Gary-New Duluth to get health impact assessmentA Duluth neighborhood will get a health checkup as the city looks at its future development.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
A Duluth neighborhood will get a health checkup as the city looks at its future development.
Gary-New Duluth will be the second Duluth site to get a health impact assessment, the city announced on Friday.
Health impact assessments are “used to provide a health perspective on decisions … when health isn’t already at the table,” said Katie Muehe of the Minnesota Department of Health’s climate and health program. Examples can include decisions about buildings, zoning and transportation, she said.
Since 2006, 15 assessments have been completed or are in progress in Minnesota, according to the health department’s website. One previous project was in Duluth: a health impact assessment for the Sixth Avenue East corridor, which was completed in 2011.
Among other things, the Sixth Avenue assessment recommended reducing traffic lanes from four to two, a planted median along part of the corridor, a 6-foot-wide bike lane on the east side and a more visible crosswalk at Ninth Street. To date, none of that has been implemented, said James Gittemeier, a planner for the Metropolitan Interstate Commission.
The assessment for Gary-New Duluth will be done in conjunction with a small area plan for the neighborhood, said John Kelley, a city of Duluth planner.
When the city’s comprehensive land use plan was approved in 2006, several areas were identified that needed more specific planning, Kelley said. Those included the Miller Hill Mall area, Park Point, the area bordering the University of Minnesota Duluth and College of St. Scholastica campuses and the Bayfront district.
But the health impact is a particular concern as work begins on a small area plan for Gary-New Duluth, Kelley said. It’s adjacent to the US Steel Plant Duluth Works Superfund site and a demolition landfill. So the city wants to pay particularly close attention to how any future development would affect residents’ health.
The assessment is funded by a $30,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, which together formed the nonprofit Health Impact Project. It’s just getting underway and should be completed by the end of the year, Kelley said. Public input will be sought through hearings and a Gary-New Duluth page on the city’s website, he said. Experts from the state health department will provide technical support.
The assessment’s findings will influence the small area plan, which will look at everything from nonmotorized trails to traffic circulation to redeveloping the Commonwealth Avenue business district, Kelley said.
Whatever comes out of the process is subject to City Council approval.
Bringing the plans to fruition can be a long, slow process. Just this year, the Metropolitan Interstate Commission is conducting traffic studies to see what impact the Sixth Avenue East proposal would have on traffic patterns on it and neighboring streets, Gittemeier said.
But in an ideal world, Gittemeier said, he would like to have seen shorter-term fixes, such as improved crosswalks, put in place by now.