Letter: Reader asks City Council to delay Garden Avenue project in Falcon Heights
This summer, the city of Falcon Heights is planning some road construction on Garden Avenue, which is a main thoroughfare in the northeast quadrant of Falcon Heights. This road is the only road into and out of Falcon Heights Elementary (FHE) School, it is the road the children in this quadrant (who attend FHE) use to walk to and from school, it is the road used by children to walk and bike to the school playground (which is this quadrant’s neighborhood park) and it is the road that hosts the only church in Falcon Heights, which incidentally, is the voting location for these residents.
Garden Avenue does not have sidewalks. Pedestrians are forced to share a busy road with the only delimitation being a white painted line; no physical barrier. At the highest times of this congestion (at the start and end of school), school children as young as 5 years old are walking on this street only feet away from traffic. At the end of the school day, the children are walking with their backs to traffic, which is opposite of what Minnesota Statute 169.21 Subdivision 5 states for pedestrian safety. In winter (which in Minnesota is usually four months of the year) the dangers escalate. Pavement markings (designed for safety) are covered with snow and not visible. Plowing is difficult to do curb to curb, and the road narrows, forcing children to walk even closer to traffic. Snowbanks prevent kids from being able to walk on the curb, and like us adults, kids are looking down at their feet (instead of watching for cars) because they’re afraid they’ll slip on the ice. Although the safety patrol helps due to the “safety in numbers” principle, the truth is that they are children themselves and do not always understand or perform in the best manner when it comes to safety.
The current plan for road construction on Garden Avenue is just to mill and overlay, which only affects the pavement/asphalt portion. There are no plans to include sidewalks or extended curbs, two known and proven physical safety measures as identified by the MN Department of Transportation. A number of residents and FHE parents are requesting that the city delay the road construction for this summer and open a dialogue with residents and the school community about some of these possible safety changes and other ideas on how to improve the walk-ability of Garden Avenue. It would seem appropriate to have these discussions now, before the current project goes through. According to the city engineer it is feasible that a sidewalk could be taken from the current walking line/street, to avoid encroaching on residential property, and narrowing roads are shown to reduce traffic speed.
Delaying the project would allow time to review these options as well as allow time for the city of Falcon Heights to apply for grants to help offset these additional costs. Grants such as the Safe Routes to School Grants offered by the MN DOT (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/saferoutes/grants.html) were specifically designed for these types of scenarios— getting children to and from their school safely. And other grants that promote walkable communities and healthy lifestyles are available. Last, a delay also enables additional time to investigate options for clearing snow during the winter months for those residents impacted who may not be able to financially or physically clear the snow themselves.
Falcon Heights City Council will decide in early May whether or not to delay the current pavement project. I urge the council members to consider delaying the 2015 pavement project and instead sponsor discussions among our residential and school communities to find a solution that will work for everyone in our neighborhood. Our children are our most treasured asset; let’s do what we can to keep them safe on their way to school, on their way to the park or just outside enjoying our wonderful community of Falcon Heights.
Mary Jacobson, resident of Falcon Heights and Falcon Heights Elementary School parent