Is Broadway safe to cross?
Can you imagine Alexandria's downtown Broadway with sidewalks for pedestrians, curb extensions for safer crossing, a separate land for bicyclists of all ages and abilities, bike racks, benches and signage to help visitors more easily find their way around town?
That is exactly what participants were asked to do at three meetings designed to gather thoughts and ideas about alternate approaches to designing a so-called "Complete Street."
What is a complete street? Karin Tank, Alexandria's assistant city planner, explained that complete street is a concept that streets should be designed and built for all users. This means pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities and people using motor vehicles. Complete streets accommodate the young and the old, the physically able and physically challenged, parents pushing strollers, bicycle riders, as well as cars, trucks and buses.
The benefits of a complete street design, noted Tank, include greater safety, enhanced economic vitality, increased opportunities for physical activity, improved air quality and overall better quality of life.
"The idea is that if you design streets that invite people to walk and bicycle, they will, and they may even stop along the way to shop," said Tank.
The Broadway initiative - Envisioning a Redesigned Broadway - was developed by the Active Living Douglas County (ALDC) Coalition, a partnership established to create healthier communities in the county.
The coalition scheduled a series of three public meetings designed to conceptualize the opportunities and constraints of creating more complete streets, including the economic impact on redesigning downtown Broadway.
"We did so because streets constitute a major component of public space in the city," said Tank. "Planning and designing useful streets is a complex process that involves many proponents and various challenges, such as limited budgets, competing priorities for space and varying transportation priorities."
Last Monday, September 20, the third meeting was held where a proposed hybrid design for Broadway was reviewed. Participants heard from a panel of engineering professionals, including the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), about the draft design, potential costs, constraints and opportunities.
The draft drawing incorporates a middle-of-the-road approach to redesigning Broadway, noted Tank. The drawing is one that balances reasonable cost, low or no impact to vehicle travel and parking, the introduction of an off-street bike trail on one side of Broadway, aesthetic/streetscape enhancements and improved pedestrian street crossings.
Another drawing shown at the meeting illustrated a multi-faceted and systemic approach to biking that would include a multi-use path added to the north end of Broadway, striped bike lanes added to Fillmore and Hawthorne Streets and an off-street bike trail added to one side of Broadway.
Bruce Chamberlain with HKGI, Inc., a professional planning and landscape architecture firm, led Monday's meeting and panel discussion, which included Shiloh Wahl, MnDOT's District 4 planning director; Tim Schoonhoven, Alexandria city engineer; and Dave Robley, director of Douglas County Public Works.
"The timing is perfect for these projects, which could provide the impetus for the city of Alexandria to turn downtown Broadway into a complete street," said Wahl, who was referring to the transportation study, the Broadway Complete Street Vision and the scheduled improvement project for Broadway in 2012.
The 2012 project includes resurfacing and upgraded sidewalk ramps and signaling along Broadway.
Wahl noted that with the passage of the state complete streets legislation that took effect August 1, the state is required to work with stakeholders to implement the policy throughout nearly all aspects of MnDOT's work, including consideration of Complete Streets to make roadways more suitable for cyclists, pedestrians and transit. The state will be responsible for the majority of costs associated with installing the new handicap-accessible sidewalk ramps, corner curbing, roadway resurfacing and traffic signals.
The city would be responsible for any additional costs incurred as a result of an off-street trail and related bicycle and pedestrian amenities. However, if the city is inclined to make these improvements, there would be a cost savings by piggy-backing with the state improvement project, according to Wahl.
Tank said, "We strongly believe it's important to carefully study issues like this so that decisions are based on the best possible information, reflect the greatest public good and achieve goals that most stakeholders can support."
Community members are encouraged to engage, learn and voice their opinions about the Complete Streets Redesign project, she added.
Additional drawings and meeting materials related to this project can be found online at www.activelivingdc.com.