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Grand Rapids is set to study whether Ionia and Ottawa Avenues should be converted from one-way to two-way streets in downtown. Grand Rapids is set to study whether Ionia and Ottawa Avenues should be converted from one-way to two-way streets in downtown. PHOTO: NICK MANES

Grand Rapids to explore converting downtown one-way streets to two-way traffic

BY Friday, October 12, 2018 10:08am

GRAND RAPIDS — Two arterial roads through the city’s central business district could go from one-way to two-way streets under a new plan being considered by the Downtown Development Authority.

The DDA board on Wednesday morning approved spending up to $55,000 to begin exploring  new options for Ottawa and Ionia Avenues between Michigan and Fulton Streets. DDA documents describe the two streets as “highway on and off ramps,” since they serve as the primary streets commuters use to access I-196 just north of downtown.

The DDA and the city’s Mobile GR parking and transportation department will contract with Hubbell Roth & Clark Inc., a Grand Rapids-based engineering firm, to complete the study. Mobile GR will fund the remainder of the $134,700 study, according to the DDA documents.

The research will begin immediately, with recommendations likely to come in March 2019.

Still, city officials caution that a conversion of the roads to two-way streets is not yet a foregone conclusion.

“There’s no presumption that these will be converted,” said Tim Kelly, a DDA board member and the president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), a downtown planning organization that administers the DDA. “I think we want to understand what will make the most sense to really humanize them and … maybe there’s an option that they both stay one-way but the curbs are extended. We’re going to go through the process to figure that.”

Evaluating downtown’s streets formed the basis for one of several goals outlined in the GR Forward master planning process, with an aim to facilitate “greater pedestrian safety, and ensure more efficient and safe movement of vehicles with the Downtown street network,” according to the DDA documents.

Converting one-way downtown traffic to two-way streets has become somewhat of a trend in urban planning circles around the country in recent years. Planners tend to note that two-way streets slow down traffic, which can lead to increased pedestrian safety.

Experts have also noted that businesses on two-way streets tend to have increased visibility compared to those located on one-way roads, although Kelly said he believes the considerations need to be made on a case-by-case basis.

While it remains unclear what recommendations city officials will get back from the study, Kelly said it’s likely that Ottawa and Ionia Avenues will receive investment in the coming years aimed at slowing down traffic heading to or from the freeway and improving the pedestrian experience.

“There’s often a belief that going to two-ways is the right approach, but there are also examples where adding in new enhancements that slow things down (can be) significant,” he said.

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