State Street Improvements
In 2000, the DDA began work shaping plans for improvements in the State Street area, an area bounded by Thayer to the east, William to the south, Fifth Avenue to the west, and Washington to the north. Twenty five years earlier the businesses in this area assessed themselves for the cost to install unique asphalt pavers and other sidewalk elements. In the intervening decades, these improvements had deteriorated a great deal and making it difficult to walk in certain areas and creating an image of blight in one of the more active areas of the downtown.
The project that developed was the largest undertaken by the DDA to that date, both in terms of budget and scope. Before decisions were made about how to improve pedestrian conditions, three University of Michigan departments conducted a comprehensive study of the area. This multidisciplinary study looked at physical, economic, and social aspects, as well as the areas history and future. The most publicized finding was the recommendation that the streets in the district be restored to two-way traffic. The study also led to the production of an “Urban Design Workbook” which proscribed the kinds of pedestrian improvements that should be made, and laid the groundwork for the streetscape design process that was to follow.
In September 2000, the DDA retained the consulting firms of Sasaki Associates, Inc. and Pollack Design Associates to implement the report’s recommendations. The design team developed a plan that included the following:
- A design that took advantage of the light/shade elements in the area, with wider sidewalks and expanded tree planters on the east and north sidewalk and different pedestrian scale lighting fixtures on the alternate sidewalks, as well. The expanded planters with trees planted together are intended to foster stronger tree growth than is possible in the more traditional single tree pit designs.
- An expanded sidewalk/plaza on the UM Diag corner at North University and State Streets as well as an expanded seating area on the commercial side of this corner and a widened crosswalk from Nickels Arcade to the Diag. This area has some of the highest pedestrian numbers in the downtown, and the expanded plaza and sidewalks encourage this pedestrian movement.
- The use of an attractive scored concrete design (and no brick) to minimize repair costs to keep the sidewalks in good repair. This design also included several concrete crosswalks to distinguish high pedestrian areas.
- Installation of new mast arms to manage the new two-way traffic pattern, which also meant the removal of two in-street traffic islands.
The construction project was completed over two summers with punchlist items addressed in 2005. The two-way traffic pattern has made it possible for more buses and the downtown circulator to penetrate this area, and done a great deal to make it easier for customers to frequent the shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues in the area. Moreover, the two-way traffic pattern now makes it possible for individual blocks in the area to be closed for special events without restricting access into the area.