Traverse City’s Front Street Experiment Comes to an End
"It’s weird to see folks parking on the road again." - Heather Bailey, Grand Traverse Pie Co.
A summertime experiment is coming to an end in Downtown Traverse City. The DDA had closed two blocks of Front Street to vehicle traffic – and opened it to pedestrians only for the summer months. But the trial run is over – and cars are moving along Front Street once again.
The barriers came down and two blocks of Front Street reopened to traffic Tuesday morning. The whole idea of the experiment was to promote more foot traffic into the downtown and allow for physical distancing. Downtown Development Authority CEO Jean Derenzy says, “We are reopening Front Street to vehicle traffic and State Street is going back to one-way.” The Downtown Development Authority says they were taking constant feedback throughout the summer months, hoping to create a more walkable downtown… even beyond the two blocks that were closed to traffic.
Derenzy says the plan worked – allowing for more physical distancing. “The positive feedback is that there was space, and it helped the restaurants and retailers overall. Some of the retailers, they wanted more activity, but it’s hard to have activity during a pandemic.”
Heather Bailey is the General Manager at Grand Traverse Pie Co. on East Front Street. “At the beginning we were all a little nervous, unknowing what was going to happen. Overall we still did okay. I thought we were going to be lower than last year’s numbers. But honestly it wasn’t too bad. Which was great.”
While restaurants could spread out onto the sidewalks and parking spaces, retailers did not. But the increase in foot traffic seemed to make up for what they feared would be a loss in sales. Lululemon Asst. Store Manager Jonny Tornga says there were “lots of challenges, but it’s been great though. The opportunity to have this entire street open was really cool for us. We had a giant line most of the summer… we were able to snake that line out into the street and keep social distancing and keep people safe.”
Bailey says, “Now having three months into it, I think it was a great idea. I feel a lot of folks took advantage of it. It was fun watching everybody walking down the Front Street. It’s a lot different. I think we should do it again. I think it was a great summer change. I think it was good for everybody.” Bailey says she’s heard positive comments from restaurants and retail stores alike, even those that were skeptical at the beginning of summer.
The city lost those two blocks of parking fees from curbside meters, but Derenzy says that impact was minimal – at least in part because many downtown offices were closed during the pandemic and that meant employees weren’t looking for parking anyway. “It really didn’t, um, have an impact. We saw a lot of vacancies still on the parking piece. There was a lot of availability on State Street and the parking garages. But that was an element of not having our office employees downtown. So this year it worked. Because there was a lot of open parking spaces throughout the downtown and in the parking garages.”
The DDA says they’ll launch a public survey later this month to get more input on whether to try again year. “We’re doing a survey, probably the end of September, to get feedback. Not just the businesses, but the customers as well, and all of our residents.”
Derenzy says the idea to make State Street a two-way street (again, or permanently) could be decided separately from whether to close Front Street to traffic again next summer. Heather Bailey says she’d like to see Front Street open to pedestrians-only all summer and through the end of September.