Northfield’s 10 worst sidewalk omissions

As I’ve already mentioned, Northfield is in the process of making full sidewalk coverage the standard. In the last few years, they’ve consistently added sidewalks during street reconstructions — many on both sides. All new roads within the last fifteen years (save for a few rogue culs de sac) have sidewalks. However, there are definitely some areas that are missing this essential piece of a safe roadway. Note that these roadways are not limited to city-maintained streets or the city limits. This is about Northfield-area problems, and I do note when an entity other than the City of Northfield is responsible.

10. Greenvale Avenue and North Spring Street

Greenvale Avenue -- Image by Google Street View

This is only #10 because it actually no longer is missing a sidewalk. The City installed a sidewalk along the north side of Greenvale Avenue when the road was reconstructed in 2003 and along North Spring Street in 2008. Why do I mention it? Because it’s shocking to think that for more than 40 years, two busy residential collector streets less than half a mile from a school had no sidewalks whatsoever. While only one side of each street received a sidewalk, the sidewalks function well and, outside the downtown, Greenvale’s is one of the most heavily used sidewalks I see. Both of these are City-maintained streets.

9. Spring Creek Road

Image by Bing Maps
This could be a poster for problematic suburban design. The 1980s Mayflower Hill development has sidewalk coverage. It’s not terribly far from the downtown. And yet Spring Creek Road — which for years was the only access road — is extremely narrow and has no sidewalks. It makes the neighborhood isolated from the surrounding community, and essentially treats walking as a novelty — not any serious form of transportation. Spring Creek Road is the responsibility of the City of Northfield.

8. Hester Street and Dundas Boulevard (Rice County 78)

Dundas Blvd and Hester Streets -- Image by Bing Maps

The first of several roads problematic because of multiple authorities. Dundas Blvd (which becomes Armstrong Road in Northfield) is a beautiful road, and a portion of it is adjacent to the Mill Towns Trail. However, development at its intersection with Hester Street creates a need for sidewalks. The pedestrian-friendly downtown Dundas is literally a short block away from those developments, but one has to walk along Dundas Blvd and down a steep, narrow hill on Hester Street to get there. Neither one has sidewalk coverage. The City of Dundas and Rice County are responsible for these streets.

7. Nevada/9th/Maple Streets

Nevada, 9th, and Maple Streets

Nevada/9th/Maple (which essentially form one north-south street) are an important access from the area south of Woodley to downtown, as well as a common route to Sibley School. It’s an old road: the 600 block, for example, does not even have curb and gutter. Newer and more recently improved portions of the road do have sidewalk coverage (full coverage near Jefferson Parkway), but there’s a clear need to bring the rest of the street up to that standard. The City of Northfield is responsible for these streets.

6. Lockwood Drive/North Linden Street

Intersection of Lockwood Drive and North Linden Street

Another example of a residential street built in the post-WWII anti-sidewalk craze. Lockwood Drive has partial (east side) sidewalk coverage north of the county line, but no coverage in Rice County. It is helpful that a shared-use path cuts through to Greenvale Elementary, but to access that path (or to go into town or elsewhere) requires kids to walk on the street for some distance. The City of Northfield is responsible for these streets.

5. South Highway 3

Clinton Lane and South Highway 3

This one can’t be blamed on distant history. The road was reconstructed in the mid-90s (you can see Google Earth imagery of the road in 1991), but sidewalks were included only from Woodley Street to Jefferson Parkway. The only sidewalk south of that point — a shared-use path — runs on only one side, from 110th Street to Heritage Drive. Well it used to run to Heritage Drive. Since the Community Bank building was built, the path was removed and never restored. It now dead-ends at the Life 21 church.

Granted, the road reconstruction occurred before Target/Cub and Heritage Square were built, but it’s still appalling that in a widening and reconstruction of a road like this that no accommodations were made for nonmotorized users. The road should have either a shared-use path or sidewalk on both sides, at the very least until 110th Street (Rice County 1), but preferably until East Hester Street or Cannon City Boulevard/East Street. The only reason I did not rank this higher on the list is that Jefferson Road provides a suitable alternate route with much better access for pedestrians and cyclists. The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Cities of Northfield and Dundas are responsible.

4. West Fifth Street (Minnesota 19)

Fifth Street and Armstrong Road

I know almost nothing about the history of West Fifth Street, though it has been improved somewhat in recent years. Currently there are sidewalks along the north side of the street from Highway 3 to South Orchard Street and, on the south side, from Highway 3 to the western edge of the Malt-O-Meal Campbell Mill. There are odd shared-use paths that run from Armstrong Road to just east of Walden Place, but they run right up against the curb, are in absolutely terrible condition, and have no connection to Northfield’s sidewalk network. In the daylight, you can walk on them, but walking at night, you’re almost guaranteed to trip or roll and ankle in one of the many cracks or potholes. The Hwy 3/19 Multimodal study shows a “future” sidewalk along Fifth Street, but it’s unclear if that is being included in the grant application or if it’s simply a statement that, someday, it might make sense to have sidewalks there. And yes, it certainly would make sense.

3. 110th Street East (Rice County 1)

110th Street and Jefferson Road

I grew up near 110th Street, so this one is a bit personal. When I was eight or nine, I remember that I used to be able to walk down the side of the road to the Corner Mart in Dundas. There would be a few cars, sure, but it was a pleasant enough walk. Today the road carries about 3,950 cars a day (2008) — up from 1600 in 2001 — and is the exclusive access for several hundred homes. The road is also extremely narrow (11′ travel lanes) and has no paved shoulders, making it extremely uncomfortable for bicycling (I speak from extensive experience bicycling on this road).

