KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Avenue in Kalamazoo has been a sea of orange over the last few weeks, most recently due to patchwork and seal coating.
While the road is not scheduled to be reconfigured into a two-way street until at least 2026, Dennis Randolph, the city’s traffic engineer, said the maintenance work gave them an opportunity to move ahead with lane reduction measures.
Michigan Avenue has had as many as five lanes of traffic, not including on-street parking and turn lanes at intersections like Westnedge.
Now, it’s down to three, with on-street parking moved out from the curb.
“Just like on Park and Westnedge, by reducing some lanes and narrowing them up a bit, we get some extra pavement,” Randolph said.
The extra pavement is enough for a two-way bicycle track, allowing people get around on two wheels, rather than just four.
Randolph said the on-street parking spots separated from the curb act as a safety buffer for bikers using the track.
“There’s probably not as much (bike) traffic as we’d like, but the traffic was so bad on Michigan (Avenue) in terms of safety that bicyclists certainly didn’t want to go down it,” Randolph said.
According to city staff, 7% of all crashes over the last decade happened on Michigan Avenue and its counterpart on Kalamazoo Avenue, with both accounting for just 1.5% of the city’s roadmap.
Randolph told News 8 that some drivers speed as fast as 80 miles per hour along Michigan Avenue, while others dangerously cut across multiple lanes to make turns.
“There’s a lot of weaving … dodging and weaving,” he said.
But the changes to the lane layout are not sitting well with some.
Businesses along Michigan Avenue like Berries Famous Pancake House, which is just days away from its grand opening, said they are noticing a drop in customers.
“In our first week, we might’ve done three or four customers per day, and they were walkers — people who were walking down (here),” Danielle Miller, general manager of Berries Famous Pancake House, said.
Sometimes, Miller said, they even have to close early.
“We’ve had a couple of Thursdays where we had two customers from 2 until 5:30,” Miller said. “He just said, ‘Close up, there’s no point after that.'”
Two doors down, at La Familia Cafe, co-owner Daniel Salas told News 8 they have seen at least 20% fewer customers since construction started. Miller and Cindy Stewart of Stewart & Company Fine Furniture and Design both told News 8 that customers are frustrated over getting into downtown with traffic stemming from the construction.
Randolph said he understands people’s frustrations but explained that they’re playing the long game, especially considering the extra traffic that will come with the future downtown arena.
“I know it looks like a mess, but we’re setting up for that long haul,” he said. “To make sure that we can keep things moving, keep space for people to come downtown. And hopefully be set up so that when the event center is ready to start having activities, we’ll be able to get folks to them with a minimum of problems.”
In terms of the surfacing work, Randolph said just the signs and signals are left, which should take about four weeks.