Traffic engineers report on impact of Downs project
Posted on 05/12/2022
At its May 3 meeting, the Planning Commission moved on to its second topic of the preliminary site plan review of the Downs redevelopment plan – roads, pathways, connections and parking – after taking public comment on the previous topic of commercial and residential land use.

Public comment on land use
Chair Donna Tinberg advised commenters to focus their remarks on points made by the commissioners - did they get it right and where did they miss the mark?

Among the comments made:

• Ensure homes are affordable for first-time buyers. Suggested ways to do this could be to increase density or build small homes without a basement.
• Encourage short-term rentals of townhomes so that someone is living in these residences year-round; it will help activate the area and the central park.
• Conversely, a resident wanted to limit the number of townhouses that could be rented so it wouldn’t turn into an “investor town.”
• The developer should meet existing ordinances, e.g. the FAR ordinance was put in place to make a residence’s square footage proportionate to the land it occupies.
• Add more single-family homes. Make the area more like Northville’s traditional neighborhoods.
• Consider adaptive reuse of the Northville Downs building.

Review of developer’s plan for roads, pathways, connections, and parking
City Planner Sally Elmiger, of Carlisle Wortman Associates (CWA), presented a review of the road and pedestrian systems proposed by the site plan. She also conveyed the results of a meeting with the city engineer, walkability expert, and members of the Sustainability Team, Mobility Network, and the Rouge River Task Force. The goal of the meeting was to gain consensus on solutions to main transportation issues identified on the site plan. Her points included the following:
• Widen the pedestrian bridge over the daylighted river but don’t open it to vehicles.
• Any roundabout at S. Center and 7 Mile should be kept to one-lane with safe crossings for pedestrians and bicyclists.
• The extension of Griswold into the development should be a public street not private.
• Improvements to River St. should be part of the project since it will entail a new water main and the developer should build a continuous path on the west side of the street.
• No consensus was reached on the 18-space parking lot on Cady St. opposite the church. The option of angled, back-in parking was presented as a way to provide additional parking along the street. Such parking enables drivers to more easily see bicyclists and other drivers as they exit the space.

Members of the task forces, Nancy Darga and Susan Haifleigh, added details about their groups’ expectations for traffic safety and walkability. They indicated that interior streets in the Downs development should have a 50-foot right of way rather than a 60-foot right of way to match the typical 50-foot right of way of other Northville residential streets, and narrow pedestrian crossings. Center Street should not become the main thoroughfare from 7 Mile, but rather traffic flow should be directed to other streets as well to avoid congestion.

Traffic patterns expected with the new development
Traffic Engineer Julie Kroll, of Fleis and Vandenbrink and consultant to the developer, presented a high-level description of the project traffic study. Kroll noted that there are several access points to the development, which is good for traffic flow. She reported the increase in traffic due to the development is 4% or less at all intersections in her study except for 7 Mile and Northville Road, where it’s 7%. She recommended a light at that intersection. She said a traffic increase of less than 5% is generally indiscernible to the general public.

She noted that single-family homes generate more traffic because families who live there are driving back and forth to work and also taking their children to activities, averaging 10 trips per day. She said family sizes tend to be smaller in townhomes and those households make fewer trips. The report also indicated that residents going to shops, restaurants or services in the city will walk the few blocks to get there rather than drive.

City Traffic Engineer Steve Dearing, of OHM, was also present at the meeting and agreed with Kroll’s assessment of traffic patterns. At the request of a commissioners, he expounded on how roundabouts work overall and how a roundabout could work with the hill at 7 Mile and Sheldon. As requested, he discussed the safety of roundabouts, stating there’s a 40 to 60% reduction in crashes (compared to other intersections) and the severity of crashes is far less: a 70% reduction in injuries and a 90% reduction in deaths due to roundabout design that promotes slower speeds.

A concern was expressed about the length of discussions on topics being deliberated. Chair Tinberg said she and Elmiger are working on ways to refine the process.

Watch the meeting video here