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Main Street just too darn narrow

By Staff | May 2, 2014

There seems to be some controversy starting to brew over the 2015 downtown Blue Earth Main Street reconstruction project.

And, some confusion, rumor and a lot of concern. Most of that concern is about parking.

I thought a story on the front page of the Faribault County Register two weeks ago explained much of the background of the project. I was wrong. Or, some folks just plain didn’t read it. Or understand it.

(One person even claimed not to know anything about the proposed work, despite the fact it has been in the planning stages since Shep was a pup and we have written about it numerous times in the Register.)

So, let us review some of the facts.

The project only includes two blocks from the Main and Fifth streets intersection south to the Main and Seventh streets intersection. Basically, from the post office south to the Juba’s SuperValu corner. But, not the block Juba’s SuperValu and Ankeny’s Furniture are on.

The project is slated to be done next year, during the summer of 2015. However, if state funds are not fully available, it could be postponed to the summer of 2016.

The plans for the project have not been drawn up yet. At least three groups and/or committees are discussing various options for the work to be done.

Main Street is a county-state aid road, meaning the county, using state (and federal) funds, is in charge of it. The city of Blue Earth and Blue Earth Light and Water is in charge of the underground work sewer, water and the like. Oh yes, and also the street lights, which will be new. And, although it is a county project, the city engineer, Wes Brown of Bolton and Menk, will be in charge of drafting the final plans.

Parking is an issue. Currently there is diagonal parking on both sides of these two blocks. However, since more than 3,000 vehicles per day travel on Main Street, certain state guidelines need to be followed. These regulations concern width of parking spaces, traffic lanes and sidewalks.

Aye, here is the problem.

Simply put, Blue Earth’s downtown Main Street is just too dang narrow. In order to accommodate all of these required dimensions, the street would have to be 90 feet wide from building front to building front.

It isn’t. It is only 66 feet wide.

So, the city and the county would need a variance from state rules in order to keep diagonal parking on both sides of the street, as it is now.

And, even if the variance is granted, it would be tight, tight, tight.

The downtown sidewalks would have to be only 8.5 feet wide instead of the 11.5 feet they are now.

While 8.5 feet seems like a lot, it isn’t. Cars’ bumpers overhang the sidewalk by two feet in diagonal parking. A six foot wide clear walkway must be maintained. And, a 2.5 foot clearance from the buildings to the clear walkway is needed.

My math says that adds up to 10.5 feet, not 8.5. And the 8.5 feet distance is the minimum amount required.

An 8.5 foot wide sidewalk also means all the awnings of downtown businesses would have to go away, as they need to be three feet back from the curb.

What is the solution to this problem?

More than likely the street will end up having diagonal parking on one side, parallel on the other. This will also allow for wider sidewalks. But, I doubt it will happen without a lot of controversy. And, that solution still requires a variance from the state.

The business owners want to keep as much parking downtown as they can, and that means keeping the diagonal spaces. I can’t blame them. But, even with keeping diagonal on both sides of the street, there will be fewer spaces, due to having to follow new regulations, and because more handicap spaces are now required. Building a parking lot where the Avalon Center once was seems to be a good albeit costly solution to the downtown parking issue. Besides, the city owns the lot already.

There you have it. Except for one more thing.

At least one person (a cranky old editor) still would like to see some esthetics added to the construction project. Yes, I mean bump outs, paver bricks, flower pots, shrubs, trees, benches anything to break up the white concrete and black asphalt stark look and make downtown Blue Earth more attractive and conducive to pedestrians as well as automobiles.

I hope these things are at least considered when the final plans are drawn up.