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Leaders seek input on pedestrian, bicyclist safety at south Grand Forks school intersections

Discovery Elementary principal Ali Parkinson supervises a crossing after school as crossing guards Camden Dumas, left, and Blake Riedy help students cross a parking lot Wednesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Parents and others living on Grand Forks' south side have become increasingly concerned about children's safety as they cross busy intersections on their way to and from Discovery Elementary and South Middle schools.

In response to concerns, Grand Forks city officials are inviting residents to hear and discuss options for improvement at a 7 p.m. meeting Thursday at Discovery school, 3300 43rd Ave. S.

The two southside schools are located near major traffic arteries that have become much busier as the city has grown, prompting residents in that area to call for the city to construct one or more underpasses to allow children safer access when walking or biking to and from school, said Mark Walker, assistant city engineer.

About four incidents of pedestrians or bicyclists being hit by a vehicle have occurred in the city in the last few years, Walker said. One occurred last year at Columbia Road and 40th Avenue South.

The purpose of Thursday's meeting is to determine "if the neighborhood really wants a pedestrian underpass and, if so, would you be willing to pay for it through a special assessment?" Walker said.

Or, do residents in that neighborhood want the city to pursue lower-cost options?

The city does not have a policy on the placement of underpasses and how they are paid for, Walker said.

The cost of an underpass ranges from $1 million to $3.7 million, depending on complexity, he said, and would probably require a special assessment, since federal funds for this type of project are decreasing.

While the South Columbia Road and 47th Avenue intersection is often cited as unsafe, other nearby intersections are also in question, Walker said.

Some advocate for an underpass under Columbia somewhere between 40th and 47th avenues, Walker said. Others favor underpasses on 47th Avenue, to the west and east of Columbia.

Up to six underpass sites have been suggested.

It's difficult to determine who pays what in special assessment because the city has no relevant policy, Walker said. "For example, should commercial property pay the same amount as what a single-family would pay?"

Some maintain that the cost of an underpass should be covered by a citywide assessment.

"If we do an assessment for an underpass at one location in the city, that opens up the door for a huge number of underpasses all throughout the city," Walker said. "When you develop a policy, that opens up the question of where do you put them and where do you not."

The city also could explore less-expensive options that would not require special assessments.

Grand Forks has four pedestrian underpasses, all of which have been paid for entirely, or nearly entirely, by the federal government, Walker said.

They are under Gateway Drive, to provide access to Wilder Elementary School; two under Washington Street, near 24th and 32nd avenues; and one under Columbia Road on the UND campus.

Options that would not require special assessments include additional signage and flashing lights to warn drivers that a pedestrian or cyclist is about to cross.

The use of crossing guards, the promotion of student busing, more education of children and drivers, and encouraging kids to walk or bike in groups could also improve safety, Walker said.

Any change the city decides to make at this southside location "has implications as to what we do throughout the rest of the community," he said.

Public Input Meeting:

Bike and pedestrian safety at Columbia and 47th Avenue South

7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14

Discovery Elementary School Cafeteria

3300 43rd Ave. S.

Park in east lot; enter door 7

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