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GRDadof3

Get rid of the S-Curve?

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After 8 years of talking about this stuff on UrbanPlanet, it's good to see other people taking these conversations to the forefront.

 

Turn the S-Curve into an at-grade boulevard? Thoughts?

 

http://mibiz.com/news/real-estate/item/20523-tear-down-the-s-curve-urban-advocates-suggest-a-radical-move-to-improve-grand-rapids

 

My only issue is making a comparison to Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. That street is a pedestrian and cyclist nightmare. In fact, you can't cross Lake Shore Drive from Grant Park basically up to well North of the Gold Coast, you have to cross under it in dark dank tunnels. You'd probably get a ticket if you tried to walk cross it, because it's basically a limited access freeway.

 

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=lake+shore+drive,+chicago,+il&hl=en&ll=41.905088,-87.624636&spn=0.036348,0.077162&sll=45.00109,-86.270553&sspn=8.777826,19.753418&hnear=N+Lake+Shore+Dr,+Chicago,+Illinois&t=m&z=14&layer=c&cbll=41.897722,-87.617693&panoid=QqkokQQcDJJvuhr2aNG3MA&cbp=12,357.8,,0,7.31

 

I'll probably be in the minority, but in its currently elevated state, if you made vast improvements to the underpasses (parks instead of parking lots), I think it's better suited for peds and cyclists. It's certainly not keeping development from happening (River House overlooks that massive intersection of I-196 and 131). Drop it to a boulevard and you'd have to heavily screen the 100,000 cars a day from any pedestrians or ground floor uses (like retail).

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I do not like the idea of lowering it to ground level. To me that would be insane. What we would have a bunch of overpasses to cross it? To me that is craziness.
For me, the best option would be to go underground with it. When I lived in Oakland County North of Detroit, they negotiated for decades on completing 696 through Oakland County. The only way that the cities would agree to it is if they built it underground. So that is what they did. It does make for police and fire difficulties, but it makes for a nice "transparent" freeway.
I think that having an underground "transparent" S-Curve would be worth the money and would be great for downtown.

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I don't like the idea of making it ground level either.  I do like the idea of straightening it out and maybe making it under ground.  I think the highway issue that is probably more important to fix is the 131/196 interchange.    That is just a huge mess.  Entrances to both highways in each direction coming in from both sides is just horrible planning.   And why does 131 criss cross itself twice?  That whole interchange makes no sense to me

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Just build the freeway way up high over the city and get it completely out of the way.

 

2010_0708_OSH_AZO_ChicagoSkyway_1.jpg

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The best option is no longer a realistic option - build it where it should have been located in the first place -- about 3 miles west of downtown. Consider if 131 paralled Plaster Creek (veering northwest as you approach downtown), crossed the Grand River and the Butterworth landfill, and then generally headed up Covell Avenue / Walker Avenue until it hits I-96 in Walker. 

 

None of the residential neighborhoods that are today existed back then.  The riverfront would be opened up and hundreds of West Side businesses and working-class homes would never have been torn down.  This is essentially what happened in Vancouver BC.  Their only highway skirts the outskirts of the city proper, and one has to rely on the street network to get into downtown....oh and its the most livable city in the world. 

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This is essentially what happened in Vancouver BC.  Their only highway skirts the outskirts of the city proper, and one has to rely on the street network to get into downtown....oh and its the most livable city in the world. 

 

Take it from someone that goes there often ... it's livable if you're rich.  'BC" in that town means bring cash.  It also helps that it has the densest population in N America, 3 SkyTrain light rail systems, a Seabus, and a top notch bus system.  Canada 99, their other metro highway, is one crazy road during rush hour.    

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Here's my crazy idea - 

 

Divert US-131 North at about Pleasant street, across the river near what is now the Wealthy street bridge and connect it to I-196. Rip out the current S-curve and 131 (up to I-196) and return it to some semblance of a grid system connecting the west and south side to downtown. 

 

It would still provide easy access to downtown, wouldn't require tunneling under the city, etc. I think the boulevard would be a disaster. Frustrating for drivers. Frustrating for pedestrians, etc. 

 

Thoughts?

 

Joe

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Burying it would cost about the equivalent of the GDP of the entire city of GR, in my estimation. 

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Take it from someone that goes there often ... it's livable if you're rich.  'BC" in that town means bring cash.  It also helps that it has the densest population in N America, 3 SkyTrain light rail systems, a Seabus, and a top notch bus system.  Canada 99, their other metro highway, is one crazy road during rush hour.    

 

I actually go there quite often as well. Here are some great shots of Vancouver from the 1960's: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=263167 .  Their density and high cost of living did not magically happen, and was the result of decisions like rejecting a highway into their downtown. 

 

I would argue that it has become one of the most beautiful, livable, lush, and densest cities in North America because of their pro-urban, livability investments  -- much what we are discussing on this topic. 

