‘It takes a village to raise a stop sign’

This column ran in the July 27 edition of the Northfield News.

The Northfield Downtown Development Corporation Block Heads are an informal group of building and business owners that gather to discuss issues of importance for downtown. Recent discussions have included cleaning, maintenance, marketing, vandalism, snow removal and garbage handling. The topics are often not exciting but generally meaningful.

At the April Block Head Gathering, the topics included a couple of issues that were important for folks “south of Fifth Street” on Division Street: making those blocks on the south end of Division feel more like the north end of Division and slowing down the speed of vehicular traffic on that segment of Division.

As the discussion developed, it seemed that the two issues were related. Because folks driving cars tend to get up a good head of steam on the stretch of Division between Woodley and Fifth, it appears to be designed more for vehicular traffic than for pedestrian shopping. People thought that stop signs on Division at Seventh would be a good way to address both the speed and the feel along that stretch of the street.

Northfield City Councilors Scott Davis and Jim Pokorney were in attendance at the Block Head Gathering. They both thought that it was a good idea. The city engineer also was present. She thought that it was something that could be done. Everyone present agreed that this was a good idea that could be implemented quickly.

Councilor Davis had a follow-up conversation with another member of city staff. It was suggested that it would be a better idea to put the sign at Sixth Street. When Councilor Davis and I considered this idea, we realized that soon hundreds of new residents would be coming up Seventh Street to downtown from the Village on the Cannon. The Seventh Street location seemed like a better idea.

Late one Friday afternoon at the end of May, Roger DuFours Sr., of DuFour’s Cleaners, called me. He had heard that the city was putting in a stop sign at Sixth Street. He also was informed that he’d be losing parking spaces in front of his store for the stop sign. He had already spoken to me about the tight parking situation on that block. He doesn’t want to lose any spaces.

EconoFoods, Lansing’s, Witt Brothers’ and Village Drug all have parking lots. If it’s necessary to remove parking spaces for stop signs, it would have a lesser impact on downtown businesses at Seventh Street.

DuFour also pointed out that First National Bank’s drive-through facility is located at the corner of Sixth Street. He suggested that if traffic was backed up at a stop sign, it would be difficult for folks to exit left out of the facility.

At their June meeting, the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation Board voted to send a letter to the mayor and the city council. The letter recognized the Block Heads’ analysis as valid and urged our elected officials to pursue the matter to a successful conclusion this summer.

In response, the issue was discussed at the July 11 council meeting. Councilor Davis advocated for the stop signs. Councilor Arnie Nelson suggested that it seemed like a reasonable request from the citizens and should be supported. The city administrator offered to further investigate the matter.

Subsequently, the NDDC received an e-mail from city staff saying that “the subject of the Seventh and Division stop sign came up at our last council meeting. [the city engineer] is reviewing this. As part of the streetscape work as it evolves over time, we’d like to explore some other traffic calming measures as well as downtown identity options for this part of downtown to accomplish some of the goals that you have identified.”

A phone conversation with a city staff member revealed that the “other traffic calming measures” would be a “bump-out”. Apparently, the requested stop signs are no longer being considered.

A four-way stop would do far more for safe crossing, pedestrian friendliness and economic viability for south Division than a “bump-out.” At Seventh Street, the sign would better serve the increase in population from Village on the Cannon, have less adverse impact on the availability of parking downtown and not create a queue of cars blocking exit from the bank drive-through. The Block Heads were right, stop signs are a good idea at Seventh Street and Division.

Consider for yourself the safe crossing, pedestrian friendliness and economic viability of Division Street south of Fifth. If you agree with the Block Heads and think that stop signs should be installed at Seventh Street, contact your council member or the mayor.

I guess it takes a village to raise a stop sign.