Parking: No easy solution
Keeping diagonal parking on both sides of Blue Earth’s Main Street is not going to be easy, the city’s engineer says.
At a joint meeting of two city committees Street Committee and the Main Street 2015 Committee city engineer Wes Brown explained what the problems are with trying to keep the current street, sidewalk and parking design.
“We currently have an 80-foot wide space on the two blocks of Main Street which will be reconstructed in 2015,” Brown explains. “It is a 57-foot wide street and 11 1/2 foot wide sidewalks.”
That space includes 63 diagonal parking stalls in the two blocks.
Because the average daily traffic count (ADT) has been over 3,000 vehicles every time the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has checked over the past 20 years, Main Street will have to follow state guidelines, Brown told the two committees.
In order to keep diagonal parking on both sides of the street, a street width of 90 feet would be needed 10 feet over what is available.
The extra space is needed for 20 foot long parking spaces and 14 feet of space for vehicles to back out of the stalls before entering the traffic lane.
“We can apply to the state for two variances,” Brown says. “One would be to use 18 feet for the parking stalls and the other would be for eliminating the space from the parking stalls to the lane of traffic.”
This variance would be possible if the city can use the regulations for under 3,000 daily traffic count.
Brown points out that even if the variance is granted and the city can fit in diagonal parking spaces on both sides of the street, the number of stalls will go from 63 currently to 56.
“And, the width of the sidewalks is going to go from 11 1/2 feet down to eight or nine feet,” he says. “I think seven feet is the minimum for a downtown area. And you have to remember a vehicle’s bumper overhangs the sidewalk by a foot or two.”
The only way to keep within the state guidelines without a variance, Brown says, is to go with parallel parking on both sides of the street.
While that would increase the width of the sidewalks, it would mean going from 56 parking spots down to 40, with four of them handicap parking spots.
He also presented a plan with diagonal parking on one side of Main Street and parallel parking on the other. This plan would also need the variances from state guidelines.
In this plan, the number of parking spaces is 48, with four of them handicap. Sidewalk widths would increase, to 10 foot on one side, 18 on the other.
When asked about going with one way traffic on Main Street, Brown says there issues there as well.
“You would still need 76 feet of width for the street and parking spaces, if we don’t have the state variance granted,” Brown says.
The engineer explained how the time table will have to work.
“The street committee will have to make a recommendation to the City Council to apply for a variance,” he says. “Then, because it is a county project, the city will have to request the county to submit the request for a variance.”
The state only looks at variances once each quarter, so this process needs to be completed in May, Brown says, to make the June MnDOT variance meeting.
Faribault County engineer John McDonald also explained how the funding process works for this Main Street project.
“We will be using the county/state aid/municipal bond fund money,” McDonald says. “We basically borrow money ahead of time from this fund we don’t have the funds on hand.”
The county engineer says the request for the funds will not be made until later this year, in November.
“So we will not know for sure this work will be done in 2015 until November of this year,” he says. “Without all the funding, it could be delayed until 2016.”
However, all of the plans need to be in the process as though the project is moving ahead next summer, McDonald says.
“If we have to wait a year, we will have the plans all ready to go,” he says.
Members of the Main Street 2015 committee expressed interest in submitting ideas for making the downtown area more aesthetically pleasing and inviting.
And still maintain parking areas for cars.