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City considers safer crossing on 3rd Avenue

Photo/redndering courtesy of Creative Impact Design and WSB and Associates This photo/rendering shows how the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street (looking west) would be after a pedestrian refuge island is constructed and crosswalk improvements are made.

Bicyclists and pedestrians know that crossing 3rd Avenue in Alexandria is dangerous.

Although all six intersections on 3rd Avenue between Broadway and Nokomis have crosswalks, drivers generally ignore them.

But a new partnership is hoping to change that with a plan to make the crosswalk at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street much more visible and safe.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council reacted favorably to the idea and passed the plan on to its highway committee for further consideration.

Jessica Peterson with Douglas County Active Living and Crystal Hoepner with the Douglas County Safe Communities presented the idea to the council.

Those two groups and a consulting firm, WSB and Associates, have been studying the busy road, surveying residents living in the area and getting feedback from businesses about how to make 3rd Avenue safer to cross.

They decided to focus their attention on the intersection with Jefferson Street since it is already a city-designated bike road.

The width of 3rd Avenue is intimidating for pedestrians, noted Peterson, because there are few gaps in traffic and the street handles about 16,500 vehicles per day, according to a 2008 study.

The group considered three possible options to improve the crosswalk and ultimately recommended "Alternative 1." It would build a "pedestrian refuge island" on the western approach of the 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street intersection within the center turn-lane, just east of the Holiday gas station.

Instead of trying to cross more than 70 feet of busy street all at once, pedestrians would only have to go 30 feet to reach the island and then walk across another 30-foot section of crosswalk after that.

In addition, pedestrians would only have to navigate traffic in a single direction at a time.

The crosswalk would be painted bright red and include a pedestrian-activated signal to alert drivers.

This option would prohibit vehicles from making an eastbound left-turn movement to avoid queues from forming in the eastbound through-lanes and to improve intersection safety, according to Peterson and Hoepner.

Bicyclists could cross 3rd Avenue by riding in the roadway or they could choose to dismount and cross as pedestrians.

Preliminary cost estimates for Alternative 1 range from about $23,000 to $99,000. Most of the cost, around $80,000, would be for the new pedestrian alert signal system - a High-intensity Activated crossWalK, known as "HAWK," which could be added at a later date.

The group hopes to complete short-term goals for Alternative 1 - securing funding, laying out the design, and constructing the island - within five years.

The long-term goal would be to add the HAWK system. Crosswalks must meet state warrants to receive HAWK funding, such as accommodating 20 pedestrian crossings per hour, Peterson said.

There is only one HAWK crosswalk in the state right now - in St. Cloud on Division Street and 12th Avenue, Peterson said.

The council unanimously voted to send the Alternative 1 recommendation to the highway committee.

"This was nicely done," said council member Sara Carlson of the crosswalk report. "A lot of work has gone into this."

Alternative 2, a partial median, also called for a pedestrian refuge island but it would have extended into the intersection. Its cost was estimated at between $25,000 and $101,000.

Alternative 3 included the construction of a full median across the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street. The crosswalks would move five to eight feet further from the intersection, which would have required eight new pedestrian ramps (two on each corner).

The cost of Alternative 3 was estimated at between $52,000 and $129,000.

Bid for police station

site work accepted

In other action, the council:

•Accepted a low bid of $316,139 to complete the "phase one" site development work for a new police station.

The bid from Mark Lee Excavating of Alexandria - one of six submitted - will put the project under the city's soft-cost estimate of $408,000 for site development, according to ORB Management.

Work on the site will begin as soon as Wednesday.

The city plans to build the new facility near the new Douglas County Jail along 3rd Avenue West.

The existing police station, which the city is leasing inside the Law Enforcement Center on 7th Avenue East, is inadequate to serve the police department's current and future needs, according to city leaders.

The 24,000-square-foot facility, estimated to cost about $5.1 million, would house administration, records, offices for patrol officers and detectives, a community meeting room that could also be used for training, and other space for investigations, evidence processing and other police operations.

City gets grant for

automatic doors

•Was informed that the city will receive a $6,000 grant to help those with disabilities participate in elections.

The money will be used to install automatic doors at Shalom Lutheran Church, which is a polling place.

For more council news see Friday's Echo Press.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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