2017-12-21 / Front Page

Pathway Gives Nod To Railroad History

Downtown Project Could Start With Small Steps
By Stephanie Fortino


New signs that mimic old railroad crossings, landscaping, seating, and light posts are among the improvements. The middle rendering illustrates how the backs of State Street buildings could be improved. In the middle, parking spaces are closer to the buildings, while the image to the right shows a larger gathering area. (Michigan State University Sustainable Built Environment Initiative and MSU Extension renderings) New signs that mimic old railroad crossings, landscaping, seating, and light posts are among the improvements. The middle rendering illustrates how the backs of State Street buildings could be improved. In the middle, parking spaces are closer to the buildings, while the image to the right shows a larger gathering area. (Michigan State University Sustainable Built Environment Initiative and MSU Extension renderings) The new vision for the old railroad grade in St. Ignace reimagines it as a multi-functional space, where the experience of downtown is extended to include areas by Little Bear East Arena and St. Anthony’s Rock. The design offers an overall vision, showing how the area could be used to improve downtown. Some can be done now, some later.

Central to the vision is placemaking, the concept of creating inviting public spaces that capitalize on a community’s assets. A strong, memorable sense of place encourages residents to enjoy their community and visitors to return. For St. Ignace, the goal is to highlight the city’s heritage to create a sense of place, drawing on the railroad history to inspire the design. Echoes of the railroad industry are used, including new signs that look like overhead railroad crossings and crosswalk markings that mimic rail tracks.


The back of Bentley’s B-M-L Diner is transformed in the new vision plan for the St. Ignace Recreation Pathway. The existing sign on the back of the restaurant is helpful to people in orienting themselves along the pathway, designers said, and more businesses should consider adding similar signs to the backs of their buildings. Reconfiguring the parking lots behind the restaurant allows for a quaint outdoor seating area, which helps extend the downtown experience to the pathway. A dumpster behind the restaurant has been relocated to improve aesthetics. New lampposts with signs mark the recreation pathway, creating a sense of place. The back of Bentley’s B-M-L Diner is transformed in the new vision plan for the St. Ignace Recreation Pathway. The existing sign on the back of the restaurant is helpful to people in orienting themselves along the pathway, designers said, and more businesses should consider adding similar signs to the backs of their buildings. Reconfiguring the parking lots behind the restaurant allows for a quaint outdoor seating area, which helps extend the downtown experience to the pathway. A dumpster behind the restaurant has been relocated to improve aesthetics. New lampposts with signs mark the recreation pathway, creating a sense of place. The recreation pathway extends from Little Bear East Arena on the north to the intersection of the railroad grade and North State Street near Bay Pharmacy on the south. Along the route, the designers considered how people on different modes of transportation will use the space, emphasizing walkability and ensuring the corridor is also functional for ORVs, ATVs, and snowmobiles year-around.


To tie the new St. Ignace Recreation Pathway to the downtown boardwalk, several design elements are mimicked in this rendering of North State Street. A wide crosswalk made of brick pavers and painted to look like railroad tracks illustrates the area is pedestrian-friendly, and a large overheard railroad crossing sign signifies visitors are entering Chief Wawatam Park. A bench, trash receptacle, and planter make the space more inviting and aesthetically pleasing. To tie the new St. Ignace Recreation Pathway to the downtown boardwalk, several design elements are mimicked in this rendering of North State Street. A wide crosswalk made of brick pavers and painted to look like railroad tracks illustrates the area is pedestrian-friendly, and a large overheard railroad crossing sign signifies visitors are entering Chief Wawatam Park. A bench, trash receptacle, and planter make the space more inviting and aesthetically pleasing. The design, using ideas and suggestions from people in St. Ignace, was completed by the Michigan State University’s School of Planning, Design and Construction’s Sustainable Built Environment Initiative and MSU Extension. The finished plans were presented at a meeting Monday, December 11, where Michigan State University faculty members Wayne Beyea and Warren Rauhe explained the design that took a team several months to complete. The PowerPoint presentation can be viewed at this link.


The intersection of Marquette Street and Underhill Street as it is now is shown at left, while the image at right illustrates how it could look according to the new vision plan for the St. Ignace Recreation Pathway. The pathway would celebrate the historic railroad industry in St. Ignace, as exemplified through the design and new overhead railroad crossing signs. The pathway would accommodate a mixed-use bicycle and pedestrian path, two lanes of automobile traffic, and a trail for off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. Crosswalks would feature bold patterns that mimic railroad tracks. The intersection of Marquette Street and Underhill Street as it is now is shown at left, while the image at right illustrates how it could look according to the new vision plan for the St. Ignace Recreation Pathway. The pathway would celebrate the historic railroad industry in St. Ignace, as exemplified through the design and new overhead railroad crossing signs. The pathway would accommodate a mixed-use bicycle and pedestrian path, two lanes of automobile traffic, and a trail for off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. Crosswalks would feature bold patterns that mimic railroad tracks. To implement the design, Mr. Beyea suggested the city adopt a complete street ordinance that would help improve safety along the pathway for motorists, recreationists, pedestrians, and bicyclists and establish design standards.


