Editorial: Build sidewalks on East Main Street

Published 9:17 am Friday, September 20, 2013

There was a meeting at HealthReach in February 2009 to identify ways to make Albert Lea more friendly for walking and cycling. It was an early step for the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Initiative.

For walking, people identified gaps in the city sidewalk system they would like to see connected. And since then, many gaps have been filled, such as West Clark Street, Martin Road, Hammer Road and West Main Street.

But a major gap remains — East Main Street.

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In this Blue Zones community, there remains no means for pedestrians in Albert Lea to walk on sidewalks to the bus station, which is at the Ole’s East Side Shell gas station at East Main Street and Prospect Avenue.

Some people who ride buses do so because they don’t have a motor vehicle, so they walk or get a lift. We see them walking on the frontage roads or, worse, the shoulder or median of East Main Street. Many are headed to Walmart or the stores nearby.

East Main is the busiest street in Albert Lea. According to counts taken in 2009, there are 16,100 cars a day on the stretch near Kwik Trip at Main and Garfield Avenue and 14,100 on the segment in front of Motor Inn, Burger King, Perkins and the Green Mill.

No other street in Albert Lea even comes close to those numbers.

Buses used to stop downtown in many American communities, but in the era of freeways and bypasses, more frequently buses stop at a designated gas station near the town’s principal four-lane route. Albert Lea is not the only place without a sidewalk to its bus station, but more and more forward-minded communities are connecting sidewalks to their stop for coach buses.

We should, too.

The sidewalk system on East Main Street presently stops at St. Peter Avenue, a few blocks east of the Kwik Trip. Main Street also is U.S. Highway 65, so it is under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Still, for anything to happen, local leaders must point out to the state transportation officials the need for sidewalks along the route.

We urge the Albert Lea city government to add sidewalks for East Main Street to its comprehensive plan and to speak with state officials. We further urge the Minnesota Department of Transportation to construct sidewalks on East Main Street like it did so well on West Main Street in 2010.

The sidewalk at least ought to reach the Shell station at Main and Prospect, but it would be ideal if it went all the way to Blake Avenue, where the city could construct a sidewalk connecting to Walmart.

Let’s get pedestrians off the roadway of our busiest street. Let’s get them where they belong — on a sidewalk.