Streets belong to you…and me…and everybody else; streets are public spaces – like parks – and might just be our most undervalued and underutilized community resources. Northfield and Rice County are beginning to plan a reconstruction project on Woodley Street and this particular street is a golden opportunity to add value and change the conversation, too.
What might happen if we start talking about streets as a public asset with rich potential to be better places to play, talk, move and build communities rather than arguing about the width of the driving lanes?
Woodley Street is
a local street lined with houses and mature trees with scattered, non-contiguous sidewalks
- the southern edge of the older traditional grid neighborhood
- located between downtown and residential neighborhoods, schools and parks making it a critical piece of infrastructure for linking schools, homes and parks walkable and bikable both along and across Woodley.
- Rice County State Aid Highway 28 which links to MN Trunk Highway 246/Division Street at the western end of this project and terminates at MN 3, it is classified as a collector street (according to Rice County) or minor arterial (according to Northfield) and is an important east-west connection bringing traffic into and through town.
Another way, Woodley is a key motorized transportation route worthy of its CSAH status, but its residential character and location between neighborhoods and schools, parks and downtown make it very much a local street. Northfield has a wonderful opportunity to work with Rice County to try move traffic, but build the local connections and crossings back into this street.
Building more human capacity into Woodley is already richly supported by Northfield policy from general support in the Comprehensive Plan, strong direction in the Complete Streets policy, and particular improvements called for in the Safe Routes to School Plan and Parks, Open Space and Trail Plan. But recent history shows there’s often pushback at the project level even with great policies in place.
So the moment is ripe to change the conversation from “you just don’t get it” where some say “You just don’t get it that sidewalks, bike facilities, and human scale design are important for reasons from public health to economic value (and here are the reports and local information to back me up)” and others say “You just don’t get it that sidewalks cost money, neighbors don’t want to shovel them, and no one bicycles anyway (and here are the dollars and angry neighbors to back me up).”
1. How can Northfield change the conversation to foster shared benefits rather than protecting turf? The residents of Woodley Street are most directly affected, but how to discuss the public space while respecting their private property and hearing their concerns? Rice County has design standards and cost sharing policies in place for city/county projects, but how to engage the County to think outside their urban collector street box to design a project which serves local needs better? Northfield’s City Council tends to polarize at the “you just don’t get it” positions, so what tools do elected officials need to understand and articulate a broader picture of public good?
2. How can Northfield design this project to build the most human capacity and the most public benefit into this street segment?
Here are a couple of journeys and connections, I’m hoping can be facilitated by a new Woodley Street and the conversation around the project should reveal more (or more detail about these sketches).
Kids in my east side neighborhood will be able to get to their neighborhood school, Sibley Elementary School, the soccer fields, or the middle and high schools on foot or bicycle easily, safely and independently.
This one is personal. My daughter rode her bike (alone) to Sibley starting in 3rd grade after we practiced how to cross Woodley Street which is the only significant obstacle in a 3/4 mile trip on otherwise low volume streets. Crossing choices were (a) the confusing 4-way stop (3rd grade non-drivers do not quite “get” the dance of who moves when) at Woodley and Maple Streets or (b) our preferred route, crossing at the Union Street “death curve” (my daughter’s term) where traffic did not stop and moved 30+ mph, but was still simpler to negotiate with “look both ways” even with the limited sight distance. In middle and high school, crossing Woodley was still required, but now the critical 4-way stop intersection at Woodley and Division Street had to be negotiated or bypassed, too, with no obvious “good route.”
Mayflower Hill will be able to walk or bike easily, safely and independently to school, the pool or downtown. When the eastern section of Woodley was reconstructed in 2008, the Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force was instrumental in bringing active transportation concerns front and center. As a result, even though pedestrian accommodations were not standard on a rural road section, a multiuse trail was added on the north side and a sidewalk on the south which helped connect this area to the edge of the current project. How can we continue the connection along Woodley through the denser neighborhood to schools, the swimming pool and downtown?
Woodley Street itself will become part of the pedestrian fabric of Northfield. Reimagining Woodley as a thick thread woven into a rich network of walking, cycling and driving can broaden the conversation about what is possible, what is valuable and how we connect Northfield rather than spur divisiveness.
As a resident of Northfield at the time of the E Woodley St, I have a slightly less rosy view of the project east of Prairie St. First off, I strongly disagree that it is a “rural” section. It is clearly suburban, and fully “developed” on the north side. And the resultant road design was a result of Northfield’s willingness to pay for sidewalks/trails, but not much else triumphant for nonmotorized. There would have been little if any additional cost to use a 5′ gutter pan for bike lanes and 11′ lanes. Instead, 12′ lanes are flanked by an unrideable 4′ “curb reaction distance” with a gutter seam up the middle. No parking is allowed on the street, turning radii are enormous, and trees and signs of life are absent from the corridor. At least for the first couple of winters, residents ignored their obligation to remove snow from the new sidewalks.
