Five Keys to Rochester’s North Broadway Debate

A lot has happened during Rochester’s North Broadway discussions, but I feel that much of the consternation is not about the project itself. Rather, people in Rochester are debating about which direction the city is heading. There is a group of people, both elected and not, who are clinging to the last strands of what they perceive as Rochster’s golden age. I think that’s a mistake.

At this point 90% of the design for North Broadway, one of downtown’s most important streets, is set. On both sides of the street there will be sidewalks, a separated bike path, transit facilities, and quality streetscaping that includes boulevard street trees. The curb-lines are set, there will be no turn lanes or on street parking, buses will stop in the outside lane of traffic to ensure they move efficiently. Lane widths are set to 11′ with some required reaction space. This is too wide in my opinion, but this compromise kept us moving.

 

What is still up for discussion is largely where medians are added and where left turns are allowed.

The discussion in nuanced and that is hard in the public arena.

  1. Executing on our approved plans matter. When the council and community come to consensus we shouldn’t have to have the same fight again. In 2015 we did a big picture overview of what we could do with Broadway Ave. This vision included reducing left turns, maintaining the current number of lanes, adding better bike and pedestrian facilities, create an efficient transit corridor and allow for much higher density people oriented redevelopment. This was affirmed by our integrated transportation studies and recently approved comprehensive plan. There are many reasons why we can’t continue business as usual in transportation. At this point all elected officials understand the necessity of shifting transportation modes. Some just choose to ignore the facts.
  2. Access is scary for businesses. Changing access is scary, but we need a reality check. In most cases businesses with changing access can be gotten to by going around a block. I have seen first hand what happens with a project like this on West 2nd street. It turns out there are just as many businesses there today as before, property values have soared, new businesses and buildings are opening up, despite a loss of most left in access. There are a couple of places where you can’t just go around a block, they make a compelling case for some additional level access. Most businesses on this stretch are destinations meaning people will go there and go around the block if needed. For businesses that just try to capture passing traffic there are probably better locations that what Broadway will become. An insurance agency on Broadway will do just fine with the changes like an insurance agency in Uptown. Part of the compromise coming from the city is that all of the private accesses to Broadway are being maintained.
  3. It’s not about bikes. While protected bike lanes got a lot of attention, I don’t believe this was ever really an issues for businesses or neighbors. There is plenty of room to have great bike facilities while maintaining or even increasing vehicle capacity. The bike issue is just a common refrain from people like Mark Hickey and Randy Staver who just hate everything bicycle related. They constantly complain about bike lanes on the road and sure enough they continue to complain when off street paths are proposed. This section of Broadway actually makes a number of very good connections in building out a safe city wide cycling system.
  4. Safety is inversely correlated to access. This is one of those hard things where we have to balance competing interests. Everywhere left turns are allowed makes an intersection less safe for all users. Everywhere left turns are prohibited people need to find alternate (less direct) routes. Left turns at unsignalized intersections are particularly dangerous, especially for pedestrians crossing. There will be some compromise in access between Option 2B and the minimum access spacing that Professional Engineers can ethically sign off on. What Randy Staver has suggested (no medians at all in the new design) is so dangerous that no professional engineer could ever sign off on it. It is dead on arrival. At a minimum all mid-block lefts will be blocked by medians. Almost certainly some intersection will have to be restricted. While I supported Option 2B as the safest option, I am willing to compromise to some level. My hope is that at every open unsignalized intersection the median will be extended to the intersection on either the North or the South so that there is a pedestrian refuge on at least 1 side. This was a standard we were able to design to on West 2nd Street. I also hope that we do not add lefts when automobile access can be done by an easy around the block trip.
  5. Broadway belongs to all of us. I believe that when pressed behind the scenes almost every community official I have spoken with agrees that we can do better than 2018 Broadway. There are great businesses there, but the condition of many of the buildings and of the roadway is not the best Rochester we can hope for. There are also some gems that I hope can stay; DQ, Kismit, I’m looking at you.

Photo of North Broadway from the Post-Bulletin.

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3 Responses to Five Keys to Rochester’s North Broadway Debate

  1. Melissa Wenzel May 22, 2018 at 2:33 pm #

    Shared with my Rochester colleagues who work at the MN Pollution Control Agency. Thanks!

  2. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele May 23, 2018 at 10:19 am #

    One important piece of context to add to this… Rochester requested and received turnback of the Broadway corridor from MnDOT a few years ago, correct? It used to be U.S. Highway 63 through downtown Rochester, and now U.S. 63 routes through Rochester on the U.S. 52 freeway corridor instead. Mike, was that change made so that the City could view Broadway more as a street to serve local land uses rather than a road to serve major through traffic?

  3. Sam May 24, 2018 at 3:41 pm #

    Wow, that’s a really nice street design. Will the bike lanes connect to anything at the northern and southern ends of the corridor? I don’t remember Broadway through downtown being particularly bikeable.

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