News

By Lisa Howard

GOOD THINGS TEND TO COME IN THREES, AND THE TRI-COMMUNITY COALITION IS NO EXCEPTION. It’s a nonprofit organization that aims to prevent substance abuse and improve mental health wellness in three cities — Berkley, Oak Park, and Huntington Woods — and its efforts are aimed at youth, adults, and the community at large. (Three again!)

Given the link between stress and risky behavior, it’s not surprising that Judy Rubin, the executive director of the Tri-Community Coalition, thinks it’s important to also focus on mental wellness. “Recently, we’ve found through data that our kids are really stressed,” Judy says, “So we offer mental-health wellness techniques in the hopes that we can prevent kids from possibly going down a substance abuse path.” Part of that assistance includes supporting the Y.O.U. (Young, Optimistic and United) programs at high schools in the Tri-Community area. The groups are student-run and very self-sufficient, but they can turn to the Coalition for guidance and financial support for their activities.

For parents, the Coalition offers Parent Now programs, covering topics like social media, bullying, depression, and how to recognize, avoid, and get out of toxic relationships. These programs are generally held at the Berkley Public Library, and although they’re primarily aimed at parents, anyone is welcome to attend. The Coalition also hosts programs specifically dealing with drugs, such as vaping, underage drinking, and marijuana use. “It’s about keeping parents apprised of what they should be looking out for and how to intervene constructively,” Judy says, adding that unfortunately, underage drinking is a problem with younger and younger kids these days — it’s become common in middle school, and it’s not unheard of even among fifth-graders. (The Coalition has become more active in middle schools as a direct result of this trend.) Vaping is also on the rise.

ONE OF THE TOOLS THE COALITION OFFERS to help parents and kids alike is free drug-testing kits, which Judy sees as a preventative rather than punitive tool. “A lot of times, parents and kids don’t know how to get out of peer-related sticky situations,” she says. “If a child is offered a drug, one way for them to get out of the situation is for the child to say,‘My parents have a drug kit.’ It gives kids an easy out from peer-pressure.” Parents are also given suggestions about how to have open and constructive conversations about drugs, as well as refusal skill tools they can pass on to their kids.

For the past two years, Coalition has hosted a health and wellness fair for the greater community in the spring, and also for the second year they are offering free Narcan-training sessions and nasal spray kits in an effort to address the opioid epidemic. They also support nationwide substance-abuse prevention efforts like National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an event that aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs while also educating the general public about potential prescription abuse.

This year, the Coalition will be partnering with the Huntington Woods and Berkley Public Safety Departments for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 26, from 10 A.M. until 2:00 P.M. During that time, everyone is encouraged to drop off any unused or expired drugs to the Berkley Public Safety Department. (Please no sharps or liquids.) As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

By Steve Cooper, Director of Public Safety

Photos By Bennie White

THE OAK PARK DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY has always taken pride in providing the city with the best public safety services possible. We believe in our partnership with the community through sharing and exchanging ideas, building relationships, and working together to address challenges.

These efforts have been demonstrated through a number of community initiatives, such as:

  • The Oak Park Public Safety Citizens Academy.
  • The Oak Park Public Safety Ice Cream Truck.
  • Coffee-With-A-Cop.
  • The addition of a second Community Resource Officer.

The Oak Park Public Safety Citizen Academy is entering its fourth year and the demand for enrollment remains high. The Academy is a fiveweek class for the public held on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The academy is held twice a year (spring and summer). The Citizen Academy provides an excellent opportunity for residents to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day operations of a Public Safety Department. It is free for Oak Park residents 18 years of age and older.

The classes cover a number of interesting topics such as patrol and traffic operations, detective bureau and case investigations, police and firefighting equipment, criminal law and procedures, use of force and officer safety, crime scene investigations and forensics, firefighting and firetruck operations, medical first-response, radio dispatch and 911 operations.

There are no physical fitness requirements to enroll and all participation is strictly voluntary. Upon completion of the Academy, students are awarded a diploma during a graduation ceremony.

THE OAK PARK PUBLIC SAFETY ICE CREAM TRUCK is entering its third season and has become one of the favorite Public Safety initiatives among both the youth and the adults in the community. On several days throughout the spring and summer, officers can be seen driving through the neighborhoods in our ice cream truck handing out free ice cream. This has provided an outstanding opportunity for our Officers to have positive interactions with many members in the community. It is amazing how a small gesture, such as sharing ice cream, can put a smile on a person’s face. The experience is truly priceless.

None of this would have been possible without the tremendous support from several of our vendors in Oak Park. I would again like to thank Prairie Farms for donating three hundred units of ice cream per week, Quality Restaurant Equipment Masters for donating a large deep freezer to house the ice cream, Salient Sign Studio for providing the graphics for the Ice Cream Truck, and Autobahn Collision for the restoration work they performed on the truck. Also, our City Manager, Erik Tungate, and the Department of Public Works for donating the truck.

