One-way change is wrong way, residents say

The breaking of ground for the city’s 2013 street project is still weeks away, but the New Prague City Council dealt with neighbors protesting part of that project at its Monday, March 18, meeting.

Residents along First Street NE, between Central and First Ave. NE, one of the streets included in this summer’s project, objected to the council’s change of direction for the one block, one-way street.

Currently traffic on First Street NE is westbound, empting into Central Avenue by city hall. The council unanimously approved on November 19, 2012 a proposal to change traffic so it will run east, emptying onto First Ave. NE.

David McCollister led the six people who live on or near the street. He explained the history of First Street NE. He noted how the change in route was first brought up at an October 19, 2009, council meeting and that every resident who spoke was opposed to the change. At the time a traffic study was to be done, but at the November 16, 2009, meeting it was noted the traffic count wasn’t done. Planning Director Ken Ondich said the second count wasn’t done as it wasn’t needed and the city didn’t have the equipment to do it.

McCollister said at the November 19, 2012, meeting. The residents again said they didn’t want the changes, but the council went ahead and ordered them. He said they didn’t find out about the change until recently.

During the council meeting it was noted the change in direction was for safety reasons. The change would accommodate residents at Millpond Apartments and Philip Square apartments. Council members and city staff cited the difficulty in turning onto Main Street from Central Avenue and First Avenue NW.

According to the plans for work on First Street NE, it would be reconstructed at 22-feet wide, a 14-foot driving lane and an eight-foot parking lane. There are currently sidewalks on both sides of the street. The south one would be removed and a six-foot sidewalk would be constructed on the north side.

"How is it safe for me to live on a narrower street and increased traffic," asked Mc- Collister. He had put together a petition, which everyone along the street or affected by the rerouting of the oneway had signed. He believed the changes would make it unsafe for residents.

Council member Shawn Ryan said the change was about the greater good of the community. He said that it tough to turn onto Main Street from Central Avenue. The council had listened to everyone (city staff, the city engineer as well as residents) and unfortunately the decision went against a few people.

Susie McCollister, David’s wife, said there will be more traffic on the street with people trying to get to the stop light at the intersection of First Avenue NE and Main Street.

"I think you as a council have to be respectful of us. You are my city council. I voted for you," she said. "We know a decision has been made. We just want to be heard."

Resident Elizabeth Ransom said with the church (FaithPoint Lutheran Church) on the street there will be more traffic.

"I can solve your problem, take out the sidewalk. I don’t want a sidewalk," said resident Liz Musil. She said the road will be wider.

Ryan asked City Administrator Mike Johnson what their options were at this point. He said the project was already out to bid, ad bids are scheduled to be received today (Thursday). The council could do a design change on the street for the sidewalk and do a change order on the project.

Barb Walbridge, a resident whose house faces First Street NE, said she didn’t want lights from east coming traffic shining into her house. She noted where First Street meets First Avenue NE is tight and drivers can’t really turn. She was also concerned about ice on the road causing collisions.

Several of the residents asked why drivers couldn’t go one block down to Second Street NE.

Council member Dave Bruzek asked how many people would actually go up one block.

Susie McCollister asked the city put a light or a fourway stop at the intersections with Main Street. Bruzek responded that Main Street is a state highway, under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Department of Transportation and it was difficult to get changes on that street. Susie McCollister asked about access to First Avenue NE, parking and if they have questions when the street work begins. Johnson replied the city has a weekly meeting where residents can ask questions and address concerns. The city also sends out emails to residents, updating them on the project.

Mayor Chuck Nickolay said they had a lot of unanswered questions. He made a motion that the council table the issue until its Monday, April 1, meeting. The council unanimously approved the motion.