Roads are for Drivers @MDOT_West

Today in sunny Grand Rapids our community enjoys an annual burst of athleticism known as the Grand Rapids Marathon. This event — snaking its way through the downtown area, along the river along Kent Trails — is good for Grand Rapids, good for public health and good for the local economy.

It’s not good, however, for drivers.

In recent years more and more events in the urban core require road closures. Sometimes these shutdowns are limited and reasonable; sometimes they’re not. The G.R. Marathon falls into the latter category.

I reside in the South Hill neighborhood, on the southern end of the near-downtown area. The city is divided by the Grand River and there are only a handful of bridges that connect downtown to the West Side. If you want to get to the upper West Side — Walker, for example — you can either take I-196 (good luck at the cloverleaf at US-131) or use the surface roads.

The major surface roads leading to the Upper west Side include Butterworth, Lake Michigan Drive, Fulton, Bridge and Leonard. That’s it; those are the feeder roads. Otherwise, you’d have to swing in from the southwest (via Wilson) or the north (the Ann/Alpine toward Three Mile area). So if you’re starting in the southeast part of downtown, or anywhere south of Fulton, you have several solid options of using the surface roads to get to the West Side.

Except, of course, when MOST OF THEM are closed because of a marathon.

You heard that right. Today, Butterworth, Lake Michigan Drive (via Pearl) and Fulton were closed to through traffic. The two northernmost surface roads, Bridge and Leonard, were clear; if you know the side streets of the lower West Side you could snake kitty-corner through the area after crossing the bridge on Pearl. I had to take Wealthy to Market, then Market to Bridge, to get to my destination that was near Butterworth.

So you might be thinking; Dude, why are you all crabby about a half-day road closure that happens once per year? Well, let me count the ways:

  1. There was no routing info available at the road-closed signs. You had to hop from road to road until you found one that was open. Note to the City and to MDOT: If you’re going to shut down major roads such that you’re effectively cleaving the city into two, at least provide alternative routing info. What if someone had an emergency?
  2. If it were just the marathon, that’s one thing. But it’s also parades, the Fifth Third Riverbank Run, Festival, blah, blah. Roads are for vehicular travel. We’ve seen too many closures, too often, in recent years.
  3. The City of Grand Rapids and Kent County seem hell-bent on shooting drivers in the foot with various left-wing harebrained schemes related to bike travel and public transportation. For example, Division Avenue — the one and only major north-south surface road cutting through the urban core — was put on a “road diet” last year; between Wealthy and Michigan, it’s been cut to one lane in each direction with a bike lane added. Guess what you don’t see? Cyclists on Division. But the Wealthy/Division intersection has led to me getting sideswiped more times than I can count because drivers aren’t expecting a major road with two lanes beginning around 84th Street to suddenly collapse to one lane right when you get downtown (where two lanes are the most needed). So they swerve to cut you off. Just like with the asinine two-lanes-feeding-one-lane-traffic-circle in place at Wealthy and Jefferson. Heaven help us if 131 ever shuts down and traffic has to reroute through side streets; Division is no longer equipped to handle the traffic, and there’s no obvious alternative route. (The special-interest boondoggle that is the Silver Line — with a dedicated bus lane — is a whole ‘nuther rant.)

Don’t misunderstand — I’m a fan of the Marathon. I’m a fan of major events, considered individually. But I’m not a fan of drivers more and more frequently taking it in the shorts because civic leaders transform our thoroughfares into parking lots at whim or treat our roads as the object of social engineering experiments.

Leave drivers alone.