If you are in Oak Park this Spring and Summer, watch for the Oak Park Public Safety Ice Cream Truck in your area. It is often known to make surprise visits at various schools throughout the City as well as some City-sponsored events.

“COFFEE WITH A COP” HAS BECOME A VERY POPULAR community outreach initiative. Although the concept is not new, it is still a very good one. For almost a year now, the Oak Park Public Safety Department has partnered with numerous restaurants throughout the City to host “Coffee with a Cop.” This has provided the community an opportunity to meet at different restaurants and have informal conversations discussing many topics (community issues, upcoming events, sports, etc.) while enjoying a free cup of coffee. The citizens and the officers have an opportunity to become personally acquainted while conversing in a relaxed atmosphere. This event takes place bi-monthly on either Saturday or Sunday morning usually between the hours of 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM.

THE PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT has recently added a second Community Resource Officer, Robert Koch, who will work in conjunction with Officer Devin Benson. With the additional Community Resource Officer, we have been able to significantly impact our relationships with the many schools and students in Oak Park, senior citizens, and Block Clubs while continuing to address important needs within the community. The positive effect of an additional Community Resource Officer has been obvious and mentioned by numerous members within the community.

The entire Public Safety Department would like to extend a very heartfelt thank you to the community for your unwavering love and support throughout the years. We continue our pledge to serve at the highest level the great citizens and businesses of Oak Park with honor and integrity.

ESTABLISHED IN 1840, BERKLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT CONTAINS EIGHT SCHOOLS, the most of the three districts. It includes Berkley Building Blocks early childhood center, four elementary schools serving K-5 (Angell, Burton, Pattengill and Rogers), Norup International school serving K-8, Anderson Middle School and Berkley High. Over 4,500 students are enrolled in the District, mostly residents from Berkley, Huntington Woods and the portion of Oak Park (north of Ten Mile Rd. between Greenfield and Coolidge) within the district. There are also a limited number of School of Choice students attending.

Both Norup International, a K-8 school, and Berkley Building Blocks early childhood center are within Oak Park city limits, as well as Berkley Schools Administrative Building. Jessica Stilger, Berkley Schools Director of Communications, says the academic opportunities available to students is what makes their District stand out, including 26 advanced placement courses at Berkley High and a vast array of extracurriculars throughout their schools.

“Berkley School District is known for being a district that creates pathways for students to achieve their individual best, whatever that looks like for each student,” she says.

With an enrollment of over 400 students annually, Berkley Building Blocks helps children as young as six-weeks-old build connections and social skills up to age five.

“Our center is known for being high-quality and accredited, and dedicated to nurturing, growing and loving each student,” Stilger says. “Building Blocks forms strong family connections, encourages family involvement, hosts two parent/teacher conference sessions each year with all age levels and hosts in-house field trips many times each year to bring the outside world in.”

This dedication and focus on growing strengths continues through elementary school with the implementation of workshops to build comprehension and help students learn at an individual level. In middle school, class options only expand further, Stilger says.

“In middle school, students can explore robotics, foreign languages, journalism, and various music options, just to name a few. In addition, many students complete high school credits while attending Norup and eighth grade students complete a year-long, in-depth community research project,” she says. “Norup, just like all schools in the Berkley School District, is known for reaching and empowering all learners.”

 

From Building Blocks to Berkley High, District students are afforded the opportunity to grow at their own pace through a diverse collection of classes and extracurriculars. This makes Berkley Schools stand out as a district in Oakland County.

“In the Berkley School District, students are prepared to be creative, curious, confident, well-rounded critical thinkers, kind and caring and have a global perspective while understanding their communities,” Stilger says. “Berkley Schools students enjoy the multitude of experiences and successes because of the overwhelming community support, the fantastic work of their great teachers and administrators and the rich and vibrant environments that families create.”

By Colton Dale

THE OAK PARK CITY COUNCIL is the dynamic and energetic legislative body for the City of Oak Park. It is comprised of Mayor Marian McClellan, Mayor Pro Tem Solomon Radner and three City Council Members elected at-large; Carolyn Burns, Ken Rich and Regina Weiss.

The current City Council represents the diversity of Oak Park beautifully, with ranges in age, ethnicity, religion, and professional background.

City Council has the power and authority to adopt laws, ordinances, and resolutions. There’s a wide array of issues discussed and solved at City Council meetings. This means that City Council members in some ways have to be generalists, not specialists. In other words, they need to have a sufficient understanding of a wide array of topics and disciplines so that they can adequately deal with them, rather than narrow, specialized knowledge. Some topics that could be discussed in any given City Council meeting are:

• Rules governing its own proceedings.

