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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hancock City Council hears citizens' views on White Street -- one-way or two-way issue

By Michele Bourdieu

One of three public hearings held by the Hancock City Council on June 21, 2017, concerned the question of whether Hancock's White Street, changed to one-way going uphill from downtown Hancock to US 41 in 2014, should remain one-way or be returned to two-way. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- Concerned local residents filled the Council Chambers of Hancock City Hall on June 21, 2017, for a public hearing concerning the future status of White Street -- whether it should remain one-way going uphill from downtown Hancock to US 41or be returned to its previous two-way status. In 2014, the City of Hancock made the street one-way going uphill, chiefly because of safety concerns.*

Now that the re-paving of White Street is complete, the traffic lines painted this week indicate the one-way system is still in place, with bike lanes marked on both sides of the street (Cyclists can go both up and down the street) and one lane for vehicles going uphill from Hancock to US 41 (North Lincoln Ave.). A second blinking light has been added at the White Street - US 41 corner, where the street widens to allow both left and right turns onto the highway

This photo, taken on July 13, 2017, shows the double turning lanes at the top of White St. and a second blinking light added, improving safety for cars turning in either direction onto US 41. So far the bike symbols have not been painted in the lanes, but vehicles going uphill need to be aware that cyclists may be going either up or down the hill in the bike lanes. (Keweenaw Now photo taken July 13, 2017)

Bill Marlor, City of Hancock Department of Public Works (DPW) director and an active cyclist, said he prefers keeping White Street one-way going up the hill for the safety of all the user groups -- pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

"As a two-way street, the road isn't designed for the volume of traffic," he said. "The overwhelming majority of the users of White Street are people who live somewhere else and use White Street as a short cut -- regardless of whether it's one-way or two-way. If you need to improve the street, the City of Hancock would have to pay for it. The more use it gets the more expensive it is to replace it."

Marlor told Keweenaw Now yesterday that new bike symbols and signing will soon be added to the bike lanes on both sides of White Street.

Signs at the top of White Street, near the intersection with US 41, warn motorists of the one-way upbound street. Soon painted symbols and additional signs will be put in place to mark the bike lanes on both sides of the street. (Keweenaw Now photo taken July 12, 2017)

"We're trying to do something with painting at the intersections to make it safer for motorists coming up the hill and for the cyclists -- particularly at Finn and Ryan streets," Marlor said.

Residents express opposing views on White Street status 

Hancock residents who spoke at the June 21 hearing and those who sent written comments expressed views on both sides of the issue. Many who spoke for keeping White Street one-way were concerned about safety issues, especially in winter, and the needs of pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists. A bike lane going downhill was added in 2016.** Those who spoke for returning White Street to two-way mentioned convenience in reaching their homes or downtown Hancock; effects on Quincy Street businesses; and problems with increased traffic on side streets such as Scott Street, sometimes used as an alternate route from US 41.

Representing the Hancock Bike and Pedestrian Committee, Deborah Mann, a member of the Hancock Planning Commission, reminded the City Council and others present at the hearing that Hancock's Complete Streets ordinance and the Non-Motorized Transportation plan require the City  to consider accommodating the needs of all roadway users of the roadways, including pedestrians and cyclists in addition to motorists -- as well as ADA (American Disability Act) compliance.

Hancock Planning Commission member Deborah Mann, representing the Hancock Bike and Pedestrian Committee, addresses the Hancock City Council during the public hearing on White Street on June 21, 2017. At right is Ron Blau, Ward I counselor. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

Mann noted that, while returning to two-way traffic would result in a short cut for drivers coming from US 41, the increased traffic from cars going both up and down White Street would increase the risk of contact injury to pedestrians walking along White Street.

"The street is narrow for two lanes and the sidewalk is used frequently by pedestrians," Mann said. "It is a main corridor to Pat’s IGA from the south side of Highway 41. With two way traffic returning to White Street, intersections in the 100 and 200 blocks of Quincy Street, would become even more treacherous for pedestrians. The majority of residents at the Scott Building are elderly, and crossing with present traffic is difficult now but much improved from what it was three years ago."

Jerry Wuorenmaa, Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR) executive director, who commented as a resident rather than with the "hat" of his position, said he agreed with Mann that White Street should be one-way, especially for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Pete Rynes, a resident of White Street, also spoke about safety issues.

Pete Rynes, who lives on White Street, says he has seen accidents on White Street, the railing bent, cars passing other cars -- and has heard cars going 50-60 m.p.h. on White Street at night. Click on YouTube icon for larger view. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

"It's a short cut people use," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, what White Street has become is the unofficial highway."

