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Downtown design debate

By Staff | Dec 13, 2015

Main Street continues to be a topic of discussion with the Blue Earth City Council as they prepare for the two-block reconstruction project slated for next summer.

Except this time, the discussion with the council shifted to the opportunity to beautify the downtown area as part of the road construction.

The City Council members dedicated time during a work session held prior to their Dec. 7 regular council meeting to discuss design ideas recommended by the city’s street committee.

However, since it was a work session, no action was taken on design specifics and the discussion was ultimately sent back for more consideration by the street committee.

But, that does not mean the council members did not take time to consider many of the suggestions brought forth, including sidewalk bumpouts, colored concrete, green space and new streetlights.

“We need to talk about some of these things so we can stay on track with the project plans,”?city administrator Tim Ibisch said.

Most of the council was in agreement on the benefits of adding some aesthetics to the street project the bumpouts seemed to be the hang up for others.

“The advantages of these bumpouts is that it allows pedestrians to get closer out to the streets before crossing, giving an extra safe zone,”?city engineer Wes Brown explained. “It would also allow us to comply with Americans Disability Act (ADA)?requirements since the bumpouts provide extra space on the sidewalks.”

Brown added that with the advantages, there are some disadvantages as well.

“Snow removal will become more challenging and makes trucks turning radiuses more challenging, as well,”?he said. “But that is somewhat the case regardless of bumpouts.”

Mayor Rick Scholtes said the idea of impeding on the turning area for trucks on Main Street made him a little apprehensive.

“My biggest problem is that these will affect the turning radius,”?he said.

Scholtes said he thought it would be wise to consider the entire downtown Main Street area not just the two-blocks which will be under construction.

“If we do it (add bumpouts) for these blocks, the rest will look horrible,” he added.

He suggested instead of spending money on adding bumpouts to two blocks of Main Street to use funds to expand some of the other concepts to the rest of Main Street.

“I like the idea of colored concrete,” Scholtes said. “What if we put colored concrete on all crosswalks to make them look the same,”?he suggested. “Otherwise we will have these two blocks that look completely different it looks too piecemeal.”

Other members of the council added that since it was discussed that new street lights would be added down the length of Main Street adding colored concrete would also extend the makeover to more than just the two-block area.

Public works director Jamie Holland also attended the meeting after having looked into other surrounding towns or cities which have added similar designs to their street project specifically Albert Lea.

“They did partial bumpouts with a more gradual slope which made it so the grader can get through them and work around them,”?he explained. “But, they lost a few parking spots because of them.”

And, since Blue Earth was discussing using the bumpout spaces to add planters to Main Street sidewalk, Holland looked into what Albert Lea did for that as well.

“Instead of in-ground planters they have removable planters,”?he added. “So, they don’t cause a hazard.”

After discussing all the possibilities, the council decided to postpone making a decision.

“I would like to send it back to the street committee to discuss Rick’s idea,”?council member John Huisman said. “That way they can talk about extending the colored concrete and lighting and see how they feel about eliminating the bumpouts.”

The council will revisit the discussion again at their next council meeting.