• The exercise of powers that aren’t covered by state and federal law.

• The enforcement of City ordinances.

• Appointments of top administrative personnel.

• The City’s financial operations.

• Appointments commissions of new members of boards and commissions

• The City’s intergovernmental affairs.

• The general welfare of the city and its inhabitants.

• Community leadership initiatives.

AS MAYOR, MARIAN MCCLELLAN IS AUTHORIZED TO EXERCISE THE POWERS as outlined in the City’s Charter. For example, the Mayor is considered the executive head of the City for ceremonial purposes and is considered the presiding officer of City Council although the Mayor has the same voice and vote as other City Council members in all proceedings.

Mayor McClellan was first elected in 2011 and has been reelected every two years since. She has been an Oak Park resident since 1990, and has long been a champion of the City’s culture and diversity. She spent 32 years teaching in Metro Detroit, spending time in Detroit, Warren, Rochester Hills, and Ferndale. Today, she is a strong advocate for the City and always works to improve quality of life for Oak Park residents. She serves on the Board of Trustees for both the Employee Retirements System and Public Safety Retirement System, as well as the Corridor Improvement Authority and the Planning Commission.

Mayoral elections are every two years, whereas City Council terms are four years long. Municipal elections are always held on odd-number years; however, if a position becomes vacant during an elected official’s term of office, a special election may be held to fill that vacancy. Other elected officials of the City include the Municipal Judge and an Associate Municipal Judge, each elected to serve four-year terms in the 45th District Court.

MAYOR PRO TEM SOLOMON RADNER WAS FIRST ELECTED as a City Council Member in 2015. He has been an Oak Park resident since 1984. A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, he is the founder of Radner Legal Services, and is married with three young children. Today, he serves on the City’s Recycling and Environmental Conservation Commission as well as the Arts & Cultural Diversity Commission.

The Mayor Pro Tem is decided by the greatest number of votes by the voters in the previous election. The duty of the Mayor Pro Tem, on top of serving as a City Council Member, is to perform the actions of the Mayor in case of the Mayor’s absence.

Council Member Carolyn Burns, who previously served a term as Mayor Pro Tem, was first elected to Council in 2013. A resident of Oak Park since 2000, she has spent over 25 years in public service and administrative roles. She serves on the Beautification and Planning Commissions.

Council Member Ken Rich was first elected in 2015. He is the firm manager and lead trial counsel at Rich, Campbell & Roeder, PC, focusing his practice in personal injury defense, municipal law, banking, and employment. Rich received his Juris Doctor in 1985 from the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and his Bachelor of Arts with High Distinction in 1982 from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Today, on top of spending time with his family, he serves on the City’s Public Safety Retirement System Board and Economic Development Corporation/Brownfield Authority.

The City’s newest Council Member, Regina Weiss, was elected in 2017. She previously served as the Program Director at Tri-Community Coalition, and now is a teacher at Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine in Detroit. Regina was active in Oak Park long before she became a Council Member. Today, she serves on three boards and commissions; the Arts and Cultural Diversity Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and Library Board of Directors.

One of the most important roles of City Council is to select a City Manager to run the City’s day-to-day operations. Together, they vote to appoint this chief executive role because of the council-manager form of local government that the City of Oak Park has, as many others do. The council-manager form is the system of local government that combines the political leadership of elected officials with the managerial experience of an appointed executive.

Today, City Manager Erik Tungate is charged with supervising all City personnel, preparing and submitting the annual budget, enforcing municipal ordinances, and implementing the policies and direction set by City Council.

IN 2013, THE CITY COUNCIL ADOPTED A FIVE-YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN that con sists of six priority areas of focus, each with measurable objectives intended to guide the City through 2019. The priorities of the plan are summarized within three main tenets: Community, Culture, and Commerce. Each year the recommended budget reflects City Council’s dedication to accomplishing these goals and objectives:

Community

STRENGTHEN COMMUNITY by providing the highest possible quality of life, and becoming a regional leader in rebuilding the urban environment and public realm.

Culture

ENHANCE CULTURE by providing the highest quality programs and services while encouraging collaboration among community members and maintaining the City’s unique cultural diversity.

Commerce

STIMULATE COMMERCE by encouraging business growth and innovation, while establishing a vibrant city center and thriving activity nodes, and ultimately maximizing Oak Park’s competitiveness in the region.

The City has accomplished so much to improve the quality of life for Oak Park residents in accordance with the principles laid out in the 2013 Strategic Plan. Five years have now passed since the adoption of that document and most goals have been accomplished. City Council is now working to create another Strategic Plan for the next five years.

