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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

www.subject-studio.com

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.

19 comments

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Comment
Photo of Angie Gaabo
Team

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.
Angie

Photo of Sean Jagodzinski
Team

This sounds like a pretty good plan that I would support.

~Sean of Detroit

Photo of Amy Z
Team

This intersection seems very confused to drivers. I think it needs some improvement. I believe the roundabout can significantly lower the car speed to drop the severity level of the crash. However, according to the Michigan crash data, the crash number over the recent five years are not significantly higher than the other main two-way intersections, such as the Michigan & Robash, Michigan & Rosa Park. I guess one reason is that the complexity of this intersection had a similar impact that slows down the drive speed. Secondly, the most common number of roundabout lanes are one or two lanes. I see your proposal design had three lanes. How to ensure the cars can merge and diverge safely without more side collision and rear-end collisions, when more cars use the roundabout and move to the center lane or inner lane of the roundabout, but the outer lane becomes fully occupied? Or in a scenario, one car stopped due to confusion?
At the transportation safety perspective, the roundabout theory works great. But at a public service perspective, how do you picture the impact of the Fire Department, Police department usage or emergency exit the area since this going to become a high-density population area? Will this roundabout slow down the cars should not at the same time? Because once the roundabout is built, it can calm down all the traffic. But it is unreversible to speed up easily in any scenario.Michael Sklenka 

Photo of Michael Sklenka
Team

Thanks for your input Amy Z , while there aren’t an increased number of recorded crashes compared to other intersections nearby, this one is by far more difficult and confusing to navigate whether in a car or as a pedestrian/biker given its complexity. After an initial review by some urban planners, we also determined that three circulation lanes would probably be unnecessary; so any final proposal would most likely include two lanes. I would imagine that in any emergency scenario, traffic would behave as normal by veering to the perimeter and stalling to allow emergency vehicles through. This is why we didn’t include raised separations between the Grand River/MLK Jr. single lane ‘turning armpits’ to allow emergency vehicles to pass them while stalled if necessary. We didn’t think of this previously, but a third circulation lane then might make sense as an emergency pullover lane for vehicles within the traffic circle at the time of emergency. These are all important issues to consider which would inform the final design proposal!

Photo of Vignesh Swaminathan
Team

Michael Sklenka 

What do you think about this? We should Talk we got carried away.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DFrPLw7taYeWDRAF_HW_P-fmZBKxiIHO/view?usp=sharing

I drew it up without a roundabout but as a massive protected intersection. Thoughts?


https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DFrPLw7taYeWDRAF_HW_P-fmZBKxiIHO/view?usp=sharing

Photo of Michael Sklenka
Team

Hey Vignesh Swaminathan , Wow this is an amazing study! Was this commissioned by the City of Detroit DOT or something you did on your own? I think the added pedestrian and bike paths are a step in the right direction towards giving those on two legs or two wheels more preference and visibility. My initial concerns are the number of added potential pedestrian/vehicle and bike/vehicle collision points with the increased crosswalks and bike paths. Our aim in proposing a roundabout is meant to improve both vehicular flow and pedestrian/biker safety equally. While I think a modified intersection like this might improve the latter, I’m not sure about the former. Regardless, we need to look at every option because the solution probably lies somewhere in between. Shoot me an email at mikesklenka@gmail.com so I have your info, we could definitely use your help!

Photo of Joshua Maddox
Team

As a resident of Woodbridge, I often head south on Trumbull by car and bike. I am concerned that this solution provides no direct way for people to travel south on Trumbull.

By car, you need to first make a short left turn from the offshoot before the "island" onto SE-bound Grand River. This turn seems very close to the roundabout, with a very short distance to get yourself into the proper lane before entering the circle.

When on a bike, there is literally no way to travel south on Trumbull. The southbound bike lane turns before the "island" between Trumbull and Grand River to head NW on Grand River. To travel south on Trumbull, a bicyclist would need to "take the lane" in the little offshoot (an area that will already be confusing to drivers) then cross all lanes of Grand River. I generally like roundabouts, and think a properly designed roundabout could be a good solution at this location, but hopefully the design team can come up with one that doesn't pose such an inconvenience to the adjacent neighborhoods.

Photo of Michael Sklenka
Team

Joshua Maddox We definitely agree that there should be a more direct route through the intersection when headed South on Trumbull. The most difficult part of a redesign will be how to accommodate all six points of the intersection equally, given that they don't meet at one single point. In an initial design, we played with the idea of presenting a 'traffic oval' that is more elliptical and would elongate along Grand River, to present an equal point of access at Trumbull to the North. We ultimately ended up proposing a perfect circle configuration for this initial phase because people are more familiar with it as a concept. The actual design would evolve over the next year with valuable feedback like yours!

