Improved safety at pair of pedestrian crossings on Shoreline Drive is a juggling act of what’s feasible and what’s cost-effective.
That was the message June 8 when the city of Mound backed an engineering study that had run the analysis on how to improve the downtown crossings at Auditors Road and Belmont Lane.
Council’s acceptance of the report—and with that acceptance, an approval of the report’s recommendation for a consolidated trail and pedestrian crossing at Auditors Road—was lukewarm, guided by council members’ recognition of the need to do something to improve safety there but also made with some resignation to the limits of what engineers were saying was feasible.
The existing Auditors and Belmont crossings, just a block apart from each other, span four lanes of downtown traffic (five, at Auditors) and are positioned at the two bends of an S-Curve: from both the east and west, reduced sightlines mean the crossings come up fast.
And then there’s the question of who yields to whom. “Right now, we have a crosswalk with one set of right of way rules and a bike trail crossing that has the complete opposite and nobody knows,” said Eric Hoversten, Mound city manager. Motorists enjoy right of way at trail crossings like the one at Auditors but have to put the brakes on for crosswalks like the one at Belmont.
Last fall, engineers began looking into three options for alleviating the risk at both Auditors and Belmont. They’ve now turned up a recommendation that would eliminate the Belmont crossing entirely, consolidating the two crossings into one at the western side of Auditors.
Elimination of the right turn lane from eastbound Shoreline onto Auditors, as well as removing the right turn lane from Auditors onto eastbound Shoreline would help narrow what city engineer Brian Simmons has called “a sea of pavement” without having to remove any of the four main traffic lanes.
A consolidated crossing at Auditors would also see a refuge island added to the divided median on Shoreline, plus an overhead pedestrian-activated beacon that would signal to both east- and westbound traffic on Shoreline when someone was waiting to cross.
Consolidating both crossings at Auditors also would allow the existing alignment of the Dakota Trail to remain in place. Consolidations either at Belmont or as far west as Commerce Boulevard, which engineers had also considered, would have necessitated changes to that alignment.
A Belmont crossing would have asked trail users to heed a one-block detour, while a Commerce crossing would have required them to divert their route from the parkland of the Harbor District to the urban setting of Mound’s primary commercial area—and with the extra need for buffered bike lanes that in turn would require lane reductions for Shoreline’s westbound motorists.
Council members Sherrie Pugh and Paula Larson both said they favored the consolidated Belmont crossing.
“This is critical for our community,” said Larson of the safety concerns generally in that area. “I think we have a lot of activity going on there, and I think to make everything about the trail crossing and not about the multitude of cars…”
City manager Hoversten said that was his first opinion, too—until the engineering implications became known.
A consolidated Belmont crossing, like one at Commerce, would have required lane reductions—for both east- and westbound traffic on Shoreline, a tricky requirement that would amount to reversing decade-old driving habits and attempting to flip Mound from a “four-lane town” to a “two lane town,” said Hoversten.
“I don’t think that’s a winning sell, that we go from four lanes on Shoreline, even for a brief portion of it, down to two,” he said. “That’s a big change.”
The Belmont option, at an estimated cost of $570,000-$690,000 to realize, also came in at more than twice the estimate given for a consolidation at Auditors, which carries an expected price tag of $240,000-$290,000.
Sticking hard to the first preference for a Belmont crossing “almost becomes the bridge too far,” said Hoversten, “and do we lose the war because of it?” Accepting an Auditors crossing was a matter of making the best of the imperfect, he said.
Despite reservations, both Larson and Pugh joined Mayor Ray Salazar and council member Phil Velsor in approving the study for the chance it offered in getting some kind of a fix, even if less than perfect. “It is important that we move this town forward,” said Pugh. Council member Jason Holt was absent for the vote.
Council’s approval of the engineer’s report does not guarantee changes on Shoreline, but it does signal to Hennepin County and Three Rivers Park District, both of which would have to lend their approval to any future project, that Mound is ready to move forward.
“We’re moving in the right direction. We’re improving our crossing and we’re improving our town—all great things,” added Salazar.