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MDOT plan for Woodward lacks local support

By Lisa Brody

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has advised cities along the Woodward corridor in Oakland County, including Birmingham, that they intend to install an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), which includes digital message signs on 85-foot monopoles, at several intersections, despite concerns by the city and other municipalities.

MDOT has informed Birmingham and other communities along the Woodward corridor that they plan to install ITS for the purpose of “traffic monitoring, incident management and advance notification” along Woodward, Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus informed city commissioners in his July monthly manager's report. According to Markus' report, MDOT said “the system is proposed to include connected vehicle technology, traffic signal controller and cabinet upgrades at several intersections, and related equipment. Based on the proposal submitted by MDOT, 'related equipment' includes new 85-foot monopoles, large dynamic digital message signs, cameras, bracket arms and utility cabinets along Woodward Avenue that are commonly used on high speed freeways separated from the local street network.”

Birmingham has been considering putting Woodward on a “road diet,” similar to what Ferndale did, narrowing the roadway and lowering traffic speeds. The plan by MDOT appears to be a direct contradiction.

“The city of Birmingham has significant concern about the necessity for the ITS project itself, and in particular the design and placement of the ITS equipment proposed, and requested that MDOT representatives conduct an informational presentation before the Birmingham City Commission to educate city officials on the proposed ITS project, and obtain the input of the elected officials,” Markus wrote.

In a July 17 letter to MDOT, Markus wrote, “Based on the availability and popularity of personal navigation applications such as GPS, Google maps, WAZE and other live feed traffic analysis both in vehicles and personal hand held devices, it would seem an ITS that requires obtrusive and expensive equipment to monitor traffic issues and notify motorists is redundant. The goal of providing traffic monitoring and advance notification has already been accomplished by the private sector.

“However, there are many components of our transportation infrastructure along Woodward that are in dire need of funding, including but not limited to, pedestrian crossing improvements, the provision of a continuous and safe sidewalk network, bicycle infrastructure and traffic calming measures… The addition of interstate-scale equipment and signage will have a significant negative impact on the aesthetics of the corridor and will not be compatible with the efforts of Birmingham, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Detroit and other local communities to create a less auto-centric corridor. Birmingham and other Woodward communities have spent the last several decades working to enhance the aesthetics of the Woodward corridor through the use of pedestrian-scale building placement and design, reduced sign clutter, landscaping, multi-modal amenities, and other measures...using all modes of transportation.”

Although MDOT stated this work has been in development since 2015, the email received by the city of Birmingham on June 8, 2021, was the first notice the city said they had on the project. A virtual meeting was held by MDOT on July 20, for various communities along the corridor for stakeholders, and Markus said Birmingham, as well as several other communities along the corridor, were vocal in their opposition to the use of obtrusive freeway technology along Woodward given the cultural, historic, scenic and recreational assets located along the designated All American Road and Pure Michigan Byway.

“MDOT did not make any formal commitment to fulfilling our request for presentation and discussion at a Birmingham City Commission meeting or future public hearings to engage the general public and residents along the corridor,” Markus wrote.


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