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Grand Roundabout: Rebuilding the Cultural Convergence

A comprehensive redesign of a confused intersection to accommodate all modes of mobility

Photo of Michael Sklenka
19 18

Written by

One of the most dangerous and confusing intersections in the City lies within the Michigan Central Station Impact Area at the convergence of Grand River Ave, Trumbull, and MLK Jr. Blvd. Our solution is to design and propose a roundabout with separated bike and walking lanes at the intersection to create safer and more inviting routes for all modes of mobility while encouraging the redevelopment of a cultural interchange. 

Our interest in redesigning this intersection began a year ago when two of our friends were struck by cars while biking through it on two separate occasions. Both accidents resulted in only minor injuries, but it reinforced the problem and the need for a solution. As we researched the history of the area, we found that the intersection used to be a major socio-cultural hub of activity with landmarks like a vast Albert Kahn-designed marketplace, the first classically constructed Gothic church in the United States, and a beautiful branch of the Detroit Public Library housed within Detroit News founder James Scripps' former mansion. 

While remnants of these landmarks remain, the current perception of the intersection is a vast expanse of unwelcoming concrete and asphalt that has been the result of the dissolution of commercial buildings along Grand River Ave. over the last four decades, and the unplanned widening of MLK Jr. Blvd. as it became a major East/West arterial road after the construction of the freeways. What exists today is a seemingly random convergence of three main arterial roads that is equally confusing to navigate for drivers, bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The expansive nature of the intersection is also acting as a  physical barrier preventing fluid cross-pollination between communities, much in the same way that urban freeways have created physical and psychological divides between neighborhoods. The problem is becoming amplified everyday as this node is at the convergence of four growing neighborhoods, has stops for three public transit bus routes, and acts as a gateway to downtown Detroit. 

In order to improve safety and build a stronger network between neighbors at this critical intersection, we are proposing to construct a roundabout. Countless studies have shown that roundabouts are safer than signal controlled intersections, particularly at high-crash intersections with complex geometries and relatively balanced traffic flows. Roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Contrary to common perceptions, roundabouts actually move traffic through an intersection more quickly, and with less congestion on approaching roads. It is common at the current intersection for drivers to wait several minutes behind red lights without adjacent traffic - which often results in drivers speeding up to "beat the light". A roundabout would promote a continuous flow of traffic because unlike intersections with traffic signals, drivers don’t have to wait for a green light at a roundabout to get through the intersection. Traffic is not required to stop – only yield – so the intersection can handle more traffic in the same amount of time. Less idling would also reduce vehicle emissions and fuel consumption. 

A roundabout would be safer for bikers, pedestrians, and the disabled; who would travel on dedicated crosswalks around the perimeter and cross only one direction of traffic at a time. Crossing distances would be relatively short, and traffic speeds would be lower than those at the current intersection configuration. With no traffic signals to maintain, the cost of constructing a roundabout would be relatively cheap in the long term. Although Michigan, and Detroit in particular, have been slow to build roundabouts, they are gaining more popularity in the United States. Roundabouts are one of 20 evidence-based safety countermeasures recommended by the Federal Highway Administration.

Aside from the proven increased safety a roundabout redesign would bring, we believe that beautifying elements like landscaping for stormwater management and a central island with public art would create a more desirable area for development to occur around the intersection. This renewed energy would create a fertile ground for increased economic activity and a vibrant street life at this once great convergence of Detroit transport, commerce, and culture. 

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

An intuitive roundabout design at this busy intersection would reduce the amount of traffic accidents, and create a safer environment for driver, bikers, and pedestrians. Residents, workers, and visitors would be more inclined to move between the Impact Area and the surrounding neighborhoods by creating pleasant routes through dedicated walking and biking lanes, landscape elements, comfortable transit stops, and safety barriers. The immediate area is already experiencing a considerable amount of new residential development and rehabilitation of commercial structures. Through a sensitive and attractive intersection redesign, it would attract more commercial and mixed-use development at the intersection and its radial commercial corridors, and bring more economic activity to the area.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Prototype - you have built a prototype and tested it with potential users

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)

We have presented the idea of constructing a roundabout at the intersection with schematic plans and renderings directly to neighbors in North Corktown and Woodbridge through the community workshops for the Greater Corktown Framework Plan and Woodbridge Neighborhood Development . The overwhelming consensus is that most residents feel unsafe crossing the intersection, and agree that a major redesign like a roundabout would be a welcome solution.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

Our team consists of two architects who have lived and worked in Detroit for ten years. We currently live in North Corktown, where we operate a sustainable design practice focused on solving social and environmental issues at every level through design.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Team or Organization URL

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • Yes

Funding Request

  • $50,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

$5,000 Renderings, Model of Design for Presentations $5,000 Meetings and Coordination with City of Detroit PDD, MDOT, and relevant consultants $20,000 Design, Coordination, Marketing, and Implementation of Community Design Workshops $20,000 Landscape, Urban Design, Civil Engineer Consultant Fee

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

During the pilot phase, our team would design, coordinate, and moderate a workshop to gain directed feedback from neighbors and users of the intersection that would directly inform specific design criteria for a roundabout at the intersection (i.e. lighting, central island programming, bicycle provisions). We would then engage an urban designer and landscape consultant to refine a design that can be implemented and is sensitive to neighbor feedback and existing stakeholders. During this time, we would also present the plan to the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department (PDD) and its consultants to ensure that the idea can be integrated into plans that are already in progress for the Greater Corktown Framework Plan. While we have already informally presented the idea in past workshops and neighborhood development meetings, we would aim to become a professional consultant and neighborhood voice to the PDD for this component of the framework plan.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

We would consider the project a major success if a substantial part of the design is adopted into the final document produced by the City of Detroit PDD's Greater Corktown Framework Plan with a projected implementation schedule. If the project receives funding and a design is created through community input and advocated by neighbors and stakeholders but the City rejects the proposal for inclusion in this particular document, we would continue to be a voice between the neighborhood and the City towards a future implementation of an intersection restructuring informed by our workshops and community research.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

Part of this plan is to inform and educate those in the communities surrounding this problem of an intersection that there is an elegant and enduring solution. We believe that by creating a campaign to make this a priority and present a detailed and informed design solution to those with the power to implement it will create meaningful momentum towards a solution beyond the scope of the pilot period.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Angie Gaabo

Excellent idea. As a resident of Woodbridge, I have struggled with this intersection for many years-- narrowly avoiding crashes with confused drivers, both as a driver myself and a bicyclist. Happy to see a focus on changing this configuration for the benefit of all, including pedestrians.

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