Options for the recreation pathway at the intersection of Goudreau Street and Underhill Street are shown. Lines are painted on fresh pavement, illustrating the flow of vehicle traffic, and a new seating area on the corner provides a place for people to gather along the trail. The mixed-use bicycle and pedestrian path could run along side the vehicle traffic (center) or could dip below (right) to a separate, tree-lined path. Options for the recreation pathway at the intersection of Goudreau Street and Underhill Street are shown. Lines are painted on fresh pavement, illustrating the flow of vehicle traffic, and a new seating area on the corner provides a place for people to gather along the trail. The mixed-use bicycle and pedestrian path could run along side the vehicle traffic (center) or could dip below (right) to a separate, tree-lined path. The entire pathway would be paved, and big, bold street markings would indicate how the pathway is intended to be used. Light posts with banners designating the recreation pathway would further distinguish the new corridor and allow it to be used at night, as well.


This rendering illustrates how a mixed-use bicycle/pedestrian path, outdoor museum exhibit, and landscaping could transform the lower level parking lot near St. Anthony’s Rock. Vehicle traffic in this area would be limited to northbound traffic, while southbound traffic would flow in the upper level parking area on the hill above. (Michigan State University Sustainable Built Environment Initiative and MSU Extension renderings) This rendering illustrates how a mixed-use bicycle/pedestrian path, outdoor museum exhibit, and landscaping could transform the lower level parking lot near St. Anthony’s Rock. Vehicle traffic in this area would be limited to northbound traffic, while southbound traffic would flow in the upper level parking area on the hill above. (Michigan State University Sustainable Built Environment Initiative and MSU Extension renderings) The December 11 meeting was the third public session to discuss the project. Following the second one in September, the team used public suggestions to modify the design. Through that meeting, six key elements were identified to guide the design: 1) accommodating motorized and non-motorized traffic; 2) telling St. Ignace’s history; 3) beautification; 4) creating a sense of place and reason to be on the recreation pathway; 5) incorporating business opportunities; 6) connecting to the downtown and waterfront.


Making improvements to the old railroad grade in St. Ignace can be done in small increments, according to the designers from Michigan State University. These images of Underhill Street that leads to City Hall (in the distance) shows how the area can be improved using mostly painted lines on the asphalt to allow for mixed uses. In the final plan vision for the recreation pathway, a gravel trail for off road vehicles and snowmobiles was added in place of street-side parking spots. Making improvements to the old railroad grade in St. Ignace can be done in small increments, according to the designers from Michigan State University. These images of Underhill Street that leads to City Hall (in the distance) shows how the area can be improved using mostly painted lines on the asphalt to allow for mixed uses. In the final plan vision for the recreation pathway, a gravel trail for off road vehicles and snowmobiles was added in place of street-side parking spots. With those elements in mind, the design team got to work imagining how the space could be redeveloped to create a vibrant and memorable attraction to St. Ignace. Incorporating museum installations, pocket parks, outdoor eating and shopping areas, and parking, the corridor could become an active feature of downtown St. Ignace. Following the second meeting, the designers modified some of the plans to replace some street side parking with a designated gravel ORV trail, and landscaping was simplified to incorporate native plants and grasses to minimize maintenance.

What the Recreation Pathway Would Look Like

The recreation pathway entrance on Marquette Street near Little Bear East Arena would be marked by a large overhead railroad crossing sign. The road is divided into a mixed use pedestrian and bicycle path, two lanes of automobile traffic, and a designated gravel trail for ORVS, ATVs, and snowmobiles. The existing nearby parking lot could eventually be transformed into a railroad car museum and other attractions.

Continuing south to the intersection of the railroad grade and Goudreau Street, the multi-use bicycle and pedestrian path could either continue alongside the car traffic or could be separated onto a lower level wooded path.

The corner of Central Hill and the railroad grade was reimagined with wide brick paverlined crosswalks that could feature railroad track-like painting.

Along the backs of the downtown buildings, landscaping, pavers, seating areas, and new signs create places for people to gather and enjoy the space. After concerns were raised at the second meeting, the design team amended the plans to have parking spaces closer to the backs of the buildings by shifting the bicycle/pedestrian path west, away from downtown and closer to the hill.

The researchers also propose separating lanes of traffic near St. Anthony’s Rock, having the northbound lane of traffic follow along the lower portion of the railroad grade by the businesses, and the southbound lane of traffic continue on the existing upper-level parking area.