Rynes said he did an experiment driving both the long route and the short cut on White Street and found the difference was only 50 seconds. He questioned whether that 50 seconds is worth the risks of increased traffic should the street be returned to two-way.

Susan Burack, a resident of the Scott Building, noted that the City of Hancock maintains White Street with residents' taxes, while US 41 is maintained by the State of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Susan Burack asks the Hancock City Council members to consider both the past and the future in making a decision on whether White St. should be one-way or two-way.

Tom Vichich, who said he found the one-way on White Street inconvenient and admitted he did not know why the street was changed to one-way in 2014, asked the council members to consider two questions when looking for a solution: What is the real problem? and What are the unintended consequences of that solution?

During the public hearing, Tom Vichich comments on the inconvenience, for him, of having White Street one-way.

Becky Bruin-Slot, who lives in east Hancock, said she would like White Street to be returned to two-way for the convenience of getting to her house.

Bill Deephouse, who lives on Lake Avenue in Hancock, said he believed making White Street one-way was, and is still, a bad decision.

"Having White Street available for both up-bound and down-bound traffic allows cars coming from the north on US-41 to bypass the longer route past Santori’s Corner," Deephouse said. "They are able to either get to downtown Hancock faster or get back on US-41 and continue to Houghton and MTU. This is a big convenience and time saver for many. It seems to me that this change to eliminate down-bound traffic has had a negative effect on businesses in Hancock as well."

Hancock resident Bill Deephouse reads his comments to the Hancock City Council during the public hearing on White Street. Deephouse said he opposes the one-way system on White Street because of inconvenience.

Deephouse also noted the congestion on Hancock Street makes it difficult, even dangerous, to cross this street, especially during morning and evening rush hour traffic.

"Those of us living south of Hancock Street (US-41) have to cross this street to get to our homes on Water Street, Lake Avenue and some of the apartments on the east end of Lake Avenue," Deephouse said. "There are several businesses on the west end of Water Street as well as Finlandia’s Jutila Center. All of these people have to cross Hancock Street and most use the Dakota Street crossing."

Allyson Jabusch of Hancock questioned the need for a short cut when safety is at stake.

Noting the safety issues created by increased traffic in Hancock, Allyson Jabusch rejects the argument that people need White Street as a short cut.

Hans Lechner, who lives on the corner of Scott and Elm streets, gave his reasons for returning White Street to two-way.

Hans Lechner speaks about the increased traffic on Scott Street since White Street has been one-way.

Another resident of White Street, Robert Stites, a Hancock police officer, said making White Street one-way has saved at least 40 accidents. He said he hopes the Council will decide to keep White Street one-way "purely for safety."

Hancock police officer Robert Stites, a resident of White Street, warns that returning White Street to two-way will increase the number of accidents.

Barbara Bouwkamp, who lives on Wright Street, said having White Street one-way has allowed her to exit her parking space. She said she hopes the City will keep the street one-way.

Barbara Bouwkamp speaks about both safety and drainage issues on White Street.

"It's unsafe to be two-way," Bouwkamp said.

She also mentioned some drainage issues -- concerns about storm water under the street.

Bill Marlor told Keweenaw Now the DPW is addressing the drainage with additional storm sewer improvements on White Street.

Terry Munson, who has a rental property on Wright Street with parking on White Street, expressed his concern for the safety of pedestrians, especially in winter, when the sidewalk width is very narrow. He also mentioned that cars tend to accelerate going up the hill, endangering pedestrians.

Terry Munson speaks about safety issues on White Street.

"I'm in favor of keeping White Street one-way," Munson said. "I don't care if it's up or down -- for safety reasons mainly."

If the decision is to keep White Street one way, the 25 m.p.h. speed limit needs to be enforced, Munson added. 

Dorothy Jamison of Roosevelt Street said the speed limits are not enforced on side streets. She said she would like to see White Street returned to two-way because of the increased traffic, going too fast, on her street as well as on other side streets, which are not designed for this kind of traffic.

Dorothy Jamison, who lives on Roosevelt Street, notes the increased traffic and speeding past her house since White Street has been one-way.

Elm Street resident Kayla Holmstrom gave several examples of increased traffic on her street and other side streets in her neighborhood, especially at 7:30 a.m. and after school. She said she didn't know why White Street became one-way, but she would like to see it return to two-way traffic to relieve the congestion on side streets.

