Everyone interested will be welcome at meeting to be scheduled in a couple weeks.

    Pressed by former city council member and 2018 mayoral candidate Dana Johnson to make the process as open and public as possible, Mayor Wayne Melbye said at Tuesday evening’s Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting that a meeting will be scheduled in a couple weeks for anyone interested in serving on a steering committee that will look at potential traffic calming measures on Main and Broadway downtown that would likely involve a reduction in traffic lanes from three to two to make room for a bicycle lane.

    “We’ll schedule a meeting in a couple weeks and publicize it, and we’ll see who’s got the passion to serve on that committee,” Melbye said.

    The council committee on Tuesday approved a resolution – suggested recently by the Minnesota Department of Transportation – approving the establishment of the committee itself. Some council members stressed that once the suggested committee membership is in place, they want a second chance to weigh in on the committee’s specific makeup.

    City and community stakeholders for some time have been talking about ways to slow down traffic on Main and Broadway because they say it will make downtown safer, more inviting to people utilizing all methods of getting around, and more successful. MnDOT leaders have said they’re interested in traffic-calming measures, too, and say data shows a reduction in lanes of motorized traffic gets people in vehicles to slow down. But, City Administrator Shannon Stassen stressed Tuesday, MnDOT has not have an official project in place for downtown Crookston and has not identified a project. The state agency is simply interested in seeing the discussion continue, he said, and see where it leads.

    “We’re at the point of engaging the public and getting lots of input over the next few months,” Stassen said. “There will be tons of opportunities (for people to have input).

    “We need to start somewhere,” Mayor Wayne Melbye added. “Maybe we get some people with skin in the game, and then we get to a point where we tell MnDOT that the community backs this or doesn’t want it.”

    If a theme sort of emerged as the debate continued Tuesday, it’s that people who are in favor of traffic calming on Main and Broadway are talking to or are being talked to by people who are mostly in favor of it, and people who are against it are talking to or being talked to by people who are mostly against it.

    Johnson and Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten reiterated Tuesday that they’re having a hard time finding anyone who’s in favor of traffic calming downtown, while Stassen noted that as he spoke to several downtown business owners in advance of a “focus group” meeting conducted by MnDOT at city hall a couple weeks ago, the vast majority were at least open to the idea, and the one or two businesspeople who were against it, he added, had been misinformed on the scope and cost of reducing the lanes of traffic.

    As for a timeline, Stassen said, the idea would be for the steering committee to meet several times in the coming months with the goal of reaching some sort of resolution on the matter by mid-February 2019.

    Council members Steve Erickson and Jake Fee, both noting that most people they talk to are more concerned by the condition of the brick paver sidewalks downtown, said they’d be very hesitant to vote in favor of any traffic calming project that doesn’t address the sidewalk issue. The council looked into a downtown sidewalk replacement project several months ago, but backed away when initial cost estimates were in the $1.3 million range. Meanwhile, the less-extensive traffic calming options that involve little more than re-striping lanes and possibly adding some natural buffers like flower planters are seen as being relatively inexpensive and easy to do.

    Before any actual traffic calming project would be implemented, Stassen reiterated, a “demonstration project” would be undertaken to see how it works, and how the public reacts.
    Fee said he has an idea of what the public reaction will be. “I don’t mind looking into this, but I personally think it’s government preference over consumer demand,” he said.

    The meeting two weeks or so down the road has not yet been scheduled. The goal will be to get a balance of opinions among the membership, Stassen and Melbye said.

    “You might have a list of 100 people who are against it, but how many people are going to come here and sit at the table?” the mayor said.