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City pushes for 'complete' streets

In the hopes of making Red Wing's thoroughfares friendlier to walkers and bikers, the City Council adopted a new "complete street" policy Monday.

Council voted unanimously in favor of the policy that would guide the street construction and repair in ways aiming to protect pedestrians and bicyclists by slowing vehicle traffic.

"Any complete street policy is about how do you slow down traffic and keep it moving," Planning Director Brian Peterson said Monday. Improvements could include bump outs at intersections, medians between intersections, pedestrian countdown signals and numerous others.

A committee comprising city and Goodhue County officials proposed the policy. The committee has studied complete street policies for two years.

Encouraging more walking and biking promotes a healthy lifestyle for residents, Peterson said, noting that is one of the primary motivations behind the push for a complete streets policy.

The other is economic development. Much of the committee's focus has been on making downtown intersections along Highway 61 safer. The wide intersections are difficult to cross for many residents, most notably the young and the elderly.

"Our riverfront is such a precious asset. Yet 61 cuts off a good deal of the city, from a walking perspective," said Randall Hemmerlin, Red Wing Housing and Redevelopment Authority director.

Improvements at the highway's downtown intersections would promote more pedestrian travel between downtown and the nearby riverfront. Complete streets proponents argue better access between the two areas would make Red Wing more attractive to tourists and better the quality of life for residents.

If price is right

While City Council members voted unanimously to accept the complete streets policy, they added language that said the city could eschew an improvement if council members deemed it too costly.

There already was some language in the policy to the effect, but council members added wording to make it explicit.

"I think it really needs to be spelled out," Council member Mike Schultz said.

Schultz, along with others, said they had heard from residents worried a complete street policy was attempting to install sidewalks in neighborhoods that don't currently have them. Proposals to install new sidewalks into older neighborhoods have been met with opposition in recent years.

Peterson said that was not the policy's aim.

"Complete streets means different things for different streets," he said, later adding, "This is not a way to get sidewalks in all neighborhoods."