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Willmar citizens raise concerns about safety of children, seniors when going to library

WILLMAR — Residents concerned about the safety of children and other pedestrians crossing Fifth Street Southwest between the Willmar Public Library and the municipal parking lot attended Tuesday’s Public Works and Public Safety Committee meeting to ask for something to be done.

“What I saw was a serious issue for the children unloading and loading, dashing across the street,” said Mary Lou Arne, who lives on Fifth Street.

She said traffic has increased significantly along this street over the years, along with the speed.

“The increase in speed is rather startling,” Arne said.

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said both the Willmar and Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg school districts pick up and drop off students at the library. When he became aware of the potential safety hazard, he talked with both bus companies about alternative bus stops.

Willmar is now picking up students on Becker Avenue Southwest by the Chief Kandiyohi statue in front of the courthouse. KMS’ stop will also be on Becker Avenue Southwest, but on the east side of Fifth Street. Many of those students are going directly to the parking lot where parents are waiting. This new stop puts those students on the right side of the road and will decrease the number of students who have to cross Fifth Street directly from the bus, Felt said. Students who are going to the library will hopefully use the crosswalk at the corner of Becker and Fifth Street.

“We’re going to give this new system a try,” said Felt in a later interview with the West Central Tribune.

Arne had suggested putting a crosswalk from the parking lot to the library, but there were concerns raised about the good that would actually do.

“I’m not in favor of mid-block crosswalks of any kind,” said Public Works Director Sean Christensen. He said they tend to give people a false sense of security and can be confusing for drivers.

“Crosswalks are better placed at a corner,” Felt said.

In the central business district of downtown Willmar, there are crosswalks at every corner or 300 feet, Christensen said.

“People cross wherever they want,” he said.

Within the parking lot itself, people have many different options about where they can cross the street. On the Fifth Street side, there are six entrances and exits to the parking lot. Christensen said putting six different crosswalks in the middle of block won’t work.

One possible option would be to close a few of these entrances/exits in the lot, but that would require restriping the parking lot to allow drivers to traverse the lot without having to turn on and off Fifth Street, Christensen said.

Adding decorative fences to lead people to the crosswalks on the corners is also a possibility, said City Administrator Larry Kruse.

An update of this particular parking lot has been on the city’s to-do-list for several years, most recently in 2015. However, it was taken off due to bonding limitations and is not on the improvement plan for 2016, Christensen said.

Felt said he and his officers can keep a closer eye on speeds around the library, possibility putting up one of the Police Department’s mobile speed trailers. Some in the audience did ask about dropping the speed limit from 30 mph. Staff will look into the city’s ability to do this.

Councilman Ron Christianson, committee chairman, said the committee will take this issue up again at the next meeting in two weeks.

“Our staff is going to work on this and come up with some concrete ideas. So we can make downtown safe for children and adults,” Christianson said.

Felt was grateful for the citizens who came forward with their concerns.

“We always appreciate when people bring these up. It hadn’t come to our attention,” said Felt, adding he has not received any reports of any pedestrian accidents happening in that area.

Sue Lindlauf
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