They want to narrow Woodward Avenue in Midtown and nobody is really talking about it


This seems like a bad idea. - SCREENSHOT FROM UM STAMPS/YOUTUBE
  • Screenshot from UM Stamps/YouTube
  • This seems like a bad idea.

Earlier this month, officials announced plans for "Detroit Square," the winner of an international design competition to reimagine Midtown. The proposal comes from French architecture firm Agence Ter in collaboration with Detroit-based design groups, and beat out 44 submissions from 10 countries.

The plan has been touted as "transformational," and certainly would be — linking cultural institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne State University, the College for Creative Studies, the Detroit Public Library, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in one big, grassy campus. It almost looks like it could be Detroit's answer to U-M's Diag, with renderings showing students lazily strolling down walking paths through leafy scenes.

But nobody's really talking about the fact that the plan calls for narrowing a major thoroughfare in one of the busiest parts of the city.

The concern is essentially a passing note in a story by John Gallagher published Tuesday in The Detroit Free Press, "New cultural district plan still has long way to go to unify DIA neighborhood."

"I like that the plan narrows Woodward Avenue between the DIA and the main library," Gallagher writes. "But I wonder if auto traffic, which will be restricted by the narrowed lanes, may not simply stack up in a continuous line of vehicles. If so, that would replace one barrier — the nine-lane-wide Woodward — with another in the form of bumper to bumper autos."

Yikes. Plus, there's the fact that Woodward was largely shut down only a few short years ago to accommodate QLine construction in 2014 and 2015, which put businesses in a squeeze. Here we go again!

On the flip side, although it pains me to think of yet more Woodward construction after all that, it could be an opportunity to reconsider a dedicated center lane for the QLine instead of the curbside one that is often delayed by illegally parked cars. But I wonder what anyone old enough to remember the time the city widened Woodward Avenue from 66 feet to 120 feet in the 1930s would think; that project resulted in many buildings getting razed, and forced the Majestic Theatre to saw off its marquee. (The Majestic Theatre is currently constructing a new marquee, a nod to its historic one.)

At any rate, after decades of slowly widening Woodward, it's interesting to see its recent reversal. In 2017, officials permanently shut down a stretch of Woodward in the heart of downtown to make the "Spirit of Detroit Plaza," despite the concerns of drivers and local businesses. Now the intersection of two of the city's biggest thoroughfares, Woodward Avenue and Jefferson Avenue, is cut off for the foreseeable future.

The Detroit Plaza project has a price tag of at least $75 million, though Annmarie Borucki, director of art and culture for Midtown Detroit Inc., says the number could be even higher as the project is further researched and developed.

“Maybe it is a 50-50 thing whether this happens or not," she says. "We just don’t know. It just kind of depends how we will get through this conceptual phase.”

During the next 18 months, Agence Ter is working with the community, the City of Detroit, and MDOT, and will be hosting public forums for people to voice feedback on the project.

Maybe they could put pedestrian bridges over Woodward so as not to narrow it? Or reroute Woodward around Detroit Plaza? What do you think?

You can see a video presentation of Detroit Plaza below.

Edited 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25: Credit where it's due, Deadline Detroit noted the lane narrowing in its headline in its initial reporting on the design, "Midtown Design Plan Could Narrow Woodward, Make Area More Walkable."

Intern Christopher Emrich contributed to this report.

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