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Downtown stretch of DeMers narrower, walker-friendly under GF Council plan

Grand Forks City Hall (Herald photo/Sam Easter)

In a recommendation that will likely change the look and feel of downtown Grand Forks, City Council members voted 4-1 to approve a state plan to rebuild a stretch of DeMers Avenue in 2020. The reconstruction project will add "bump-outs"—or curb extensions—at pedestrian crossings at Third, Fourth and Fifth streets, narrowing traffic's path through the intersection but creating broader landings at crosswalks.

"This is sort of becoming the state and national trend for a reason," City Council member Crystal Schneider said. "I think a lot of the focus now is ... to make neighborhoods, especially downtown, more pedestrian-friendly, more walkable, more vibrant, and adding the bump-outs does exactly those things."

But the change comes with a trade-off: The bump-outs narrow intersections so much that many downtown right-turn lanes along DeMers Avenue will be eliminated.

The lone dissenting vote was from City Council member Danny Weigel, who expressed concerns about the ease with which vehicles—especially fire trucks—will be able to navigate a narrower space.

"To me, it makes me almost not want to come downtown," he said.

City Council President Dana Sande and colleague Sandi Marshall were absent.

The full $6.5 million project, which runs from the Sorlie Bridge to Sixth Street, will rebuild the road. State and federal funds are paying for 90 percent of the cost, which is coordinated by the North Dakota Department of Transportation, but the city is paying for the remainder, and its decision is expected to shape NDDOT's final design for the project. City Administrator Todd Feland stressed that the city will ask the NDDOT to take traffic and large vehicles into consideration in its final design.

The Council also approved a $950,000, NDDOT project to resurface Fifth Street from DeMers Avenue to Gateway Drive. That construction will take place in 2019, and the city will also pay 10 percent of the costs.

Street parking

The City Council offered an early, 5-0 approval of a plan to extend legal street parking from 24 hours to 48 hours. That's shorter than the 72-hour period they'd approved in committee last week, but leaders hope it will still help cut down on the police resources that are regularly used to enforce parking rules. Though the department gets back money on impound fees and car sales, Chief Mark Nelson said police have spent 57 percent of its $15,000 budget on towing expenses so far—and that's not counting police time spent on the issue.

It requires full approval by the City Council.

Fire chief search

Four candidates for Grand Forks Fire Chief will be interviewed on Tuesday, hailing from Fargo, Colorado, Minnesota and the Grand Forks Fire Department. They're set to replace retired chief Peter O'Neill, who left in early January.

Feland said a set of up to three names will be forwarded to Mayor Mike Brown for a selection next week. According to the posting for the job, the final candidate will make a recommended salary of between $106,501 and $133,126.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108