That said, this project was done before Northfield adopted a Complete Streets policy. The new project is in a more traditionally designed part of Northfield (smaller blocks, smaller lots, more direct street frontage), so I am hopeful something much different and much better can be devised farther west.
Of course, what is done in this section should also set the stage for a future reconstruction of TH 246 W Woodley St between Highway 3 and Division.
I agree with your memory, Sean, and believe the eastern section could have been better than it is. On the other hand, the multi-use trail is heavily used (although not cleared in the winter) and is a valuable link to Mayflower Hill plus it was the first time I can recall the City and County collaborated and debated design. A mixed accomplishment, but one we can build on.
As a more minor note, I hope the reconstruction process also takes more intense thought into planting and lighting, two aspects that have been somewhat overlooked in previous reconstructions of major streets (except right downtown). To my knowledge, Northfield has never installed lighting mid-block, except downtown. There are also relatively few instances of pedestrian-scale lighting — usually included only if installed by the original developer.
Northfield does plant boulevard trees, but I admit I don’t totally understand the system by which they’re planted. And unfortunately on major streets (like TH 3/Water St downtown) they’re either not planted at all, or die quickly and are not replaced.
We live in a region and a climate where our needs change throughout the year, and a street needs to account for that in a way beyond concrete and asphalt. People should be able to walk safely and with dignity at 5p around New Year’s (lighting). They shouldn’t have their sidewalk buried in plowed snow (adequate boulevard). Similarly, they should have shelter from the sun in the middle of the July (tree canopy).
Here’s a thought: reroute Hwy 246 onto Jefferson Pkwy, and turnback Woodley St west of Prairie St to the city.
Agreed on either point. W Jefferson Pkwy is much better suited to being a trunk highway. Woodley has more direct home frontage, driveways, and more frequent intersections. Either way, I doubt rerouting would make much difference. I don’t think there is much through traffic on the 246 route.
There has been talk of turning back TH 246 to Rice County. Would be nice if the state helped pay for reconstruction within Northfield first, though. The section between Marvin Ln and Arbor St (by new middle school) is a woefully out-of-date 55 mph rural section (speed limit since lowered).
Why turn back CR 28 Woodley to the city west of Prairie? It would be rather odd for a county road to just end at a city street. (Odd in Rice County at least; Hennepin County seems to have a lot more random starts and stops.)
It’s not unheard of, and there’s already precedent in Northfield: both CSAH 43 (on Lincoln St) and CSAH 78 (on Armstrong Blvd) stop short of Highway 19.
Good point. I think the terminus of CSAH 43 might be based on an older routing of a trunk highway or county road (since Forest Avenue used to be the continuous route, before 5th St was connected to swing north there). But the Armstrong Road example also ends CSAH 78 designation at about the city limits. Looking at a map, I also see that CR 79 (on Wall St Rd) ends at the city limits. Perhaps turnback would be in order.
These truncations are interesting…and make me think it would be great if the turnback discussion could be broad enough to look at more than one route at once and think about the network of local, county and state roads.
It could be looked at on a network scale, yes. And there’s precedent…in 1988, Hennepin County took over a bunch of former state highways in return for MnDOT taking over today’s Crosstown and 169 freeways.
However, municipal consent means that all the municipalities involved (plus the county and/or MnDOT as the case may be) must be in agreement, otherwise the turnback deal is off. In the case of MnDOT turnbacks, this usually means MnDOT agrees to reconstruct the road before the local jurisdiction agrees to take it over, such as what is happening in Good Thunder.
For county turnbacks, intentions are usually documented in the county’s transportation plan. I have a copy of Rice County’s (dated 2005). They don’t have Woodley St as a turnback candidate, but they do have CSAH 43, CSAH 78, and CR 79 all as potential turnback candidates, in return for designating Decker Ave as a county route north of Dundas to Hwy 19.
Or just turnback Hwy 246 period.
Wasn’t it not too long ago that Hwy 246 followed Division all the way north to MN 19?
Not since 1976.
Thanks for the insight into Northfield, Betsey. Streets.mn gets lots of requests for more greater MN stories, and Northfield is a great example. I love how you’re reframing the conversation, too — that’s helpful to those of us who are working on similar changes elsewhere in the state.
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Good luck with this.
*sigh* Northfield. Dammit. I went to Carleton. I agitated over the lack of wheelchair accessibility in that town at the time. It is still appalling 20 years later.