What’s Happening in Front of the School? A SRTS Demonstration Project!

If you have walked, biked, or driven by the intersection in front of Cook County Schools (CR7 & 1st Ave W) at the very end of May 2018, you might be wondering what’s going on.

For nine years, the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Committee in Grand Marais has been working to make it safer and easier for students to walk and bike to/from school. This spring, a variety of projects have been done towards this goal, from crosswalk enforcement events (educating about the crosswalks laws) to Walk/Bike to School Day and the Bike Safety Rodeo.

On May 30, the SRTS Committee, including Cook County Schools, the City of Grand Marais, Cook County Highway Department, and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, started the installation of a temporary demonstration project at the intersection of County Road 7 and 1st Avenue West in front of Cook County Schools. While full installation was planned for May 30, Mother Nature had other plans. Most of the project was completed on May 31. A few revisions were made on June 2nd, to better accommodate right hand turns.

The project is an opportunity to try out a few different techniques to increase safety of students on foot and bike. The Committee will be conducting a survey (available here) and other evaluation to learn what might be helpful in the long term or what else may be tried in the short term. The project is scheduled to be up until fall, but the vertical elements (the orange posts) will be removed before snow plowing season.

This is locally led project and the Minnesota Safe Routes to School Program at MnDOT has provided technical assistance on project planning. MnDOT is planning to offer support for communities across the state to try this type of demonstration project, which can include crosswalks, curb extensions, bicycle lanes, etc.  For more information about the local project, please contact Safe Routes to School Coordinator, Maren Webb, maren@sawtoothmountainclinic.org or 387-2330. The local Safe Routes to School work is supported in part by the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership/Minnesota Department of Health through Healthy Northland. Additional support for this project is provided by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, through the Moving Matters project at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.



A Community Priority – the History of the Highway 61 Project in Grand Marais

For years, even decades, the Grand Marais City Council has been hearing community concerns about the unsafe crossings on Highway 61. Doing something about that serious challenge has consistently been placed on their list of priorities.

Six years ago, the City of Grand Marais initiated a process to broadly engage the community and hear the community’s needs and interests around Highway 61, which included: safe pedestrian crossings, traffic safety, pedestrian accessibility, parking, and storm water management. This proactive approach enabled the City to successfully apply for funds to assist with the project. It was done so, in part, to make sure that when Highway 61 was rebuilt through our community, it would be done so in a manner that would truly be in our community’s interests, and not just another cookie-cutter highway project.

Throughout the six-year process, there have been multiple public convenings and meetings, open houses, and numerous opportunities for community members to help chart a vision for Highway 61 that reflects our community’s needs and priorities. The reason for the engagement, and the large public response that resulted from the engagement, makes sense when you think about it – Highway 61 is truly the physical heart of our community. Both MnDOT and community leaders engaged in this effort have heard loud and clear that Highway 61 shouldn’t be a barrier but rather a connector, no matter if you are a child or senior on foot or a driver trying to make your way through town in a large truck. Citizens have also made it abundantly clear that Highway 61 should be something more than just another highway cutting through yet another Minnesota town – it should reflect the truly special place that Grand Marais is.

The most recent open house on the Highway 61 reconstruction project made clear not only the importance of this project to our community, but also the community engagement that has brought us to this point. Roughly 90 residents attended the meeting with the vast majority being satisfied with the process and supportive of moving forward. As with any community project of any size and scope, there will always be different ideas and disagreement over approaches – that’s always to be expected and this project will not be an exception. However, the large amount of support and satisfaction that exists is testament to the process that has taken place and the importance to our community of finally fixing what we have long known to be a serious challenge to how people get around and through town.

Project construction on Highway 61 will start in 2019 and we want it to be the best it can be for our community – today and for decades to come.

If you are interested in hearing about future project updates or input opportunities, please sign up for our local project email list at http://eepurl.com/dnRzq1 or notify City Hall at cityhall@boreal.org or 218-387-1848.

We want to express our sincere thanks to the community for your involvement in making this a truly community-focused project with over 1000 interactions and input. We would also like to thank the Grand Marais City Council for their continued leadership on this important project.



City of Grand Marais
Cook County Chamber of Commerce
Cook County/Grand Marais EDA
Sawtooth Mountain Clinic
Visit Cook County
Frances Jarchow, Community Member
Ron Piercy, Yellow Bird Fine Art
Cara and Paul Sporn, My Sister’s Place
Maren Webb, Safe Routes to School



MnDOT Highway 61 Open House – Feb. 27th

Open House: Highway 61 Reconstruction through Grand Marais
Tuesday, February 27, 2018 3:30-5:30 pm
Grand Marais City Hall, Council Chambers (15 N. Broadway Avenue)

“Members of the public are invited to come and go as they please. There will not be a formal presentation. This gathering will provide opportunity to view layouts, speak with project staff, and learn more about the proposed project.” from MnDOT (full public notice available here).
Come see how the 2014-2015 Highway 61 Revisited visioning process has shaped the 2019 MnDOT project. A local steering committee has been working with MnDOT to incorporate local priorities and visions for the corridor.