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Do not make it ground level. I hate how the highway goes through Grand Haven and you have a fricken stop light every 30 feet

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Do not make it ground level. I hate how the highway goes through Grand Haven and you have a fricken stop light every 30 feet

 

Exactly. Ground level traffic at those volumes would be the worst. Does anyone want to live next to the East Beltline, which is only half that volume? Not really.

 

If you look at the elevated areas of the s-curve, near Cherry Street - nice wide and open, plenty of space for a park and hardly dangerous feeling; at Grandville - same situation, wide, well lit, lots of activity around in the evening to make it feel safe (except for the rowdy crowds at Intersection occasionally; at Market, could be better landscaped, but left wide I believe to accommodate mass transit some day; at Fulton, wide and well lit, plenty of GVSU students during the day; near GVSU's bus stop, not bad, can you imagine all of those GVSU students needing to cross 8 lanes of traffic? At Pearl, that whole area needs a major makeover all the way to the river, bringing 131 down to grade would make it worse; at Michigan Street, again all that area under the bridges could be put to better use with some bold vision.

 

At the same time, it's at least 20 years down the road...

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I would argue that it has become one of the most beautiful, livable, lush, and densest cities in North America because of their pro-urban, livability investments  -- much what we are discussing on this topic. 

 

Yes, they forged what some would call a utopia for the rich ... heavily taxed and tremendously high cost of living.  I agree that the best options are no longer realistic.   At this point the best GR can hope for is a strong influx of new residents and a transition to autocratic governance as in Canada.  Then, in 30 years when the city has grown sufficiently (as well as its tax base), the scope of actions seen elsewhere could be applied here. 

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Yes, they forged what some would call a utopia for the rich ... heavily taxed and tremendously high cost of living.  I agree that the best options are no longer realistic.   At this point the best GR can hope for is a strong influx of new residents and a transition to autocratic governance as in Canada.  Then, in 30 years when the city has grown sufficiently (as well as its tax base), the scope of actions seen elsewhere could be applied here. 

 

I've heard Toronto is very similar. The inner city has been taken up by mostly very high income households (and mostly white, 85%+), while the middle class, immigrants and poor have been driven out to low income suburban high-rise projects. Toronto is the fastest growing city in North America, mostly immigrants, and most people moving there can't afford to live in the city.

 

Then there's the 132 condo towers being built in Toronto, which they're predicting will be Toronto's next "ghetto." :

 

http://www.thegridto.com/life/real-estate/is-cityplace-torontos-next-ghetto/

 

I don't think you can apply growth patterns from any Canadian, European or Asian city to an American city. The only city in NA that even comes close is probably Washington D.C, which Americans mostly rejected and it became a stinking hell-hole until the last 20 years or so.

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That's rather strong language about DC.  I've been familiar with DC since the mid-70s (worked there, visited there, played tourist there many, many times since then), when the Metro system was first under construction (!) and I don't recall that the entire District was a "hell-hole" that most Americans rejected.  Yes, there were "bad neighborhoods" and slums, but just about major US city can still claim those areas.  Like many cities, there was white/middle class flight back in the day, but DC had  great neighborhoods then as now and certainly much of DC has been graced for years by the monuments, memorials, parks, museums, beautiful vistas, etc.  And now DC is gaining population, with areas going through major redevelopment, and even the Navy Yard area along the Anacostia River is coming to life (I used to call that the arm pit of the District).

 

So be careful of grand sweeping statements.  While I haven't been to Toronto in years, just watch some of the programs on HGTV.  Many of the programs are filmed in and around in Toronto.  Granted, they are just TV programs about people buying, selling, fixing up homes of different types, but it looks like a great city to me and I can see why the housing prices are high, just like they are high in NYC and San Francisco.  And besides, it looks like if you buy in the right neighborhood you wouldn't have to buy a car, worry about where to park it or how much it costs to park and maintain it.   Not a bad situation to be in.

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That's rather strong language about DC.  I've been familiar with DC since the mid-70s (worked there, visited there, played tourist there many, many times since then), when the Metro system was first under construction (!) and I don't recall that the entire District was a "hell-hole" that most Americans rejected.  Yes, there were "bad neighborhoods" and slums, but just about major US city can still claim those areas.  Like many cities, there was white/middle class flight back in the day, but DC had  great neighborhoods then as now and certainly much of DC has been graced for years by the monuments, memorials, parks, museums, beautiful vistas, etc.  And now DC is gaining population, with areas going through major redevelopment, and even the Navy Yard area along the Anacostia River is coming to life (I used to call that the arm pit of the District).

 

So be careful of grand sweeping statements.  While I haven't been to Toronto in years, just watch some of the programs on HGTV.  Many of the programs are filmed in and around in Toronto.  Granted, they are just TV programs about people buying, selling, fixing up homes of different types, but it looks like a great city to me and I can see why the housing prices are high, just like they are high in NYC and San Francisco.  And besides, it looks like if you buy in the right neighborhood you wouldn't have to buy a car, worry about where to park it or how much it costs to park and maintain it.   Not a bad situation to be in.

