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Wednesday
Jul092014

Five to Three

This was posted earlier today as part of our ongoing local conversation at our A Better Brainerd site. 

The most successful small towns are the ones that can see beyond their borders, understand how the world is changing and position themselves for that change. The small towns that become ghost towns stay locked in their thinking, irrationally believing that “what always worked” will always work, that we only need to keep doing what we are doing and things will work out.

The chance to fix South Sixth Street presents an opportunity to discuss the future of Brainerd. Will we be a city that frivolously throws away its wealth and its potential simply because we can’t see another way? The answer will be “yes” if we allow the common mentality expressed in a recent letter to the editor prevail.

Here’s that letter in its entirety (in italics) with an alternative way of thinking about this.

Planning is in the process to rebuild South Sixth Street. The powers to be want to eliminate two traffic lanes and make it a two lane street with bike lanes. Does this sound idiotic to you?

No, it sounds really intelligent. Surprisingly so, actually. South Sixth doesn’t have anywhere near enough traffic to justify five lanes – not even three, actually -- but I expected Mn/DOT and city officials to simply put them back that way. I’m heartened that other ideas are part of the conversation.

The street is just fine in its present configuration;

Just fine for whom? For the taxpayers that would be asked to pay for an additional two lanes of unneeded asphalt? For the homeowners and businesses along the street that aren’t allowed to park in this unused space yet must suffer speeding traffic feet outside their front doors? It certainly isn’t fine for anyone who lives or pays taxes in Brainerd.

Two lanes would cause considerable traffic congestion, but as always it seems the bicyclists want to turn our city into their own little world.

Let me be clear: there is no traffic congestion in Brainerd. None. Zero. Not even on the Fourth of July is there real traffic congestion in Brainerd. If you want to see traffic congestion, visit Atlanta or Houston. We never experience anything near traffic congestion in the city of Brainerd. Never.

So why do people – including our local cadre of engineers – talk frequently about traffic congestion? What they are talking about is not congestion but delay. We have lots of artificial delay, but it is caused by traffic signals, not too many cars in too little space. The signals cause cars to bunch and give the brief illusion of congestion. If you watch for this phenomenon, it will become obvious to you very quickly.

On South Sixth, however, going from five lanes to three would actually reduce this illusion of congestion. The spacing is too great today, the area needed to cross too wide. Eliminating the lane would make traffic flow better, if that is your only concern.

As for bicyclists….try biking once through Brainerd and then comment on how it is a cyclist's “own little world.” On bike and on foot, most of Brainerd is a dangerous and despotic place.

It seems they have convinced the powers to be to start by making a bike Lane on Willow Street with no consideration given to the residential parking on this street. There is not enough parking the way it is when services are being held at St. Andrew’s Church (and yes they also need to increase the size of their parking lot).

The entire controversy over Willow Street was in “consideration” of the parking. What were all the meetings about? And it would be a wonderful day in local Catholicism if St. Andrew’s Church had to increase its parking lot due to high attendance. We might get there – I’m a parishioner – but it hasn’t happened yet.

What the bike riders do not realize is that the residents of this street are assessed for the upgrade of their street.

This is not true for South Sixth, which is a state highway, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t true for Willow, which is a state aid route.

Also state gas tax money is applied to the upgrade. Does this sound fair? The bike riders pay no gas tax and are not assessed for this street.

It is actually state and federal money, some of which is gas tax and a major percentage of which comes from general tax revenue and deficit spending, which bikers and non-bikers everywhere both pay. This doesn’t sound fair – why should we be taxing everyone in the nation to pay for a very local road project – but it has nothing to do with biking. Bikers may not pay a gas tax, but they also do no damage to the roadway.

I would suggest that if the city deems it necessary to build these bike lanes that they institute immediate bike licensing at a high enough rate to cover the cost of these bike lanes (or trails) and remove the burden from the taxpayers.

I’ll gladly go for this if we do the same thing for automobiles. If we did that, driving in Brainerd – its most socialized and subsidized activity – would quickly come to an end and bike sales would go through the roof.

Enough is enough stop the spending and bonding; who is going to pay for all of this? Elect new council people and mayor; return no incumbent to office.

And finally….two statements where I find common ground with the author, although for very different reasons. The city of Brainerd is going broke. We don’t have the money to pay for all of this, but “all of this” is a place where we spend millions on automobile infrastructure, destroy our tax base in the process, gamble on auto-oriented growth out on the periphery of the community and refuse to do the little things that would actually benefit residents and businesses.

We definitely need a new direction. Keeping five lanes on South Sixth is not that.

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