Elm Street resident Kayla Holmstrom describes problems with increased traffic in her neighborhood and expresses her wish to have White Street returned to two-way traffic.

Susanne Boxer, a resident of Navy Street, asked the City Council members to consider funding a professional study of the city street traffic before making any decision on White Street. Jason Somnerville of Quincy Township also asked the Council to take more time and investigate more options -- possibly even preventing traffic from going up and down White Street at all.

Hancock resident Susanne Boxer and Jason Somnerville of Quincy Township ask the Council to take more time before making a decision. Boxer suggests a professional street study and Somnerville says more options should be considered.

Hancock Council members discuss White Street issues

During the regular Council meeting following the public hearing on White Street, Hancock City Council members discussed reasons for White Street issues and possible solutions.

Ron Blau, Ward I councilor, said he believed the people should decide whether to keep White Street one-way or return it to two-way. He said he would like to see it come to a vote or millage.

"There's no denying there's a problem," Blau said. "That's why the public is here."

Hancock Mayor Lisa McKenzie noted that White Street isn't built to carry the amount of traffic that returning to two-way would entail.

Paul LaBine, Ward III councilor, said he would like to have a traffic study done to see if the two-way is feasible.

Dan Seguin, Ward II councilor, who lives on Elm Street, said he thought at first that the one-way was inconvenient but became accustomed to it and appreciates the need for safety, although he would prefer it to be two-way.

Ted Belej, Mayor Pro-Tem and councilor at large, said the one-way change was for safety and then for the construction. It is hard to make any decision now because of the ongoing construction on Hancock streets, he added.

John Haeussler, councilor at large, who recently returned to the Council to occupy the seat left vacant by Mary Tuisku, who passed away recently, noted from his previous terms as councilor that the reason White Street is an issue now is that previous Councils ignored it.

John Haeussler, who served on the Hancock City Council previously, was welcomed back during the June 21, 2017, meeting as he returned to fill the seat left vacant by the recent death of long-term Hancock Councilor Mary Tuisku. 

"Philosophically White Street doesn't make sense," Haeussler said. "We're left with a situation where our tax base is paying people outside of our tax base (the cut-through traffic) to circumvent our city and our businesses."

Haeussler said White Street is not being used mostly by Hancock residents. He said his biggest disappointment with the one-way change was the increase in uphill traffic -- cars going uphill on White Street as a cut-through only and missing the business section. The ideal solution, he added, would be to limit the city streets to "local traffic only." He said the city has a responsibility to residents to use their taxes wisely and a responsibility to business owners and residents to keep traffic on the trunk lines as much as possible.

Haessler concluded from the hearing (admitting this is an oversimplification) that what he heard from people who preferred two-way was that it was a matter of convenience and from those wanting to keep it one-way that it was a matter of safety. And his view was that "safety trumps convenience."


* See our June 22, 2014, article, "Hancock City Council approves one-way street changes."

** See our Aug. 30, 2016, article, "Hancock bike lane on White St. allows cyclists to ride against one-way motorized traffic."

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Local residents share concerns about Great Lakes at "All Hands on Deck" event

By Michele Bourdieu

Gathered in Houghton's Kestner Park on July 3, 2017, local participants in the "All Hands On Deck" event celebrated around the Great Lakes hold up blue marbles representing the Earth seen from outer space. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- About 35 local residents gathered at Houghton's Kestner Park near the Keweenaw Waterway to raise awareness of the need to protect the Great Lakes and keep them healthy. Many wore blue and all were given blue marbles to hold high or share with another to symbolize their gratitude for clean water.*

Co-organizers Horst Schmidt of Tamarack City and Susan Burack of Hancock invited those who wished to express their ideas or feelings about the Great Lakes to speak spontaneously to the group.

The speakers' reasons for honoring the Great Lakes, which contain about 20 percent of the world's fresh water, ranged from love of fishing to enjoyment of beaches and concern for clean water. Some mentioned threats to the water, including mining and oil industries, plastics, invasive species and the potential diversion of fresh water to states suffering from heat and drought due to climate change.

Peter Ekstrom of Houghton speaks about fish recovery in Lake Superior and why he likes living here. Holding up a symbolic blue marble, David Owens of Ann Arbor and Eagle Harbor speaks about protecting the Great Lakes. Nine-year-old Lewis Vendlinski of Houghton says he loves swimming in the Great Lakes. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

David Owens, a seasonal resident of Ann Arbor and Eagle Harbor, who distributed blue marbles to the group, said the Blue Marbles Project was started by marine biologist Wallace Nichols, who was inspired by the blue marble image of Earth captured by the crew of Apollo 17. Nichols started the Blue Marbles Project in 2009. He has since shared blue marbles with millions of people around the world. The marbles celebrate the Planet Earth and carry the message that water is life.

