Residents on foot and on bikes explore options for a new trail in Albert Lea
Posted 8:16 PM on Wednesday, November 2, 2022
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Albert Lea and Freeborn County residents, engineers and leaders explored ideas for a new trail Wednesday afternoon using the former Union Pacific Railroad corridor.
Cathy Malakowsky, Director of Community Engagement and Enrichment for the Town of Albert Lea, led a walking tour of the hallway between Shoff Park and Lakeview Elementary School.
“We have our Minnesota Department of Transportation consultants here to help us look at the potential for developing a trail for cyclists, walkers, families with strollers, maybe even a portion of ATVs along the former Union Pacific rail corridor that runs from the southern part of Albert Lea to the small town of Hartland in Freeborn County,” Malakowsky said.
According to Malakowsky, the potential trail would connect the southern part of Albert Lea to amenities such as Shoff Park and downtown. The proposed trail would provide families with another way to get to Lakeview Elementary, and cyclists could take the bike path from Front Street to Blazing Star Trail and eventually to Myre-Big Island State Park.
Nick Sofio, Principal of Lakeview Elementary, greeted the group outside the building when Malakowsky and others arrived.
Sofio said crossing Fountain Street is a barricade due to traffic and said it’s especially difficult when new families arrive in the neighborhood with first graders or kindergartners and wonder how they’re doing. get there safely.
Currently, the only place where there is a school patrol is on Abbott Street.
Sofio suggested there should be something like “a flashing light” to draw attention to drivers, especially in the morning and at the end of the school day when students are crossing.
“One of the unique things about this intersection is that it’s staggered, which creates the perfect storm for distracted drivers and poor visibility,” said county engineer Phil Wacholz. “They’re trying to negotiate a bend and then there would be a crosswalk at one or in between. It’s just a very dangerous orientation.
Speeding was not the issue, although school speed limits were only enforceable when children were present and tended to be ignored when school was not in session.
Deputy Police Chief Darren Hanson said school speed zones could be part of the solution, but he said it was difficult to enforce because 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. are among the busiest times of the department.
“We would love to be in school areas during these busy times, but we are called to other things,” he said. “You almost needed dedicated staff to work for that, so I think the solution is in the engineering to a point. But then what else can we do to complement that, whether it’s flashing crosswalks or crossing guards or something to get drivers attention.
Sofio said the school is also working to find walking buddies for young students who walk to the building independently.
“Sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “But we’re doing our best [to connect younger students with older students].”
He said a footpath would be helpful in that it would be a safe, paved way for students to get to school. And he thought a trail could provide nature discovery opportunities for students in science and social studies classes.
He asked if the trail would attract non-community members and outsiders.
“That’s what we’re trying to sort out because we heard a lot of different views today,” Malakowsky said. “We’ve heard from avid cyclists who just want an open track, they want miles, they just want to go.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘No, I like that families can go into town and take it downtown, to your school, or to a park. “”
Malakowsky is considering using a pedestrian bridge to cross Fountain Street to Summer Avenue. Another option was a middle island. A falcon signal was also being considered for a school crossing.
John Double, executive director of Albert Lea Community Education, speculated that a number of programs could get off track.
On Wednesday morning, Malakowsky and others were on bicycles and rode from City Garage along Madison Avenue northwest while trying to stay as close to the rail corridor as possible. That night, she held a mapping charrette at the Edgewater Bay Pavilion, where attendees reviewed maps to find solutions to potential trail design challenges.
Malakowsky did not know how much the proposed project would cost, but said his goal was to develop a plan with cost estimates and apply for grants from federal, state and private programs specifically for outdoor agriculture, recreation and trail networks.
She also acknowledged that the sewage treatment plant is more important, but said the grants she will seek are designed specifically for outdoor recreation and trails. It is his hope that the project might attract more people to Albert Lea.
The rail corridor continues north from Albert Lea to Hartland.