Herald editorial board
The bright paint on the streets in downtown Grand Forks may be confusing to pedestrians and motorists, but it's serving an important purpose.
The red areas along the corners of DeMers Avenue downtown are temporary bump-outs, designed to narrow a busy street and provide more safety for pedestrians. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the curb extensions create a safer environment since they make shorter street crossings.
Don't be fooled by the red paint surrounded by collapsible yellow posts - these aren't what normal bump-outs look like, nor will they ever be like that in Grand Forks. The painted areas will be washed away in a few weeks; after that, the City Council will decide the permanent future of bump-outs prior to reconstruction of DeMers beginning next year.
The temporary red paint notwithstanding, actual bump-outs are quite attractive, often implementing grass, furniture or even art to enhance the beauty of a neighborhood.
City Council member Jeannie Mock told WDAZ last week that bump-outs are specifically designed to slow cars and trucks and to improve visibility - both for pedestrians attempting to cross the street as well as for the drivers approaching the corners.
The temporary project was funded by the state Department of Transportation. The idea is to use the test period to consider changes before they're made permanently. This is important to discuss now, considering the upcoming DeMers reconstruction.
We like the idea of bump-outs, and especially along DeMers Avenue near Town Square. We do believe they help reduce traffic speeds and allow better visibility for pedestrians as they cross the street. City Administrator Todd Feland calls them "calming devices" and that sounds about right. They don't seem to reduce parking, since they only replace short turn lanes at those corners.
Unfortunately, that reduction of turning lanes may be an annoyance. Bump-outs also reduce the radius needed for large vehicles to turn. One conclusion made by the city is that there probably should be no permanent bump-outs at the corner of Fifth and DeMers, since that intersection is important for turning bus and truck traffic. That's a good thing.
As for the confusion and early concerns by residents, naysayers may convert as time passes. It's a bit like the early disdain over roundabouts in Grand Forks, which we believe have proved useful, safe and - dare we say - popular.
Plus, it's best to do this test now so future bump-out plans can be nixed or adopted. We're hoping for the latter because as downtown renovation progresses - there are millions of dollars' worth of activity planned in the neighborhood - safety must be a concern. Adding more residents and activity will obviously increase interaction between pedestrians and vehicles.
At the same time, they will improve the neighborhood's aesthetics.
Bump-outs are good for Grand Forks' downtown.