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New London's Main Street makeover meets separate goals of state and city

New London now has "bump-outs" or "bulb -outs" at its Main Street intersections. The unique construction style will be seen more as the state and cities comply with new Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

NEW LONDON -- A recently completed makeover for New London's Main Street that uses a unique street and sidewalk design is making the town safer for pedestrians while meeting distinct goals for the city and the state.

The new look, which incorporates curb extensions called "bump-outs" or "bulb-outs" at pedestrian crossings, is unusual in rural Minnesota.

But engineers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation say the plan is expected to be used in many more street projects in the future because it allows the state to meet revised standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For New London city officials, the design should slow down truck traffic through the heart of the small town, which features retail shops on both sides of the street that generate considerable foot traffic.

The city and MnDOT "had different motives but it all worked out to work together," said City Clerk Trudie Guptill.

Main Street, which is also state Highway 9, was due for a mill and overlay, said Allan Rice, supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 8 office in Willmar. He worked on the New London design.

But because the state had to meet new standards associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act, that plan evolved.

At the same time, the New London City Council had been contemplating designs proposed by a city planner that would enhance downtown by slowing down traffic to create a safer and more shopper-friendly atmosphere.

One design fit both needs.

It involved narrowing the street by about six feet, making the sidewalks wider and installing curb extensions at the three major Main Street intersections.

The bulb-outs are like small peninsulas that jut out into the street at crosswalks, making pedestrians more visible to motorists. Having a bulb-out on each side of the street also shortens the distance pedestrians have to cross streets.

For motorists there's an immediate sense that the street is narrower, especially when cars are parked on both sides.

Guptill said it's hoped that the visual cues will "slow down truck traffic coming down the highway" and send the message that "you are entering a community."

It's possible that large truck and semi traffic will even choose different highway routes to avoid going through New London, she said, which will make the town even more pedestrian friendly.

"It's a perfect downtown for pedestrians," she said. "Now bring on the shoppers."

There have been a few challenges for motorists maneuvering around the bulb-outs and snowplow drivers will have to be aware of the design, said Guptill. But she said "in the long run, I think it'll be a benefit."

The total cost of the projects in New London was $530,000. About $100,000 from a special ADA fund was used to offset the sidewalk and bump-out costs. The city's share of the project was $4,000.

The city recently completed its own major street and utility project that cost $2.8 million.

Rice said bulb-outs aren't very common yet in rural Minnesota, but they will be used in more towns in the future because of handicap accessibility issues.

Because they're so new, MnDOT hasn't heard negative comments to the design.

Steve Dols, MnDOT transportation specialist, said bulb-out intersections have been used in Marshall. "The city just loves them," Dols said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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