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An extra eye out for unsafe driving: Drivers said to be disobeying 'no left turn' signs

The intersection of Third Ave. East and Kenwood St. in Alexandria includes a pedestrian crossing and signs prohibiting left turns yet some drivers still try to turn left to get to Thrifty White. (Al Edenloff | Echo Press)

Some drivers heading east on Third Avenue in Alexandria are putting themselves, pedestrians and other drivers in danger when they try to turn left on Kenwood Street, according to city leaders.

They're ignoring the "no left turn" signs at the intersection — signs that were installed as part of a crosswalk project three years ago in an effort to give walkers, bicyclists and those with wheelchairs a safe place to get across the busy street.

At Monday night's Alexandria City Council meeting, council member Todd Jensen talked about the "no left turn" problem at the intersection. Jensen said his office is near the intersection and he has seen and heard many close calls and crashes there.

Drivers are not obeying the signs, aren't stopping for pedestrians, and have even knocked down signs, he said.

According to information from the police department that was shared at the meeting, seven crashes have been reported at the intersection from July 2015 to June 2018, with two resulting in injuries to bicyclists.

Jensen said the only way to fix the problem is to completely remove the island or prohibit left turns from either direction. He said flashing lights should also be added.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said the city will have to work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation because Third Avenue is also a trunk highway for State Highways 27 and 29.

Jensen said the city should reach out to MnDOT, adding that he's been hearing too many "screeching tires" at the intersection all day long.

In other street-related discussion, Schoonhoven updated the council on recent projects:

• Pavement marking is now complete for the Runestone Community Center parking lot and entrance road project. Only minor "punch list" items remain.

• The first phase of improvements on Agnes Boulevard is now open to traffic. Remaining phase one work includes installing bollards, wiring the street lights, putting down a final wear course and resolving minor grading issues. Phase two has started and the storm sewer is mostly complete. The contractor has started grading on the trail at the west end of the project. It's scheduled to be completed in early October.

Council member Virgil Batesole said that 20-30 people have told him how nice Agnes Boulevard is looking. Schoonhoven has noticed a lot of people using it — bicyclists, walkers, runners and people with strollers.

Schoonhoven also talked about the "missing link" project that would reconstruct North Broadway between Third Avenue and the Central Lakes Trail. It's called the "missing link" because it's intended to fill the gap between Big Ole/Central Park and the historic downtown area by making it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to get there.

A mock-up of the project was temporarily installed in the summer of 2016 and included bike lanes, pedestrian crosswalks, plastic bollards, signs, potted trees and other materials. At that time, bicyclists and pedestrians gave the city positive feedback about the project while drivers felt it was too tree-heavy, the driving lanes were narrow, and the corridor was unsafe. Several drivers said the medians and pedestrian bump-outs — curb extensions designed to create safer and shorter crossings for pedestrians — were inconvenient.

The most recent estimate for the work is about $760,000, Schoonhoven said.

The project is currently scheduled for construction in 2022 and costs would be covered by the state. Before any work could start, the project would have to be approved by the council.

Schoonhoven said it's possible to put the project on a faster track but it would depend on the availability of state aid funds.

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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