SOUTH HAVEN — The road diet on Business Loop I-196 in South Haven is here to stay.
City council members decided Monday not to take any action on converting the Business Loop back to its five-lane configuration.
That means the thoroughfare along Broadway Avenue and LaGrange Street, from Phoenix Street south to Aylworth Avenue, will remain as a three-lane road with bike lanes on either side.
Before making the decision to leave the “road diet” in place, the council heard a report from Department of Public Works Director Bill Hunter, who conducted a month-long public outreach campaign in April to gather input from local residents on the effectiveness of the road diet on slowing down traffic and making the roadway safer to use for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“We did a lot of outreach on this,” Hunter said, regarding time city staff spent on soliciting input before the road diet occurred in 2019. The purpose of April’s outreach efforts involved getting feedback from users of the Business Loop now that it has been in place for more than a year.
In summarizing April’s feedback for council members, Hunter stated, “As you can see, it is split. People love or hate it...The majority of the individual comments against the lane diet focused on the lack of bikes utilizing the outside lanes, the confusion the pavement marking, and the loss of service the corridor has experienced since the project. The majority of the individuals for the project felt the project was successful achieving traffic calming and an increased sense of pedestrian safety throughout the corridor.”
A breakdown of all the comments showed that 54.6 percent of respondents were against the lane diet, while 45.6 percent were for it. However, when taking into account responses from City of South Haven residents, only, 42.4 percent opposed the reduction in lanes, while 57.6 percent favored fewer lanes on BL-196.
In weighing the pros and cons regarding the lane diet, most council members said they think it’s best to keep it in place.
“I’m inclined to leave the lane diet in place,” Council member George Sleeper said.
“In hearing comments from people living in Ward 2, they’ve always felt boxed in trying to cross five lanes on Broadway or four lanes on Phoenix,” said Council member Jeff Arnold, who represents Ward 2. “It’s like playing a game of frogger to get across the street.”
Council member Chris Campbell said he had “mixed emotions” about the lane diet, but thought that overall it appears to be working OK in terms of traffic flow at this point.
Letitia Wilkins, however, thinks the city should have more than three lanes along the Business Loop.
“I have residents say they don’t like it,” she said. “I’ve had the experience of someone going too slow and holding up traffic. I have not seen any bikes using it. I guess it works, but, people say ‘let’s go back.’ I really think we need more lanes.”
Some council members inquired what would be involved with switching the Business Loop back to five lanes. Hunter responded that it might not be as easy as it sounds.
He estimated the city would end up spending upwards of $190,000 to hire an engineering firm to redesign the roadway and gain approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), which legally owns and oversees the Business Loop.
“They (MDOT) could say, ‘this is working just fine,’” Hunter said. If the city were to begin the process of seeking approval to convert the road back to five lanes it would probably take a year or more of negotiations with MDOT to do so, he estimated.
“I think you’ve got your direction – leave it alone,” Mayor Scott Smith said to Hunter.
However, some additional safeguards may be implemented in the future, including the possibility of using a color, other than white, to designate the bike lanes, and constructing pedestrian traffic islands and curb bump outs at key intersections to help warn motorists of pedestrian crossings.