Residents and visitors to downtown Plymouth may have noticed new temporary curb extensions that have been installed at three intersections along Michigan Street. This is the latest “tactical urbanism” project implemented by the City’s Complete Streets Committee.

 The Complete Streets Committee was formed in 2018 to implement the City’s Complete Streets Policy, which states that the City “shall provide a transportation network that promotes accessibility, equity, health, economic vitality, and quality of life through safe, convenient, and welcoming streets for all users.” One tool the committee has employed is “tactical urbanism,” defined as “a fast, cheap, action-oriented approach to making meaningful civic changes to neighborhoods, towns, and cities.” Tactical urbanism projects are an ideal way to test ideas because they are temporary and present little or no cost to the city taxpayers. The materials used, such as plastic bollards, are provided by MACOG, and the work is done by the City Street Department and volunteers.

The current installation is the fifth tactical urbanism project by the Complete Streets Committee and is designed to improve pedestrian safety in the downtown area. Curb extensions create both a physical and visual narrowing of the street which encourages drivers to slow down and alerts them that there is a pedestrian crossing. They also shorten the distance a pedestrian must travel across a street, limiting their exposure to vehicles.

This project is a refinement of the curb extensions that were installed last year at the intersection of Michigan and Garro Streets. The committee learned from that project that the large extensions at all four corners created too much congestion as vehicles waiting to turn left across traffic blocked the path for all vehicles behind them. The size of those extensions also created challenges for larger vehicles turning the corner. Based on those lessons, the current installation includes smaller extensions at alternating corners so that larger vehicles can more easily navigate them and there is enough space to pass a vehicle waiting to make a left turn. The extensions have also been expanded to three intersections (LaPorte Street, Garro Street, and Washington Street) to monitor the effect at different locations with different traffic levels.

As with all previous tactical urbanism projects, the current extensions are a temporary installation that allows the city and residents to learn from the experience and determine what may be appropriate for future, permanent upgrades. This project was originally planned for installation at the beginning of May to observe the effects both before and after the end of the school year. Unfortunately, because Michigan Street is a state highway, INDOT approval is necessary for any project in the Michigan Street right of way. Unbeknownst to the committee and City officials, INDOT changed its permitting process and requirements, which caused a significant delay in getting that permit approval. The extensions are expected to remain in place through the end of June.