THIS OLD WORLD
RECONFIGURING THE AWT ENTRY INTO DOWNTOWN TOLEDO
A NEW AWT/I-75 ENTRY AND GATEWAY FOR DOWNTOWN
The City of Toledo has a new proposal for the entry from the Anthony Wayne Trail (AWT) and northbound I-75 into the warehouse district into downtown. The new proposal makes changes to an earlier plan from May of 2014. What follows here is my assessment of the existing conditions, the City's new proposal, my suggestions for improvements to the new proposal, and an additional design proposal that I believe is better for the AWT entry.
The existing conditions.
The primary problem that exists in considering how to best develop the entry from the AWT into the warehouse district is this: this location has come to be both the main path for a relatively large number of vehicles attempting to access downtown as quickly as possible AND it is a fast growing residential neighborhood that would greatly benefit from traffic calming and the resulting safer vehicular and pedestrian movement. Satisfying both of these contradictory goals is difficult but important to do.
A second important consideration is ease of movement through and between the different areas within the warehouse district and adjacent neighborhoods on the surface streets. Over the years the grid has been degraded and existing one-way roads make movement very difficult. This has led to isolation and economic hardship for some parts of the warehouse district.
The existing conditions deal with these issues very poorly.
The existing entry includes a sweeping multi-lane right hand curve, which encourages faster speeds, followed by a perilous sharp left turn onto Erie St which requires a much slower speed. Drivers then must maneuver between lanes for possible distribution at Washington St, turning left, right, or proceeding straight on Erie. This length of the entry is very hazardous.
In addition, the existing intersection of Lafayette Streets with Erie St. and the AWT entry is awkward and provides limited opportunities for vehicular access. Overall, fast moving vehicles, the irregular geometry of intersection, and a broad one-way road make it dangerous for pass-through traffic, pedestrians, and residents turning into driveways.
The new proposal from the City
The new proposal provides an entry to downtown through the warehouse district from the AWT that is faster and somewhat safer for vehicular traffic. It is based on removing the sharp left turn at Erie St. with a broad sweeping left turn paired with an initial broad sweeping right turn. This will result in vehicles tending to move even faster into the warehouse district. Also, to accommodate this new proposal, a few streets need to be removed and several buildings need to be demolished.
This new proposal from the City incrementally improves movement at the intersection with Lafayette St by allowing cross traffic. However, it removes the ability to turn right onto Erie St from east bound Lafayette, which currently exists. In fact, in the new proposal, all traffic that wishes to access south bound Erie St and in turn Nebraska Ave from the warehouse district, downtown, and uptown would be forced to use Huron St which has residential uses and Market St which is narrow and is very ill prepared to handle such traffic. This path is also out of the way and not readily obvious to drivers.
The new prposed design also closes off Erie Street for a block. In its place is a curved spur road that intersects at a perpendicular angle to the new proposed AWT entry. This new spur allows entry onto south bound Erie St from the AWT and it allows north bound traffic on Erie St to jog around and get back on north bound Erie St after the closed block between Market and Lafayette Streets.
The new proposed reconfiguration also includes an awkward stub street on the former Erie Street right of way to try to accommodate the properties and business owners on the portion of Erie St that is being shut down.
This design removes portions of Vance, Lucas, and 11th Streets and demolishes many buildings. These buildings are important to the warehouse district and potential entrepreneurs.
My improvements to the new proposal from the City
The primary benefit of the improvements to the new proposal from the City is the greater accessibility and easier traffic flow from both the AWT entry into the warehouse district and downtown but also among the surface streets within the warehouse and into adjacent urban neighborhoods.
The most obvious and most consequential improvement would be to extend Ontario St to the south so that it intersects with the new AWT entry and then curves down to come into Market St at Erie St. This allows traffic to move in both directions from the warehouse district on Ontario St merging with Erie St. Ontario St is currently an under-utilized street and the additional traffic would better balance all streets. Additionally, this design will more directly help traffic that is trying to access south bound Erie St and Nebraska Ave. This traffic would otherwise be forced onto Huron and Market Streets, which requires frequent turns, are under-sized for this purpose, are out of the way, and not visually obvious alternative paths.
For inbound traffic on the AWT, these improvements keep the safer wider curves but also allows traffic to thin out earlier by having both left and right turn lanes at Ontario for drivers wishing to go to the warehouse district or uptown. There would be a new traffic signal at the intersection of the AWT entry and the new part of Ontario St. At the intersection of the AWT entry with Lafayette and Erie Streets, the AWT entry would have NO traffic signal while both directions of Lafayette would have stop signs. By having the traffic signal at the AWT entry road and Ontario Streets, traffic calming in this residential neighborhood begins earlier.
These improvements will make a positive impact on access for vehicular traffic as well as pedestrian traffic by increasing pathways and convenience and slowing speeds in this residential neighborhood.
My new alternative solution
An alternative solution that I believe is better than either the existing condition or the new proposal by the City, even with the improvements I detailed above, would be the easiest, least expensive, and bring the most positive benefits. It would solve the problem of bringing fast moving traffic into the center of a rapidly developing residential neighborhood and distribute incoming vehicular traffic more evenly to several major surface streets.
This alternative solution would move traffic quickly, provide improved and safer accessibility to more streets, save many buildings from demolition, and eliminate the dangers presented by fast moving traffic on the S curving entry road into the warehouse district and segregate it from residential uses on Erie St.
The alternative solution would bring the AWT entry into the warehouse district by straightening its path and bringing it into the warehouse district on a wider Michigan St. This alternate solution would include a traffic signal and right hand turn lane at Lafayette St allowing warehouse district traffic to segregate earlier and safer with a direct route while also appropriately calming traffic. This newly widened portion of Michigan, running between Lafayette and Washington Streets, would be a boulevard with the existing outbound lanes remaining in tact as they are now. The three new inbound lanes and center boulevard would be created from existing empty surface parking lots along this block.
This new reconfigured Michigan would distribute traffic quickly and efficiently. At the intersection of Michigan and Washington there would be a traffic signal. Outbound traffic on Michigan would remain the same. Inbound traffic would have two dedicated right turn lanes going into downtown. The existing wider right of way would allow a wider safer turn to accommodate safer turns. There would also be one dedicated left hand turn lane onto outbound Washington St that provides quick linkage to 11th Street, the primary one way feeder road to uptown and parts of downtown.
Several important benefits accrue under this plan. Most notably, Erie Street would be able to be made into two-way traffic all the way to Washington St. This would greatly benefit the development of residential in the Warehouse District along Erie Street and improve access to all businesses and neighborhoods south of the warehouse district.
Also, this plan does not require the acquisition of nearly as much property and does not require the demolition of any buildings. The growth in the warehouse district makes every existing building a potential home for a start up company and adds to the dynamic nature of our urban residential core.
The opportunity to fix this entry into downtown and traffic patterns within the warehouse district will not come along again for probably 50 years. With the Ohio Department of Transportation's involvement, The City needs to ensure that the growth in the warehouse district based on the investments made by the City and the private sector are protected and continue to grow and thrive. Our ability to provide a lively urban district with mixed uses including it being a great residential neighborhood should not be jeopardized by not addressing all of the planning issues which confront us here in a comprehensive forward-looking manner. The current new proposal from the City is ill-suited to solve the several and long-term issues.