Commission Considers Whether Big Proposal Works for Bikes, Traffic

Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 7:29 am
By: 
Dan Totzkay

Above: Architect’s rendering of the two bigger buildings proposed, with Abbot Road in the foreground, Grand River Avenue to the left, Albert Avenue to the right.

With 6 of 9 members present, the East Lansing Transportation Commission voted unanimously last night to recommend the acceptance of a traffic impact study conducted for the proposed Park District development planned by Chicago-based developer DRW/Convexity. Considerations included accommodations for bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers, as well as for the Oakwood neighborhood just to the north of the project area.

This latest iteration of this proposal – for the area just northwest of the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue – is moving quickly through review. It will go before the East Lansing Planning Commission this Wednesday for a likely vote on whether to recommend it to City Council, and to City Council for a possible decision next week, on August 14.

Last night’s meeting was specially scheduled for the project. With both the Chair and Vice Chair absent, Kevin Beard served as Chair for the meeting, with unanimous support of those present.

The traffic impact study was conducted by Traffic Engineering Associations, Inc., (TEA) of Grand Ledge. David Sonnenberg, TEA owner and head of the study, was present to answer questions about the report.

Sonnenberg noted that any traffic concern arising from their study was a product of congestion already characteristic of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road, stating “traffic on Grand River [Avenue] is just the way it is.” The Commission appeared to agree with this assessment of the challenges, particularly at rush hour.

Below: rendering of the project as seen from the southwest along Grand River Avenue. Building D (the hotel) is in the foreground, Building A beyond that.

There has been resident concern in the Oakwood neighborhood, just north of the Park District proposal, that traffic from the development will spill into the neighborhood. TEA’s study projects minimal impact. Based on September 2016 observations believed to reflect current traffic patterns, Sonnenberg estimates around 2 additional cars passing through the Oakwood neighborhood in the morning and around 5 additional cars in the evening.

Attorney David Pierson, speaking on behalf of DRW/Convexity, was also present and affirmed the developers’ intent to look to mitigate cut-through traffic in the Oakwood neighborhood. Seventeen members of the Oakwood neighborhood have submitted a letter supporting the proposal and requesting that attention be paid to this concern.

Pierson additionally clarified the valet parking plan for the hotel, currently labeled as “Building D” and designed to be built between Evergreen Avenue and Peoples Church along Grand River Avenue. The plan was originally to use the forthcoming Center City parking garage (formerly Lot 1) on Albert Avenue for the valet parking.

Pierson notes now, however, the developers are in discussion with the City to use Lot 8, just north of Peoples Church, as a valet lot. Lot 8 has metered parking and 55 permit spaces. The developers hope to use much of the lot for valet parking. This is projected to mitigate any traffic congestion from valet service.

Pierson also presented a landscape mark-up (below) of the planned development to highlight bicycle parking. “Building A,” the 12-story mixed commercial and residential building planned for the northwest corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road, is designed to have enough street-level bicycle rack space for approximately 52 bicycles, with spots available on all sides. Building D (the hotel) has bike rack space for an additional 38 bicycles on its south and east sides. Residents of Building A will have access to indoor parking for about 180 bikes.

For a larger version of the image below, click here.

The redevelopment would also bring new bike lanes to Abbot Road and Albert Avenue. West of Abbot Road, Albert Avenue would gain bike lanes on either side, and Albert Avenue would be realigned on the east and west sides of Abbot Road. (Right now, Albert “jogs” about 30 feet as it crosses Abbot Road.)

Abbot Road would have one bike lane added, on its west side, in front of Building A, instead of ending in front of Dublin Square southbound on Abbot Road, as it does now. This is being made possible by the developers giving over land along Abbot Road for the purpose of adding the southbound bike lane. 

The southbound right-turn vehicle lane on Abbot Road will likely cross over the bike lane, so that cars could turn right at the light without having bicyclists on their right. (For a larger version of what is shown below, see page 8 of the submitted site plans.)

This bike lane would technically end at Grand River Avenue and restart just south, on Michigan State University’s campus, with no crosswalk or road paint to indicate bike traffic on Grand River Avenue itself. Michigan’s Department of Transportation (MDOT) has jurisdiction over Grand River Avenue, making the addition of a formal crosswalk and continuation of the bicycle lane on the west side of Abbot Road outside the scope of this development.

The markup distributed by Pierson also shows a specialized type of pavement on Evergreen Avenue, between Buildings A and D. This is meant to be aesthetically attractive and to create a “calming effect” for traffic.

Below is an architect’s rendition of the area, looking south from Grand River Avenue with a pedestrian plaza shown with white surfacing, and Evergreen Avenue shown with red paving. The hotel is to the left, Building A to the right.

The formal traffic studies for the project can be viewed here, and the materials for Planning Commission’s review can be viewed via the posted agenda for tomorrow night. East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority will take up the project on Thursday in a special meeting.

Citizens wishing to weigh in can speak at public meetings or send in written comments as follows:

 
City Council makes the final decision on site plans.