Tonight, February 7, 2017, the Council will hold a public hearing to consider 2017 street reclamation projects which sounds a bit dull, perhaps, but this year’s projects present two good opportunities to help create a safer, more convenient network connecting schools to neighborhoods.
Reclamation, in the street repair hierarchy, is less than reconstruction (where the pavement and all the utilities under the street are replaced) and more than a “mill and overlay” (where the top layer of asphalt is chewed up and replaced. So, reclamation is chewing up the full depth of the asphalt and repaving, but usually not a construction project which moves curbs or changes street layouts or adds sidewalks or other new facilities.
City staff are seeing golden opportunities to carry out the Northfield’s Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School policies by expanding the usual reclamation project to add sidewalks and narrow streets to do it. This is a huge step forward for Northfield in policy implementation if the Council follows through on the recommendation.
There are two reclamation locations which are critical links in the street network connecting neighborhoods and schools: Marvin Lane and the Nevada/9th Street/Maple squiggle (Professional Drive is also on the reclamation list). The Council must vote tonight and I urge the Council to adopt staff recommendations for Nevada/9th/Maple and ask staff to use the same approach on Marvin Lane.
This little squiggle connects 7th Street to Woodley Street and, in the process, connects the northeast neighborhoods and outdoor pool to Maple Street (one of our few continuous North-South connections), Sibley School, Spring Creek Soccer Fields, southeast neighborhoods, and Jefferson Parkway. The map above shows how few connections exist south of Woodley Street, so making sure the streets which are continuous provide safe sidewalks and traffic speeds appropriate for their context is critical.
City staff recognize the importance of this corridor highlighting the Safe Routes to School plan as “an area with ‘Lack of Sidewalk on Key Routes’” to Sibley School and also looks to address other concerns including slowing traffic on this section of street and preserving street trees. The staff recommendation of Option 2 would move the west curb (beyond the usual reclamation scope) to narrow the street from 36′ to 32’ (which is still pretty darn wide) from Nevada to 7th Street saying “Sidewalks and retaining walls in this area would be placed directly behind the curb to lessen the tree impacts. Removal of the existing curb, coupled with the narrowing of the street results in saving 10 additional trees on the west side.” I’m curious why the street is only proposed to be narrowed on the Nevada Street section, but urge the Council to support Option 2. (Option 1 would still add sidewalks (good) but leave the street wider (and faster) and remove more trees).
Despite getting Maple/9th/Nevada right, staff stopped too soon on Marvin Lane. No sidewalks are recommended on Marvin Lane because “In review of this street, Marvin Lane has limited driveway accesses and low traffic volumes due to its lack of connectivity. Therefore, the width of this street provides for both a mixed use of vehicles and pedestrians and sidewalks are not recommended.” Although this one-block street is not a critical vehicle connection, (as with the Nevada/Maple segment, Marvin is a critical pedestrian connection between Washington Street and surrounding neighborhoods to Division Street, the High School, and points south for students (or it could be). Right now, many high school students cut through the church property just south of Marvin Lane to reach Washington, but adding sidewalks by narrowing Marvin would ensure slow vehicle traffic on this little link and provide a better public link to school.
Marvin Lane is not on the SRTS plan (the high school was not included in the plan), so that piece of specific policy support is not present, but our Complete Streets policy and Comprehensive Plan (as well as common sense) strongly support applying the same “move the curb” design to add a sidewalk to increase safety and add a public connection for to schools and the Northfield Retirement Community (and feeding into the upcoming planning for the 246 and Jefferson Parkway intersection redesign – of which more very soon). I urge the Council to use the reclamation project as an opportunity to create a safe, public connection to Division Street by narrowing the street (which will also ensure slower speeds and preserve trees) and by doing so anticipate changes which will help students cross Division Street to reach the High School.
In 2015, I wrote about building more robust public participation to gather more thoughtful input from the entire community (not just adjacent property owners and those within 350 feet) about how they’d like to get around, educate Council and community about possibilities and issues in a project, and be very intentional about building an equitable and inclusive process for projects which determine how we can get around for a generation.
On one hand, these reclamation projects are routine and the public hearing is required by state law, but is generally treated as equally routine and unimportant. If all the City is doing is munching up the pavement, I’d agree. But when the City uses routine projects like this one to make some real changes – and I am thrilled the City is taking this important step – then being intentional about approaching this project and thinking ahead to future opportunities needs more than the required publication and notice to neighbors.