Northfield’s downtown is growing, and this is something that needs to be encouraged. A large constituency of Northfield residents have strong feelings about centering community life around the downtown and preserving/expanding its historical character. They want this to continue to feel like the small river town it has been throughout its history, regardless of growth.
There has been a discussion on the N.org “Issues” list about pedestrian safety related to this growth. Basically the issue centers around growth across Highway #3 to the west. If this area develops as a commercial area, there will certainly be a lot of pressure to make it a continuation of the existing downtown. If this is the way the area develops, it will be important that pedestrians are able to safely and conveniently cross Highway #3 between what exists now and what will come to be on the other side of the highway.
Jim Pokorney, a Northfield City Councillor, recently discussed this in his weblog. He included a reprint of an editorial he wrote for the Northfield News.
He makes several important points that bear some reflection. For my part, I’ll make some observations of my own.
Councillor Pokorney is exactly right to point out that downtown commercial development should be treated as fundamentally different from the highway commercial development on the south end of Northfield, extending into Dundas. These two different areas can complement each other well despite what some naysayers will tell you. It is important to recognize this distinction and separate them when discussing development and planning. Downtown is and should be pedestrian focused, as opposed to the south highway district which is vehicle focused. They each have advantages and disadvantages and I’m sure that a lot of folks use both for different reasons.
The City should be planning for this development and expansion of the downtown and has an interest in making pedestrian crossing safe in order to further that vision. MNDOT has an interest in this section of Highway #3 as well. Their interest is focused on safely moving vehicles north and south on the highway, as well as improving access to Highway #19 for truck traffic.
Both of these interests are valid and appropriate undertakings for government. Both the City and MNDOT want improvements in the infrastructure that will increase safety and ensure that commerce can effectively be carried out. That’s what they’re supposed to do: health, safety, welfare, commerce.
As to the specific issue of a light at 3rd Street, I think it’s a “chicken or the egg” scenario.
On the one hand, it may be difficult to support the expense of a signal based on current statistical information about the intersection. There may be more supportive statistics available when more pedestrian-engaged business is carried out on the west side of the highway.
Then again, how attractive will it be for developers to want to improve/renovate that area when they don’t see a ready-made conduit for their foot-powered customers to get to them?
So, I see the question as: when will the light(s) be added to Highway #3, as a result of the redevelopment or as a necessary precursor to it? I am convinced they will be there (MNDOT is installing wiring in anticipation of it as part of the existing project) we just need to decide what the actual mechanism for requiring them will be.