Riverfront stairs

The rickety staircase leading from Front Street to Riverfront Drive has been removed and won't be replaced.

Q: Will the wooden staircase (recently removed) that linked South Front Street walkers to South Riverfront Drive be replaced by the city? It was between the Michaletz Building and the Family Dollar Store (818 S. Front St.) in the back of the parking lot. If so, when? If not, why not? I recall that it has been in place since the mid ‘70s or early ‘80s.

Thank you.

A: “No, it will not, at least in the near term,” said Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges of the replacement of the rickety set of stairs.

Modern construction standards would require concrete steps with metal railings and an adjacent gently sloped ramp for people who use wheelchairs, something that would be much too expensive considering the relatively light use of the old stairs, Hentges said. Although the city maintained the staircase, he’s not certain the city installed it.

“I’m not sure it was put up at the direction of the city. It goes to private property,” said Hentges, who guesses the stairs were installed when Riverfront Drive was constructed in the 1970s. “You could call an educated trained historian to go back into the annals.”

As regular readers of the “Ask Us” column might guess, Hentges’ comment about “an educated trained historian” checking his work is a reference to being corrected last month by historians and a geography professor. The experts noted that Hentges, talking about a major Minnesota River flood more than a century ago, missed the date of the flood by about 20 years and missed the season when it happened by one.

It should be recognized that Hentges’ opportunity to provide historically dubious answers — as well deeply knowledgeable information about municipal operations — is winding down. This week’s column and next week’s will be his grand finale before his Dec. 1 retirement.

Q: As I was driving on Belgrade Avenue in North Mankato, I saw a wonderful city employee spraying bright yellow paint on the side of the curb to warn people of the turn in the street going up to Lee Boulevard.

So many times I drive from North Mankato to Riverfront Drive. Under the bridge in Mankato, there is no help to let people know where the curb is, especially bad when traffic is going fast in both lanes under the bridge when everyone is rushing to get to work. Please paint that curb! Wouldn’t take more than a half hour to help people see that curb!

If the city of Mankato can’t fix this, then the county should!

A: Mankato gets a lot of requests to paint curbs, Hentges said. Some residents want yellow paint on curbs around every intersection to keep cars from parking where they would block sightlines. People want pedestrian ramps painted yellow to remind folks not to park in front of them.

“You could paint a lot of stuff,” he said. “We would rather concentrate on painting crosswalks and bona fide safety problems.”

As for people hitting the curb under the overpass near the YMCA and West High School, Hentges suggested it might be people’s driving versus the curb color that’s the problem.

“That whole intersection, we find people are in a hurry, so driving cautiously isn’t the first thing on their mind as opposed to getting to their destination,” he said, suggesting that people getting caught up in the morning rush-hour bottleneck should consider departing a few minutes earlier. “Leaving-time becomes an issue.”

Q: Driving from North Mankato across the bridge to Mankato West High School and the YMCA is very difficult from 7:30 a.m. to 8-plus a.m. and 3:30-plus p.m. This is especially important when school is in session. Southbound traffic using the Highway 169 offramp to Riverfront Drive divides into two lanes, with a third lane turning right. Most often the lines coming from way up on the highway are very long. This only happens because of the traffic lights at the intersection with Riverfront Drive.

All of these cars are waiting, while there are very few vehicles (at times none) coming from the right on Riverfront. Drivers waiting to turn need to get to their jobs or get their kids to and from school. Some use the right-turn lane and make a U-turn to get into the other lanes of traffic. They are able to get back to that intersection sometimes before the light changes, because the red light lasts so long.

North Mankato utilizes traffic sensors on stoplights at the top of Lee Boulevard and Lor Ray Drive which change with the flow of traffic. If no cars are coming from one direction, the light changes to the one with traffic. Not much waiting at the stoplight.

A: Ask Us Guy is detecting a couple of trends here. First, people are not fond of the southbound Highway 169 exit ramp to South Riverfront Drive. Second, North Mankato seems to be hitting on all cylinders when it comes to painting curbs and having brilliant signal lights.

Hentges, however, noted that it’s harder for a bigger city to ensure that every semaphore is modern and has car-detecting sensors because a bigger city has so many signalized intersections.

“The difference may be that North Mankato may only have one or two signals. We have all kinds of them,” he said. “We have sensors on most of them, but that signal light is a MnDOT-controlled signal as it comes off the ramp.”

What’s more, the city of Mankato’s proposed construction budget for 2021 includes a project that will add a third left-turn lane to the end of that ramp, which will allow 50% more left turns with each green light. In addition, there’s a good chance the project will also include a new semaphore system.

“As you create that, you could create those longer turning times,” Hentges said. “That’s the good thing about the modern upgraded signals.”

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.

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