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CM Palmisano hosts West Calhoun public safety meeting

The audience before the forum.
The audience before the forum.
John Watne

A public forum on safety and lighting in the West Calhoun neighborhood was held at the Bakken Museum May 13, 2014 for residents and public officials. The meeting was hosted by the Council Member for the 13th Ward, Linea Palmisano, and the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council (disclosure: your Examiner is the Treasurer for the WCNC, a volunteer position). The meeting was a forum for residents to share their concerns about safety in the neighborhood. It was one end result of the safety/lighting walk the WCNC conducted back in February of this year. This was the same walk that took a tragic turn when Caitlin Barton was killed walking across Lake Street (for more information about this incident see your Examiner’s reporting here and here). Also present were numerous people with the city of Minneapolis, including Steve Mosing, Tim Drew, and David Peterson. Jim Grube with Hennepin County was also there, as was the county’s new Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Kelley Yemen. Finally, Park Board At-Large Commissioner Meg Forney was also in attendance. In the audience your Examiner spotted several members of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association.

The meeting began with a brief introduction from the Chairman of the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council, David Rhees. Council Member Palmisano then gave a presentation about the history of this area and what the city has done since the lighting walk to make this area safer for pedestrians. She first outlined the many planning and safety studies conducted in the area. This included the original Calhoun Gateway Small Area Plan from 2002 as well as more recent programs such as the Capstone study in 2011 and the walking workshops in 2012. Palmisano also mentioned the lighting walk that took such a tragic turn in February.

The next part of the presentation dealt with what the city has already done in this neighborhood. This included new lighting over some signals, completed maintenance on Xcel lighting near Abbott Ave, temporary traffic enforcement at the Lake/Market intersection, and longer times for pedestrian walk signals at several intersections. Palmisano also mentioned that Abbott Avenue is actually owned by Calhoun Commons, making changes to that street more difficult. She also cited a figure of 28 violations during the recent traffic enforcement by the Minneapolis Police Department.

The presentation then delved into the Lake/Market Plaza intersection. Some proposals for this area included “pedestrian countdown timers” and “refreshed or enhanced crosswalk markings.” Another solution that would require input from Hennepin County was to eliminate the right-turn lanes on either side of Lake Street at this intersection, an idea that Palmisano said got a cool reception from some neighborhood groups. The next slide covered two intersections with Excelsior Blvd. Palmisano said that increased lighting should help create a more visible area around these intersections. She also said there will be new pavement markings for pedestrians.

Next up were some more ideas for Lake/Market and Excelsior. For some “near-term” solutions, Palmisano included discussing snow removal with nearby property owners (better snow removal could occur if the neighborhood gained a Special Service District designation, which would also include a tax on property owners), installing “No Turn on Red” signs at all corners, installing “No U-Turn signs on Lake Street, and installing “Do Not Block Intersection” signs on Market. Some “mid-term” solutions were updating the ADA ramps, “tightening the curb radii at the northeast corner of Market/Excelsior and all corners of Market/Lake for maximum pedestrian safety,” and petitioning the Minnesota Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit here to 30 MPH.

The presentation then looked at some of the street lighting on Abbott and 31st Streets, another focus area of the WCNC lighting walk. Palmisano said Xcel was now aware of the need for new lights on the poles in this area. She also said the city was discussing the lighting issues here with Regency and the Hennepin County Railroad Authority. Regarding the lighting issues at West 32nd Street and Calhoun Blvd, Palmisano said the city may install new lighting here as some of the Park Board lighting poles are over thirty years old.

