As part of its repaving and redesign of London Road, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is planning to put a 150-foot diameter roundabout at 60th Avenue East and London Road. The build will take two years, will destroy a two-household historic home, and will take parkland that was granted to the city on condition that it would always be parkland.
It will be accompanied, of course, by many streetlights, because roundabouts are only safe if they are very well lit.
It will also be accompanied by a fair quantity of road chemicals, including salt, because roundabouts are also only safe if they are not icy.
It will not have pedestrian crossing flashers or ped crossing signs, because roundabouts are only safe if there are minimal visual distractions, so drivers look only to their left when entering.
I am part of a neighborhood group, Preserve the Gateway, that is dismayed by this unthinking design. I’m sure MNDoT, and local firm LHB, which was contracted to do the research and engineering, do not agree with us — but that is because they are seeing this site only as a conduit for cars and trucks.
We see the site as the place where we watch meteor showers and northern lights with our kids, where we cross to the lake and the mouth of the Lester River often, to watch the moon rise or the sunrise, to visit the family of mergansers that nest at the mouth of the Lester every year, to take a dip at the river mouth in the clear water of the trout stream.
This is our home, and is also the spiritual home of many Duluthians who don’t live in the neighborhood but who come often to stargaze, to moon-gaze, to breathe. The overbearing presence of too much concrete, too much lighting, too many chemicals, too long a build time (two years), too much runoff and debris in the river … can destroy the delicate balance of nature and human presence that has evolved here over the past century.
This design will impose an urban array of lights on what was a relatively dark-sky environment; will prevent residents and others from easily crossing the street, will impose a vast stretch of concrete on what had been a simple and historic intersection.
Pedestrians have been pleading with MNDoT to improve the safety of the crossing for years: we’ve researched solutions, ranging from an enhanced pedestrian crossing (flashing pedestrian signs triggered by a button at the intersection, enhanced speed enforcement, potentially lights triggered by users) but have been told, also for years, that the new redesign of London Road would address this.
Now we find that the “solution” proposed by MNDoT is not a solution at all, but a massive imposition that is outscale for the site, will destroy homes, will destroy the night sky, and that will pollute the river and the lake. (A “sump” they propose to put in the park to mitigate the pollution problem would not solve the two years of construction debris, and also is uphill from the intersection.)
We have attempted to get the data that LHB and MNDoT used to create the design, so that we could have input on solutions. Crash data would be helpful — I’ve lived here 30 years and cannot remember a single crash at this intersection. If the roundabout is meant to prevent crashes, it isn’t needed. In any case, neither LHB nor MNDoT will let us see their materials — except for their recommended design, presented as a fait accompli. We have been prevented from proposing any alternative designs for this site — but we have to live with whatever is built.
I know in the 1970s the traffic engineers wanted to ram the freeway straight through the city along the lakefront. If citizens then had given up, and let MNDoT have its way, Duluth would not have a Lakewalk, Canal Park, a Rose Garden, the tunnels taking traffic below grade … the city would be cut off from the lake. But a citizen protest then prevented MNDoT from serving only cars. We need to do the same now.
MNDoT’s own memo detailing how public input should be gathered and used is clear that citizens should be part of proposing and approving solutions to problems. MNDoT has gathered only citizen complaints about problems with the intersection; it doees not want to consider any proposals for solutions from citizens.
This is wrong; just as wrong as the MNDoT of the 1970s was in trying to serve cars over people. Please protest. We have until Dec. 30 to make our voices heard: email Tom Lamb (thomas.lamb @ state.mn.us), Pippi Mayfield (pippi.mayfield @ state.mn.us) and Matt Settergren at LHB (matt.settergren @ lhbcorp.com).
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