Nichols asks people to hold their marble up at arm’s length, ponder it for a second, and realize what Earth looks like from a million miles away -- small and blue, because it is a water planet. He hopes people will realize the importance of water for life and how what we do on our small planet matters and has a ripple effect. People are then asked to give the marble away to someone as a token of gratitude.*

David Owens speaks about the symbolism of the blue marbles he brought for the group to share with others. At right is Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) and co-organizer, with Susan Burack, of the local event. Similar events were held on July 3 in locations in all the Great Lakes states and in Canada.

"Nichols has given out thousands of blue marbles that have traveled all over the world," Owens said.

Ruth Mohr, Owens' wife, spoke about the threat of Enbridge's Line 5 Pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

Ruth Mohr of Ann Arbor and Eagle Harbor speaks about the potential risk to clean water posed by the 64-year-old Line 5 Pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.**

The subject of plastics polluting the lakes, rivers and oceans on a large scale led Miriam Pickens of Hancock and Cathy Campbell-Olszewski of Houghton to talk about recycling and re-use as well as conserving water -- ways everyone can take action to protect the water.

Miriam Pickens (at right) and Cathy Campbell-Olszewski encourage the audience to recycle, re-use, reduce garbage and participate in cleanups. Both Hancock and Houghton now have curbside recycling.

Co-organizer Burack had another suggestion for taking action: "I would like everybody to stop buying bottled water," Burack said.

Susan Burack of Hancock, co-organizer of the event, asks participants to stop buying bottled water.

"The anti-bottled water movement is strong in lower Michigan," said Barbara McTaggart of Houghton. "One place, Central Michigan University, no longer sells bottled water because students have brought up that issue."

Barbara McTaggart speaks about the anti-bottled water movement downstate. McTaggart, who works on Isle Royale as a ranger, said she attended this event because "we need to have strong relationships with geographic locations we love."

Owens noted also that a good reason not to buy bottled water is the fact that Nestlé drains aquifers for it all over the world, including southwest Michigan, where he and his wife live in the winter.

"We don't buy anything made by Nestlé, and we suggest you do the same," Owens said.

Allyson Jabusch of Hancock said young Lewis Vendlinski's comment on wanting to swim in clean water at the beach brought back her childhood memory of a very polluted Lake Erie beach near Toledo, Ohio.

Allyson Jabusch of Hancock recounts a childhood memory of Lake Erie pollution.

"We have to pay attention to what the government is doing or not doing," Jabusch said.
Debra Mues of Ahmeek spoke about a lake with dead fish that recovered thanks to efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Organizers Burack and Schmidt followed up by leading the audience in chants for the EPA and clean water.

Debra Mues of Ahmeek shares her feelings about moving from the West to the Keweenaw and Lake Superior.

Mike Gage of Ahmeek, husband of Debra Mues, talked about his love of paddling the rivers in the U.P. and his concerns about threats to clean water.

Mike Gage of Ahmeek speaks and sings about the many rivers in the U.P. he has paddled and his concerns for the Lake Superior watershed.

Joanne Thomas of Allouez said water is the reason she prefers the Keweenaw to Iowa, where she lived previously.

"Having lived part-time in southeast Iowa back in the 80s and 90s (to be affiliated with Maharishi University), I could not endure the barren terrain any longer," Thomas said. "No body of water. Finally remained here permanently, as Lake Superior is the best body of water to be near. We must remain vigilant to keep it a 'fresh' lake!"

Participants in the July 3, 2017, "All Hands On Deck" event link hands in solidarity to demonstrate their shared concerns for the water of the Great Lakes.

Co-organizer Horst Schmidt said he was satisfied with the turnout for the event.

"I'm glad that we have people that would come out in the holiday season to celebrate the fact that we do have clean water here," Schmidt said.

* Click here to learn about the Blue Marbles Project.

** See Keweenaw Now's right-hand column to learn about the new 45-day Public Comment period on the Draft Line 5 Alternatives Report. It opened on July 6, 2017. Also the third annual Pipe Out Paddle protest against Line 5 will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Mackinaw City. Bring your kayak AND MEET AT: Nicolet and Huron Streets, Mackinac Lighthouse Park, Mackinac City, Mich., 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. RSVP E-mail:  See details on the Facebook event page.