Why can’t 21st Avenue East, Woodland and Arrowhead be a highway like Piedmont?

There was a study I cannot find now where some bigwigs came to Duluth back in about 2006 and decided that access to the mall area from the east side of town is one of the largest problems we have here. Every single road has many traffic lights and the speed limits are all 30 mph. Even Howard Gnesen rolls along at 30 mph in the middle of nowhere. The stretch from Kenwood Avenue on Arrowhead Road to Rice Lake Road is just a basic speed trap before it finally opens up to a whole 45 mph.

Why not make from the freeway exit at 21st Avenue East, Woodland Avenue and Arrowhead Road more like what was done on the west side of town near 21st Avenue West?

I know many people live on the stretch, but we have two major colleges and the city keeps “calming traffic” everywhere it can. That was the actual term that I heard at meeting when they decided — against the wishes of everyone in attendance — to make London Road go from four lanes of traffic to two. Then they said the city would plant all kinds of trees and beautify the area. Still waiting on that one.


Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

I think the problem might be that Piedmont Avenue was part of Trunk Highway 53 before the reconstruction and the project costed $32-million in 12-years-ago money. 

Also there is only about a 100-foot swath on 21st Avenue East between the houses on both sides, where on Piedmont Avenue it's more like 150 on the high-speed part south of Skyline. Of course, some houses were demolished to make it so.


about 8 years ago

As someone who lives just off of Highway 53 / Piedmont Avenue I can tell you living an a "highway" sucks. We have lived in our house a block off Piedmont for 20 years. Since the rebuild:

 - noise levels from traffic are so high it is difficult to have windows and/or doors open and carry on a conversation or sleep undisturbed. 

 - speed limits; which were promised at the time of the rebuild to remain at 30 mph*; have risen to a posted 40 mph (we all know folks are going much faster then that). The rationale from MNDOT was that they raised the speed limit to match what folks were actually driving. I keep waiting for new speed limit signs to go up.

 - the goal was to NOT divide the neighborhood the way Mesaba Avenue did to the central/west hillside. It is pretty difficult to cross Piedmont at any of the peak times of traffic. The tunnel is minimally functional in the winter due to snow and ice build-up on the ramp and stairwell and in the tunnel. In addition it is located (by necessity due to terrain) in a place that does not serve much of the neighborhood on the east side of the road; so folks continue to cross at street level.

 - the DTA moved the main bus route (#9) off of Piedmont during the rebuild and never moved it back; citing increased ridership during the construction phase. The lovely bus turnouts built specifically for this route go mostly unused (#5 route is not very functional for folks who need to get to work in any other part of town than the mall area or West Duluth or who need to be there prior to 8 a.m. or who leave work after 6 p.m. And the last time I checked its schedule does not mesh well with any of the mainline routes either).

 - there was a dispute at the time of the rebuild about who would plow the adjoining sidewalks (MNDOT vs City of Duluth). At this point, several years later these walkways are rarely cleared within 24 hours of a storm (city ordinance) and it can often take a week before any attempt is made. 

Personally I see nothing wrong with calming traffic in a residential neighborhood; especially when as a city, we seem to be trying to encourage folks to commute to work, school and other activities by walking, pedaling, or other non-motorized means of transport.


about 8 years ago

* I have a copy of the blueprint handed out to residents on the advisory committee indicating a speed limit of 30 mph. And distinctly remember asking about this during the lead up to the rebuild as I, and my family, used the bus as our primary transportation during the day at the time.

When the speed limit was raised I wrote many a letter and gathered support from folks in the neighborhood to have it returned to 30 mph which is when I learned that in Minnesota the speed limit can be raised on a  road to match the speed that 85% of drivers are traveling.


about 8 years ago

Why not? NO!, Hell NO! I live just off of Arrowhead and trying to make a left turn onto Arrowhead is near impossible! How about you change the speed limit in YOUR neighborhood to 45 mph? What? you have kids! On bikes? Who want to play outside? Too bad, I want to get to the mall a couple of minutes faster, so I can spend more money I haven't earned yet! Good Grief! Think of the children!

Dave Sorensen

about 8 years ago

Have you ever stood near Piedmont as the big trucks are jake-braking down that hill? The noise is horrendous.  Building bigger roads to relieve congestion is like loosening your belt to lose weight.


about 8 years ago

That would make 19th the new 21st. Which frankly has already happened. 

Build for people, not cars!


about 8 years ago

Expanding roadways is not always the answer to road congestion. Perhaps someone should accept the fact that there's an increased demand (mostly among younger generations, like myself) for roads to be more accommodating to pedestrians and cyclists when it's suitable, in addition to acknowledging the concerns about noise, safety and air pollution that bigger, wider roads often bring to those who live near them.

Also, when the city reduced a portion of London Road from four lanes down to two lanes and a center turning lane, they did so because traffic on that road has decreased significantly since the I-35 extension was finished in the early 1990s. I was at that meeting when this was discussed and that factor was brought up clearly. From the two occasions I've seen the road since it was re-striped a couple years ago, I didn't see any congestion problems there to complain about.


about 8 years ago

How would anyone get out of their driveways? How would anyone get in and out of local businesses?

They certainly need to fix the timing of the lights, though. Especially Woodland/Arrowhead and Woodland/Snively.


about 8 years ago

Piedmont is Highway 53 to the Iron Range. Woodland-Arrowhead is the highway to.... where exactly? That crazy busy (ha!) international airport of ours plus a sparsely populated industrial park ... ?  Island Lake?  Please. 

