With duct tape, traffic cones and paint, a heavily used Duluth roadway will be temporarily transformed next weekend.

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Sixth Avenue East, which roughly divides the city's Central and East Hillside neighborhoods, will go from four lanes to three. Instead of following a straight up-and-down course, it will take drivers in a serpentine movement. Pedestrians will find an island at which they can stop halfway across the street.

It all will be accomplished with simple mechanisms - easily put in place, easily removed, so it can become a reality Friday and come to an end Saturday afternoon.

Relatively easily, anyway.

"It's a lot of work for two days," said Shawna Mullen, active transportation planner for Zeitgeist Center for Arts and Community, with a chuckle.

Zeitgeist initiated the project with cooperation from the city and other agencies, particularly the Dallas-based Better Block Foundation. Jason Roberts, the organization's founder, has been in Duluth twice this year, including an August visit to scout out Sixth Avenue East. Better Block specializes in the sort of demonstration project planned for next week.

But planners have mulled ideas to rework Sixth Avenue East for years. James Gittemeier, principal planner for the Metropolitan Interstate Commission, noted that before Interstate 35 came to Duluth, the road was part of state Highway 194.

"When it was returned as a city street, it still in a lot of ways kept its highway form," Gittemeier said. "It has divided the East and Central Hillside neighborhoods, really making it a difficult road to walk across."

That was highlighted, he said, when the school district closed Nettleton Elementary School in the Central Hillside. The district now provides busing to Myers-Wilkins Elementary School for students who live west of Sixth Avenue because it's considered a hazardous crossing, Gittemeier said. Some of those students live within three blocks of the school.

Additionally, a 56-year-old man was struck and killed in 2016 by a pickup truck in the intersection of Sixth Avenue East and Sixth Street.

One of the purposes of the project, then, is simply to change the speed at which traffic flows, Mullen said.

"What we're trying to do is slow down traffic," she said. "If you have a straight shot through it's a lot easier to go faster, but if you have to ... make that movement, people will go slower."

During the project, one lane will go down the hill, and the other two will go up, Mellen said. That's because of heavier traffic in the uphill direction at the end of the workday.

Unlike the one-month demonstration project in Canal Park earlier this year, which was initiated by the city, this project is initiated by Zeitgeist, said Adam Fulton, manager of Duluth's community planning division. But the city is enthused about it, he added.

"We like to try out ideas," Fulton said. "You can model things on the computer all day long but until you actually do some real-life evaluation you never will be able to really understand what might happen."

The project also will include a pop-up community area at a vacant lot on Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, Mullen said. It will include a market, a playspace for kids, fire pits, food and warm drinks and entertainment.

Activities will take place from 5-9 p.m. on Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Among the project's supporters is the Duluth branch of Local Initiatives Support Corp. Pam Kramer, its executive director, said it's an underutilized part of the city.

"It's a corridor that has an opportunity to add businesses, has an opportunity to better serve the neighborhood," Kramer said. "It's a great opportunity for people to not just talk about it but actually see it."

 

Get involved

Volunteers are sought to participate in the Hillside Better Block temporary redesign, with opportunities available from Wednesday through next Saturday. Sign up at bit.ly/betterblockvolunteer.