The lanes then converge behind the Colonial House and Bentley’s BM L Diner. The recreation pathway continues beyond to the intersections with Truckey and Spring streets, and connects with State Street near The Gangplank and Bay Pharmacy.

The design team included a rendering of the Quonset hut at the intersection of the railroad grade and Spring Street renovated into a new year-around restaurant.

An important aspect of placemaking is ensuring people know where they are, Mr. Beyea said, which can be easily achieved by improving signage. Along the railroad grade currently, there are very few signs on the backs of downtown businesses, which makes it difficult for people to orient themselves and get to where they’re going. Wayfinding, or how people navigate in a space, is important to consider when designing public spaces, he said, and having adequate signage can improve the experience of both residents and visitors using the space. St. Ignace can also use signs to create a cohesive look that links the downtown experience and the pathway.

Ensuring that the recreation pathway is connected to downtown and the boardwalk was an important consideration for the designers. To link the pathway with the boardwalk, they propose installing a new crosswalk on North State Street with brick pavers and painted railroad track pattern, at the Huron Boardwalk entrance next to the Mackinac Grille. Another overhead railroad crossing sign would designate Chief Wawatam Park, and new benches provide spots for people to enjoy downtown.

Starting With Small Steps Is the Way To Go

While implementing the new vision in its entirety would be a complex and expensive undertaking, projects like this should be taken in small, less-expensive steps, Mr. Rauhe told The St. Ignace News after the meeting. The Sustainable Built Environment Initiative has been working with communities since 2001 to design better public spaces, and the first steps to making these improvements is to capitalize on the inspiration a vision presentation instills in the community.

“The purpose is to create the vision that a community looks at and says, ‘Yeah, that could be us,’” Mr. Rauhe told The St. Ignace News.

Projects can start very small. For example, in the first community where they presented a vision, a man took up a collection to have everyone donate $1 to fix a broken window downtown. The community members couldn’t remember how long the window had been broken, but by the next day, it was fixed, and the downtown was already on its way to looking better.

He also noted that communities can start implementing design visions by relying on local volunteers. For example, Mr. Rauhe said, garden clubs and Master Gardeners might take on the landscaping projects for their community service requirements.

“Yeah, this is expensive,” he said, “but some of this you can do tomorrow for not a lot of dollars.”

Implementing the recreation pathway plan could start simply by encouraging downtown business owners to spruce up the backs of their buildings and do some routine maintenance to make the area look more pleasing. Grants could fund larger aspects of the design, such as burying overhead utility lines, Mr. Beyea said.

One of the biggest advantages of the St. Ignace recreation pathway is that the city owns most of it. Municipalities rarely own such a contiguous pathway, he noted, which will help as the redevelopment project gets underway. Now that the vision has been completed, a survey should be done to determine exactly what property the city owns.

“That is incredibly impressive,” Mr. Rahue said of the amount of cityowned property.

Now that the vision for the pathway is finished, the plan will be incorporated into the city’s master plan, which is currently under review by the St. Ignace Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission can consider amending the zoning ordinance to encourage the type of development showcased in the recreation pathway plan, such as requiring landscape provisions that emphasize the use of native species, which would also dampen sound and provide privacy. Rain gardens and bioswales, landscape elements designed to handle surface runoff water, should also be included along the pathway, which could be incorporated into the Master Plan. While zoning ordinance amendments only apply to new construction and building projects, the Planning Commission could encourage property owners to spruce up their spaces and mini grant funding opportunities could help offset costs. The city could encourage property owners to preserve historic structures along the pathway by applying for the federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive program.

Another way to improve the aesthetics of the recreation pathway would be to minimize the number of dumpsters located at the backs of the buildings, although it would require more discussion and input from downtown property owners. The Planning Commission could implement design principals to screen the trash containers.

To help offset other costs, Mr. Beyea suggested the city could also look to the Safe Routes to School Program, which offers grant programs for communities to improve sidewalks, crosswalks, and other infrastructure needs. Other funding sources from the Michigan State Housing Development Association could also be used to provide upgrades.

Overall, one of the most important next steps is to continue community conversations.

“It’s such an opportunity here,” Mr. Beyea told The St. Ignace News. “This back area really can create a new face of St. Ignace. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Redeveloping the old railroad grade would create a huge community asset attractive to a wide variety of people.

“All different age groups are looking for a mix of uses and experiences,” he said. “Employers know that to retain employees, they’re looking for these things like art and culture. They need to have an enjoyable experience for all four seasons.”

In St. Ignace, said Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart, the recreation pathway redevelopment ideas will continue to be considered by groups like the planning commission, city council, and Downtown Development Authority.

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