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Old Posted Apr 29, 2017, 2:10 PM
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deja vu deja vu is offline
somewhere in-between
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Michigan
Posts: 1,469
On Thursday morning, I watched as helpless drivers were held up on Michigan Avenue for over an hour and a half. This traffic jam was due to a broken down freight train blocking this road and several other east-west routes through downtown. These tracks are heavily used to move freight between Grand Rapids, MI and Elkhart, IN. Delays are frequent, but usually only for 5 - 10 minutes, not 90+ minutes. MLive did a story on the backup that day:

Railroad apologizes for Thursday morning traffic backup in Kalamazoo

The problem is that when trains get stalled or halted at this crossing, it can potentially block practically every east-west route through the core of the city, leaving motorists with few options. This is due to the fact that all of the crossings are at-grade, or level with, the roadways. Another problem is that there is no real advance warning when the train may cross, and it often happens at peak rush hour times in the morning and afternoon. By the time you realize what's happening, it's usually too late to get out, because traffic is as many as four lanes and mostly all one-way. A third issue is that if you are not a regular commuter along this route, you have no clue what is going on or where to go, which leads to more confusion as people try to find an escape route before things get even more gridlocked.

Here's an aerial map I threw together, showing the main east-west roads and the railroad tracks:

Several proposals to either (a) elevate the tracks or (b) elevate the roads have fallen through over the years. I understand not wanting elevated roads or train tracks downtown, but in my opinion the current situation is still one of the largest unsolved problems in the downtown area. The current setup is dysfunctional, and it hinders both commerce and tourism. It can also become a public safety issue if emergency responders need to cut through downtown for any reason when the roads are blocked. Here's one such (dated) proposal, from the early 1980s:

Image Source:

The question is how to encourage connections and movement through the core of the city while continuing to promote rail traffic (which I view as a good thing). I really think that some people get so fed up with dealing with the train crossings that they just avoid downtown completely. The Grand Elk Railroad, which owns the at-grade crossing located just east of Pitcher Street, issued an apology on Thursday for the unexpectedly long delay. If your interested in reading more, here's a link to an interesting article on the Kalamazoo Public Library website that explains more about the history of Kalamazoo's Railroads and this downtown intersection.

Here's some photos of the traffic jam, all from MLive / Mark Bugnaski.

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