Vine Neighborhood

Walking audits and parking regulations: Kalamazoo seeks your input for changes in Vine

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Vine Neighborhood series.

On a warm, September, late afternoon, around 20 people and three dogs gathered at the Vine Neighborhood Association for a guided walking audit, part of the City of Kalamazoo’s efforts to re-imagine the streets and the way pedestrians move on them.

Katie Reilly, the City of Kalamazoo’s Neighborhood Activator, passed out clipboards with a map of Route #9 (the Vine route) and a street survey. The participants were asked to make a note of issues, such as low-hanging branches, cracks in the sidewalk, unsafe crossings and anything else that caught their attention. Keegan Adriance, a member of the Complete Streets Advisory Committee, was also present.

The walking audits are part of the city’s efforts to make the streets safe and navigable for all. Participants are asked to rank on a scale of 1 to 5 safety, accessibility, appearance, and connectivity on the routes. They are also asked to point out walk features, both positive and negative, and encouraged to take photos to share with the city.

“The city is interested in getting as much input as possible,” says Reilly, who has been leading the meetings on parking and guiding most of the walking audits around the city. “We have had meetings and focus groups to encourage feedback.”

The anticipation matched that of the start of a scavenger hunt. Even the dogs seemed eager to get started. 

Parking in the Vine: 22 Ordinances in one square mile

In its efforts to support the Vine Neighborhood Plan for Imagine Kalamazoo 2025, the city is also re-examining parking regulations, which has been a recurring neighborhood request.

“There are so many variances, it lends itself to confusion,” says Steve Walsh, VNA Director. “The lack of uniformity there contributes to confusion on a block by block basis. People are unsure of what to do.”

Over the years, Walsh says, residents have frequently requested more uniformity in neighborhood parking, particularly as it relates to overnight parking. 

Frustrations over lack of street parking has meant recurring tickets for some residents and their visitors.At a recent Community Cares meeting at the VNA, (the Vine version of a neighborhood watch) residents mentioned parking as a concern, particularly a tendency for restaurant delivery workers and contractors to park across the sidewalk, which violates the law.

“Addressing parking is also a reaction to more and more people moving back into the city and more and more people looking for regulation,” says Walsh. “I don’t think any of the proposed changes are born of mass violations. They’re just a desire to get some the blocks more in line with other blocks.”

The proposed parking changes were first unveiled at Vine’s National Night Out in August. Christina Anderson, Kalamazoo City Planner, brought large display maps, explained the proposed changes to residents and fielded questions. 

“We gathered reactions at National Night Out, as well as took feedback online,” says Reilly, who ran the resident meetings. “We heard from a lot of property owners that having more than one car or to have a guest for the night was problematic. The biggest complaints were not knowing where to park and overnight parking.”

The parking irregularities didn’t happen overnight but were a series of changes made over many years for a variety of reasons. “Most of the time, the city responds individually to parking needs,” says Anderson, “but if you don’t also pause to look at the bigger picture to see how those needs are working together or against each other, you end up with issues. We have to stop and ask, OK, so what does all this mean when you’re in a neighborhood like Vine.”

The biggest proposed parking change, in addition to seeking uniformity in restrictions, is adding 200 overnight parking spots, which has been identified by residents as a pressing need.

Recent parking restrictions lifted on the Northside with the removal of the No Parking, No Stopping, No Standing signs, were met with widespread resident approval.

While parking input from Vine residents is still being sought, Walsh and Anderson don’t expect a perfect parking scenario immediately. “Even if it isn’t necessarily perfect, I think we’re going in a much better direction than we were going even a year ago,” says Walsh. “I’m always optimistic. No process is flawless. I don’t think the first kick at the can is the last one.”

A few of the proposed parking changes already have been tweaked due to specific business or resident concerns, such as a need for space for semi-trucks to move around at a Cedar Street business, says Anderson.

“Once those changes have been worked out, we’ll come back to the community with the final plan and then go to the traffic board.

“Overall, there has been a lot of positive feedback, but with any changes, people may be a little nervous about the execution,” says Anderson. “I think everyone will be comfortable in the end.”

What Anderson is most pleased about in the process is that the proposed parking changes have been resident-driven. “Issues were explored, regulations were changed, and then it has been sent back into the community for feedback.

“Not everything we hear in the neighborhood plans has big dollars associated with them,” says Anderson. “Some are looking at rules and ordinances that are not necessarily serving the neighborhood. This is an example of how those changes are happening in Vine.”

On with the walking audit

To follow the map, the walking group was directed to cross at Ranney Street and South Westnedge Avenue where a new crosswalk exists, but a couple of neighborhood walkers decided not to risk the new crosswalk and went down to the light at the corner of Vine and South Westnedge. The rest of the group followed Reilly, who bravely stepped into the street. The first car stopped immediately, but the SUV in the next lane apparently didn’t get the message, though the driver corrected in time and the group paraded across.

Diverse parking regulations are often the result of individuals requesting changes. The city of Kalamazoo is addressing Vine parking as a whole for consistency in its proposed parking changes.“Not everyone knows about the new city ordinance,” someone said, referring to a city ordinance, which went into effect June 1 that requires all drivers to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. 

By the end of the audit, the group had drifted into two. Along the way, the strollers passed dogs, bikes, couples, and families out walking. They had seen a basketball floating in a retention pond, a lovely pink fall crocus blooming in a Vine Street garden, and abundant acorns strewn across the sidewalks. Back at the VNA as people submitted their clipboards, Reilly reminded everyone about an open public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at The Foundry, 600 E. Michigan Ave.

“We’ll have an interactive discussion, which will include distributing a kit of parts of what is supposed to be on a street,” such as bike lanes, curbs, turn lanes and sidewalks, Reilly says. “Then we will seek to prioritize possible changes.”

Three more guided walking audits are taking place across the city on Wednesdays in October.

If you don’t have a chance to participate in a guided walking audit, consider downloading maps and surveys online and taking an independent audit.  All surveys, however, need to be submitted by Oct. 16 in order for them to be part of results compiled the public meeting at The Foundry.

Reilly also suggests taking a group from the office on a lunchtime audit walk. Nothing helps you appreciate your city more than seeing it up close and knowing that your input matters.

Photos by Taylor Scamehorn, unless otherwise indicated. See more of her work here.

Read more articles by Theresa Coty O'Neil.

Theresa Coty O’Neil is the Managing Editor of Southwest Michigan Second Wave. As a longtime freelance writer, editor, and writing teacher, she has a passion for sharing the positive stories in Southwest Michigan and for mentoring young writers. She also serves as the Project Editor of the Faith in Action series and Project Lead for Battle Creek Voices of Youth.