City Council meets every first and third Monday of each month throughout the year, with rare exceptions, in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 14000 Oak Park Blvd. Regular Council meetings are open to the public, and all are welcome to attend. There is always time set aside for public comment at the end. To watch a meeting from home or view an archived meeting, visit the City’s YouTube channel @CityOfOakPark.

By Colton Dale

THE NINE MILE REDESIGN is a grant-funded public improvement project that will bring multiple new amenities to Nine Mile Road.

The first phase of the project is the one happening this Summer, in partnership with the City of Ferndale. It will cover the area on Nine Mile Road from McClain Drive to the eastern border of Oak Park, and will extend into Ferndale, thus connecting Oak Park and Ferndale via bike route. The subsequent two phases hope to continue the redesign of Nine Mile Road westward, all the way to the City’s border with Southfield. This project is expected to transform and revitalize the Nine Mile Road Corridor, and spark a new beginning for Oak Park.

The project is aimed at creating a new sense of place on the Corridor, increasing non-motorized transportation usage, and spurring business growth for the benefit of residents of all ages. By the time the project wraps up, new features on Nine Mile Road will include:

  • Road Diet – A decrease in motor vehicle traffic lanes.
  • Bike Lanes – Dedicated lanes for cyclists to utilize for travel.
  • Streetscape – Improved pavement and landscaping along the corridor.
  • Back-In Angle Parking – A new parking concept that is safer for all and easy to use.
  • Pocket Parks – Miniature public parks at the intersections of Nine Mile Road and Sherman Street and Seneca Street.

The process for the Nine Mile Redesign began in 2015 with a grant from the Project For Public Spaces and the Center For New Urbanism. After a week-long study analyzing traffic patterns and collaborative charrettes with the public over three days to gain community input, a report was created called the Nine Mile Redesign. The public input and professional consulting helped the City determine that there was a need and desire for the features listed above. Throughout the entire process, there have been a number of opportunities for the public to get involved in the planning and implementation of the Nine Mile Redesign. Such public outreach activities include:

  • Three community input meetings specifically on the Nine Mile Redesign (Summer 2015)
  • Three town halls regarding the City’s Master Plan (November 2015 – February 2016)
  • Door-to-door conversations with residents (March 2017)
  • Three community input meetings for the Sherman Pop-Up Park (Spring 2017)
  • A post-Sherman Summer Pop-Up Park Survey (August 2017)
  • Complete Streets Open House (May 2018)
  • Pre-Construction Open House (May 2019)
  • Social Media
  • City website and magazine

WHAT IS A ROAD DIET & WHY DO WE NEED IT?

As more communities desire “complete streets” and more livable spaces, they look for opportunities to better integrate pedestrian and bicycle facilities along their corridors. After getting input from the community, the City conducted a traffic study to determine the feasibility of such facilities. We learned from the traffic study that the volume of traffic on Nine Mile Road does not justify a five-lane road and eliminating some of the lanes would not decrease the level of service. The road diet on Nine Mile will reduce the amount of motor vehicle lanes from five or four (depending on the specific area) down to three.

A road diet will not only create more room for cyclists and pedestrians, it also will create a safer road for everyone to travel on. Did you know that a road diet can decrease car accidents anywhere from 19 to 47 percent?

Further, the road diet will help boost local economic activity. For local businesses, a road diet can improve economic vitality by changing the corridor from a place that people “drive-through” to one that they “driveto.” Replacing automobile lanes with on-street parking, walking areas, and bicycle lanes will make the corridor a more attractive place for consumers.

WHAT IS BACK-IN ANGLE PARKING, AND WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF IT?

With the implementation of the road diet, more room for commercial parking will become available along Nine Mile Road. Instead of putting in old-fashioned parallel parking, the City has decided to implement back-in angle parking.

Back-in angle parking uses the same process and motions as parallel parking but is much safer and allows for the creation of more parking spaces.

With a clearer line of sight and easier maneuverability than typical on-street parking, back-in angle parking provides motorists with a better vision of bicyclists, pedestrians, cars, and trucks as they exit their parking space and enter moving traffic. Back-in angle parking also eliminates the risk that is present in parallel parking situations of a motorist opening their car door into the path of a bicyclist. It allows safer access to trunk space and makes it easier for passengers to enter and exit the vehicle safely.

WHY DO WE NEED BIKE LANES?

Bike lanes are a very important part of the Nine Mile Redesign as the City works towards accommodating all types of travel. Having a designated safe area for cyclists to travel via bike lanes causes significantly less accidents and injuries for everyone on the road. Creating an environment that cyclists feel safe in will also promote physical fitness and environmental sustainability. Further, experts say that the addition of bike lanes can help stimulate the local economy by increasing sales for local businesses.

