What can be done to make Bygland Road safer during the school year?

We have another question.
This one is from Karla Hager Frost: What can be done to make Bygland Road safer during the school year, especially at 13th St.? It is so dangerous for kids to cross and very difficult to make left turns! There was a police officer at the intersection this morning and 2 cars went right through with 5 kids on bikes needing to cross. Someone’s child is going to get hit, hurt, or worse!

This week I received input from Nancy Ellis, our Community Development Director, from Earl Haugen of the GF-EGF MPO, from Mike Hedlund our Chief of Police, Megan Nelson, our City Clerk, and from Steve Emery, our City Engineer. I have previously discussed this issue with Warren Strandell, Polk County Commissioner, and have included some of his thoughts as well. Please know that the summary and conclusion are my opinion, and not necessarily that of our city staff or other council members.
Bygland Road is a significant concern of mine as well. As I see it, we have the two challenges that you have identified, namely pedestrian safety—particularly the crossing at 13th, and vehicular access—particularly at certain times of day.

The pedestrian crossing at Bygland and 13th is located on such a long and wide open stretch of road that people have gotten into the habit going significantly faster than the posted speed and not stopping for anyone or anything. We are working to address pedestrian safety all along Bygland Road, especially at 13th.
The left turn heading north onto Bygland Road from the west can be extremely difficult between about 7:30 and 8:15 AM during the nine months that school is in session. Some say that’s not a big deal—less than one hour only nine months of the year, but starting one’s day with aggravation is not fun. I believe that during that time, when someone makes a left turn from the west, about half the time someone is irritated—either from waiting an inordinate amount of time to go, or from cutting in too close to oncoming traffic. I believe that we need to address this issue.

For the pedestrian safety issue, we have done a lot to enhance safety, and still more must be done.

• A complete study of Bygland Road has been completed, and we are prioritizing improvements according to what will bring the greatest benefit to our residents.
• That study can be found at https://theforksmpo.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/byglandroadstudy2016.pdf
• Using Safe Routes to School funding, we have installed sidewalks along Bygland road over the years to separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic as much as is possible.
• We have also received a three-year grant to promote safe routes to school. Although this grant will have city-wide benefits, it is especially targeted for the point area. Its purpose is to provide education and encouragement to all users of the transportation system particularly for getting to and from schools.
• Last year we installed the pedestrian-activated crossing system at 13th with the island between north/south lanes for pedestrians to stop while waiting for traffic in the opposite direction to clear.
• We installed the Slow Down radar speed reminders.
• Our police officers periodically direct traffic at 13th to protect kids and let cross-traffic get onto Bygland.

o Chief Hedlund let me know that they have had an officer there each day for the past week, sometimes he has been the officer there himself.
o Chief Hedlund feels that to properly manage this intersection with officers, it would require two officers to do it correctly and we do not have sufficient staffing for this.
o He feels that placing a single officer there is not an ideal situation—simultaneously safeguarding child safety while controlling traffic from all directions is a complex task.
o It is important that we do not neglect the officers’ duties for patrolling the community, participating in medical assist calls, car crashes, and other demands of their time.
o Chief Hedlund sees the need to be mindful of safety in and around all our schools and to balance police staff accordingly.
o And now, into the second week of school, Chief Hedlund reports that the flow of pedestrians and vehicles at Bygland and 13th is going better than it did last week.
• We need to improve education and public awareness.
o Motorists should be reminded that school is back in session and there are lots of kids at these crossings. Issuing citations for motorists violating crosswalk laws may help with this education.
o Kids should be reminded to activate the crossing lights, to make sure oncoming cars are stopping, and to make sure they are free from distractions as they cross.
o We should encourage as many kids as possible to ride the bus to and from school to reduce vehicular traffic during this time.
Looking at the options discussed above in the context of pedestrian safety, the traffic experts have informed me that a 4-way stop can actually decrease safety for pedestrians. Apparently motorists are looking at other cars for their turn to go, forgetting to look at the pedestrian situation. And some motorists get into the habit of blowing through the stop sign from the many times they cross through there during non-peak times.

