City is working to refine new phase of Downtown Northville
Posted on 08/18/2022
One of the restaurants with an expanded footprint in Downtown Northville. Photo by DDATwo downtown Northville Streets (portions of Main and Center) are entering a new phase: being permanently closed to traffic while being open to pedestrians. Residents of Northville and people who like to visit the historic downtown can continue to gather on these two streets without traffic worries – whether crossing the street or standing in the middle of it. Retailers and restaurants have expanded their footprint on the street and are looking at new ways to create a space that’s as inviting outdoors as they have indoors.

With the City Council’s 3-2 decision on Aug. 1 to keep Center St. closed (from Main to Dunlap) and 4-1 to keep Main St. closed (from Center to Hutton), the design and functional work of how to make the streets attractive and accessible year-round has landed primarily with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

DDA Director Lori Ward said, “They’ve handed us this decision. We’re going to make it work.” She recently posted an RFP (request for proposal) on the MITN website for design services to redo the entrances of the social district, which comprises the closed sections of Center and Main streets. Submittals are due Aug. 31. A separate traffic engineering study will also be conducted by the city to determine how best to reroute traffic on the city’s narrow streets.

An appointed Advisory Committee (Economic Development Committee along with some merchants) will work with a consultant that knows design, engineering and planning to address the comments that the DDA has received from the community about the appearance and function of the social district. The selected design team will develop a plan to improve the entry ways to the pedestrian areas, eliminating the water barricades and police cars and replacing them with more attractive solutions. Overhead lighting, additional planters, outdoor heaters, and other amenities will also be addressed in the plan.

“Business owners are relieved they have an answer about whether the streets would reopen or stay closed,” Ward said. “Now they are asking, ‘What can we do to help make it successful?’”

Prior to their vote, City Council reviewed reams of data. Traffic volumes, business owners’ input, the DDA-convened survey, and Town Hall meetings helped guide them.

“It’s going to take all of us working together: merchants, community, city and the DDA,” Ward said. That sentiment was echoed by City Council Member John Carter and Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Moroski-Browne at the Council’s Aug. 15 meeting. Moroski-Browne said, “Now the hard work begins” regarding finding and implementing solutions.

Mayor Brian Turnbull, who voted to reopen both streets, said the city needs to find ways to keep visitors coming back to the downtown year-round. He said having concerts on weekends, alternating between Main St. and Center St., has been a draw, but the streets need to be activated during the winter months too.

Many visitors to Downtown Northville like being able to carry drinks purchased from participating establishments to open areas in the social district and take in the scene: people-watching, playing street games and listening to music. The abundance of flowers lining the streets and tivoli lights in Town Square and at outdoor dining areas has helped transformed the downtown into a magical place.

Yet, not everyone is happy with the street closures. Tony Piccoli, owner of Cobbler’s Corner on Main, told Fox 2 News that it’s difficult for customers to find parking and to maneuver around the closures. Theresa Folino, a Northville resident, told reporter Veronica Meadows it’s a challenge for the disabled to get around in downtown Northville and says changes need to be made to accommodate those needs.

In the same Fox 2 News report, City Council Member Andrew Krenz said the street closures will necessitate changes: to improve street crossing markings, provide drop-off areas and move handicap parking spaces closer. The middle of the street is intentionally left open so emergency vehicles can get through.

To prepare for the vote earlier this month, City Manager Pat Sullivan and his team compiled traffic data and other records that showed traffic accidents, pedestrian and bicycle accidents, as well as traffic tickets numbers had declined significantly during the street closures of the past two years.

The data showed in 2019 there were a total of 83 accidents compared to a total of 55 accidents in 2021 in the downtown area. Accidents were even lower in 2020 at 43, but that was also the beginning of COVID-19 and several months of shutdowns. Citation numbers in the downtown social district area decreased from 280 in 2019 to 201 in 2021. These citations include but are not limited to speeding, stop sign and red-light violations.

Yet, traffic at other key intersections in the city still need to be addressed to improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. In 2020, with the street closures, traffic on Wing increased by approximately 40 percent.

The post-closure traffic count data indicates that most of the northbound Center Street traffic is turning left at Cady, heading north on Wing and either turning right on Dunlap and returning to Center or continuing along Wing and turning left at Randolph. Approximately 2,075 vehicles per day are seeking an alternative to traveling north on Center. There’s a smaller volume traveling east/west on Main and those drivers are using Hutton as a by-pass. The larger traffic issue is caused by the Center Street closure rather than the Main Street closure. There, drivers use either Hutton or Cady as an alternate route and both are primarily non-residential.

The closures will also impact street funding. The city’s annual Act 51 payments are $1,915 for Main Street and $1,227 for Center. The bigger loss is on construction grants – as federal-aid eligible roadways, both Main and Center qualify for approximately 80% of the construction cost to be covered through grants. Both funding sources will be lost if the streets aren’t used for vehicular traffic.