City planning to remove islands on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.


Some westside Lansing residents are concerned about a city proposal to remove the tree-covered islands on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Ionia and Lenawee streets.

“It’s nice to have that area as a respite, and more pleasant to be around trees when you’re crossing the street instead of five lanes of nonstop traffic, which can be very intimidating, especially for young people who take that route to get to school every day,” said Heidi Clancy, a 20-year westside resident.

The plan is part of the final leg of a $3.3 million, state-funded project that included the 2022 two-way conversions of Pine and Walnut streets and Capitol and Grand avenues. Beginning this spring, the city plans to do the same for Ottawa and Allegan streets

Part of those efforts call for the removal of the islands to condense the roadway from six lanes to five, which the city says is necessary to accommodate changes on Ottawa and Allegan, which run perpendicular to MLK, and to “optimize traffic flow.”

The city’s website said it is just waiting on approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation to implement the changes.

 Lamenting the loss of the trees, Clancy hopes the city will reconsider that aspect of the plan.

“When it comes to the benefits trees provide a community, a lot of people think of carbon dioxide sequestering, capturing stormwater and other positive impacts,” she said.

 “But another piece of that is a social element. There’s some strong research that’s building around the benefits of trees to the health of a society, including decreased gun violence, which is particularly important in Lansing.”

Sheila Contreras, a westside resident since 1999, agrees.

“The protection of green space is a priority for me because we’ve been seeing it disappear for years,” she said. “It’s linked to larger issues of a community’s mental environmental health, and also public safety.”

“It’s also just kind of violent to see trees uprooted and everything getting trashed. It can be traumatic,” she added.

While the city does plan on planting a new tree for each one that’s removed after the project is completed, both Clancy and Contreras said many more are needed across Lansing in general. They see the project, in its current form, as a step backward for the city’s green movement.

“Over the last two years, we’ve been able to have some really good dialogue with the city about tree protection,” Clancy said. “Until now, we thought we were on the same page about the value of trees to our communities.”

Both of them plan to bring those concerns directly to city officials during an informational open house at the Letts Community Center 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 29. While they cited the proposed tree removal as a driving factor, they also question a perceived lack of transparency from the city, and whether the project will make the area safer for pedestrians and other non-motorized forms of transportation.

In particular, they wonder why the city hadn’t conducted any traffic or environmental impact studies before sending out a request for bids from developers on Feb. 5.

In an interview this week, Lansing public service Director Andy Kilpatrick acknowledged that the city could have been more forthcoming with residents on plans for the project, which began taking shape just before the pandemic hit in 2020.

“There was a little bit of a gap between COVID and us getting more finalized designs where we should have provided a status update,” he said, adding that he hopes the Feb. 29 meeting “will give us that opportunity to hear from residents about things that we can tweak to improve the plan.”

Kilpatrick noted that many of the trees on the islands would have to be removed regardless, due to a corresponding combined sewer overflow project that’s set to begin around the same time that work on MLK is expected to start.

“They’ll need to take trees out when they replace the water main in that current median section. I don’t know how many they would remove if we didn’t have to do that, but I can say that the trees will be replaced at a 1-to-1 ratio,” he said.

Additionally, Kilpatrick said the city may need to wait until other projects along the roadway are finished to finish planting those replacement trees.

“In the long term, there will be more trees planted linearly along that east side to replace the ones we had to remove,” Kilpatrick added. “But there’s also still some sewer separation work that needs to be done on the west side of the road in the future, so it just doesn’t make sense to put in a tree now and then have to dig it out later to do sewer work.”



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us