Walking In Downtown Ferndale
(A Ferndale View by Janet Lawless)
It’s a solution that has been considered for over ten years. The city of Ferndale, with a population of over 20,000, and key location on Woodward Avenue, has contemplated the idea of creating elevated walkways across Woodward Avenue, the state highway that divides the city in half. With so many new businesses forming along the stretch on both sides of Woodward Avenue, wouldn’t it be a brilliant idea to increase pedestrian traffic, and consequently business, for the newer and the more established shops and both sides of Nine Mile that are divided by the great concourse is Woodward Avenue?
However, according the Cristina Sheppard-Decius, the Downtown Development Authority, such a project is much more complicated than it seems. One the biggest hurdles is that Woodward Avenue is a state highway. In order to construct one or more elevated walkways, state approval is needed. Considerations such as sufficient space, ramping, ADA compliance requirements, interference with through traffic, and maintenance of the walkways on either sides of the walkway, or catwalk, and the question of whether just walkways would really pay-off for this project come into play. Designating a municipal office to handle these concerns is also another significant question. Yet another question planners face is how would such walkways work if plans for transit up Woodward from Detroit actually came to fruition? At this point, Shepard-Decius feels that with all the complications, the current three million dollar deficit facing the city, and layoffs in the police and fire departments, such a project does not have the projected benefits or feasibility to justify the planning.
So, rather than focusing on the rather impractical elevated walkways, the city has focused on making the crossing across Woodward more accessible to pedestrian traffic. The city has re-bricked the crosswalk areas in the median at 9 and Woodward, as well as “softening” both sides of the median with landscaping and benches, and sculpture. In addition, crosswalks are more defined by signage, hoping to become more noticeable and usable for pedestrians. The city, in recent years, has also improved bike traffic with dedicated bike lanes, and hopes to extend these bike lanes into the central downtown area. So, as an alternative to the rather “pie in the sky” project of catwalks, the city, according the Downtown Development Authority is, instead, focusing on making the downtown area more bike and pedestrian friendly. Indeed, part of the city’s Cool Cities Initiative included a walkability analysis, which suggested adding bike lanes in the downtown area. Another project on the near horizon includes the construction of a parking deck downtown as the traffic to the downtown area increases.
Still, wouldn’t the city benefit from increased pedestrian traffic and accessible lanes that would make it easier for people to reach more businesses in the city? As a resident of Ferndale, I have noticed the business north of nine mile come and go. It is hard to believe that increased accessibility wouldn’t help the city and the businesses it now attracts. What about adding additional marked crosswalks north and south of nine mile? Wouldn’t that create more foot traffic, business, and the overall look of a bustling, people-friendly downtown area?
According to business owner Rainy Hamilton, the owner of Rainy Day Hobbies, located about a block and a half north of 9 Mile road, a stoplight or crosswalk north or south of 9 Mile would just impede traffic. He thinks, “going to the corner of Camborne and Woodward is fine,” and that such stops would be more of an inconvenience than a help to businesses north and south of Ferndale’s main street, 9 Mile Road. Hamilton has found that the current level of pedestrian traffic is adequate- that there is sufficient foot traffic. Further, he indicates that, to his knowledge, there have been no conversations about crosswalks or catwalks in the city. Rather than limited pedestrian access, he attributes the higher turnover among businesses to the dull economy. He feels that his business location is accessible to walkers, and offers sufficient parking, in addition to the direct access and exposure to Woodward Avenue.
Crossing Woodward, though, despite the city’s efforts to the contrary, can be extremely dangerous. In the past year, a pedestrian crossing the highway at Vester was killed by oncoming traffic. However threatening this stretch may be, according to City Manager Rob Bruner, MDOT will not allow an elevated walkway across Woodward. Accordingly, Mr. Bruner remarked that during the past 3 ½ years, no one in city government has discussed elevated walkways. Right now, the city is conducting pedestrian and traffic counts to further explore increase crosswalks across the thoroughfare. The mayor, the city manager says, is very much in favor of more crosswalks, although certain administrative requirements, such as warrants, have to obtained, and issues such as congestion and interruptions in traffic flow have to be considered carefully. Bruner also mentioned that with the increase in businesses north and south of Nine Mile Road, increased pedestrian access is becoming a more pressing issue all the time.
So, catwalks or crosswalks, increased bike lanes or softening medians – either way, it seems that Ferndale needs to become more pedestrian friendly. The city is both blessed and cursed with such a busy highway coursing through it. As the community grows, city government is exploring and implementing changes that will indeed make the city more accessible to both drivers and hoofers.
copyright 2010 janet lawless
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