Besides, general traffic engineering 101: more lanes/bigger roads always mean more traffic, not the other way around.


about 8 years ago

I love the two lanes of traffic on London Rd. It's not any slower, but it's a lot saner.  Left-turn lanes mean you're not either stuck behind someone trying to make a turn or veering into the right lane and cutting off traffic and slowing everything down. In my mind it was a huge improvement.


about 8 years ago

First off, thanks for all the comments! I brought it up because of that study stating that access to the mall area from the East End and beyond of town needed to be addressed. If I remember right most of the experts said that Central Entrance should have been a direct route to the freeway going East as well. The hospital's location prevented that and so I was thinking where else could you make access to the mall area from the East side of town?  
I agree about not wanting a freeway in your neighborhood as I have lived in a few different areas of Endion - including South Street along 35. Let me begin with London Road. The city stated that they would plant trees and had all these pictures of this beautiful area they planned. Years later and it still looks the same. The city used the term "calming traffic," but try to get ice cream or Chinese food and cross at that pedestrian crossing at 17th. Go ahead and bike on London Road and see how well the city is sweeping and maintaining it. And also, the powers that be stopped the bike path at 21st because those businesses had more influence than the ones before 21st. The only reason you have a flashing pedestrian crossing near Fitger's now is because someone was nearly killed when they were hit by a car right there.  The London Road project so far hasn't produced the results the city promised. Also, at certain times of the day the traffic backs up from 21st all the way to about 17th Avenue. Good luck crossing of entering! 
Busing and biking. If you bike up Piedmont, God bless you! This town is great to bike around the flatter parts, but pretending this is a bike friendly town is laughable. Our roads and the weather are not conducive for biking. Sure we get voted for the fat tire mountain biking park system, but when our roads are frozen over half of the year who is going to bike down 19th? I do agree that 19th is becoming the new 21st, because when you calm traffic in one area it moves to another. There goes your kids playing in the neighborhood as some college kid on their phone drives 50 mph.
Arrowhead Road after Kenwood should have a speed limit of 45 mph. No one drives 30 mph on that stretch unless a police officer is near. It is a major highway already and trying to "calm" it is like hoping that plaque build up in your heart is going to calm you down. The artery just gets smaller and smaller and hey, by the way, let's build a high school up there on Rice Lake Road and Arrowhead! 
I will agree that Piedmont may have been a bad comparison, but if you have ever lived anywhere else you have seen how these projects can be done nicely. Yes, houses are purchased. Frontage roads and exits are built to accommodate neighborhoods - which actually reduces traffic and makes it easier to get in and out of. Some decent planning could make the area around Kenwood into something that we can all use, but just throwing a building here or there is adding to congestion. Look at how Bluestone has changed the area that was Woodland Middle School. Then try to understand how College Street has no stoplight as it accesses Woodland. Someday they will make it meet up with Bluestone as they tear down houses, but it is a mess. It also is dangerous. Kids have been hit on bikes and it is only time until someone else gets hurt. 
I love 21st and the old houses. I also love London Road and those big houses on the lake. Would I want to live in a house right on a busy road, no. Drive up 21st enough times and you will see what is happening to those big old houses. They have college kids climbing on the roofs to party (there goes the roof!). They slowly are being run down as out-of-state or out of city landlords neglect them. Families are moving out and rentals are moving in. Even in the last 10 years I have seen 21st Avenue East change so much. The amount of traffic on that road is staggering. The road itself near McDonald's is dangerous in the winter. We have ice storms that have paralyzed this community, but usually Piedmont is OK.  I dare you to drive 19th, which is where the "calmed" traffic has moved, during the winter. One time last year there were people standing in the road trying to stop cars from coming down and piling up on the others who were all in a tangled mess. Someone is going to get killed. 
Arrowhead has changed. The gravel driveways increase, the college rentals grow, and the traffic grows. You can ride your bike or the bus to work, but you can't stop progress. More is being built by the mall, people are moving up there, and the downtown has more and more empty buildings. The tourist areas and other areas are doing fine, but you can see the change.
I'd love to live on a street with no traffic. I'd love to ride my bike to work every day of the year. The problem is that Duluth and the way it is set up makes that impossible for many of us to do that. 
So in the end how would you handle the issue of getting from the East side of town to the mall area? Do you put your head in the sand and say "not in my backyard" or "sit in your car longer and be happy about it," or do you try to plan ways to accommodate growth and the reality of how this city is changing? Ness wanted the city to grow to over 100k people, but unless you plan how to move those people to jobs and home it cannot happen. 
I just thought it was worth discussing.


about 8 years ago

It quite literally takes me 10 minutes to get from my home just off Woodland and Oxford St. to the airport. I do it almost daily, and during "rush hour" (SNORT) traffic both ways, traveling  Woodland,  Arrowhead and Rice Lake Road. Even during the present construction at Kenwood and on RLR. I really do wonder how anyone can complain about the fifteen minutes TOPS it takes to get to the mall area. If you live in Lakeside, it might take you 20 minutes. 

I have driven 19th in the winter many many times, and any sane person who lives off 19th takes 21st during bad weather, as it's the first area street to get salted.

Have you lived in a big city, or ex-urb? Our traffic is not traffic. And the chances of Duluth reaching 100,000 are dubious at best. Maybe with climate change, possibly. But there is plenty of space to "fill in" in the city proper. Homes that need renovating, etc. 

So yes, I think that people can learn a little bit of patience and listen to three more songs on the radio when the traffic is "bad." (SNORT again)

The Big E

about 8 years ago

HBH is right--Duluth "traffic" is hardly worth mentioning.  I've lived here long enough that I do catch myself getting agitated about it periodically, but the reality is that there's nothing like a crisis.

Moving London to two lanes was a great step.  They should have done the same with Woodland.  They should also get serious about building out the bike lane system the city has bandied about.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

For no other reasons than that this old newspaper was recently found while helping Aunt Becky move, and it loosely relates to this post, I present:

Piedmont Avenue 1

Piedmont Avenue 2

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