WHAT ARE POCKET PARKS, AND WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THEM?

Pocket parks are a great way to spruce up an area immediately adjacent to local businesses that otherwise would be underutilized. The two pocket parks that are considered a part of the Nine Mile Redesign plan are positioned at Sherman Street and Seneca Street.

An example of a pocket park is the temporary Sherman Pop-Up Park that the City installed in July of 2017. This new park involved closing off the street at the intersection of Sherman Street and Nine Mile Road to the alley.

The project was driven by the wants of nearby residents and businesses, which ended up benefiting the community more than anyone had imagined. It created a new vibrancy in the neighborhood, gave residents a new place for leisure, and spurred business activity. In tracking visitors to the pop-up park, the City was able to track an average of 900 people per week that visited the park and logged into the free Wi-Fi that was provided for them.

When all is said and done, the Nine Mile Redesign and all the fun amenities to come with it will transform the Corridor!

By Ingrid Sjostrand

OAK PARK IS ON THE RISE! Property values are skyrocketing in the city and throughout Oakland County; with Oak Park seeing an almost 16 percent increase in property values for 2019, according to the County’s Equalization Division.

Why such a big bump? Robert Wittenberg, State Representative for Oak Park – who also happens to be an Oak Park resident – says it’s an accumulation of several components that make the city an attractive place to live.

“There are three essential factors contributing to rising property values: the quality of our local schools, new employment opportunities, and our proximity to shopping, entertainment and recreational centers in other communities and being developed in Oak Park,” he says. “Oak Park is showing the rest of the state how to drive the economy forward by focusing on these critical factors.”

Area realtors Jim Shaffer, of Jim Shaffer and Associates Realty, and Kevin DeVergilio, of REAL Team Real Estate, offer more insight into why Oak Park is inspiring a housing boom, including the increasing appeal of surrounding communities.

“SUPPLY AND DEMAND – A SWELL OF FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS are choosing the Woodward Corridor because of our centralized downtown neighborhoods,” Shaffer says. “As communities like Ferndale and Royal Oak have become costprohibitive, buyers are discovering communities like Oak Park and Hazel Park.”

DeVergilio adds, “Oak Park is an appealing place to buyers for many reasons. A few features that stand out are the central location within the Metro area as well as the continued efforts from our City with improvements and a ton of first-time buyers being priced out of surrounding areas finding beautiful comparable homes in a great community, and simply, the thriving city of Detroit with more job opportunities and relocation allowing population to rise and desirability of the location to increase.”

For residents looking to sell, Shaffer says now is the perfect time.

“Sellers can expect to sell for top-dollar, often at and above asking price due to multiple offers and bidding wars,” he explains. “Most of our Oak Park listings are garnering multiple offers due to demand and our approach to marketing properties.”

This might make buyers nervous, but Shaffer says it’s a great time for them too. With the City’s low taxes, housing rates are still cheaper than nearby popular neighborhoods.

“First time buyers can purchase a three-bedroom here for under $175,000 which cannot be found in surrounding communities,” he says. “And Oak Park leaders have a clear vision for the city’s future, a welcoming community with diverse housing stock.”

“For buyers – they are purchasing in one of the fastest-growing markets where they see a great community and investment!” DeVergilio adds.

THE PROPERTY VALUE INCREASE IS ALSO AFFECTING RESIDENTS not interested in buying or selling by creating a strong community and bringing in more money for the City to continue to improve.

“In my tenure representing Oak Park, I have seen tremendous growth in the city. Even before my time in the House, I could already see the blossoming revitalization of Oak Park when I moved in to the community in 2012. These changes have made a positive impact on Oak Park residents and our city’s economy,” Rep. Wittenberg says. “The thriving economy has allowed the city to provide better services to its residents, leading to an overall increase in quality of life.”

While the increase sounds too good to be true, Wittenberg is aware of the potential adverse side effects of increased property values and is hoping he can help prevent them.

“One of the negative effects might be a lack of diversity in housing options. As property values rise, low-income families and seniors in particular might have trouble finding options that fit their needs,” he says. “That’s why I’m fighting to ensure fair housing laws govern our city and state, so that no Oak Park resident is priced out of their home.”

OVERALL, THE POPULARITY OF OAK PARK HOUSING should only help improve the city and add to the uniqueness and diversity of its culture.

“I love how diverse Oak Park is. As one of the most diverse cities in Oakland County and our state, Oak Park is home to countless cultures, community organizations, and cuisines that all coexist and uplift one another,” Wittenberg says. “”I am lucky to enjoy the good food, great friends, and familial atmosphere of Oak Park, and to represent this great city in the legislature.”

