Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hancock City Council approves one-way street changes

By Michele Bourdieu

At the corner of White Street and US 41, traffic barrels and barriers prevent cars from turning downhill on White Street, which is now one-way going up from downtown Hancock. Cars going up the hill, like those pictured here, can still turn left or right on US 41 (North Lincoln Ave.). (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- White Street in Hancock will now be a one-way street going uphill from Quincy Street to U.S. 41, according to a recent vote by the Hancock City Council -- reversing their previous decision (at their May meeting) to make it one-way only to Shafter and Pine streets.

Some residents heading south on US 41 (North Lincoln Ave.) toward Hancock, accustomed to the White Street "shortcut" to downtown, have been surprised this week to see the street blocked off -- especially since some signs based on the first decision are still up and have confused some drivers.

A no-left-turn sign has been posted here on Shafter Street for cars approaching White Street, to warn them of the one-way change. However, a sign saying "two-way traffic ahead" (background, beyond stop sign) was apparently intended for the original May 21 decision of the Hancock City Council to allow two-way traffic at the top of White Street down to this corner, where Shafter and Pine streets would be open to traffic going to downtown Hancock. This decision was changed at the Council's June 18 meeting to eliminate any two-way traffic on White Street. Thus residents must find alternatives to access these side streets and the "two-way traffic ahead" sign should be removed.

After some discussion at their June 18 meeting, a majority of Council members voted to make all of White Street one-way, despite the inconvenience to residents who have been used to turning off US 41 onto White Street in order to access Pine Street and Shafter Street neighborhoods.

Ward 1 Councilman Ron Blau, who represents some of these neighborhoods, including the east end of Hancock, was the only Council member to vote "no" on the June 18 vote (He and Ward II Councilman Kevin Hodur both voted "no" on May 21). Blau expressed concern that people used to coming downhill on White Street would be looking for other "shortcuts" on neighborhood streets and this could especially endanger children in these neighborhoods.

As of Friday, June 20, traffic barrels have been placed to block the left-turn lane from Quincy Hill on U.S. 41, and barriers prevent traffic from descending White Street from either direction. 

Traffic barrels on US 41 block the left-turn lane for cars coming from the north -- preventing cars from turning left on White Street -- a former "shortcut" to downtown Hancock. Cars coming uphill on White Street, now one-way, can turn either north or south on US 41 at this corner.

In the very near future, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will do the work necessary to make more permanent markings and signs to replace the barrels and wooden barriers.

After the June 18 meeting, Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson issued a traffic control order for work to be performed by MDOT, stating,

"Description: Remove the markings for the left run lane on US 41 intersection of 41 and White Street and install signs on the North bound lane of US 41 NO RIGHT TURN and South bound lane NO LEFT TURN onto White Street. Reason: Safety Issues."

However, like Councilman Blau, some residents are already questioning whether making White Street one-way will really make the traffic situation safer.

"In trying to solve one problem they may have created several more," said local resident Chris Alquist.

Alquist said this week she had a hard time turning left onto Ethel Street from US 41 because of increased opposing traffic coming south on US 41 -- which she attributed to White Street being blocked as an alternative route to downtown Hancock.

"The cars were relentless. They just kept coming and coming," she said. "It's going to force people to find alternate shortcuts."

Preceding their May 21, 2014, meeting, the Hancock City Council held a public hearing, during which several residents expressed their views on making White Street one-way (one lane northbound, uphill) and Tezcuco Street one-way (southbound, downhill, from Quincy Street to Hancock Street).

Susan Burack, a resident of the Scott Building at the bottom of White Street, said residents of the Scott Building might be inconvenienced by the one-way on White Street, but they still support the change.

"Several [Scott Building] residents have suggested that it should have happened a long time ago," Burack said.

Barbara Bouwkamp, who owns a home on White Street, was in favor of making that street one-way going uphill for safety reasons.

Barbara Bouwkamp, who owns a home on White Street, addresses the Hancock City Council during the public hearing on the one-way street changes, preceding the Council's May 21, 2014, meeting. Also pictured here are, seated from left, At-Large Councilman Barry Givens, Ward III Councilman John Slivon and At-Large Councilman Ted Belej.

