term problems with Ann’s bus system. Tree. The time it takes to resolve these issues varies widely, but each is solvable, and it’s important for Ann Arbor residents and the city’s municipal government to know about some of the solutions.
The easiest problem to solve is the lack of student awareness of the University’s Blue Bus system and the City of Ann Arbor’s TheRide system. If they are not already, students should be aware of the various dedicated apps and websites that follow the Blue Bus system. Additionally, they should know that Google and Apple Maps include the correct city or college bus route to get to their destination, as well as real-time updates on when buses are arriving at their starting and ending points. If students are not already doing this, they should use the unlimited free access at TheRide which they obtain by swiping their MCard when boarding.
In the medium to long term, however, the Blue Bus system in particular needs structural improvements to its routes and capacity. On both campuses, more express buses are needed that only stop at the farthest places from each other, so that students who use it to travel long distances quickly can do so more efficiently. North campus also needs a loop that only serves buildings on north campus, so students who live off-campus can access the blue bus like easily like their peers near central campus.
In the long term, the Blue Bus system needs higher capacity buses, so that the two campuses can be connected without the overcrowding and long wait times that have plagued the Campus Connector system over its lifetime. These fixes will go a long way to making Ann Arbor’s transit system more usable, creating a city where cars are less necessary.
As construction nears completion on State Street, students will reap an improved reconstruction of a social, walkable downtown. In addition to this, local restaurants and shops will gain more foot traffic that will embrace the vibe of the downtown Ann Arbor community. It’s one step closer to a walkable, pedestrian-centric Ann Arbor. There are still developments to be done in our city, however, and we hope that with the conclusion of this project, the city and the University can focus on increasing the availability of sidewalks and improving our bus system.
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