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City considers safer crossing on 3rd Avenue

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 plan 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 Holiday Gas.

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 would have to dismount from their bikes 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.

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.

--Listened to a presentation about Jefferson Lines, a Minneapolis-based bus service that offers scheduled passenger and package delivery services as well as group travel packages.

Kevin John, regional manager, said the company is trying to make people more aware of its services.

"We're what Greyhound used to be - but better," John said.

The company stops in Alexandria at the Pipeline Travel Plaza, 3181 Evergreen Lane and maintains an Alexandria agency at Car Quest Auto Parts at 308 3rd Avenue East.

As part of its regional services, Jefferson Lines offers two daily round trip schedules to Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Airport and plans to add a third run in a month or two, John said.

Several other regional routes are also available.

Jefferson Lines operates in 13 Midwestern states and Manitoba and its safety record ranks in the top 1 percent in the U.S., according to John.

--Approved plans for "The Great Alexandria Bike Race" set for July 17-18.

A road race on Saturday will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., beginning on County Road 22 near the Central Lakes Trail, continuing to County Road 12 near Garfield, and then traveling on County Roads 58, 7 and 5, before connecting back to County roads 12 and 22.

This is the same route that was used last year, noted organizer George Odio. Racers will register by Big Ole Central Park and stage near Alexandria Extrusion.

A circuit race on Sunday is scheduled to take place in downtown Alexandria from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., using Broadway and Hawthorne Streets between 6th and 9th Avenue.

The race used this route back in the early 1990s, using the U.S. Bank lot as a staging area, Odio said.

Two northbound lanes on Broadway would be closed to accommodate the racers but traffic could still move through in the other lanes. Barricades and cones would be set up, Odio explained.

The city voted 4-1 to approve the downtown route on the condition that the police department and the Minnesota Department of Transportation must also approve the plan. Cindy Bigger voted against it.

--Authorized supporters of the Jefferson High School Marching Band to temporarily barricade portions of city streets while the band is practicing.

Starting in mid-May, the band typically practices on Jefferson Street between 12th and 22nd Avenue and will occasionally turn onto 18th Avenue and head east toward Nokomis Street.

Most of the practices start at 4 or 6 p.m. and last from one to three and a half hours.

In the past few years, students and volunteers have nearly been hit by uncooperative drivers who insist on driving on Jefferson Street through the students' practices, according to the Band Boosters.

A few drivers have also become upset, questioning the boosters' authority to shut down a city street. The police have been called to settle the disputes, according to Police Chief Rick Wyffels.

Because of those concerns, the boosters thought it would be a good idea to notify the city of their plans this year.

The council authorized the boosters to man the barricades as long as they coordinated their activities with the police department.

--Agreed to purchase two new police squad cars for $20,728 each from Juettner Motors in Alexandria.

Two other quotes were received, including one from the state, but Juettner's was the lowest.

Police Chief Wyffels made the request, noting that his department didn't purchase any squad cars last year because of the city's economic situation.

The 2010 Ford Crown Victorias will replace two existing squad cars that both have more than 100,000 city miles. The used cars will be sold via EBay.

The new squad units will be painted black and white. The department has only one white and blue car remaining, the chief said.

The department has planned and budgeted for the purchases, which will come out of the department's capital improvement fund, according to Wyffels.

--Agreed to enter into an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to seek a "Safe and Sober" grant of $18,500 to the Alexandria Police Department.

The program, which typically targets speeding, seat belt use and drunk driving, runs from October 1, 2010 through September 30,2011.

--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.

--Agreed to install "no parking" signs along Geneva Road from McKay Avenue to Birch Avenue.

The council took the action in order to receive federal funds for an improvement project on Geneva Road. The project will add a bicycle lane so that's why the parking restrictions are needed.

--Approved new financial management policies for the city.

The 29-page document sets in writing many policies the city has been following over the years, according to City Administrator Jim Taddei.

It covers a variety of fiscal matters - investments, debt, capital improvement programs, revenue, budgetary and financial controls, external audits, risk management and forfeited funds.

--Was informed that the city's street department hauled away 42 truckloads of junk during the city's annual free Metal Pick Up Day last month.

--Issued the following licenses: temporary liquor - Alexandria Area Arts Association to serve alcohol on June 4; peddlers - The Country Stop (located at Dairy Queen South and TireMaxx); fireworks - Walmart; charitable gambling - Knute Nelson to sell raffles for an August 11 event and Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce to sell raffles for an August 11 event at the Runestone Museum.

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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