Broadway project sparks questions
Questions are lingering over the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s plans to reconstruct Alexandria’s Broadway next summer.
Judy Meyer, owner of Ben Franklin, shared her views about the project at the Alexandria City Council meeting last Tuesday. She said she wanted to make the council aware that she and other downtown businesses owners are worried about the project’s design and how the construction will impact their customers.
Meyer noted that the project will take a big bite into six months of income just as business was finally coming out of the recession. She said local businesses are bracing to lose 40 to 60 percent of their business.
Meyer also raised many questions about the design and impact of the project, including: Is it necessary to widen the sidewalk on the west side of Broadway for people to walk their bicycles? Who will be responsible for maintaining and watering the grass, trees and planters in the sidewalk? Who will clean up the trash? How will the city address loitering on the benches? Will any of the old pavers and street lights be recycled? Can the city provide more parking for stores during construction? Will the narrowed street make it more dangerous for motorists parking along the street to get out of their vehicles?
Council members thanked Meyer for coming forward.
Todd Jensen said that Meyer isn’t alone in her concerns and that worried him. He said that although the Broadway project is “absolutely necessary” to replace aging water and sewer lines he was concerned that “beautification was trumping accessibility and functionality.”
Mayor Sara Carlson asked Meyer if she had attended the dozens of meetings that have been held in the last couple of years about the project and Meyer acknowledged that she hadn’t attended many of them.
Carlson urged her and any other business owners who are concerned to keep talking to the council. She added they could also talk to City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven or City Planner Mike Weber.
Council member Roger Thalman noted that construction doesn’t automatically lead to a loss in business. He said that parking lot behind Traveler’s Inn was being worked on all summer long but the restaurant experienced an increase in business. Customers, he said, still found a way to get to it.
The Echo Press interviewed Weber to address Meyer’s concerns. Here are his insights:
WIDER SIDEWALK AND BICYCLES Some sidewalks on the west side of Broadway (the Ben Franklin side) will be widened to 18 feet, wide enough to accommodate bicyclists who want to ride or walk their bicycles.
Right now, bicycling on the sidewalks in downtown is prohibited. The council could, however, vote to change the ordinance. It’s up to the council to decide, Weber said.
The bicycling ordinance is enforced by the police department.
Weber said that being more bicycle friendly could help the downtown area.
“Our goal is to get as many pedestrians in downtown Alexandria as we can and if they are using a bicycle, that’s a great thing.”
LOITERING AND LITTERING
Weber said that cities large and small deal with loitering issues when they make benches available.
“The benches are there for pedestrians and to give customers the opportunity to sit and relax while they are waiting for their partner,” he said.
As part of the Broadway project, the benches, which are now up against the front of buildings, will be moved closer to the curb line so customers coming out of a store won’t have to walk around someone’s feet.
As is the case now, the city’s street sweepers will be used on a regular basis to keep the downtown area tidy.
NARROWER STREETS AND PARKING?
When Broadway is rebuilt, the parking lanes will be seven-feet wide and the outside driving lane will be 12-feet wide. This is a foot wider than widths that resulted when MnDOT resurfaced and re-striped Broadway from 8th Avenue, going south.
“So there will be more room next year than this year,” Weber said.
There have been no mid-block accidents reported since MnDOT re-striped the street, Weber said.
BUMP-OUTS As part of the Broadway project, curb extensions or “bump-outs” will be built at the intersections.
The bump-outs will shorten the distance that pedestrians walk to get across Broadway. “It shortens the pedestrian crossing distance by 14 feet,” Weber said, which makes for quicker, safer crossings.
Bump-outs fit the goal of designing Broadway to a pedestrian scale, not just a busy street dominated by motor vehicles, Weber said.
Traffic lights will be installed at the same intersections they are now. The new lights will include a timer showing the seconds remaining before a red light turns green.
There has been some discussion about adding a stoplight at 4th and Broadway but that would be MnDOT’s decision. “It’s our main street but it’s MnDOT’s Highwy 29,” Weber said.
RECYLING MATERIALS AND STREET LIGHTS
The city is looking into options for salvaging the pavers that will be removed as part of the project, such as making them available for purchase.
Some of the tall existing street lights will be re-used. The smaller five-globe lights will be replaced by more energy efficient two-globe LED-lights.
MAINTENANCE AND SNOW REMOVAL
The maintenance of the trees and planters will rest with the city’s public works department, just as it is now, Weber said.
A park department worker will likely be assigned to take care of the trees. The initial design calls for 68 trees in a 10-block area, from north of 4th Avenue to south of 8th.
There will be more snow to remove on the wider sidewalk area on the west side of Broadway. The council will decide if property owners should be responsible for that.
Dozens of meetings and open houses about the Broadway project have been held over the course of the last three years.
Over that time period, one of the biggest points of discussion was how to minimize the impact construction will have on downtown businesses, Weber said.
The plan is to do the project in phases, quickly, so one area won’t be closed off for long stretches of time.
The project will begin in May, after the fishing opener. The first phase will start just south of 3rd Avenue, continue short of 6th Avenue and take about 55 days. Phase two is the intersection of 6th and Broadway and will last about 28 days. The third phase will go from 6th to 8th Avenue and take 55 days.
The project should be completed by October.
“Our goal is to make as big of a mess as we can for the shortest amount of time as we can,” Weber said. “Downtown Alexandria belongs to the community, to travelers, vacationers…Throughout this construction, there should always be a way to get around and we’re going to make it as manageable as we can.”