Tulip Time Traffic – What If?

The first Saturday afternoon of Tulip Time, I went for a walk downtown along with about 14,000 of my closest friends.

Here’s what 8th Street looked like from the crosswalk:

(These pictures all need to be cropped, but I don’t know how to do that from my phone yet. So scroll through that sky…at least it’s finally blue!)

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Street view:

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And in the other direction:

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And the sidewalks looked like this:

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And this:

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I just ran across this article that describes a Dutch “woonerf” (pronounced VONE-erf) again today. A woonerf is a very small shared street that is intended for people, bicycles, and occasionally cars traveling at walking speed only. It looks like this:

This is what a woonerf looks like.

8th Street is a little bit like a woonerf during busy times, with speeds for all practical purposes limited to walking speed. (The same thing happened during the ice-sculpting competition this winter.) Of course, that begs the question: If it’s too busy for people in cars to be able to move faster than walking speed, then why are we choosing an option that has one or two people (in a car) taking the space of twenty people (on foot)? It’s polluting, it doesn’t allow emergency vehicles to get through, AND it’s inefficient.

There’s no great conspiracy afoot, I’m sure, but the problem is that in spite of our Dutch roots… well, we’re still pretty American. And it doesn’t really occur to us Americans to just up and close roads to cars. Most of the time that doesn’t even make sense; there are plenty of failed pedestrian malls dotting our nation that attest to that (and in the case of Muskegon, an almost completely razed downtown). But I think it’s fair to say that Tulip Time traffic is Too Much of a Good Thing. And we haven’t even talked about what it’s like after the parades, or the woman in a wheelchair I saw attempting to traverse four-lane River Street by the library, or any of the pedestrian near-misses I’m sure many of us witnessed. WHY are we requiring our guests to play Frogger with traffic?

So… what if we could turn that around? What if Tulip Time didn’t have to be traffic hell?

What if we prioritized travel by bike and on foot during the festival? What if we encouraged people to bring their bikes and park their cars well out of town? What if we created even temporary bike lanes for them? What if 8th Street were only open to non-motorized traffic and a shuttle… And what if we expanded that to include a network of downtown streets that would easily and safely let people get to their destinations sans automobile? What if we funded a shuttle that would run between all the major Tulip Time venues and would come every five minutes? What if we sat down on May 12 (the day after Tulip Time ends this year) and made a 20-year plan to cut Tulip Time traffic in half by 2033? It would be a 180-degree shift from where we are now – but that’s okay! The world is changing, and this is a completely do-able endeavor.

Crazy talk, I know, but let’s talk crazy for a while. What do you think? Since I’ve yet to meet the neighbor whose favorite part of Tulip Time is the traffic, let’s assume that traffic reduction is a worthy goal. What would you suggest to make that happen? Feel free to either comment below or over on our Facebook page. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Try something new for Green Commute Week – bike, bus, or feet – and win a prize! More details HERE!

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