By Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN Cokato City Council had a special meeting Oct. 24 with Minnesota Department of Transportation District 3 project manager Claudia Dumont regarding potential updates for Highway 12 through Cokato.
What started out as a Highway 12 resurfacing and overlay project between Sunset Avenue NW and Seventh Street SE expanded to possibly include other updates as well, after City Administrator Annita Smythe informed Dumont of a few safety concerns she had, mainly speeds through town and making roads safe for all users: drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
In anaylzing these concerns, it was found that from 2011-2015, 33 collisions have occured at the stoplight intersection of Hwy 12 and Broadway Avenue. Of these accidents, 88 percent of them involved alley/driveway/road access points, with the leading causes being inattentive drivers, speeding, and/or failure to yield to right of way.
When addressing the drivers’ tendancy to speed, Dumont said it is likely due to Cokato’s roads being so open.
Semis having to enter oncoming traffic in order to turn at Broadway Avenue is another safety issue.
Possible solutions for these concerns were Dumont’s main address to the council.
To help fix pedestrian crossing safety, the use of bump outs was proposed to the council.
Bump outs extend the curb (about 6 feet) in a circular shape toward the driving lane so as to put pedestrians closer to traffic, thereby making them more visible.
Bump outs can also be detached from the curb, with a bike path in between, so as to separate bicyclists from vehicles at intersections.
Inserting refuge islands in the middle of the road, in place of the yellow lines would also provide pedestrians a break in crossing lanes and make it so they would only have to focus on one direction of traffic at a time.
Due to the wheel paths semis need to take when making a turn, however, Dumont noted that these trucks would likely cross over any bump outs or medians put in place.
Smythe also noted that pedestrians do not always use intersections or crosswalks when crossing lanes either.
“You’ve got some crossing from the nursing home going over to Jack’s [gas station] all the time, or from Johnson [Avenue North] and they cut over to go to The Market Place, and we talked about some of those footpaths and what might make sense to address that,” she stated.
Council Member Paul Boger commented that pedestrians are going to take the route that makes the most sense, or is quickest for them, regardless of where the designated crosswalks are placed.
Dumont acknowledged this line of thinking exists, but stated MnDOT still aims to provide pedestrians with the safest crossing path and tries to encourage their use.
When it comes to drivers picking up speed in Cokato, Dumont said the most likely reason for it is the openness of the roads. Wide roadways tend to encourage drivers to increase speeds, which can also increase danger to pedestrians and bicyclists.
In coming up with ways to help slow down traffic, the installation of curved medians at Cokato’s west and east entrances was suggested.
These medians fit within existing pavement edges, and are designed to slow traffic by causing drivers to go around a series of curves when entering town. The medians can also be landscaped to add an “aesthetically pleasing entrance into town.”
The planning and zoning committee also questioned if a bypass lane could be added for left-turning traffic on the West end of Cokato in order to accomodate Fairbault Foods’ trucks. Dumont said she would look into it.
Another possibility for addressing traffic speed, as well as bicyclist safety, is inserting a two-way left turn lane or a center median all the way through town. This would buffer bike lanes from traffic and would tighten up traffic lanes, causing drivers to feel uncomfortable and, therefore, naturally slow down.
One downside to this method, however, is that drivers might limit access to businesses with existing right and left turn accesses.
Painted buffers are also said to be high maintenance in needing to be restripped every year, and can therefore end up being costly though they are effective. The council will address the necessity for bike lanes at a later date.
The final solution Dumont shared was the possbility of installing a mini roundabout at the Highway 12 and Broadway Avenue intersection.
Similar to the curved median idea, roundabouts cause drivers to decrease speeds at the entrances/exits while also keeping traffic moving.
The widenend sidewalks at roundabouts would also shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross, and bicyclists would be able to use these sidewalks to crossover, rather than entering traffic.
Dumont said this solution would also allow large semis to get through the intersection without needing to cross into opposing lanes. However, the trucks will need to drive over the center roundabout’s center islands.
Dumont stated this is typical for mini roundabouts.
In order to place the roundabout there, however, Dumont said MnDot would have to acquire a bit of property from the intersection’s surrounding businesses.
“We had a booth set up at the Corn Carnival this year, and actually received positive feedback on the roundabout idea,” said Dumont.
The public is invited to share ideas and give feedback to the future of Highway 12 in Cokato Thursday, Nov. 9 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cokato City Hall.