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Cedar Falls slows down Washington St. plans after Lego League team objects

Cedar Falls slows down Washington St. plans after Lego League team objects

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CEDAR FALLS — A clash between plans of city engineers and student designers on a Lego League team is causing officials to take another look at proposed changes to the streets around St. Patrick School.

The City Council heard a presentation during the committee of the whole on a proposal to convert one-way Washington Street to two-way traffic, reconstruct it between Sixth and Eighth streets and redesign its intersection with Seventh Street.

But that didn’t mesh with ideas developed for recent competitions by a FIRST Lego League team at St. Patrick, located at Washington and Seventh streets.

Parent and team coach Janet Willett told council members the 10 fourth- to sixth-graders “chose school safety drop-off as their problem that they identified, that they wanted to improve.” The students noted congestion on two-way Seventh Street, where cars drop off and pick up kids. Willett said they studied the problem, talking to parents and city engineers.

“They proposed solutions of trying to trade that to get the parents to the more calm one-way Washington,” she explained. “They were very discouraged when they found out the city was looking at turning that into a two-way.

“They are asking, and I am speaking on their behalf, for you guys to continue to study this area,” added Willett, who was accompanied at the podium by two team members.

Besides the two-way conversion on Washington between Sixth and 18th streets, city planners looked at a number of accommodations for the school. Among those are four-way flashing beacon stop signs at the Seventh Street intersection and “bump-outs” on both corners of the intersection’s west side. Along with a bus drop-off area on the west side of the block south of the intersection, there would be five diagonal parking spaces at the Sixth Street end.

“The bump-outs, that is a natural way to slow people down,” said Jon Fitch, an engineer with the city. Initially, the city looked at stoplights for the Seventh Street intersection, but revised that following a traffic study.

“The stoplights were not warranted; the four-way stop is not technically warranted,” he noted. However, after several meetings with St. Patrick Principal Lynette Hackett, officials settled on the stop signs.

“What we do know from studies is two-way streets are safer,” added Fitch. Pedestrians prefer crossing them and they allow the most direct route for drivers. They are also easier for snowplows and sanitation crews.

The proposed design would eliminate parking now allowed over three blocks on the east side of the street, or about 30 spaces. These are often used during weekend services by St. Patrick Catholic Church, across Washington from the school.

Fitch noted that representatives of First Methodist Church, which is along another block of Washington, support the two-way conversion. He said Hackett had not expressed a preference on the street change but admitted that city officials hadn’t talked to representatives of the Catholic church.

Willett said she and the students were happy with the four-way beacon stop signs but asserted that “Seventh Street is the problem street,” in the view of Lego League students. “Washington is what they modeled as being calm and a safer street.”

She added, “We’re asking for more due diligence, that the city engineers reach out to the school board and the parish council, who would lose quite a bit of parking on the weekends and with all of our activities.”

Council member Daryl Kruse questioned if there was a way to narrowly address the concerns.

“Could we break this conversion down so that the couple blocks by school remain a one-way and then convert the rest of it to two-way?” he asked. “Has that been discussed?”

“As a corridor, I wouldn’t recommend that, to have that break up of two blocks,” said Chase Schrage, director of public works.

City officials said there was no rush to approve the plans at this point, though. The issue was tabled to a later meeting in a 5-1 vote with council member Susan deBuhr dissenting.

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