Muskegon City Commission Slows Down Decision on Removing Stoplights

Andrew Trzaska | March 26, 2013

Muskegon’s city commission opted to table several changes relating to its stoplights and traffic patterns at its meeting Tuesday.

The postponed agenda item involves the removal of some on-street parking as well as five stoplights on either Webster Avenue or Muskegon Avenue.

The following traffic orders were up for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting:

  • Removal of stoplights at Muskegon Avenue and Seventh Street, replacing them with stop signs on Seventh Street.
  • Removal of stoplights at Webster Avenue and Seventh Street, replacing them with stop signs on Seventh Street.
  • Removal of stoplights at Muskegon Avenue and Jefferson Street, replacing them with stop signs on Jefferson Avenue.
  • Removal of stoplights at Muskegon Avenue and Pine Street, replacing them with stop signs on Pine Street.
  • Removal of stoplights at Muskegon Avenue and Spring Street, replacing them with stop signs on Spring Street.
  • Removal of on-street parking on Muskegon Avenue between Jefferson Street and Terrace Street.

Around a decade ago, the city lowered speed limits and installed extra traffic lights along the two main corridors when the Seaway Drive throughway was redirected along Shoreline Drive. One-way, four-lane corridors on the two roads returned to two-way traffic, with street parking on most segments of those roads.

Recent traffic studies delivered to the city indicated that traffic levels at many segments of roads in the city are too low for traffic signals to remain, and the study recommended the city to remove them.

All in all, seventeen traffic lights were tagged for removal, but after discussions the city was able to keep twelve of them because of a technicality involving the preservation of on-street parking.  The five involved at Tuesday’s meeting could not get by on that technicality.

Large amounts of discussion came forth from staff, the public and commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting, especially regarding specific intersections.

Commissioners Willie German, Jr. and Lea Markowski and Vice Mayor Larry Spataro cited a “blind” intersection at Muskegon and Spring, and recommended the commission rethink the removal of that light.

McLaughlin neighborhood resident Joshua EldenBrady described the Spring Street intersections as dangerous, saying the hill heading south is so steep he refuses to drive it in the winter. Because of the incline, he recommended the city rethink the traffic signal removal.

Markowski also cited the Seventh Avenue stoplight removal as troublesome, citing the residential nature of the intersection and the nearby Nelson School.

Director of Public Works Mohammad Al-Shatel spoke at Tuesday’s meeting on the idea of adding four-way stops.

“The biggest issue of four-way stop signs is that individuals will not feel like they have to stop.”

Al-Shatel also added that four-way stop signs are “non-warranted”, meaning that the city could be sued for improperly placing a traffic sign where state law did not require one.

Terry MacAllister, representing the Nelson Neighborhood Improvement Association, came out publicly against both stoplight removals along Seventh Street, asking for the commission to table the vote until they talked to the Nelson Neighborhood organization.

“We are taking a huge step backwards in terms of the amount of traffic and how quickly you will be moving traffic along Muskegon Avenue and Webster,” said MacAllister. “It will become a drag strip from Fourth Avenue onward.”

Vice Mayor Spataro also spoke volumes on both the traffic pattern evolution over time as well as ways to keep traffic from moving too quickly through the corridors.

“The turnback [to two-way streets] has been successful on two counts. It has slowed the traffic down… it has started to knit the neighborhood back together,” said Spataro “The removal of these traffic control devices could reverse that.”

“A lot of this is driven by those going through town, when not enough attention is paid to those who live in town,” said Spataro. “It’s murder. If you’re trying to go north/south, it’s systematically working against you.”

Spataro continued: “We have to knit our town back together if it is going to grow and thrive… We need to give equal weight to those who live in McLaughlin and Nelson who are trying to go north into the business district.”

Among his ideas, Spataro suggested that removal of the stoplights be paired with the removal of left turn lanes. He believed it would cause those heading through these segments of Muskegon Avenue and Webster Avenue to remain slow with the possibility of drivers making left turns from the through lane.

Spataro eventually suggested the commission table the motion until the May work session, citing a busy agenda in April. The city commission did end up tabling the matter.  City staff were asked by the commission to receive public comments, discuss the matter with city engineers, law enforcement and neighborhood associations who would be affected by the traffic changes.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst