By Ian Perrotta
Review Special Writer
Last Thursday afternoon was great for a drive, but even better for a walk.
That was when Dan Burden, the country’s foremost expert on the walkability of cities, took a stroll through Hamtramck.
Burden, whose walk was paid for by the Governor’s Cool Cities Initiative, has done over 4,000 audits in over 2,500 communities and is credited with popularizing the term walkability. The word — which entails the ability of pedestrians to move about safely and freely — also encompasses a host of other concepts, including management of traffic and parking patterns and attention to the aesthetics of a city’s layout.
The walk was attended by about a dozen citizens that included representatives from the Hamtramck Downtown Development Authority, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, among others. Many hoped Burden could share ideas that would benefit the community.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Councilman Dr. Abdul Algazali, “I hope the walk can generate ideas for the city.”
City Manager Bill Cooper took Burden’s tour of Mt. Clemens and wanted to see what Burden had to say about Hamtramck. “I saw the results for Mt. Clemens and think the ideas that came out were good. It can give us the support we need to go after funding,” he said.
Jason Freidman, the Director of Community and Economic Development, explained the potential for the walk.
“Fifty percent of the city doesn’t drive, and the city is already somewhat conducive to walking,” he said, “and I think some small changes can yield dramatic results.”
The walk departed from City Hall and went down Yemans to Jos. Campau. Surveying the North Side of Jos. Campau briefly, it then took Mitchell to Caniff, traveling to Conant before returning to the starting point.
As he walked, Burden took note of his surroundings.
“There is good housing density, not as much vacancy as other parts of Detroit, but most noticeably a lack of trees and green and a sense of enclosure,” he said.
When the trek was over, Burden then gave a presentation on what he saw. It was at this time that he reiterated one of his main concepts for the city: replace many of the traffic lights with traffic circles, most notably at the intersection of Jos. Campau and Caniff.
The reasons to choose traffic circles over traffic lights are numerous.
Roundabouts allow for increased traffic flow at decreased speeds. This makes it safer for pedestrians and drivers and gives the city a more aesthetically pleasing look.
Moreover, traffic circles are fiscally responsible. Light-controlled intersections are not only an expensive initial investment, but can cost around $40,000 a year to maintain. Roundabouts are comparatively inexpensive and cost little to maintain once complete. Most beneficial, however, is the 90 percent reduction in accidents, which can eventually lead to a decrease in taxes through the elimination of unnecessary emergency response.
When it was over, City Manager Cooper expressed satisfaction with what was said.
“It woke me up to a couple of ideas,” he said. “Roundabouts are very interesting, and it is something to think about and possibly try to incorporate into the city’s Master Plan.”
What Makes a Community Walkable?