There are more than 107,000 intersections in the state of Michigan, according to MDOT. But not all of them are created equal.
Many are fine, but a few are downright deadly. Local 4 drove all over looking at these intersections and found commonalities at most; they were busy and could be a little confusing, but it isn’t the whole story.
According to one of the nation’s top traffic experts, design could be a major factor when it comes to making these intersections Michigan’s deadly dozen.
At the top of the list, created by the law firm Michigan Auto Law using 2021 data, 18 1/2 Mile Road and Van Dyke in Sterling Heights. It has been one of the most dangerous for years. Coming in second -- 11 Mile Road/I-696 at Van Dyke Avenue in Warren, just steps from Vapors Outlet.
“I don’t what they could do but they should definitely do something,” the cashier said.
The intersection is so busy, it’s frequently patrolled by police. It’s also an on-off for I-696, where drivers have to make quick lane changes, often at high speeds. All of that is leading to crashes.
A closer look at the problem
Local 4 took this intersection to one of the nation’s top traffic experts, Chuck Morahn, to find out why dangerous intersections like it are so common.
“The problem is an underlying theory of building a place that is wrong,” Morahn said.
Morahn worked for decades as a civil engineer and urban planner before founding the group Strong Towns, a group that pushes against conventional road designs. It’s those designs, he said, that makes driving inherently more dangerous.
Many around Metro Detroit are perfect examples of what he thinks is a bad design that he calls “stroads,” a combination of streets and roads. Streets, he said, were originally designed to be places where homes or businesses would be with walkable areas and low speed traffic. Roads on the other hand were originally designed solely for getting drivers from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Stroads blend the two high speed traffic, upwards of 45 miles an hour, meets the entrances to businesses; and they are everywhere.
“All of that pulling in and out, randomly stopping and turning, finding yourself in the center lane and needing to get into the right lane. All of that creates sources of conflict,” Morahn said. “When you create conflict in a traffic stream, it only works at really low speeds.”
But that just wasn’t possible at every single intersection on the list. Speed and complexity were the biggest issues. The more complex an intersection is, the slower drivers should be going but nearly all of these intersections actually encouraged people to drive faster, according to Morahn, who pointed to long, straight stretches of road with few signs and a lot of lanes.
“The typical driver, the driver who considers themselves law abiding, considers themselves working within what would be socially acceptable, that person is driving fast,” he said giving a virtual tour of the intersection in Warren. “They’re driving five miles, 10 miles, 15 miles over the speed limit, and the speed limit itself is set at a very excessive speed here.”
But when it comes to placing blame, it’s a difficult task. Almost all the intersection on the list were jurisdictional nightmares. For example, one in Lathrop Village at 11 Mile and Southfield Road. Southfield Road is controlled by Oakland County, while 11 Mile is controlled by the village, except for the on and off ramps, which are under state control.
It makes for a tangled web of roadways and a guessing game of who’s responsible when something goes wrong, or when a design may need to be changed.
Morahn, however, thinks that playing the blame game isn’t the right approach. He said a full mindset reset is what’s needed and that the Motor city may be just the place to do it.
“I think the exciting thing about Detroit today is that there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of great work,” he said. “I think if Detroit can get things going in the right path, they’re going to be an avatar of success again for everybody.”
Here’s the list: The most dangerous Michigan intersections
- 18 1/2 Mile Road at Van Dyke Avenue, Sterling Heights
- 11 Mile Road/I-696 at Van Dyke Avenue, Warren
- US-131 at Wealthy Street, Grand Rapids
- Martin Parkway at Pontiac Trail, Commerce Township
- Schoolcraft at Telegraph Road, Redford Township
- Burton Street at US-131, Grand Rapids
- Orchard Lake Road at 14 Mile Road, Farmington Hills
- 12 Mile Road at I-94, Roseville
- Telegraph Road at 12 Mile Road, Southfield
- Conner Street at I-94, Detroit
- Southfield Road at 11 Mile Road, Lathrup Village
- 10 Mile Road at I-94, St. Clair Shores