2018-02-01 / Front Page

State Street Needs Safety Measures, City Officials Say

By Kevin R. Hess


If a lane reduction is to occur, some council members have suggested beginning it on a straight stretch rather than a curve, saying a straight stretch is safer and allows more time for motorists to safely merge into traffic. The Reagon Street intersection (at left) has been discussed as a possible starting point for the lane reduction, but traffic would be merging on a curve as it approaches that area, as seen here. If a lane reduction is to occur, some council members have suggested beginning it on a straight stretch rather than a curve, saying a straight stretch is safer and allows more time for motorists to safely merge into traffic. The Reagon Street intersection (at left) has been discussed as a possible starting point for the lane reduction, but traffic would be merging on a curve as it approaches that area, as seen here. After much discussion on the pros and cons of changing a portion of North State Street from four lanes to three, St. Ignace Mayor Connie Litzner says she will propose it at the next city council meeting Monday, February 5.

The issue was addressed at a council work session Monday, January 22, and a public hearing January 15 [The St. Ignace News, January 18, 2018].

City Manager Michael Stelmaszek recommended that council request reducing the street to three lanes from Marquette Street to at least Reagon Street, but said he would prefer the reduction go further, all the way to Antoine Street. Along with the lane reduction request, the city council is also likely to seek a speed limit change from 35 to 25 miles per hour in that same stretch of road. The speed limit is currently 35 from South Airport Road to Marquette Street.


The St. Ignace City Council is expected to vote on a proposal requesting the Michigan Department of Transportation to reduce the number of lanes on North State Street from four to three, including a center left turn lane. The reduction will begin at Marquette Street and could go as far north as Antoine Street. The main concern is this stretch of road, south of Reagon Street to Marquette Street, where motorist and pedestrian traffic are typically heavy during spring, summer, and fall. The St. Ignace City Council is expected to vote on a proposal requesting the Michigan Department of Transportation to reduce the number of lanes on North State Street from four to three, including a center left turn lane. The reduction will begin at Marquette Street and could go as far north as Antoine Street. The main concern is this stretch of road, south of Reagon Street to Marquette Street, where motorist and pedestrian traffic are typically heavy during spring, summer, and fall. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is resurfacing a stretch of State Street this spring and told the city if it wanted to reduce the number of lanes on North State Street, this project would be the right time to do it. Any speed limit changes must be submitted to and approved by the Michigan State Police, not MDOT, but could be done at the same time that the lanes are reduced.

The proposed changes are intended to improve safety for motorists and pedestrians along the busy stretch of road, where people, many of them tourists unfamiliar with the roadway, cross at various points on foot to reach the ferry docks and Kiwanis Beach. There are four lanes of traffic moving at 35 miles per hour.

Councilmembers Jim Clapperton and Paul Fullerton believe that speed, not the number of lanes, is the biggest issue on that stretch of road. Mr. Fullerton said he believes reducing the lanes could create traffic backups and cause a different problem than what is already there. He said the four-lane road would not be a problem if the city could get traffic to slow down.

Resident and former councilmember Steven Paquin said just changing the speed limit would not be effective in slowing traffic.

“The city can post all the signs it wants to slow down traffic, but people will continue to drive faster until they are forced to merge prior to Marquette Street,” he said. “Reducing the lanes will force traffic to slow down sooner,” prior to reaching the heavy pedestrian traffic area near the ferries.

Mr. Fullerton noted that a speed limit change was once denied. His concern is that the lanes could change, but perhaps the speed limit would not, causing greater problems because of only having one lane in each direction instead of two. He is also concerned with delivery trucks that have to use State Street to park and unload due to lack of space in business parking lots. With four lanes, he said, it still leaves one open on each side for traffic to get around delivery trucks. If lanes are reduced, he is concerned that the delivery trucks could halt traffic unable to get around them.

Concerning the speed limit change, Mayor Litzner believes that the city will have a much better case for getting it approved if the lanes are reduced.