"Trying to get out of a parking space on White Street [with the traffic coming downhill too fast] is just a catastrophe waiting to happen," Bouwkamp said.

Jack Eberhard of the Book Concern said his business might benefit from one-way on White Street, but he was concerned about how often an ambulance might need to come down White Street to save time. He also wondered what message the blocked part of the street would send to visitors coming to downtown Hancock from the north.

Hancock resident Bonnie Holland said she was in favor of one-way on White Street because of safety issues, especially for those who park on Quincy Street.

Amanda McConnon, a resident of Quincy Street in Hancock, who said she favors making White Street one-way, also mentioned the need for safety for those who walk and shop in the downtown area. She suggested having more clearly marked walkways to help ensure the safety of pedestrians.

Quincy Street resident Amanda McConnon addresses the Hancock City Council during the public hearing preceding the Council's May 21 meeting. McConnon spoke of the need for more efforts to ensure the safety of pedestrians on Quincy Street in downtown Hancock.

Robert Stites, Hancock Police officer, said he has lived on White Street for 25 years and has had to build barriers in front of his house for protection from traffic. He mentioned accidents often happen at the bottom of the hill.

During the Hancock City Council's May 21 public hearing, Hancock Police officer Robert Stites, who lives on White Street, expresses his support for making White Street one-way.

"One-way up would be the best," he said.

Mark Johnson of Gartner's Gallery questioned blocking off White Street's downhill traffic to downtown. As a retailer, he noted he was in favor of more traffic in the downtown area for businesses. He also said he had a problem with Tezcuco Street going only downhill, since Gartner's trucks use Tezcuco going uphill to get into their parking lot.

Tezcuco Street between Quincy and Hancock streets is now blocked to uphill traffic and is one-way going downhill. Note Gartner's Gallery trucks parked at right. Mark Johnson of Gartner's Gallery is concerned about the one-way change since the trucks have previously used the uphill lane for deliveries.

Johnson also expressed concern about snow removal. If more parking spaces were added on Tezcuco, there wouldn't be room for the snow; additional parking on the east side of Tezcuco would also be problematic for his delivery trucks. Johnson said he would be willing to let the City build a parking deck on top of his lot if funding is available.

At the May 21 Council meeting some Councilors expressed support or concerns before voting for the one-way on White Street.

Mayor Lisa McKenzie said she believed it would make White Street safer for walking and biking.

Kevin Hodur, Ward II councilor, said he had spoken to residents on White Street who said that if their only option is to go up the street they can't do it, especially in winter.

"I'm not convinced that this is the solution," Hodur said.

During the May 21 meeting, the Council voted 5 to 2 to pass a motion to convert White Street between Reservation St. and Pine Street from two-way traffic to one-way traffic upbound. The City traffic count for White Street indicates 2,339 vehicles use the upbound lane and 3,356 vehicles use the downbound lane in a 24-hour period. Councilors Ron Blau and Kevin Hodur voted no.

The Council also voted to convert Tezcuco Street between Quincy Street and Hancock Street from two-way traffic to one-way traffic downbound. The City’s traffic count for this block of Tezcuco Street indicates 3,225 vehicles use the downbound lane and 275 vehicles use the upbound lane in a 24-hour period. The vote on this motion was unanimous.

The June 18 City Council decision to make all of White Street one-way going uphill may not be set in stone if citizens express enough significant objections.

This photo shows the view from Pine Street, with signs on White Street warning cars of the one-way so they will not turn right (downhill).

The angle and position of this same one-way sign, seen from the corner of Shafter and White Street, could be confusing since it appears to point to Shafter St. rather than White Street.

If residents have concerns about the decision or the signing, they can write a letter to Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson or contact the Councilor representing their Ward or any of the at-large City Council members.*

Lt. Randy Mayra of the Hancock Police said if anyone has a concern about cars speeding on their neighborhood streets, they can call the Hancock Police at their non-emergency number, 906-482-3102, or leave a message. If reporting reckless or dangerous driving call 911, he added.

The police enforce the signs, but they do not put them up, Mayra explained. Any complaints about signs should be addressed to the City Manager or the Councilors.

* Note: For contact information see the City of Hancock Web site.

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