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.