Downtown Ann Arbor Street Design
In 2013, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) partnered with SmithGroup to examine how connectivity and safety for all people could be improved throughout the 67-block downtown area. The planning process required extensive public and stakeholder engagement, as well as a thorough, researched analysis of the City’s mobility systems. The result of this effort was creation of the city’s first Downtown Street Framework Plan and Design Manual, which set the stage for a comprehensive overhaul of downtown streets.
In subsequent years, SmithGroup has continued to work with the DDA to implement several “people-friendly street” projects that built on the initial framework plan. The people-friendly streets approach informs all aspects of the projects: All users—no matter their age, their ability, their income or their mode of travel—should have safe and equitable access to the public streets we share.
The Fifth and Detroit Street Project sought to reinvent the confluence point of a bustling local business district, farmer’s market, high-school, and major thoroughfare. People needed critical safety and comfort improvements to a two-lane, one-way street routinely crossed by students, shoppers and business patrons. The resulting design transformed the entire street with an innovative green boulevard, plaza spaces, and multiple crossing points, which creates a pedestrian-centric space that vehicles travel through in a slow and controlled manner. It completely altered the character of the corridor, changing it from a frenetic thoroughfare to a celebrated, calm street environment.
This project was coupled to the William Street Bikeway project, which was the city’s first separated two-way bikeway and one of the first two-way urban bikeways in the state. Collectively these street projects are central to building a complete mobility network in downtown, accessible by people of all ages and abilities.
Although transportation changes can often be fraught with controversy, Ann Arbor has a strong record of success in improving its streets. Because the designs were driven by thorough community engagement, national practice, local expertise, and insightful data analysis, they reflect the community’s overarching values that all people have safe and equitable access to city streets and community destinations.