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Crookston playing it safe, slow

(L-R) Crookston City Administrator Shannon Stassen, Dillon Fenno, project facilitator for the Downtown Crookston Development Partnership and Amanda Lien, executive director of the Crookston Chamber of Commerce are proponents of a "road diet," which means a narrowing of the city's one-way streets on Main and Broadway to two lanes rather than three and also adding a bike lane. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

CROOKSTON—As long as most people can remember, downtown Crookston has run three lanes north and three lanes south with wide-open space for traffic.

But city organizers are trying to switch gears on the six one-way lanes in an effort to make the town's main drag feel a little less like a drag race and a lot more like a comfortable Sunday stroll.

City Administrator Shannon Stassen said planners are working closely with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other groups to create what they hope will be a safer, more pedestrian- and bike-friendly Main and Broadway.

Though there is plenty of research, consulting and design work ahead, Stassen says MnDOT already has determined Crookston is an "ideal candidate for a road diet."

What is that?

In engineering terms, a road diet is described as a way to narrow a city's spacious traffic footprint without adversely impacting regular traffic flow. In the case of Crookston, it very likely also would add a healthy transportation balance by eliminating one motor vehicle lane from each of the two arterial roadways to make room for bike lanes.

"Our downtown traffic patterns, speed and flow were something identified as a barrier for pedestrians and bikers," Stassen said. "People tend to drive to the speed they feel comfortable with and not necessarily the speed limit. We want to create an environment that encourages people to drive a little bit more slowly."

Shrinking the lanes is expected to do just that, he said, and it also makes possible other options for "traffic calming measures."

"Things like diagonal parking, widening of sidewalks and bump-outs for outdoor seating really have the effect of slowing people down," Stassen said. "Designing a corridor that feels safe and (one that) is complementary to retail and restaurants is really important."

The intended effect would give local drivers—and visitors just passing through—more reason to slow down, take notice of what the downtown has to offer and maybe decide to stay awhile.

Amanda Lien, executive director of the Crookston Area Chamber and Visitors Bureau, said the road diet and other downtown initiatives have been part of the community conversation for years and now are main tenets in the city's working master plan.

The downtown was flagged as a key driver for the city and led to the recent creation of the Downtown Crookston Development Partnership, charged with the goal to work toward the national and Minnesota Main Street programs.

"The downtown is the heart of our community, and it speaks well to our visitors, our residents and potential employees," Lien said. "The development of the downtown only helps our current businesses be more successful and stronger whether they're located downtown or not.

"I just think it's such a great initiative. It's something the community is behind and has supported for many, many years. It builds enthusiasm and motivation with those who live here and attracts additional people to our community."

Next steps

Stassen and Lien said Crookston residents will have at least two opportunities next month to learn more about the road diet and other initiatives. A community forum is planned from noon to 7 p.m. June 2 in the downtown Fournet Building in conjunction with a historic buildings tour. The tour continues the next day.

Sketches from JLG Architects of Grand Forks will be on hand to give people an idea of the possibilities, Stassen said. The Chamber and Downtown Partnership group are spearheading the event.

"We are seeking community input on what they would like to see their downtown look like in terms of land use, amenities, signage, bike paths, sidewalks, parklets and all kinds of stuff," Stassen said. "JLG put together some really cool ideas. There will be some images for people to mark up and put sticky notes on and give feedback in many ways. All of that will be tabulated to put together a plan the community wants to see. That's important."

On June 20, consultants from Bike Minnesota will conduct a bike workshop, and a community bike tour also is planned to help identify possible challenges and opportunities.

Funding, timeline

Stassen said it's too early to speculate on a total cost for the project, but he said it most likely would be rolled out in phases because of its size and scope. Funding also is expected to come from several sources, including the city and state.

Finalizing a solid master plan is the first priority, he said, and that is expected before the end of August. Then, organizers will "get really busy writing grants."

"We'll turn over every stone to find funding for this," he said. "We'd love to see this all in place in three years. ... We're trying to fast-track it, but there are some things you can't push any faster than they actually go."

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