Photo of Jimmy McBroom
Team

I cross this intersection daily from the northeast to catch the bus in front of the Family Dollar. I would feel less safe using this than the current configuration because of the lack of signalized crossings. I have zero faith that drivers would yield on their own for bicyclists/pedestrians who are trying to use the crosswalks.

I see that you've reduced conflict points for pedestrians, but I would rather navigate more conflict points with a definite signal that it's OK for me to cross than less conflict points that are individually more stressful.

Also, Grand River is a potential rapid transit corridor and I would not want to make changes to the intersection that would harm that potential service in the future.

All in all, I agree that this intersection needs work but this seems like an overly car-centric design for an area where a ton of people are walking or biking: cf. this paragraph:

> 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.

I don't believe designing an intersection to promote a continous flow of cars can make it better for pedestrians/cyclists. Imagine the current traffic circle around Campus Martius (already fairly dangerous for pedestrians) without traffic signals. It would be very hard for someone who is not able-bodied to cross with a high degree of confidence that they will be safe.

Photo of Michael Sklenka
Team

Thanks for your valuable insights Jimmy McBroom . The configuration we're proposing is schematic in nature, and would be refined based on feedback from people like you. I think there are definitely moves we could make like setting back the crosswalks to create buffer zones between crosswalk and point of entry to the traffic circle, and placing yield or pedestrian stop signs in front of each pedestrian/vehicle conflict point to reinforce the fact that pedestrians and bicyclists will always have the right-of-way. As for the idea that a roundabout would prevent Grand River from becoming a dedicated bus rapid transit route, we would work with MDOT and the City of Detroit to ensure this isn’t the case and that any redesign could accommodate dedicated buses in the future. All these details would be flushed out over next year with professionals and the community alike.

Photo of Trajan Centers
Team

I absolutely want to see this become a reality.

Photo of Suneil Singh
Team

First, I think this a great concept! I whole-heartedly support altering this intersection, which has been a danger for decades.

Second, as a member of Woodbridge Neighborhood Development's Safe Streets committee, I also appreciate this proposal was presented to us for our input last month. It shows a collaborative spirit that is necessary to make cohesive change.

Third, I do see some issues/obstacles with this proposal, but understand that this is just a proof of concept and that most of these obstacles will be ironed out during the research/implementation of the first steps of this proposal.

This is a unique intersection that was poorly designed and needs immediate attention. While I'm sure that there will be those who either don't like roundabouts for personal preference reasons, this would a grand improvement over what we currently have...and I'll take that over no change any day of the week

Photo of Christine Holmes
Team

We've seen past conceptual solutions to this terrible intersection. This proposal is well-researched and offers a comprehensive solution for auto/bike/pedestrian issues. Very cool that the proposal was put together from residents of the North Corktown community, who live and breathe this daily - as do Woodbridge residents directly to the north.

Photo of Joe De Lobel
Team

The COD is desperately behind on improving streetscape for safety and aesthetics. This is hands down the most practical submission and should be implemented all over the city.

Photo of Lincoln Russell
Team

I'm a Woodbridge homeowner, living a few blocks from this intersection. The current intersection is an absolute hellscape that it's taken me years of daily use to understand how to navigate safely and efficiently, and I still avoid it as much as possible. I watch people do illegal and/or unsafe things in it nearly every time I use it. This seems like an excellent solution.

Photo of Jodi Rachelle
Team

This intersection definitely needs an improvement! I worry that it keeps people from traveling by bike/foot to Corktown or downtown because of the very short light here and the confusing cross traffic. Woodbridge neighborhood on the north edge of this intersection has many young children and older people, both of whom are negatively affected by poorly designed infrastructure. Thanks for submitting this proposal and bringing attention to this dangerous spot.

Photo of Matt T.
Team

This feels like the only proposal out of the 160+ proposals which is well-researched and targeted to help improve the lives of ALL the residents of Detroit, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. I really hope this project gets funded. Such a dangerous intersection that Ford could help transform by saving lives!!

Photo of Mackenzie Fankell
Team

Michael Sklenka Thank you for sharing this proposal! I am a Michigan Central Station Challenge facilitator. I'm sorry to hear that your friends were involved in traffic accidents! It is great to receive a proposal from someone local who has already reached out to community members for feedback. Through our community working sessions, we have heard a lot about the lack of infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians on Michigan Avenue and how dangerous it can be. This solution seems very well researched. In your measurement of success, you have mentioned implementation. If the solution is implemented, I think it would be great to continue to collect additional measures of success of the roundabout as well. If the roundabout is proven to reduce traffic accidents/injuries, increase economic activity, etc., perhaps it would be more widely adopted as a traffic solution throughout the city.

Photo of Michael Sklenka
Team

Mackenzie Fankell Thank you and agreed! I chose to focus on this intersection because of the degree of danger I've experienced with it and its universal contempt among the community. However, I also see this as a potential solution that could be implemented for intersections along Michigan with similar conditions.