IM council denies ‘road diet’ on Carpenter Avenue

(Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photos) MELISSA WENTARMINI OF Iron Mountain speaks to the Iron Mountain City Council in support of the proposed lane changes on a portion of Carpenter Avenue.

IRON MOUNTAIN — Iron Mountain City Council on Monday narrowly rejected a proposed “road diet” that would have reduced the number of lanes for nine blocks of Carpenter Avenue.

The council heard an hour of comments from 28 citizens who were evenly divided on whether the street should be switched from four lanes to three, introducing wide shoulders along with a center turn lane.

“The calming effect of less traffic lanes is proven,” said council member Kyle Blomquist, who supported the change. Road diets, he said, have “a significant rate of success” in improving safety for motorists and pedestrians and in raising property values.

The measure failed on a 3-4 vote, with Mayor Dale Alessandrini joining council members Amanda List, Nathan Zemar and Bill Revord in opposition. “I don’t believe this change is good,” Alessandrini said. “There’s too many cars.”

Citizens objecting to the idea mainly cited traffic volumes as well.

ROB LANGSFORD OF Iron Mountain told the city council he’s against reducing the number of lanes on Carpenter Avenue.

“I drive it every day,” Kevin Wedin said. “It’s a mess in the morning.”

“Are you going to re-route all those large semis?” Laura Branz asked.

“It will hurt people time-wise,” David Aronson said. “You’ll have more bumper to bumper. Rush hour, you can’t move.”

Because Carpenter is difficult to cross at certain times of the day, Aronson suggested the city add a stop sign for northbound traffic at the intersection of Ludington Street, with no stop required for motorists turning right. He said congestion also could be eased by lengthening Kimberly Avenue, erasing a small gap that exists between Brown and Fleshiem streets.

Rob Langsford, an Iron Mountain School Board member, said a lane reduction would result in traffic being backed up near the high school and middle school, as there would be no way to get around vehicles slowing or stopping to turn right.

Citizens supporting the lane reduction said it could revitalize Carpenter Avenue by making it more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.

“It is dangerous now,” Jonathan Ringel said. “Think of the greater good. The city should be a place for everyone, not just those driving a car.”

Revord said his opposition stemmed from a Michigan Department of Transportation requirement there be no markings to designate the wide shoulders as bicycle paths. That order, he said, seems to defeat the intent of making the roadway safer for other traffic.

List, meanwhile, predicted problems with mopeds operating on the shoulders, even though the law requires using the actual traffic lanes.

The road diet was considered because MDOT will begin resurfacing Carpenter Avenue next week and the conversion could have been done at no cost to the city. The council has discussed the concept in the past but never endorsed it, City Manager Jordan Stanchina said.

MDOT studies have concluded the traffic on Carpenter Avenue from H Street north to Ludington Street is well within the range acceptable for a road diet, Stanchina said. MDOT’s analysis ruled out a lane reduction from Woodward Avenue north to H Street due to a much higher traffic volume.

Blomquist pointed out that MDOT endorses the concept of road diets but wants individual communities to take ownership. Council members Pam Maule and Juan Saldana joined Blomquist in supporting the conversion. Maule said if New York City can accommodate bicycle traffic, it should be suitable for Carpenter Avenue.

Saldana said he was pleased to see the good turnout for the meeting, which had about 60 people. He urged the council to look to the future and find ways to compromise.

“We need your voice, we need your support,” he told the audience.

Paula Craven, program director for the city’s Downtown Development Authority, and Megan Blomquist, DDA chairman, both spoke in favor, with Craven saying a road diet would bring “life and much-needed love to Carpenter Avenue.”

Barbara Kramer, a Dickinson County Board member, supported it for safety reasons, while state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, said he opposed it.

John Roberts said it seemed the city was proposing a nine-block bike path “that doesn’t go anywhere.”

Melissa Wentarmini of Iron Mountain said a road diet would bring benefits regardless of whether bicyclists take advantage. “I do think it would be safer,” she said. The economic benefits could be the biggest plus, she added.

One of the safety features of a road diet is the addition of a center turn lane, which reduces the number of collisions involving motorists waiting to turn left.

Ed Mattson, the city’s director of police and fire services, said Carpenter Avenue doesn’t have many accidents with serious injuries, though a conversion would likely reduce rear-end crashes in particular. With a lane reduction, he added, there may be instances where motorists on cross streets are waiting longer to pull out.

Martha Wiederecht said she might support the road diet idea but “just not in that location.”

Jeff DeRidder, a longtime member of the Dickinson County Planning Commission, suggested the city consider a lane reduction with the addition of parking on one side.

Jim Anderson can be reached at 906-774-3500, ext. 26, or janderson@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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