I see no improved pedestrian safety in a roundabout. To make roundabouts safe for pedestrians, you need to pull the pedestrian crossing quite a ways off of the roundabout to remove it from the merging area. I’m not sure that pedestrians want to bend that far off course to cross the intersection. And you still have the problem of motorists keying into the other vehicles and not seeing the pedestrians.

It looks to me like a traffic signal that can be activated by pedestrians and by cross-traffic would be beneficial at 13th. I believe it could work well at 6th also. MNDOT has said that it is not warranted at either location due to low cross-traffic counts, and has therefore recommended that we do not install it, but that may not stop us. We have stop signs throughout our city that do not meet the warrant of MNDOT, but we have decided we need them to provide safety to our citizens and to allow smooth traffic flow.
For the access issue, several options have been under consideration.

• Placing a 4-way stop on Bygland Road at 13th or 6th. I have threatened to push for a 4-way stop, but our traffic engineers have said that with current traffic counts through the corridor, cars would be backed up for a solid block or more and the safety factor would actually decrease. Several years ago, 4-way stop signs were placed at Bygland and 6th and they performed so badly that they were removed in a matter of hours due to the backup on Bygland. I have been convinced that this alternative would only make things worse.

• Placing a roundabout along Bygland Road at 13th and/or Rhinehart. A roundabout would improve access at these locations, but may be cost prohibitive. Some estimates have come in over $2 Million for each roundabout, including property acquisition, utility relocation, and design and construction costs.
• Placing traffic signals along Bygland Road at 13th or 6th. I prefer this option over a roundabout due to cost. To place a full traffic signal at either of these streets would cost approximately ¼ or less than the cost of a roundabout.
• We have had the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) look at all of the Bygland crossings, and none of them warrant a 4-way stop or a traffic signal at this time. Lou Tasa is a traffic engineer with MNDOT and is a great resource for us. He has recommended that we not install any traffic control structure that does not meet the MNDOT warrant, and they will not participate in funding.
• Building a south end neighborhood bridge. A south end neighborhood bridge to Grand Forks would carry all the people on the south end of East Grand Forks who want to drive to the south end of Grand Forks. It would take them on the most direct route, without all the redundant miles traveled north on Bygland and back south on Reeves Drive, Belmont Road, or some other street in Grand Forks. By all projections, Bygland Road performs much better with a south end neighborhood bridge—now and into the future when more residential development has taken place.
• I believe that we need to do something to improve access to Bygland Road, and considering all of the above, I like the idea of a traffic signal at 13th, 6th, or both.
So back to our two objectives—pedestrian safety and vehicular access, we have a variety of options. Some are better than others. I believe that installation of a traffic light, starting at one intersection, would be beneficial. With the goal of improving pedestrian safety at 13th even beyond the improvements of the last several years, I believe that 13th is the higher priority. This would address both of the concerns identified—morning access from the west and pedestrian safety there. For this to happen, we will need to work with MNDOT, our traffic engineering staff, and have the support of the City Council.

There are good reasons to leave the intersections as they are, and adjust in the future as traffic and pedestrian flows increase. There are benefits to roundabouts, however they come at significant costs.

I am hopeful that very soon we can agree with our friends in Grand Forks on location and construction of a south end neighborhood bridge, which will enhance the safety along Bygland, Reeves, and Belmont by removing unnecessary traffic.

For completeness, we have recently finished a study of Highway 220 North that points out some areas in need of improvement for access and safety. We especially want to improve safety at the Highway 2 and 220 North intersection. We also would like to improve access and safety at the intersections of highway 220 North at 14th, 17th, 20th, and 23rd.
Additionally, we are working on the intersection of Highway 2 and Business Highway 2 to improve safety while preserving full access to the businesses along the Business Highway 2 corridor.
Please know that we are working to safeguard our kids and to facilitate smooth traffic flow. It turns out that there is quite a process to work through to get that done. The city council, staff, boards, and commissions will continue doing all we can in this regard.

Thanks for joining in this conversation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject going forward.

As appropriate, we will be working with the City Council and Mayor’s office to answer questions from East Grand Forks residents about issues that matter. We are your paper and your voice and you deserve representation. If you want your question to have a chance of being answered there are a few different ways to get involved.

You can email directly to oliver@page1publications.com with your question, or you can message the Exponent on Facebook. Your name and question could be answered by the city of East Grand Forks in a future edition.

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