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Duluth considers revamp of Superior Street project

This aerial view shows Superior Street at Fifth Avenue West looking east. Superior Street in downtown Duluth is slated for reconstruction beginning next year. Bob King /

In response to a petition signed by more than 430 people, Duluth city staff have been considering a proposal to make Superior Street more pedestrian- and wheelchair-friendly in recent weeks.

Some of the suggested modifications had been discussed earlier, said David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer.

One of the proposals was to raise the level of the pavement at street intersections to the same grade as the sidewalk, so that pedestrians and people in wheelchairs would no longer need to navigate curbs and ramps. These are sometimes called tabled intersections, and while they work well in a fairly flat environment, Montgomery said: "Here in Duluth, with the avenues coming down the hill, they're a critical component of our stormwater infrastructure, and these tabletops almost create dams at the end of every avenue as it comes down to Superior Street. So we viewed those as not practical to do, and that also applied to some mid-street crossings."

But Montgomery said city staff continue to assess some of the other suggestions.

"What we are looking at is mid-street crossings but from just a paint and signal standpoint initially," he said.

The possibility of narrowing Superior Street between Lake Avenue and Second Avenue East also is being explored.

Right now the design shows a center turn lane running down the entire length of those two blocks, and that constricts the space available for sidewalks in Duluth's entertainment district — an area where Montgomery said, "We want the most pedestrian access we can get."

Making design changes at this stage could be complicated, Montgomery observed.

"We are looking at that, but it's not as simple as just changing the paint striping and moving the curbs in. It's a massive undertaking, in terms of how it impacts curbs, existing stormwater designs and everything else," he said.

Montgomery said the current design will be used to bid out the multi-year project rather than risk a delay of the work until 2019.

The project will start on the west side of Superior Street, and Montgomery suggested modifications further east in the entertainment district could perhaps still be made in the second year of construction. "But what we are doing is looking at what the cost of that engineering prospect would be and then what it might take in terms of change orders," he said.

"So we're still looking at it. I can't say right now whether it will or won't be viable, but we are looking at it and looking at the engineering and the cost estimates," Montgomery said.

Ben Garland, a Duluth resident who organized the petition drive to advocate for changes to Superior Street's design, remains optimistic about the prospect for improvements.

"I definitely think it's good that they're having this conversation and taking it seriously," he said.