Urging the town to raise a stop light

This column ran in the October 11 edition of the Northfield News.

Maybe there’s a period of time when issues cycle back to the top of the priority list.

After three years of being deeply involved with a number of important Northfield issues, I’d guess that this period is nine months. Perhaps we could consider this to be gestation for birth or re-birth.

The issue of the traffic light on Minnesota Highway 3 at Third Street has been reborn. It’s been about nine months since it was last the talk of the town.

At the Jan. 24 Northfield City Council meeting, newly elected Mayor Lee Lansing asked the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation (NDDC) to coordinate citizen and business input on the upcoming Highway 3 reconstruction for the center section or downtown segment. The NDDC assembled a group, identifying itself as the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Safe Crossing, that consisted of Suzannah Ciernia, myself, Dale Finger, Amy Gage, Leota Goodney and Mark Quinnell.

The task force met twice. They reviewed the March 10, 1997, report of the Ad Hoc Highway 3 Design Committee, a previous officially designated citizen group, as well as the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) construction plans for this work. After reviewing these materials, the committee wrote a brief report which it presented at the Feb. 11 council meeting.

Certain goals shaped the task force’s recommendations. The first was that of achieving the safest possible crossing of Highway 3 for pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic. The second was to stimulate economic development both on the underutilized west side and in the historic center. The third was to work to realize a concept stressed in the 1997 report, emphasizing the center section as a “city street.”

Other values shaped the group’s final product. The first was to revive powerful and practical recommendations from the original committee that were not incorporated in MnDOT’s plans. The second was an appreciation for the commitments of cost and schedule involved in implementing the current plans. The third was the belief that although the highway may belong to the state, the street belongs to the citizens of Northfield.

The task force had 10 recommendations:

* Rename the center section of Highway 3 to John North Boulevard — an admirably low-cost solution.

* Increase the time of the walk signals — it’s about 100 feet from curb to curb; let’s make the time adequate for both a 4-year-old and an 80-year-old.

* Rigorously enforce the 30-mph speed limit; it’s already in place, let’s make it meaningful.

* Add a traffic light at Third Street. Northfield citizens have been requesting it for at least 10 years.

* Install contrasting concrete aggregate at the intersections.

* Install street lights that are similar in height and design to the ones in the downtown district; work to make it look like a city street.

* Add signs advising that pedestrians are crossing.

* Add a traffic light at St. Olaf Avenue; anticipate 100-plus new housing units on the Riverfront site.

* Create a gateway landmark at Third Street; let’s welcome the whole world to our historic district.

* Eliminate the right turn lane at Second Street; it is anticipated that there will be some re-routing of Minnesota Highway 19 in the next 10 years.

For those interested in the history of the efforts for a traffic light at Third Street, the 1997 report recommended that it be installed, MnDOT’s plans call for it to be stubbed in at that intersection to leave open the possibility of a future installation and, as you can see, this year’s report repeated the call for the installation.

It is quite clear that at least for the past decade no other single step for increasing the safe crossing of Highway 3 has received as great of public support as a traffic light at Third Street. Please do not insult the intelligence of the citizens of Northfield by suggesting that anything else is an adequate alternative.

Not long ago, I suggested that it would take a village to raise a stop sign. After six months of work, the effort went down in defeat.

In this situation, the installation cost will be a greater hurdle and the government unit will be a larger challenge. If the village was inadequate to raise a stop sign; it will require the whole town to raise a traffic light.

To achieve the installation of a traffic light on Highway 3 at Third Street, it will take dozens of phone calls and e-mails to, or perhaps even better, conversations with your elected representatives. Then these representatives must clearly and publicly commit to achieving the installation of a traffic light, including the use of resources and the follow-up on implementation. Maybe then the town can raise a traffic light.