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Could Northville's downtown streets reopen to cars?

Jul 19, 2023Jul 19, 2023

NORTHVILLE — The planters of hundreds of pink yards signs in Northville are hoping to convince the city council to reopen downtown streets to vehicular traffic.

The council last summer voted to permanently close Main and Center streets to traffic, a decision made designed to make the downtown more walkable and pedestrian friendly after being closed the last few years.

That decision has manifested into a hotbed of controversy in this town of 6,000. Some residents have become vocal on the issue – with the calls to reopen the streets countered by pleas to keep them closed to traffic.

Hence, the pink yards signs.

"We just had to bring it to issue," said Joe Corriveau, a Northville resident and local attorney who practices out of his firm at 324 E. Main St., and is involved with the campaign. "We're just looking for a collaborative approach that serves all the businesses’ and residents’ best interests equally."

Here's a look at what led to these division and what, if anything, could happen next with Northville's roads.

The first seeds were planted in 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many cities began exploring how to allow restaurants to use outdoor seating to provide a more safe environment for those looking to dine out. Northville's city council voted in June 2020 to close Main Street between Center and Hutton streets, as well as Center Street between Main and Dunlap streets for several months, a move done to help attract customers downtown.

What was originally a temporary decision was extended each year until the council decided to keep the roads closed to cars until Nov. 2022. Before that expiration date hit, the city took up the idea making that decision permanent.

An online survey garnered thousands of responses on what should be done. After an analysis, public comment and feedback, the council voted last August to keep the downtown roads closed permanently.

People in Northville have continually raised concerns over the closures, something punctuated by the winter, when activity in the streets is slower.

Issues surrounding additional traffic, especially on roads such as Wing Street, have also irked some residents.

Residents have flocked to city council meetings the last few months, bringing up the street closure issue during public comment. The pink sign campaign launched after some felt they weren't being heard.

That campaign, which has canvassed hundreds of signs across Northville and Northville Township, wants the city council to revisit its decision. The signs — which say "It's time. Let's open Northville" — can be found in front of houses and businesses all around town.

Corriveau said while they don't have a specific answer on what should happen with the downtown roads, he and many others don't want the roads permanently closed to cars.

"We just say, 'Take away permanent, come back to the table and let's discuss all these issues,'" he said. "We need to reopen this and do so sooner rather than later and we can work on a solution."

It's a mixed bag. Some businesses downtown display pink signs, while others have spoken out in favor of the current conditions.

A March 28 Downtown Development Authority meeting drew plenty of local business owners and residents who wanted to share their opinions as the DDA considered a resolution asking the city council to reevaluate its August decision.

"We’re still in favor of the permanent street closures for a lot of reasons," said Bobby Johnson, one of the owners of Colors of the Wood at 140 N. Center. "It can turn the city into something that is really thriving long term."

Angela Jaafar, a real estate agent based in Northville, said she has talked to several business owners downtown who favor reopening the roads to cars. She said the closure impacts some businesses and not others.

"They would like to access to businesses through Main Street. They want to visibly see what’s there," she said. "Regardless of where my business exists, I’m very careful about my ability to thrive as a business owner at the expense of another business."

A reversal could happen, but it would take a vote of the city council.

There is an item on the April 3 city council agenda that could prompt a change to the closed streets plan.

Mayor Brian Turnbull — who voted against the permanent street closures — said the discussion item relates to road funding from the Michigan Department of Transportation. The closures could prompt other sections of those roads, such as Center Street from Seven Mile to Eight Mile roads, to be reclassified, which would result in a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in road funding.

"We have the chance of losing monies for those roads on a yearly basis, the whole road that is in the city from Seven Mile to Eight Mile because it is not a throughway anymore," Turnbull said. "There's more proof points, there's more data, there's more information for us to consider that we didn't have a month or two ago."

The DDA on March 28 approved a resolution, 6-2, that asks the city council to work with the DDA to craft a policy that would allow exploration of reopening streets. If the city council agrees to the resolution, there is hope the policy could take effect later this fall.

"We have that piece of information that now they want us to look at it, to talk about it," he said. "They did that officially (Tuesday)."

The city's mobility taskforce, which recently presented its findings to the city council, recommended reopening of Center Street and allowing for a seasonal closure of Main Street. This would help alleviate traffic issues, one of the main concerns opponents have expressed.

If the roads are reopened to regular vehicle traffic, it's likely there will still be special events that prompt closures.

The city is investigating the feasibility of installing bollards to the entrances of downtown to use when streets are closed.

The bollards, or short posts, would recess into the roads when not in use and be lifted up as needed. First responders would have access to activating them, allowing the barriers to be removed if emergency vehicles need access.

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The bollards would eliminate the current temporary barriers, which include a "road closed" construction sign and a parked city vehicle. Some have complained the construction sign is unappealing for the historic downtown.

"We have needed bollards. We've talked about them before," Turnbull said. "That absolutely has to be done."

The city also has hired a firm to craft a pedestrian plan. That information was presented to the city council earlier this year, giving suggestions of elements the city could incorporate to make downtown more appealing.

Having streets close for special events is something most in town can support, including some of the residents behind the pink sign campaign.

With the pandemic squarely in most people's rearview mirror, Corriveau said measures put in place several years ago are no longer needed.

"We're not trying to eliminate all the benefits that the residents had prior to COVID," Corriveau said. "The wolf that was at the door is no longer here. Now, we shouldn't have to suffer as a result of it."

Contact reporter David Veselenak at [email protected] or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak.