Duluth looks to nix bricks
This past weekend will likely go down as one of the final times that Grandma's runners pound the bricks through downtown Duluth.
Plans now in development would replace the bricked streets and walkways of Superior Street, probably with a mix of decorative concrete surfaces.
"The entire design will be different. For instance, now it has the red bricks and that historic feel. I think the design that we're aiming for is something that is pretty timeless — that fits into the historic context of the downtown but is not going to be red bricks," said Jennifer Reed Moses, a planner for the city of Duluth.
Whatever surfaces are chosen, she said the appearance should be anything but monolithic.
"They may be different materials or different colors, but there will be differentiation in the pavement just to avoid that look of having one big sea of concrete," Reed Moses said.
The emerging vision for the reconstruction of downtown Duluth's main thoroughfare will take center stage at a community meeting Tuesday night (see below for details).
The city has had to consider competing interests for the 80-foot wide right-of-way, including parking, pedestrian use, motorized traffic and bicyclists visiting downtown Duluth.
"Parking has been a primary concern for our downtown businesses. While we want the street to look different, it's so important to retain the parking we have on Superior," said Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council. She called Superior Street "the heart of the city" and an "economic engine" for the downtown.
The preferred layout now advancing actually would increase Superior's parking inventory by two slots between Fourth Avenue East and Sixth Avenue West, said Brad Scott, a project engineer with LHB.
Current plans call for diagonal parking on the upper side of Superior and parallel parking on the lower side.
"The importance of pedestrian space on Superior Street is in the forefront of our minds," Reed Moses said.
To make the streetscape more inviting for people strolling by, the city has looked to provide space for outdoor dining, trees, shrubs, flowers, benches and public art.
What got squeezed out of the picture, however, was a dedicated bicycle corridor.
"We looked at whether we could do bike lanes on Superior Street, but we just didn't have enough room," said Keith Hamre, Duluth's director of planning and construction services.
He said the city is looking at the feasibility of channeling bicycle traffic into dedicated lanes on neighboring Michigan Street and First Street.
"We know that as we bring the Superior Street project forward, we also will need an answer on how to accommodate bicycles," Hamre said, explaining that the city will strive to make Duluth's downtown a more inviting place for people to ride.
Reed Moses noted that bicyclists will be able to use Superior Street, too, as some do today already, but the diagonal parking could make the road less inviting than others.
Barry Warner of SRF Consulting has helped orchestrate public involvement in the discussion over Superior Street and gave the community high marks for engagement with well over 100 people attending each meeting to date.
"We've had a very robust participation to date," he said, noting that there have been strong showings at each of the public meetings, despite sometimes-challenging weather, including sub-zero temperatures."
Six public forums on the project are planned before a final plan emerges.
"This fifth public meeting is meant to be the debut of the preferred streetscape layout," Scott said.
So far, civility has generally prevailed, according to Warner.
"I would say people have been very cordial to one another even when they had differences of opinion," he said.
Meeting participants have provided valuable guidance, he said.
"They've told us they want something that is durable but functional. They want something that is attractive, and they've used the phrase: 'Be Duluth.' They also want something that is flexible and that has the opportunity to be programmed for different events. They want to celebrate the four seasons and integrate public art. But they also want us to be very mindful of maintenance and snow removal and some of the other challenges that the city faces."
That's a lot to juggle, and as the city works to develop a thoughtful plan, the anticipated start date for the project has been pushed back from 2016 to 2017 at the earliest, Reed Moses said.
The timeline could be pushed back even further depending on the city's success in obtaining state bonding money to help swap out old steam pipes under Superior with a more efficient closed-loop system using recirculating hot water.
"It could definitely be a driver of the timeline," said Hamre of the bond funding.
"You get one chance with a project like this," he said. "You don't want to dig up Superior Street twice."
Not including the expense of the steam line conversion, Scott said replacing Superior Street plus upgrading the other utility infrastructure below it could easily cost $15 million to $20 million.
The street will be built in sections from west to east over the course of three years, with an eye toward minimizing the disruption to downtown commerce.
Stakeholders want the street to be distinctive and show the personality of Duluth, according to Stokes.
"I feel confident it will not look like a cookie cutter streetscape. Even if it's not full of bricks, we can still create a signature look for our downtown," Stokes said.
The city's decisions on the design of Superior Street will set the stage for other improvements, Reed Moses predicted.
"Whatever design we end up developing on Superior Street will feed into the rest of downtown as we redo the rest of the streets," she said.
If you go
WHAT: Community meeting to discuss pending reconstruction of Duluth’s Superior Street
WHERE: Great Hall, Radisson Hotel, 505 W. Superior St.
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday