This is Carole. She is 73 years-old. She cannot use her walker and get close enough to the cross-walk button to press it because of the ice and snow. So she has to leave her walker by the cross street ( 4th Street) and go unassisted to the cross-walk button, lean over the piles of snow and ice and press it to get the signal to recognize she is there and wants to cross the road. Once she hears the mechanical ” Wait”, she then inches her way back to her walker, which is what you see her doing above. She worries about having enough time to cross the wide highway that cuts through the center of town. She says she constantly is looking over her right shoulder because of the yellow turn signal. Cars are focused on getting through the light and often not looking for people in the crosswalk. A teenage girl was struck at this same intersection by a turning car two summers ago. Her young body was injured, but she walked away. Carole would not have been so lucky.
The City of White Bear Lake and MnDOT spent close to $6 million dollars to repave and beautify U.S. Highway 61 in 2013-2014. Money was also spent on ADA compliant ramps and detectable warnings. But despite all of the by-the-book-engineering the crossing corners are designed with no consideration as to how they will be maintained in the winter, which is half the year. The perennial build-up of snow and ice erases the investment made into the ADA curbs, and the detectable warning is telling someone to cross and precious seconds tick away, pedestrians and bikers contemplate how to get over a pile of icy snow to cross four lanes in 30 seconds.
So whose job is it to take care of this mess? In exchange for securing the rights to put rigid obelisks in a median adorned with hand-painted cast concrete, MnDOT saddled the City with Maintenance Agreement #05182. It clearly states that the City will be responsible for “all future maintenance of the Pedestrian Trails / Walkways, and Treated Concrete.” Two years into the contract, City Hall is claiming thatMnDOT is responsible for clearing the crossing corners. Hmmm. No language in the contract about that. But what about the sidewalk and trails? City Engineer Mark Burch ( with a straight face) told me that the City has always considered our pitifully incomplete sidewalk on the east side of the highway to be “seasonal.” A first for me. I even Googled it and to my surprise Bike Walk Twin Cities ran a piece called “Seasonal Sidewalk Disorder” . You might be thinking, “Doesn’t anyone at the Public Works Department know how to use a shovel?” Have you ever seen the manual to operate a shovel? Get real.
Bottom line is that Carole and bunch of other people’s lives are being interrupted because of bad engineering and no leadership from either MnDOT or the City of White Bear Lake. Actually it is worse than that. Both entities are not in compliance with ADA law as per the Federal Highway Administration. Carole talked with me a bit and told me that several of her friends, who also have walkers, do not go downtown because of the crossing-corners and because the road is too wide and too fast. She called it “tricky.” This decreases Seniors mobility, confidence and health. These people live two blocks off the downtown in an apartment building. They live there because the are close to services and stores.
White Bear Lake’s not-for-everyone-road-design and winter maintenance situation is not unique in Minnesota, or by other accounts, in any other state. As you move around your town take notice of crossing corners and if you are lucky enough to have full mobility think about how you would get down the sidewalk and across the street in a walker or wheelchair. Starting to see more obstacles? You might live in a seasonal community or state.
On 18 February we have a community event in White Bear Lake. Starting at 5:30 this evening the doors to the police safety room behind City Hall will open. Inside, smiling City Staff will have arranged colored and black and white map segments of White Bear Lake on tables. They will be ready to explain to a curious population the rules of engagement. Though residents will be asked to identify routes and destinations and barriers and parts of town where trails need improvement or do not exist at all, what attendees will really being doing with their colored pens, stickers and comments is letting the City Administration and City Council know that being able to get anywhere in White Bear Lake without a car…and feel safe when doing it…is a high priority.
“BIke Trails” are not a special interest expense. They are the proven foundation to a more livable and successful community. The interconnected infrastructure we are working together to build is what will attract young families because of safe routes to schools and our many parks, build real estate values and keep more business with local merchants. We are by history a resort community nestled in layers around a spring-fed lake, a destination to many in the Metro. With a broad geography and changing demographic, we need to adopt and implement a modern plan weaving together the civility that is White Bear Lake’s heritage with a welcoming and safe accessibility throughout the community, regardless of ability or age . Tonight is the first step.
It’s another day at the Clinic. And the Minnesota Department of Wheels (MDOW) is trying to cover-up their addiction; it’s a car-problem. The Clinic is confronting the MDOW with the facts, that people increasingly see “transportation” for what it can and should be. It’s an uneasy moment. The MDOW is a smoker in a room filling with non-smokers. It plays along like any addict being called out and quickly says it wants to quit, but the internal peer pressure is great. The Clinic is listening for more.
To show how hard it has tried to change over the years, the MDOW quickly tells the Clinic about having authorized millions of dollars of reports and studies to figure out how to integrate everyone into one big happy roadway. Hat in hand, stating its perennial inability to pay for improved or new bike or pedestrian infrastructure, the MDOW oozes smoke as it feels the buy-in from the Clinic. Able to morph into its true self, the Department of Cars, Trucks and More Cars and Trucks (DOCTAMCAT), it takes the state-sponsored stage and speaks glowingly of blue-sky, open-ended concepts like Complete Streets. Sincerely leans toward the audience bending ears about context-sensitive solutions and then, as it eases back from the podium out of view, leaves us in our white lab coats with the wink and a nod of upcoming multi-modal policies….cautioning while encouraging that maybe..next year… there will be a new form at the project level. It skillfully buys time to protect the addiction by presenting a willingness to change. The Clinic is impressed. But the addiction is strong, and the promise of change becomes the perfect defensible window dressing. After all, change takes time.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The State Bikeways Act of 1977. Americans with Disabilities Act 1990. Complete Streets 2010. These are merely dates when the issue is formally recognized. If you are a government agency you are in the best possible position; public acknowledgement of the problem and control of the bureaucratic process to integrate it into your system.
Back at the publicly recognized MDOW, the dust builds on the shelved studies. Project managers pursue the STIP, preach Cost Participation to municipalities and set schedules to dollop a fresh coat of paint on rotten boards. Well-meaning social workers ( aka state legislators) enact laws to give hope to the non-motorized and to reform the smokers. But before they go to lunch they always seem to forget to include the instructions outlining and mandating implementation. The cycle is set back into motion and the addiction enabled. “Here”, they say to the well-dressed, politically connected representatives of the MDOW, “we have a lot more money for you and we know you will spend it well.
Now that we are seeing the development of the resurfacing project that is Hwy. 61,it gives us a very real picture of the finished project. It will be very beautiful; we see trees going in, grasses planted, cement stained in interesting patterns and signage.
This is still a highway that divides White Bear Lake from itself, one side from another. Some of us wanted a more accessible highway, a highway that would slow traffic down, a highway that would be inclusive of bicyclists and not hostile to pedestrians. Beautiful and functional too.
Turns out that MNDOT has laws that agree with the basic tenet of shared roadways when those roadways are reconstructed. How is it that MNDOT seemingly has immunity from its own laws?
Kudos to the inspired resident who, on a whim I am told, began a new Facebook page, ” Take Back Hwy 61 in White Bear Lake.” The response has been intense with several hundred “likes” in less than a week. None of us enjoy construction, but the underlying distain for the “beautification” of the road over a more inclusive use of available corridor space is rising to the surface quickly.
NE Bike Walk has been involved for sometime in trying to understand the decision making behind the road design and its car-centric disposition. Does City Hall value commuters more than residents? Why was over $2 million allocated for a project that requires on-going maintenance, uses precious lake water and places hard objects, like big welcoming signs, in the median?
The City/MNDOT plan for Highway 61 was unveiled to the public in the Fall of 2013 a few months before the project would close and no changes would be accepted.
Here is a copy of the letter White Bear Lake Bike Walk Taskforce members sent to the City Council in the Fall of 2013 looking to start a dialogue about how to design the road so the community of White Bear Lake would receive the best possible return.
To WBL Council Members
With the asphalt-shredders, cement and landscape contractors waiting close by, it is now time to say good bye to the old Hwy 61 that divides White Bear Lake literally in two and install the new Hwy 61 overlay. For the pedestrian, the bicyclist and anyone wanting to cross to the other side to enjoy amenities not found on the side they are on, it will still be a hostile go. But it will be a fine homage to our gasping love affair with the automobile; the speed limit will remain unchanged at 40 mph and the medians will be lovely. Hopefully no one will get hurt crossing at the new and improved pedestrian crosswalks.
Efforts including a last-ditch round with a MNDOT ombudsman to get some safety for bikers and walkers have been stonewalled so far. Is it too late? Perhaps we need to take a lesson from some active and engaged St. Paulites. The “I-35E East Side Trail Extension” at the Cayuga interchange agreement with MNDOT is for bicyclists, walking people and for those who use wheelchairs to get around.The old Gateway Trail/Soo Line railroad bridge across the interstate will not be reopened or replaced, as some had hoped but there is an agreement in place to connect the East Side with everyone else.
That effort took “tons and tons of meetings”. We would be happy with tons and tons of meetings…If enough citizens voice their opinion, perhaps the project could be delayed until these issues are fairly and honestly addressed.