pedestrian safety changes at Grant, Suburban, and Apollo
In January 2014, I wrote a blog post about changes needed at the intersection of Grant, Suburban, and Apollo. In a nutshell, there have been incidents in recent years that raise concerns about pedestrian safety, and we need to make changes. This has been a long process, but we’re finally at a point where we need to decide what to do. I want to tell you where I’m at, and what’s next.
Let me start by saying that I’ve appreciated the comments on my previous post, as well as comments from citizens on related posts on my Facebook page. In the couple of years that I’ve been working on this issue, I’ve found that there is no idea or possible solution that can be hashed out via a tweet or Facebook post. I’ve heard many good comments (i.e. don’t hinder traffic even more, what about trying stop signs, cars drive too fast, etc). So I realize that for some of you, I have not satisfactorily answered your questions. You should know that I also could not get simple answers to my questions from city staff. But that’s why we’ve met several times to talk about it. In addition to numerous quick exchanges before or after a city meeting, I also participated in these:
Tue, Oct 7, 2014 – I met at City Hall with fellow alderman Dean Raash, city engineer Eric Rakers, city planner Ken Pabich, and public works director Scott Thoreson. Eric had had conversations with the county and presented to us some ideas. We hashed them out and agreed to continue to work on it.
Tue, May 5, 2015 – We met at the Municipal Service Center to continue discussions and get more specific. We had diagrams on a screen. We scrutinized the diagrams, drew imaginary lines on the screen with our fingers, asked “what about this?” numerous times. We talked about stop signs. We talked about closing Apollo. We talked about cars queuing up while another car is turning left. We talked about the priority of smooth flowing traffic versus the priority of pedestrian safety. We decided that placing bumpouts is indeed the best option, and now it’s just a matter of where. We narrowed the possibilities to two.
Wed, Jun 3, 2015 – City staff conducted a two-day testing event at the intersection in order to determine the best bumpout design. On Wednesday, they placed cones on Grant St to simulate bumpouts in the center of the intersection, between Apollo and Suburban. On Thursday, they placed cones to simulate bumpouts just to the west of Suburban Ave. This was done in the morning, between 7am and 8am, so that we can see how each design affects heavy traffic. I stood there on the corner both days and watched this test. I took 5 videos and several dozen photos.
At the Jun 22, 2015 Plan Commission meeting, city staff presented their recommendation, that we place bumpouts on Grant St between Suburban and Apollo. The plan is shown with the dark gray lines in this diagram (the lighter gray lines to the west of the intersection is the other option). This issue was discussed for an hour. Several neighbors shared their opinions at the meeting, all disagreeing with the proposed plan.
So this is a tough issue for me, a very tough issue, because I agree with the recommendation. And I say this based on all of the meetings and discussions I’ve had with city staff. I’ve asked about stop signs. I’ve listened to explanations of the various traffic situations for both options. We’ve discussed all the scenarios, like the one we’re all familiar with: you’re driving north on Suburban, and you want to turn right on Grant during rush hour; traffic backs up for blocks. Or, God forbid, you want to turn left instead. Or a car on Grant is waiting to turn left onto Apollo or Suburban and you’re stuck waiting behind them. We discussed them all.
But here’s what it all boils down to for me. We are not talking about this issue because of traffic concerns. We are talking about it for one reason: to improve pedestrian safety. For me, it’s that simple. So, I agree with the concerns raised. This solution will slow down traffic. It just will. I’m convinced that during most of the day, overall traffic flow will be just fine. But during rush hour, this solution may add a minute or two to our commute. But that’s the point. The only way to make the intersection safer for pedestrians is to slow down traffic, reduce lanes, and make it impossible to pass on the right when a pedestrian is crossing.
So, if this solution is approved, it means we’re just going to have to be a bit more patient as we drive through this intersection. And it also means that maybe avoiding the intersection when possible is a good idea. I think we all agree this is a strange intersection; today’s city planners would never map out streets like this. A perfect solution does not exist. We’ve got to do the best we can to make it as safe as possible.
The full council will vote on this at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night, 7:30pm at City Hall. If you have questions or concerns, I always welcome your comments here in my blog (or on Facebook), but I hope you’ll also consider attending the meeting and letting the entire council hear your voice. There are seven other alderpersons besides me who deserve to hear you.
Barring any new information, I expect that I’ll vote to approve this solution. You should know how seriously I take this, that I will probably be voting against the wishes of many of my constituents. I only hope you realize that I’ve done my homework on this. I drive this intersection often like you. We’re in this together, and I’m doing what I truly feel is the best for pedestrian safety.