By Scott Sullivan
Were Douglas’s Water Street Gallery on Water Street, it might have problems.
Its 98 W. Center St. locale instead puts it downtown on an east-west commercial wide street with ample parking, quite different from narrow, hilly and winding north-south Water Street, which crosses Center four blocks east.
Water Street’s residents do enjoy water views downhill of Douglas’s Kalamazoo Lake Harbor where Tannery Creek feeds it through a weedy wetland. But traversing the road by vehicle poses challenges.
It parallels in some ways Saugatuck’s Park Street: narrow, steep-banked and configured with right-of-ways that combine to make passage difficult, especially for wider vehicles, e.g. fire delivery trucks, public works vehicles. Add pedestrians, bicycles, drivers not heeding 25-mph speed limits …
In both cities residents have long lobbied for better safety measures, but dealing with the roads’ Nature — capital “N” with hills, gullies, water below, old trees … has not made solutions easy. It is human nature not all agree.
Much of the Jan. 17 Douglas City Council meeting was devoted Water Street neighbors discussing how traffic issues there might be better dealt with.
Tracey Shafroth represented neighbors admitted givens: narrow pavement, foot-deep gullies that form after hard rains, narrow creek bridge with steep drop-offs north and south of it.
“It’s not clear to me,” she told council, “if sidewalks are even an option. The street, with its two sharp turns, steep hill, blind corner, and unstable roadbed, makes for a deadly combination.”
Shafroth cited neighbor and 34-year design consultant Brian Alexander’s maps (one reproduced below) illustrating issues, plus photos from on the ground.
“In the last two years,” Shafroth continued, “there has been a steady increase in the number of large trucks on the road. They primarily come from southeast of Douglas and use Water as a cut through to Blue Star Highway. It saves them about one and a half minutes.
“However, in the process they make the road more precarious for residents, pedestrians and cyclists,” she went on from her front lawn vantage. Their size and weight damage the already-unstable road edges. Are we willing to take on that cost to save the trucks 90 seconds?
“I recently consulted with an attorney, as well as the Allegan County Road Commission, after the city indicated they were not aware of who set speed limits, signage or the types of vehicles allowed on Water Street.
“It turns out you, the city council, makes those determinations. You can decide, knowing what you know about this road, exactly what you want to do to make this road safe. So here are proposed solutions:
• Lower the speed limit to 15 or 20 mph on the entire road. The speed is currently 25 mph.
• Aggressively enforce the new speed limit during times of day cited in the traffic study when excessive speed is most significant.
• Rethink the signage to make it clear and less confusing.
• Carry out a sustained public education effort that will inform traffic of the new speed limit.
• Prohibit big trucks from using the road. Hammer out an ordinance that will dictate the kinds of small trucks that are permitted on the road.
“I call upon all of you to make this a priority,” Shafroth continued. “I believe as neighbors we have been conscientious and responsible citizens in our efforts to make this street safe.
“We need your help. Let’s get it done,” her statement said. Corroborating letters came from Jim Schmiechen and Ken Carls, Joseph D’Ambrosio and Elizabeth Eckhardt.
Council voiced interest in a workshop to find solutions to concerns.
By Scott Sullivan