By Kimberly Marrone, Director

THE CITIES OF OAK PARK, HUNTINGTON WOODS, AND BERKLEY RECENTLY EMBARKED on a joint planning effort to study improvements to the Eleven Mile Road and Coolidge Highway corridors. The main objectives were to study three elements that may be implemented uniformly through the corridors toward creating a cohesive flow between the three communities: Green Infrastructure, Lane Modifications, and Non-Motorized access and connectivity.

The communities applied to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) multi- community planning grant in 2018 and were thrilled to receive funding to conduct this study. The communities hired Spalding DeDecker in the Fall of 2018 through a request-for-proposal process and currently are finalizing the final report.

The project began with a traffic analysis, completed by the Transportation Improvement Association (TIA) and then analyzed by Spalding DeDecker. An important aspect of all projects in a community is gathering public comment to ascertain opinions and priorities of residents and business owners. Public- engagement workshops were held within each municipality to obtain input on these potential improvements. At these meetings several concepts were presented. The majority of participants were in favor of many of the design ideas presented in the workshop and the interactive map helped to determine the need for improved crosswalks between communities. Below is a brief list of the findings:

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

Any opportunity to redirect or slow storm water from entering the sewer system helps alleviate the surge or peak flow which causes the pipe network to flood. Green infrastructure initiatives involve slowing down or redirecting water infiltration and these concepts were well-received by attendees at the workshops.

LANE MODIFICATIONS

This evaluation considered different operation or uses of the existing roadway pavement, such as narrowing lanes, eliminating lanes (road diet), adding or removing on-street parking lanes, reduc- ing the pavement footprint (long term), or using paved areas for other purposes, such as bike lanes or gathering spaces. With the exception of Coolidge Highway between Nine Mile Road to Ten Mile Road (I-696), a road diet is feasible in both corridors.

A road diet reduces the number of through lanes to allow other uses within the public right of way which may offer numerous benefits including:

  • Traffic calming, reducing vehicle weaving.
  • Reducing number of lanes a pedestrian has to cross.
  • Adding a center left-turn lane (CLTL) to reduce head-on crashes and rear-end crashes.
  • Adding bicycle lanes to provide a dedicated space for users and increase motorists’ awareness.
  • Improved emergency response services.

NON-MOTORIZED ACCESS AND CONNECTIVITY 

Each community has its own unique planning document that addresses pedestrian or bike routes. This multi-community planning effort sought to improve connectivity between the communities. During the public engagement workshops, participants were asked to map specifically where they cross each corridor, and whether they cross on foot or on bike. With an understanding of those preferred crossing locations, enhancements are recommended where they can serve the most users.

The most popular locations to cross Eleven Mile Road include:

  • Tyler Street/Buckingham Avenue
  • Coolidge Highway
  • Mortenson Boulevard/Scotia Avenue
  • Stanford Road/Meadowcrest Boulevard

The most popular locations to cross Coolidge Highway include:

  • Oak Park Boulevard
  • Eleven Mile Road
  • Catalpa Drive
  • Lincoln Street/Drive
  • Harvard Road
  • Twelve Mile Road

Spalding DeDecker has presented recommenda- tions for each different road segment after carefully analyzing all the data and public input. Each community will continue to analyze these corridors and identify potential funding sources to adopt some or all of these recommendations. The final study will be made available on each community’s website.

 

By Colton Dale

THIS SPRING, THE CITY OF OAK PARK ANNOUNCED that it is moving forward with a concept to maintain and beautify the fencing on the overpass bridge on Coolidge Highway over I-696. The bridge fencing currently is old, mundane, and slightly dilapidated, like most overpass bridges in Michigan. This provides a less-than-stellar image on behalf of Oak Park to the thousands of motorists passing under this bridge every day.

Soon, though, that fencing will become the latest public infrastructure improvement in the City, helping Oak Park with branding, beautification, and its image. When completed, this overpass bridge will be similar to the one in Auburn Hills on University Drive over I-75, if you can picture it.

The project previously faced a funding hurdle, as construction costs continue to rise at a record pace due to labor shortages and federal steel tariffs. These issues caused City officials to take a second look at the plans. They were starting to wonder if it would be worth it to move forward with this project at all. Luckily, though, at the City Council Meeting on March 18, the project overcame its obstacles as City Council voted to fully fund the project and award a bid for construction to Z Contractors Inc. of Shelby Township.

THE ORIGINS OF THIS PROJECT BEGAN in September 2017 and stemmed from a necessity to fix parts of the bridge’s fencing that had become broken and potentially dangerous. It then grew into a desire by City officials to take this opportunity as one to brand and beautify the City via the improvement of public infrastructure. Throughout the unfolding of this concept, it became lumped in with other public infrastructure improvement projects the City has undertaken lately, such as the repainting of the water tower on Eleven Mile Road and the Nine Mile Redesign. The City prides itself on its proactive efforts to improve and modernize the infrastructure we see and use every day.

