Stadium Drive construction begins as Kalamazoo moves to slow traffic and create complete streets

The Stadium Drive project now underway will make the wide four-lane road into a "gateway" for downtown Kalamazoo and Western Michigan University.
The project is also a gateway to the city's complete streets goals. It's the first step in redesigning downtown's array of wide, one-way streets into a safer network for all users -- motor, bike, pedestrian. 
When completed around the beginning of November, the stretch of Stadium between Howard and Lovell streets will have a raised center median, landscaped with native grasses and groups of trees. Also, a shared pathway for bike and foot traffic will run along the north/west side, between the road and the railroad tracks. The pathway will be separated from the road by a buffer of native grasses. 
The City hopes the new Stadium Drive will feel like a more-picturesque "gateway" between the City and WMU, Public Works Division Manager Anthony Ladd says.Stadium Drive will continue to have four traffic lanes, but they will be narrowed in an effort to keep drivers from speeding.
Relieving 'headaches' and future plans
Construction began Feb. 14 with the replacement of an aging culvert for Arcadia Creek, near Oliver Street. The project will begin in full around the beginning of May.
Anthony Ladd, Public Works Division Manager for the City of Kalamazoo, notes that some local media put more of the focus on the construction's interruption of traffic than on what the project hopes to accomplish.
Anthony Ladd, Public Works Division Manager for the City of Kalamazoo"'Headache' was the term they used," he said of a local television report on the start of the project. "It starts us off on a bad foot when we're trying to make the road as safe as possible through construction." 
There will be some "short-term inconvenience" for drivers, he says, but the road should have lanes open throughout the construction.
Efforts like this redesign have long been a part of the city's future plans. They took a big step forward in 2018 when the city approved a transfer of MDOT trunklines to city control.
Then, in 2019 the Kalamazoo City Commission approved the Complete Streets policy.  
Upkeep, like resurfacing, became the city's obligation, Ladd says. And with each road project in the city limits, Complete Streets "mandated that we take a look at each of our projects to see how we can implement Complete Street best practices."
Complete Streets means, he says, "trying to make the road safer for all road users, and trying to promote green-space, promote best environmental sustainability practices, promote non-motorized transportation, improve safety at intersections when you can, improve corridors -- just taking a real wholistic look from right-of-way line to right-of-way line, of how the street can be improved for all road users."
"Knowing that we had to do resurfacing here (on Stadium), we tried to find ways that we can further improve this corridor. It is a very wide street with a lot of wide travel lanes that have no real landscaping to speak of, no green-space to speak of, and no means for non-motorized traffic to use this corridor." 
The non-motorized will run on city right-of-way land between the railroad tracks and Stadium.Landscaping and lane-narrowing will make the road feel less like a freeway. Studies have shown, Ladd says, that such efforts help to keep traffic at speed limits. Stadium's speed limit is 35 mph, but drivers are often going much faster, he says.
Trees and grassy areas in the median will "soften the feel of the road for traffic, to potentially slow traffic down, to make them go the speed limit, be aware of their surroundings."
The road will be "a gateway coming into the city, and entering Western Michigan University's campus area," he says.
"Even for motorists, I think it's going to make for a really nice drive, a nice drive welcoming you into the downtown area." 
Connecting WMU with the City, neighborhoods
On a cold Saturday, late-February, WMU graduate students Mahamat Kerim and Makamohelo Malimabe, were surrounded by bags of groceries, waiting at the bus stop at West Michigan Avenue and Burrows Road.
They don't drive, so they often walk or take the bus. Asked about Stadium Drive, Kerim says, "The wide, wide road that takes, like, four lanes of cars?"
Told that the city is to put in a pathway along Stadium, Kerim says, "That would be really, really helpful.... It's very dangerous to cross. If they're trying to make it somehow easier for those who walk, that would be a good thing to do." 
Stadium, from Howard to the tangle of intersections starting at Lovell, has long been a barrier between off-campus housing, city businesses, and WMU students who don't drive.  
The new pathway is "this missing puzzle piece" in creating a non-motorized network connecting people with the city, Ladd says. It will connect to pathways on Howard, and eventually to downtown as more Complete Streets projects are finished.
"It's worth mentioning in 2021 the city actually added over four miles of new bike lanes," Ladd adds. "This is something that we're really trying to improve, connectivity from a bicyclist's standpoint or non-motorized point of view." The city has also been at work repairing and laying new sidewalks. "These are priorities for us."
Ladd points out that the Stadium Drive pathway is not taking space from the roadway, and that it is on property that became the City right-of-way after transferral from MDOT.
With a landscaped buffer between the path and traffic, it should become a popular route. "If you're a bike rider or a runner, you'd prefer to be as far away from the road as possible. It makes sense from a safety aspect," Ladd says.
The Stadium project should be seen "in the larger context" of the city's goals, Ladd says. 
The main goal is to convert most one-way streets and roads to two-way, including Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Avenue. These will be redesigned in accordance with Complete Streets policy, with all road users in mind. The city expects it all to be complete by 2026.
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Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992, covering a bewildering variety of subjects. He also writes on his epic bike rides across the country. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.