Palmisano then mentioned a few ideas left on the cutting room floor. First was having the city install flashing yellow warning lights above the Lake Street bridge and on Excelsior Blvd. The city traffic engineers were worried about studies that showed this type of signage may actually cause drivers to increase their speed. Another idea that would not work was having the city eliminate the left-turn arrow from the signal on Excelsior at Calhoun Commons. Palmisano said having this extra signal time was beneficial to pedestrian safety. Palmisano then turned to some “factors complicating implementation.” The first was the sheer number of parcel owners in the neighborhood. To illustrate this, the Council Member showed a nearly incomprehensible slide that detailed all of the parcel owners (commercial, residential, and government) in overlapping yellow outlines. The next issue was the upcoming West Lake light rail station. Palmisano said that while this station is not necessary to start safety improvements, the city may be able to use the municipal consent process to gain leverage for more improvements.

Following the presentation, attendants were given time to ask questions of Palmisano and the city staff. This soon devolved into more of a discussion with all participants. The first question from the audience concerned a possible pedestrian walkway on the south side of the Greenway. Palmisano said the city could look into this as a solution when the light rail station planning begins. The next questioner raised various concerns, including the amount of bus stops in the area and the confusing nature of many of the other signs in the area. The gentleman, who was a CIDNA board member, described the area as looking like a “poorly designed rest area on an interstate” and called for more divided, landscaped medians with trees. Tim Drew, traffic operations engineer with the city, took this one. He discussed how the city is beginning to implement “bump-outs” for pedestrians on Lake Street. These add more room to the intersection corners where pedestrians are walking, ensuring that there is a “bump-out” of space between them and vehicles. This could be one possible solution for this area. He also cited the traffic figures for the Excelsior/Lake corridor: 25,000 cars on Lake and 17,000 on Excelsior each day. He also said adding medians generally has a “positive effect” on driver behavior.

The next question dealt with a rather hot-button issue among the residents assembled: the number of people making left turns in to Calhoun Commons on Market Street. Emily Ziring, policy director for CM Palmisano, stated that the city is looking at placing a median on Market Street to prevent these types of turns, but needs to “discuss with the commercial property owner.” Ms. Ziring also warned about possible “unintended consequences” from placing a median here. This issue clearly meant a lot to some residents, however, and the discussion continued. Richard Logan, board member with the WCNC, spoke about the danger at this entrance for pedestrians and described drivers taking a quick left turn into the commercial area. Your Examiner’s wife spoke up about the many time she had nearly been run over by vehicles entering and exiting here.

The next question dealt with some of the signage in the area, specifically the “No Turn on Red” sign on Lake Street, about which the questioner said is hardly visible. This dovetailed into a conversation about signage around the fire department warning drivers about emergency vehicles. The city representative said they’d look into this, but warned of the dangers of “over-signing” an area.

Here the meeting started its devolution into more of a conversation, with various residents raising multiple other concerns. These included bicyclists going the wrong way down bike paths and riding on sidewalks, painting yellow lines on the street near the fire station, creating a way to go north on West Calhoun Blvd, and people trying to beat the stop lights on Excelsior and Lake. On this last point, Palmisano said “enforcement here is difficult,” mentioning that the state of Minnesota does not allow camera enforcement.

After the group discussion Palmisano invited Yemen, the Bike and Ped Coordinator, to share a few thoughts. She said that the problems here “start farther back” from the West Calhoun neighborhood and therefore the city needs to also deal with areas closer to Uptown. David Peterson spoke next, saying that he thinks this is a “really confusing intersection” but is the only way to get into Minneapolis for a lot of people.

Finally, Palmisano let the accumulated residents participate in what she called “dot-mocracy.” Each person was given a sheet of dot stickers and was asked to place them on large sheets of paper on one wall with ideas they thought deserved pursuing by the city.

Overall this was an effective public outreach, and a good denouement for the events spanning the WCNC lighting walk up until this point. Much work remains to be done by the city and county regarding the neighborhood and its safety, but the residents here seem to understand they have a responsive Council Member in Palmisano, ready to listen and deal with the issues. Sometimes residents just want to make their grievances known to public officials, and this forum was an excellent opportunity for them to do just that, giving ample space to the many traffic concerns of the area. Stay tuned to your Examiner for continuing coverage of this neighborhood and the city’s attempts to make it as safe as possible for residents and commuters.