Mr. Clapperton said people he has talked with do not favor a lane reduction.

Betsy Dayrell-Hart, chair of the St. Ignace Planning Commission, cited traffic studies that say reducing a four-lane road to two lanes, with a left turn lane in the center, is actually safer and is shown to move traffic more smoothly. Factors for this include vehicles only having to cross one lane instead of two when turning left, and safer crossing for pedestrians. In a four-lane road, pedestrians have to cross all four lanes at once. With a two-lane and center lane road, pedestrians could cross one lane at a time and use the center lane as a waiting zone to cross the second lane of traffic. She also shared the results of a placemaking survey that the planning commission organized in which 80% of respondents were in favor of reducing the lanes, at least in part. Some favored reducing the lanes all the way out to the hospital. Only 20% believed the road was fine as is.

Downtown Development Authority Director Reneé Kosor read from a state traffic study that said reducing four-lane roads to three was most often a better alternative because it provides wider lanes, improves sight for vehicles turning left, provides easier access for vehicles entering the roadway, and was relatively inexpensive. Reducing the lanes would require repainting lines, but there would be no new construction. The study noted that each community is unique and what works for one may not necessarily work for another.

Mr. Paquin asked why the concern is about moving traffic, and said that slowing traffic down would benefit businesses because people will be able see what St. Ignace has to offer while driving more slowly, and it might entice them to stop and patronize these businesses.

State Street already is three lanes in the downtown area, between Marquette Street and High Street.

Mr. Fullerton said he doesn’t want St. Ignace to get a reputation for traffic jams that might cause people to decide not to make a return visit. Several citizens in attendance asked how often traffic jams have actually happened, believing it to be very rare outside of a big downtown event. Citizen Clyde Hart asked where most of the city’s guests come from. Councilmember Luke Paquin, a hotel owner and a board member with the Visitors Bureau, responded that a large share of the visitors come from metropolitan areas such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Chicago. Mr. Hart then said that people who regularly drive in metropolitan areas and are used to “real traffic jams” would see a traffic backup in St. Ignace differently.

Luke Paquin pointed out there is little space between the current four lanes and the walkways, adding to the safety concerns for pedestrians and cyclists. He described a near-miss downtown when a cyclist was about to enter the roadway from a sidewalk, and with two cars approaching abreast in the current two lanes, there was not room for either of them to move aside to avoid the cyclist.

Having “three lanes would make the lines wider and safer,” he said.

Councilmember Robert St. Louis said his main concern is pedestrians crossing the streets near the ferries and Museum of Ojibwa Culture.

“If making things safer for the pedestrians means we have to be inconvenienced a little bit in driving, I’m all for it,” he said.

If reduced from Marquette to Antoine streets, the total distance would be approximately 1.1 miles. Steven Paquin noted that if the change was made and council determined that it was not working, they could simply change it back to four lanes inexpensively and with little work, as it would only require repainting the roads. He suggested that if council decided to request a lane change, that it not do it in an area where merging would happen along a curve. If the reduction were requested to Reagon Street, merging traffic would likely have to do so on a curve. Currently, traffic must merge along a curve just prior to Marquette Street. Mr. Paquin recalled working on a project at the Father Marquette Memorial outside of the Museum of Ojibwa Culture and seeing multiple vehicles that had to suddenly slam on their breaks because drivers didn’t realize they had to merge right there.

Several councilmembers also noted that reducing the lanes could make it safer for people staying in hotels along North State Street to walk, meaning possibly they wouldn’t use their cars as much to get downtown, further reducing vehicle traffic.

Luke Paquin added that the new trolley set to debut this spring would also likely reduce traffic, as people will have another inexpensive option to get around town.

Mayor Litzner wants council to consult with MDOT experts about some of the issues raised and about where it would be best to begin the reduction, but she believes reducing the lanes will be beneficial. She also expects to ask council to request lowering the speed limit along that same stretch of road.

“I don’t think the change will be as bad as some think it will be,” she said. “If it is, we can change it back.”

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