MSU Students Consult on Vicksburg Trail

By Rob Peterson

A group of Michigan State University students has suggested changes to the Vicksburg trail system that they say would add an element of health, vitality and walkability to the community.

They were invited by the Village and a team from The Mill at Vicksburg to study the non-motorized transportation plan, which is part of the Village’s 2015 Master Plan. South County News spoke with two students who were part of the five-member team: graduating senior Carley Gruzin and graduating master’s degree student Dana Dake.

“There are so many rural areas in Michigan with abandoned properties,” said Dake, editor of the final report. “Vicksburg was appealing because the developer of the Mill is interested in integrating its plans into the community.”

The Mill was one of four key community assets identified in a survey created by the students. The survey was posted on the Village Facebook page only briefly because “We were only allowed 100 responses, and we reached that limit very quickly,” said Gruzin. The other three assets identified by the community were the industrial park, the downtown and the Historic Village, which Gruzin called “underutilized.”

The goal of the report was to identify ways to connect these assets through non-motorized travel. “We want people walking around,” said Gruzin, “so people can experience Vicksburg fully.”

According to Dake, one interesting trend is that for the first time the younger and older generations are both seeking the same thing: places that are walkable and bikeable. Vicksburg already has a non-motorized transportation plan and community support, making the town ripe for attracting visitors and new residents if the plans are put in place.

The students recommended that the design of the non-motorized connections be influenced by a national model called Complete Streets. The model calls for creating safer ways to cross streets; increasing accessibility for the elderly and those with disabilities; and improving a sense of place for those on foot.

The students made several suggestions to modify Vicksburg’s existing non-motorized transportation plan.

One of these recommendations is to direct bicycle and pedestrian traffic along Main Street; the current plan is to add bike lanes on Michigan and Kalamazoo Avenues. “It’s important that the path takes people through downtown,” said Dake. “One of the goals of expanding the paths is to spur economic activity, so we want to lead people past the vibrant downtown shops.”

Another suggestion is to convert the bicycle lanes along Prairie Street into wider bicycle-pedestrian paths that are protected from street traffic. A buffer to the street could be accomplished by installing physical barriers, but landscaping might be a less expensive way to achieve this goal. Signage and pavement markings would help keep bicyclists and pedestrians from colliding.

The students recommend that a second route from the industrial park should run along the Little League fields and up to Sunset Lake Park. At key points such as Sunset Lake, landscaped seating areas with benches and local art would encourage people to take a break and enjoy the views.

Users of the trail would be able to find these points of interest thanks to a wayfinding signage system that would include a logo to help people identify the trail and navigate the system easily.

Probably the most significant recommendation is the addition of a bog path through Clark Park. The idea is to construct a wide, raised path that would connect the trail along Prairie Street to the Mill via an inviting alternative route. Similar paths are already a part of the trail system in Portage, and they can help to provide safe passage over wet areas such as Clark Park.

The most important suggestion, though, is to get started. “Use the existing infrastructure,” said Dake. “Simply adding signage and crosswalks will help improve walkability and safety.”

Offering options for low-cost, quick improvements is one of the requirements placed on them by their professors. The students were advised by Professor Zenia Kotval, program director of the Urban and Regional Planning program at Michigan State University, who met with the students weekly via Zoom.

Even though a professor was advising them, the students were required to develop their own recommendations. “We tell them that they can’t recommend what they want to do, but rather what the data suggests should be done,” said Kotval.

Data for the Vicksburg project included the community survey as well as information purchased from ESRI, a company that tracks demographic and economic indicators. They also reviewed case studies of other communities which have implemented similar strategies.

The report, titled “Connecting Assets in Vicksburg, MI” has been submitted to the Village and the team at the Mill. According to Kotval, it will be useful not only in thinking through Vicksburg’s non-motorized transportation plan; the data included in the plan can be used to apply for grants.

“The students each earned a 4.0 grade on the Vicksburg report,” said Kotval, “and it’s the only report this year that we used to apply for a Michigan Planning Association award.”

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