 

Well I have family that lives and works for the city of D.C., and they tell stories of how bad it was back in the 70's and 80's (I did say it has come back in the last 20 years). It had the highest crime rates in the country, many of the historic brownstone neighborhoods emptied out, the schools emptied out and were the worst in the country (the schools are still apparently really bad), even Georgetown residents protested a possible metro station stop to keep the "undesirables" who rode the Metro coming into the neighborhood. The area around the mall and Capitol have always been nice, but they tell me you wouldn't venture around downtown much. It fell on particularly hard times because the Federal government owns almost half the land in the city, and pays no taxes. That was their perception, from living there for 40+ years. They called it a hell hole. But it's one of my favorite cities to visit now.

 

I found this:

 

http://www.spur.org/publications/library/article/fall_and_rise_downtown_dc

 

I too watch the HGTV shows. I don't know what the exchange rate is for Canada right now, but if they're anywhere close to the U.S. dollar, those home prices they show on there would be out of reach for 95% of Americans. Just sayin.

 

How did I get so off topic? :)

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Then there's the 132 condo towers being built in Toronto, which they're predicting will be Toronto's next "ghetto." 

 

It's what's happening *under* Toronto which is pretty amazing, brought to my attention by a TV series featuring civil engineering projects underway globally.  The name of the series escapes me.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PATH_(Toronto)

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:offtopic:

Yeeeah... Y'all pretty much lost me once we started talking about "autocratic Canadians."  :whistling:

 

I'll probably be in the minority, but in its currently elevated state, if you made vast improvements to the underpasses (parks instead of parking lots), I think it's better suited for peds and cyclists. It's certainly not keeping development from happening (River House overlooks that massive intersection of I-196 and 131). Drop it to a boulevard and you'd have to heavily screen the 100,000 cars a day from any pedestrians or ground floor uses (like retail).

 

I like this strain of thought, and I think there's a lot we could do to "mitigate" 131, that could cost less, really make a difference, and still be pretty cutting-edge urbanist.  The more costly we go, the more diminishing the returns will be.

 

So color me skeptical... But to be fair to Andy Guy, all he's saying in the article is that we should consider alternatives, which is reasonable.  I'm definitely curious to see what kind of plans are in the works.

 

When people talk about Lakeshore Drive, I think they mean the area by Millennium Park and the Field Museum, where there are actual crosswalks.

Edited by RegalTDP
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Here's my crazy idea - 

 

Divert US-131 North at about Pleasant street, across the river near what is now the Wealthy street bridge and connect it to I-196. Rip out the current S-curve and 131 (up to I-196) and return it to some semblance of a grid system connecting the west and south side to downtown. 

 

It would still provide easy access to downtown, wouldn't require tunneling under the city, etc. I think the boulevard would be a disaster. Frustrating for drivers. Frustrating for pedestrians, etc. 

 

Thoughts?

 

Joe

I like that idea. Butterworth area is pretty bare so there wouldn't be many businesses lost

 

mockup: 8614151000_72a750d16c_o.jpg

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 The best thing about that mock up is that it would get rid of the barrier that looms over downtown.

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Nice job Josh. It definitely makes downtown much more contiguous. I could imagine even removing the 131 extension up to Wealthy, with the main exits to downtown at Franklin, Grandville, Market and Butterworth. 

 

It seems like this would be much more cost effective and less disruptive than making a boulevard or burying the expressway (which would still need on/off ramps and wouldn't truly solve the problem. 

 

Also, the price of the land to build this new route seems attainable and not too disruptive to any particular neighborhood. 

 

Thanks for visualizing Josh!

 

Thoughts?

 

Joe

 

I like that idea. Butterworth area is pretty bare so there wouldn't be many businesses lost

 

mockup: 8614151000_72a750d16c_o.jpg

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I like that idea. Butterworth area is pretty bare so there wouldn't be many businesses lost

 

mockup: 8614151000_72a750d16c_o.jpg

 

That's almost perfect. You'd lose some industrial employers along Grandville and Front, but maybe they could be relocated to the city-owned land on Market Ave (so you don't lose the tax base). You could also potentially run it right over the railroad tracks for part of that.

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Nice!  Now it's like a "mega" S-Curve.  I wonder what the total traffic volume for I-196 would be.

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Nice!  Now it's like a "mega" S-Curve.  I wonder what the total traffic volume for I-196 would be.

 

I-196 would definitely need to be widened, but that section from at least Lake Michigan Drive down to 131 is most likely scheduled to be rebuilt soon. It's oooollllddddd..  It's only had a few odds and ends updated and tacked onto it over the last couple of years.

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If you were to divert the S-curve like that, you would get a ton of free space in the city center. The orange in this image is empty space. (current parking lots/vacant land and the area that 131 takes up.) it would really make for interesting development opportunities that are never realized because of proximity to the highway.

8614583294_b92bca8a3b_o.jpg

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