By Scott Sullivan
A tour in December by Douglas city, police, public works, Interurban and fire department officials identified concerns about the non-motorized trail west of Blue Star Highway the city installed two years ago.
Per Dec. 16 city council committee of the whole minutes, the group’s assessment of the median-separated stretch between Center Street and the Kalamazoo River bridge began at the corner of Union Street, where drivers turning right onto Blue Star must enter into southbound traffic to complete.
Police Chief Steve Kent said guardrails may have installed too near the road, giving drivers a sense of less room on the right side of their vehicles. It was noted fire trucks do not use this road for responses.
The lane shift while southbound on Blue Star making a right turn onto Union towards the ramp also posed problems. Minutes describe it as a hard turn for almost any vehicle.
Leaving the ramp turning right onto Blue Star is the most difficult; Kent said there have been many mishaps in this area. Public works director Matt Vogel said his plows cannot make the turn.
City councilman Jerry Donovan said the ramp lot holds around 150 cars; most will pull on the bike lane, stop, then proceed.
Asked why the area was designed as it was, Prein Newhof engineer Nate Williams said the concept was driven by the city’s master plan, and there are sacrifices and tradeoffs in a design such as this.
At St. Peter Drive, turning onto Blue Star, a tree was removed and grasses cut to accommodate driver views of oncoming traffic. A suggestion was made to remove the crosswalk. Green paint was applied to the bike path to deter drivers from using it.
Vogel suggested removing the old bike path. Bringing the turning lane lines out a bit was suggested also. Turning left onto Blue Star there isn’t easy.
Turning right from Chestnut Street onto Blue Star is also difficult, agreed tour members, as you cannot see to the left. Emergency responders are concerned with the path and Blue Star because there is no place for yielding vehicles to pull over and every second counts when lives may be at stake.
Interurban drivers are concerned with the right turns from Chestnut and Main; their buses must run the curb or enter oncoming traffic. Right turns from the guardrail or southbound lane are a difficult too. Left turns off Blue Star can cause major backups, plus median trees hamper visibility.
Vehicles have nowhere to go when fire trucks, police cars or ambulances need right of way, bus drivers went on. They have seen many cars driving on the bike lane.
Saugatuck school bus drivers have issues with turning right on Blue Star from Union and concerns that growing trees may hit windows of their vehicles.
City officials continue weighing possible traffic changes to the stretch.