Partial road closure has residents concerned about Canal Park congestion
Both Duluth residents and Canal Park visitors can expect traffic changes to the popular tourist spot over Labor Day through September.
From Sept. 4-17, the Lighthouse Parking Lot will be closed off for pop-up community park space. However, it's the Buchanan Street closure, slated for the entire month, that has some residents irritated.
"I don't see why they couldn't put all of this over here," said resident Noelle Krumbhaar, gesturing away from the street. "Put it around trees or on the sidewalk. Why did we have to block off the road? It might make the locals not even come down here."
Buchanan Street, which runs in front of the DeWitt-Seitz Building, is often used as an escape route for travelers caught in the traffic congestion of Canal Park. When drivers get "bridged" by the Aerial Lift Bridge raising, they use Buchanan Street to get between Lake Avenue and Canal Park Drive.
While congestion in the area may worsen, the city emphasized the change is only temporary. Beyond that point, it will also help best inform future traffic-routing decisions for the area.
"It's important to note that this project is temporary and will be helpful as we study the modes and mobility options in Canal Park," wrote city spokesperson Pakou Ly in an email. "We agree there needs to be solutions to the parking and congestion which is compounded when the Aerial Lift Bridge is up."
To help compensate for potentially more congestion in the area during the road closure, the city is opening up Morse Street to left turns for drivers heading south toward Park Point.
Part of Buchanan Street will remain open for delivery trucks carrying supplies to restaurants like Little Angie's Cantina and Grill and the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace. However, Krumbhaar is skeptical anyone will follow that rule.
"You can say it's only deliveries, but people are still going to go through there," said Krumbhaar. "I grew up in Florida. Tourists do stuff like that all the time."
The city is experimenting with how to better use space in Canal Park. While it recognizes not all businesses were keen on the road closures, the city wants to use the opportunity to address growing traffic and parking concerns in the area, Ly explained.
Tackling those problems is the Imagine Canal Park group.
"Imagine Canal Park is one way that the city and businesses can pilot a few concepts that have never been tried before and we are only able to do this thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation," wrote Ly.
That grant, worth $200,000, is being used for the "Make Canal Park Pop" project. Intended as part of the Imagine Duluth 2035 process, Imagine Canal Park is using the opportunity to explore different ideas for how to increase accessibility in the heavily trafficked area.
The Lighthouse Parking Lot will host a variety of games, a sports area, a sandbox, wayfinding and other free activities. On Buchanan Street, a pedestrian plaza is being put up that includes several tables and chairs for visitors to lounge in. It will also have weekly farmer's market vendors and other events.
While some have complained residents of Park Point will dislike the road closure, at least one won't mind the change.
"It's not going to bother me because I'm usually walking anyway," said John Amren, who has lived on the point for almost nine years. "If I am driving across the bridge, I usually turn down that road (Morse Street) anyway. I don't use this road (Buchanan Street) much at all."
Along with the road closure, on-street parking on the east side of Lake Avenue has been blocked off to compensate for an added lane on the west side of the street. Wayfinding signage was put up along Canal Park Drive and Buchanan Street earlier this week.
The city has been in discussion with community members like the Canal Park Business Association for some time about creative ways to use space in the Canal Park. Since September 2017, the city has collected feedback and information through surveys, public meetings and pop-up events across the city.