“Branding is important for our community in terms of attracting new residents and businesses. Taking advantage of this opportunity to create a distinct impression by marketing ourselves to the thousands of motorists who use I-696 every day to commute through Oak Park is a good business move,” said City Manager Erik Tungate. “Cities that take on these kinds of quality of life improvements are cities that are typically thriving. It is no longer enough to rest on our laurels. We have to seize every chance we can to establish ourselves as a unique place to live and work.”

The project will cost approximately $628,000, with the vast majority being funded by the City’s Major Streets Fund. The project is broken down into two phases. The first phase is the fabrication of the metal design, which is expected to take about two months. Shortly thereafter, the second phase will begin, which is the construction phase to affix the fabricated metal design onto the overpass bridge, expected to begin mid-summer.

MOTORISTS CAN EXPECT MINOR LANE CLOSURES DURING THE WORK to affix the metal fabrication to the bridge, potentially on both Coolidge Highway and I-696. All lane closures will be communicated out by the City.

“Now, when travelers pass under Coolidge on I-696, what they see is barren-looking cyclone fencing. Soon this entryway to the City of Oak Park will look inviting with an attractive new fencing design and lights,” said Mayor Marian McClellan.

“Just as realtors stress the importance of curb appeal when selling a house because of the importance of a good first impression, the City will be making a great first impression on passers-by, visitors, and potential residents.”

If all goes as planned, the project is anticipated to wrap up in the Fall.

Note: Due to some confusion, it is important to note that this is an entirely separate overpass bridge than the one with Victoria Park on it that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be replacing in 2024 due to leaks. ■

By Ingrid Sjostrand

DRUG AND ALCOHOL AWARENESS AND PREVENTION IS ONE of the most important conversations parents can have with their children – it’s also essential to building safe, strong communities. The cities of Oak Park, Huntington Woods and Berkley see the importance of this and have been working together for the past 22 years with the goal of spreading substance abuse prevention in youth.

In 1997, Ohio Senator Rob Portman and former Michigan Representative Sandy Levin developed the idea of coalitions to address substance abuse. Former Berkley Schools Superintendent Dr. Tresa Zumsteg created a 33-member panel to create the local initiative that today is the Tri-Community Coalition (TCC).

“All these people coming together having the similar desire to keep drugs and alcohol out of the hands of our youth, illegal drugs out of the community and alcohol to be properly and responsibly used by adults,” Executive Director Judy Rubin says, “That was the initial idea and they challenged the communities to come together and bring their sectors together.”

A 501C3 CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION, TCC is led by President Diane Duncan, an executive board and Rubin. They focus their efforts on three specific pillars: Youth, parents and the community at large. The youth program, Young Optimistic and United (Y.O.U.), has groups in both Berkley and Oak Park high schools that meet weekly with student members to build education around healthy choices. Parent Now! is an adult-focused group that regularly hosts speakers and information sessions about current trends and topics parents should be aware of.

“We’ve had Parent Now! events on topics ranging from social media and sexting, to depression and suicide. We’ll have a Drugs 101 seminar in September that will focus on vaping,” Rubin says. “We keep the community abreast of trends and vaping is definitely a trend.”

Several community-focused events are also produced throughout the year, including a Health and Wellness Fair in May in collaboration with each city’s recreation center and a fundraiser golf outing at Rackham Golf Course in Huntington Woods. The Tri-Communities Coalition Golf Classic held its 21st annual event on June 21, 2018, offering a 50/50 raffle, silent auction, breakfast and prizes to participants.

“We’ve made it a very fun event, we’re very lucky because we have great sponsors,” Rubin says. “We have a hole where you shoot a golf ball out of a cannon and it goes 300 yards and another where you aim to shoot the golf ball into a blow-up dinosaur’s mouth. It’s for serious golfers that like our mission, but it’s also really fun. We always like to incorporate entertaining elements into the event.”

Another major event for TCC is their Leadership Breakfast, held in November, that highlights a member of the community with a “Power of One” award and features a keynote speaker who has shown exceptional leadership. The 2018 event’s speaker was former Michigan U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade, and Robi Mitra was honored with the “Power of One” award.

IN 2007, TCC APPLIED FOR AND RECEIVED the “Drug Free Communities” federal grant providing them with funding to develop and implement substance abuse prevention programming in their communities. Recipients are limited to a total of ten years for this grant funding, so when the funding expired in 2017 the Tri-Community Coalition shifted their efforts to incorporate conversations outside substance abuse that might also benefit the community.

“It was great for the community, but all good things come to an end and you can’t reapply once you’ve been given those ten years,” Rubin says. “We decided to broaden our horizons and expand to include mental health and awareness for the community since that could help us get other federal funding dollars and widen our mission statement.

“We are now in our second year of post-DFC and post- grant funding and we’re still here!” She adds, “Still kicking and still trying to bring events, programs and education to the three cities of Berkley, Oak Park and Huntington Woods about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and keep them abreast of what’s trending.”

For more information about the Tri-Community Coalition, visit tricommunitycoalition.org.

By Jenn Goeddeke

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ROBER WITTENBERG has an outstanding passion for helping others and is an effective advocate and resource for approximately 95,000 people. In his words, “I like to be socially-conscious and fiscally-responsible at the same time.”

I recently met with Rep. Wittenberg at a local coffee shop to discuss his past and present political activities, along with his future plans. He is currently serving his third and final term as representative for Michigan’s 27th House District. This broad area includes Berkley, Oak Park, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak Township.

Wittenberg certainly has a high regard for Oak Park. His grandparents moved here in 1967 and stayed until 2008. Since then, the home remained in Wittenberg’s family up until 2017 when it was sold. Wittenberg also attended Oak Park Middle School and is good friends with both the Mayor and City Manager. He mentioned with pride his “active and engaged” neighborhood block club, which is totally structured and holds monthly meetings, plus it hosts an annual Summer BBQ. He describes it as a “wonderful community.” And, even though it is the largest city in the District, it is more like a small town in terms of its residents. “I would love to keep serving this community!” he added with a smile.

WITTENBERG GREW UP IN MICHIGAN’S 27TH DISTRICT and was drawn to politics from an early age. While attending Berkley High School, then later at Indiana University, Wittenberg was continuously involved in various student councils and associations. He also volunteered his time for the campaigns of Mayor McClellan (Oak Park), Mayor Coulter (Ferndale) and also several city council races. By the time he got to the point of going into politics as his full- time career, many of his friends and family were saying, “What took you so long?”

 The issues of greatest focus in his political agenda include environmental issues (clean water and reducing chemical and other pollutants), equal wages for all, greater gun control and higher educational standards and funding. A further motivation behind his efforts is what he calls: ‘Universal Fairness.’ As he explained, “I see that people often get treated differently based on how they look or who they love, and so on. That’s just so wrong!”

He added, “People might have an issue, for example with their utility company, but then they get lost in the shuffle of trying to solve the problem. Typically, we can make one call and take care of it for them. I wish individuals could always get their concerns taken care of right away, but it often doesn’t happen like that. So my job is to advocate and point them in the best direction.”

REGARDING HIS THIRD TERM, WITTENBERG IS ENTHUSIASTIC. “I am loving it! I have good experience and I know how the system works. I have come to know my colleagues pretty well. With Gretchen Whitmer as the new governor, there is a big improvement overall. The Republican representatives come to us Democrats now, and we have to work closer together.”

By all accounts, Wittenberg has been a popular state representative. What has been the secret to his success (aside from his obvious desire to serve the people)?

“As a Democrat from a progressive area, I try to find the common ground ‘across the aisle,” meaning with the more right-leaning members. Maybe in part due to this, I had more bills passed into law than any other Democrat in my class.” Additionally, Wittenberg is a very ‘approachable’ elected official, with a large part of his time spent out in the community. For example, he particularly enjoys reading to students, and so far this term he has read to over 1800 students from four different school districts. “I want to continue on that path!” he added.

HAVING SERVED SIX YEARS, WITTENBERG IS TERM-LIMITED and will no longer be able to serve in his current position after the upcoming 2020 election. Therefore, he is making the most of his time now, while considering future opportunities to serve in Oakland County. Wittenberg mentioned that the terms of office for State Representatives are the most restrictive in the country. Wittenberg pointed out, “This is such a relationship-building business.  You have to get to know your fellow legislators! I consider [term limits] a failed experiment.”

I asked Wittenberg about his future plans. He replied that some changeover will be taking place soon, with L. Brooks Patterson not running for another term as Oakland County Executive. This will inevitably cause a shuffle. Wittenberg says he will not be running for county executive, but he is interested in the county treasurer position. (County positions are four- year terms with no term limits).

 Conversations regarding those possible positions have already started whereas campaigning will begin towards the end of this year. Wittenberg explained that Andy Meisner has been County Treasurer but will most likely be running for the county executive position. Wittenberg admires Meisner and wants to follow in his footsteps, “This would be a big jump in my constituency, from about 95,000 people to around 1.3 million. But I want whatever position that will allow me to stay involved.”

Robert Wittenberg can be reached by mail: PO Box 33014, Lansing, MI. 48909; by phone: 517.373.0478, or by email: robertwittenberg@house.mi.gov. Check out his website: www.wittenberg.housedems.com.