Should Winona go ahead with the Broadway “road diet”? On Monday night, city staff will ask the City Council to vote on a proposal to convert Broadway from four lanes to three and add curb bumpouts and bike lanes. A recent survey by the city found Winonans are divided on the proposal more or less 50-50. The council has been split, too.
Slated for construction in 2021, the project is meant improve pedestrian safety on a street that has been a hotspot for pedestrian accidents and that many pedestrians say poses a barrier to safely walking across the city core. The road diet would convert Broadway’s four travel lanes into two travel lanes plus one shared, center left-turn lane. The street would get this treatment — plus fresh pavement and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant curb ramps — from Sioux Street to Mankato Avenue. Curb bumpouts, which extend the curb at crosswalks, would be built at a few select intersections.
The $3.2-million project’s main expense is repaving — something Broadway needs sooner or later. The city won state and federal grants totaling $1.9 million to fund the project. The remaining $1.3 million would come from state funds the city gets every year to repair major streets throughout Winona.
In engineering case studies across the country, these four-to-three-lane conversions have improved both pedestrian and vehicular safety without causing congestion. How can three lanes handle traffic loads as well as four? Vehicles waiting to turn left often block one or two of the existing travel lanes anyway, making four-lane undivided streets like Broadway relatively inefficient at moving traffic for how wide they are, Winona City Engineer Brian DeFrang and Stantec Engineering consultants for the city have said, echoing studies by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and U.S. Federal Highway Administration. Traffic would flow equally well on three lanes while reducing the distance pedestrians have to cross, encouraging motorists to drive more slowly by narrowing the roadway, and cutting down on the chances of accidents for both pedestrians and drivers by reducing the number of opposing traffic lanes they have to navigate, the engineers advise.
Survey results: ‘Basically 50-50’
Winonans are divided, however. Impassioned arguments for and against the proposal have flooded local opinion pages and social media. Of the 481 people who responded to a question in a recent city survey, 232 supported the Broadway project and 229 opposed it. “To me, that’s basically 50-50,” DeFrang said.
While respondents were divided on the road diet specifically, they seemed to agree with the general goal of improving pedestrian safety on Broadway. Asked what should be the priority for Broadway, “pedestrian safety” got several times more votes than reducing vehicular travel times, minimizing cost, or other options.
At the City Council’s last meeting, Mayor Mark Peterson asked city staff to develop other options for pedestrian safety improvements that could be made to Broadway if the council does not support the road diet. DeFrang described the options as limited. In recent years, the city added several “stop for pedestrians” signs, two speed-indicating radar signs, and a few button-activated flashing lights — also known as rectangular rapid-flashing beacons (RRFBs) — at crosswalks. “You could put a few more pedestrian RRFBs out there or more signage, but you lose the efficacy if you put too many out there,” DeFrang stated. “You get people respecting them less. Traffic signage only works when it stands out.”
The City Council voted to pursue the project in 2017, a vote that split the council 4-3, with council members Pam Eyden and Paul Schollmeier, former council member Gerry Krage, and Mayor Mark Peterson supporting it, and council members Michelle Alexander, George Borzyskowski, and Al Thurley voting against it. The council appears to be similarly divided today. Borzyskowski and Alexander have spoken against the road diet; council members Schollmeier and Eyden have spoken in favor of it. Krage’s successor, City Council member Eileen Moeller, has made pedestrian safety and accessibility major parts of her platform.
The City Council will meet via the videoconferencing system Zoom on Monday, June 1, at 5:30 p.m. to review public feedback on the Broadway proposal before taking a possible vote on the project at its 6:30 p.m. regular meeting. The public is welcome to the observe both meetings, though there is no opportunity for public comment scheduled. To attend using a computer or smartphone, visit https://zoom.us/j/896465916 and enter meeting identification number: 896 465 916. To attend using a telephone, dial 1-312-626-6799 and, when prompted, enter meeting identification number: 896 465 916. City officials have also been streaming council meeting videos on Facebook.