Brainerd rejects MnDOT-funded plan to eliminate parking places

The $500,000 MnDOT grant came to Brainerd packaged under an innocuous enough sounding state program called “Safe Routes to School.” SRS funds construction for sidewalks and crossings near schools to make it easier, safer and supposedly more enticing for students to hoof it to class, despite little evidence to support the program’s premise.

Brainerd’s grant was to add a “crossing and improvements and new curb construction along Oak Street” in front of an elementary school. Just one catch under the plan proposed for city council approval. Some on-street parking would have to be eliminated because the project’s new median wouldn’t leave enough room for snowplows to get through with cars parked there.

That’s all it took for the proposal to quickly get rerouted, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

The fate of on-street parking near Harrison Elementary School is up in the air after Brainerd City Council members struck down a design proposal for the Safe Routes to School program.

…The proposal included adding a median to the block as a traffic calming measure and to provide a pedestrian island while crossing the street. Also included in the plans are slight curb adjustments at the crossing locations to bump out the curbs to narrow the crossing distances.

With the addition of the median, the space for vehicles along that stretch of road must be narrowed. The proposal presented to the council Monday included an 8-foot wide median, 12-foot travel lane and a 6-foot wide shoulder, not allowing enough room for on-street parking.

There was another option for a smaller median that would allow snowplows and parked cars to coexist. But proponents on the city council stuck with their Safe Routes to School plan to needlessly sacrifice parking spaces and inconvenience those who rely on them.

With a motion by O’Day and seconded by council member Tad Erickson to opt for the choice without on-street parking, council member Gabe Johnson immediately said he would vote no. In talks with Minnesota Department of Transportation officials over the years, Johnson said he learned a 12-foot traffic lane includes an extra 2 feet for gutter and stormwater collection systems, meaning there would still be 14 feet of room for the plow.

“I think we’re just promoting these plans because that’s what we feel like when it’s not necessarily a hindrance to the plow trucks or anything. That’s just excuses being made,” Johnson said, noting he supports the project in general.

It still turned out to be a close call with the mayor casting the decisive vote and sending the project back to the drawing board.

O’Day said the underground utilities on the street will likely need to be replaced in 10 years or so, which would give the council an opportunity to look at on-street parking if the design without it isn’t working.

Mayor Dave Badeaux, who does not vote on council matters except in the case of a tie, reiterated his long-standing support for on-street parking. He also noted there are residents along that stretch of road who previously voiced opposition to losing their on-street parking.

At least for now, the streets of Brainerd will remain safe for both kids and cars.