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Press Release


Matt Bach
Director of Media Relations
Michigan Municipal League
(734) 669-6317; C: (810) 874-1073;


Dowagiac Honored with First Better Streets, Better Michigan Award

Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Department of Transportation Recognize Cass County Community for Creative Gateway Project

LANSING, Michigan — The small Cass County community of Dowagiac received a statewide award Wednesday for its creative downtown gateway project that involved multiple components that make the city a more welcoming and pedestrian-friendly community.

The Better Streets, Better Michigan Award was given to Dowagiac officials Wednesday, March 22, during the Michigan Municipal League's annual Capital Conference at the Lansing Center in Lansing. More than 400 municipal officials from throughout the state were in attendance to view Dowagiac officials receive the award. This was the first year for the award, which is a joint recognition by the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

"At MDOT, our goal is to aid personal mobility whether you walk, ride a bike, take a bus or train or drive a vehicle," said MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. "We are pleased to work with communities across Michigan pursuing creative ways to improve the quality of life of their citizens. This Better Streets, Better Michigan Award, established in partnership with the Michigan Municipal League, puts a nice spotlight on those collaborative efforts."

The Michigan Municipal League represents more than 500 Michigan cities, villages and urban townships and League officials were excited about the chance to partner with MDOT in this new recognition, said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin.

"The League believes in the concept of placemaking and helping communities create places and spaces that people love," Gilmartin said. "This Better Streets, Better Michigan Award is an excellent way to celebrate and honor those communities who are embracing placemaking."

The award recognizes a Michigan city or village that has undertaken a creative road project to improve the function and aesthetics of a busy street for a variety of transportation uses, including driving, bicycling and walking.

The southwest Michigan city, population 5,879, won the competitive award for the gateway it created in its downtown. The project and site redesign of Commercial Street in downtown Dowagiac included improved sidewalks, a decorative retaining wall, and native landscaping to welcome pedestrians and drivers to Dowagiac. The project also aimed to reduce traffic speeds and will become a major anchor to a public art installation, said Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons.

"We are extremely honored to receive this award," Lyons said. "Our project was a major undertaking that successfully set out to accomplish multiple goals, including slowing traffic in our downtown and making it more pedestrian-friendly. City leaders and our residents are very proud of the results and to get a statewide award for this work is very exciting for our small community."

Judges of the contest included officials from the League and MDOT. The judges were impressed with Dowagiac's creative approach to a common problem: Mitigating speed violations and improving pedestrian safety by merely reducing speed limits. However, just lowering speed limits often doesn't work because the environment that vehicles are passing through provide cues that encourage faster speeds, such as wide roads with little markings, small sidewalks with little pedestrian activity and little to no landscape or lighting. Before construction the Dowagiac site had all these problematic cues that encouraged drivers to violate the posted speed limit of 25 mph.

The project on Commercial Street reduced the design speed by widening sidewalks, changing street paving materials with asphalt, brick, and concrete, incorporating on-street parking, providing streetscape elements such as landscaping and lighting, and creating new pedestrian resources like benches, parks, and artwork.
"It was important to make the area appealing to walkers to have positive pedestrian experiences and safe vehicular interactions," Lyons said. "We decided if a walk is pleasant then people will be encouraged to engage in the space in a more meaningful way."

MDOT and the League are now planning to offer the award again next year and make it an annual honor. Future applicant projects should be aimed at improving the function and aesthetics of a busy street for a variety of transportation modes – cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Examples include road diets, complete streets projects, and similar investments within existing rights of way. The street must be one of the community's main roadways that was primarily auto-centric at the start of the project. Projects accomplished through a team effort between a city or village and MDOT or a local or regional transportation agency are eligible to receive this award.

For photos of Dowagiac receiving the award go to this Michigan Municipal League "Award Recipients" album on flickr: Photos can be downloaded from the League's flickr page for free. We just ask that the following photo credit be given: Flickr Photo Michigan Municipal League/

For additional information contact the League’s Matt Bach, director of media relations, at (734) 669-6317 (office) and

Michigan Municipal League is dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities. The League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. Learn more at




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