Rice County, Bridgewater Township, and the Cities of Dundas and Northfield are responsible. Dundas deserves the strong scolding: they allowed developer D. R. Horton to build hundreds of homes in Bridgewater Heights (which uses 110th Street as its only road in or out) in the mid-2000s on the promise that they would build a shared use path as a part of “phase two.” Since they have yet to sell all of the homes of phase one, D. R. Horton’s shared-use path is looking pretty distant. Northfield is also responsible for increased traffic as a result of Target/Cub, the new Middle School, and developments in southeastern Northfield.

Ideally, I’d like to see the entire road from Highway 3 to Hall Avenue (S. Spring Creek Road) upgraded to an urban design with sidewalks on both sides. That’s a pipe dream. More realistic would be shared-use paths on both sides from Highway 3 to Dennison Blvd/Division Street (MN 246), which would be compatible with the existing speeds and would only require minor regrading.

2. Woodley Street

West Woodley Street
Woodley Street is the second-busiest low-speed street (after Jefferson Parkway), but between South Highway 3 and South Prairie Street, there is no consistent sidewalk coverage. (Sidewalks were added to the portion east of Prairie this summer.) The sidewalks that are there (for a few blocks either direction from the Division Street intersection) are patchy and unkept, old thin 12×12 tiles that are more dirt than concrete at this point. The fact that the road is so busy makes the situation worse: people, kids especially, often will not bother to cross the street to walk on the correct side. East Woodley Street is a Rice County road; West Woodley is part of Minnesota 246.

1. Cedar Avenue (Rice 43/Dakota 23)

Cedar Avenue

I believe Cedar Avenue — officially Falk and Eveleth Avenue — is the worst sidewalk omission for several reasons:

  • It’s adjacent to St. Olaf and forms part of a road beltway around campus, popular for joggers.
  • It’s adjacent to residential neighborhoods along Greenvale Ave, North Ave, Thye Parkway, and Lincoln Street.
  • The road barely wide enough for two cars. The shoulders are narrow and unpaved.
  • The speed limit is 30 mph around the most dangerous portion of the road (a 90-degree curve with limited visibility), but coming from the north, it goes very rapidly down from 50 mph, leaving many cars well above 30 in the 30-zone.

Unfortunately, it’s probably one of the problematic ones to deal with. This road affects two counties, one city, and two townships (Bridgewater and Greenvale). Ordinarily the townships would not pay toward county roads, however somebody would have to cough up for sidewalks on the Rice County portion, because the county certainly won’t.

(Thanks to Bill Ostrem for that picture, displaying the aesthetic mess of the road — another result of multiple authorities not working together. The Greenvale Avenue picture is from Google Street view, and the others are from Bing Maps.)

A note about the rankings: these are all fairly rough, though lacking pedestrian counts, it would be difficult to do it scientifically. Generally, I ranked them higher if they were A. close to schools, B. narrow on the road itself, C. busy/higher-speed, D. an exclusive way to get to or from a certain place, or E. already used by pedestrians.

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7 Responses to Northfield’s 10 worst sidewalk omissions

  1. […] Northfield's 10 worst sidewalk omissions « Northfield Nonmotorized […]

  2. Bill Ostrem says:

    Tremendous work, Sean! I agree with your choices. Cedar/Falk/Eveleth is also bad because it’s a route to a medical facility. Want to travel there the healthiest way possible? Can’t do it safely.

    A particular peeve of mine is Poplar Street where it used to connect to Highway 19 near the railroad tracks and Malt O Meal in Northfield. It made sense to no longer have the street connect to 19, but why couldn’t they have put in a path or sidewalk that would connect with the sidewalk along 19? That would provide a nice shortcut. As it is, I sometimes use it by hopping the curb and off-roading it.

  3. Bill,
    On Cedar — great point. It is worth noting that Eaves Avenue, the far more rural north-south access, does actually have a shared-use path in the ditch. However, that’s a mile away from being connected to the City’s sidewalk network — the curve portion that I ranked #1 could easily connect to sidewalks on Lincoln, Greenvale, North Ave, and on and on going north.

    The Poplar Street/5th Street (19) intersection: I will say, for the sake of traffic safety, I am glad that intersection was closed, but I agree, allowing a sidewalk connection would have been a much better idea.

    Here’s an aerial of the area that shows just how obnoxious the sidewalks are. Poplar, Plum, and Orchard all have full sidewalk coverage — except they just barely don’t connect to the sidewalks on 5th/19. I suppose this is because those streets were last reconstructed before 5th Street had sidewalk coverage in that area. But the situation is bad enough — the only way to “escape” 5th Street on the sidewalk network is via Highway 3 — that you’d think a retrofit would be in order.

  4. Bill Ostrem says:

    Sean, the link to the image did not work for me.

    I suppose that technically a “sidewalk” is alongside a road; walkway is the more generic term.

  5. I’m closing comments here. The discussion can continue on Locally Grown.

  6. […] Roosevelt Drive is walking distance to three schools, the NCRC, and arguably the downtown. There is some redemption in that there are shared-use paths that connect at several points to Jefferson Park and the sidewalk along Jefferson Parkway West. (This is the reason it was not included in my top 10 list.) […]

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