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Council stuck on bump-out decision downtown

The Grand Forks City Council is having second thoughts on including bump-outs along DeMers Avenue as the North Dakota Department of Transportation starts designing next year's plans for its reconstruction of the busy street.

Grand Forks City Hall (Herald photo/Sam Easter)
Grand Forks City Hall (Herald photo/Sam Easter)

The Grand Forks City Council is having second thoughts on including bump-outs along DeMers Avenue as the North Dakota Department of Transportation starts designing next year's plans for its reconstruction of the busy street.

Council members were tied 3-3 during a July 23 committee meeting on a motion to get rid of proposed bump-outs along DeMers. The council was supposed to make an informal decision on a recommendation from Assistant City Engineer Mark Walker to exclude bump-outs at DeMers and Fifth Street, along with nearby side streets. In March, the council voted to install bump-outs at every intersection along DeMers, as part of a larger DOT project to reconstruct DeMers from Sorlie Bridge and Sixth Street.

By installing "bump-outs," the city would extend sidewalk curbs at intersections in an effort to improve crossing conditions for pedestrians. But wider sidewalks mean narrower streets, which might mean large vehicles like semi-trucks and buses will have a harder time making right hand turns.

Dale Bergman, director for Grand Forks' Cities Area Transit, said he talked with Walker before his staff recommendation last Monday.

"When they were having that discussion about putting bump-outs in on Fifth, we did not want them to put them in because (city buses) can't make that right hand turn," Bergman said.

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He calculated his buses make 31 northbound-to-eastbound right turns at the Fifth Street intersection per weekday.

Not having the room to make right hand turns is a safety hazard at its worst, Bergman said, and at best it will inconvenience riders by increasing wait times and delaying arrivals.

"Because what it's doing is you can't take right hand turn on red, and we have to sit in line with all the ones that are going to go straight through," he said.

Council member Danny Weigel, who has long advocated against bump-outs, made the motion to cut the curb extensions on DeMers altogether.

"I just don't think DeMers Avenue is the place for them," he said, adding DeMers is one of only a few routes citizens can to take to Minnesota while Kennedy Bridge is under construction.

Weigel said he's heard many complaints from citizens about bump-outs, likely because "it has the potential to inconvenience them," he said.

"I think people get passionate about sometimes the little things," he said.

Council member Bret Weber voted against Weigel's motion during last week's meeting. Weber has been an advocate for the curb extensions for as long as he's been on the council. "The idea that, 'Oh, a bad driver will have trouble making a turn,' is not a good excuse for not making it safe for pedestrians," Weber said.

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Improving safety conditions downtown is only part of the equation, Weber said.

"The other part is increasing the property values of those folks downtown, where we hope to be doing more and more business," he said.

Walker and Weigel argued more traffic downtown is a reason against bump-outs, but Weber said the opposite.

"I'm trying to argue that all of the reasons that were suggested for why we should be rethinking this are actually reasons for why we should have bump outs there," Weber said. "We're going to have more people there, walking around that corner-we need to make it more safe and attractive for them so that we can build value for our downtown businesses."

Weber said he's still passionate for having bump-outs on DeMers, but he's up for a compromise, adding the city has a way of coming up with interesting ideas. The bump-outs don't all have to be the same dimensions, he said.

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