In an earlier post, I mentioned that the opening of Highway 3 in 1963 effectively split Northfield in half. Here are two pairs of photographs showing Third Street before and after the construction of Highway 3. In each, you can see that before Highway 3, Northfield’s downtown effectively straddled the Cannon River, with buildings and busineses extending continuously along Third Street up to the tracks of the Great Western Railway.
For over half a century, starting in the 1880s or so, you could walk up Third Street to one of Northfield’s three train depots and hop on a passenger train to Minneapolis, Chicago, and points beyond. Then, in the 1950s and 1960s, came the expansion of the U.S. highway system, which eventually led to the end of passenger rail service in Northfield. Personal automobiles and the state highway system became Northfield’s connection to the outside world. Northfield’s remaining train depot, the depot of the Milwaukee Road (or Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul), stands derelict, and with no traffic control or marked pedestrian crossing it’s dangerous, and often impossible, to cross Highway 3 at Third Street.
For a brief moment, the traffic on the highway is held back by the lights at Second and Fifth Streets. I look both ways, and run.
Highway 3 also divides the city’s fourth ward. Our polling place is in St. John’s Lutheran Church, on the west side of Third Street. There is no direct pedestrian access from the east side. A 2009 “modal integration” study concluded that there was no warrant for a traffic light at the intersection of Third Street and Highway 3 because the volume of through traffic on Third Street did not meet the necessary threshhold.
Pedestrians evidently weren’t considered in making this determination.
Along West Third Street I pass the Northfield Arts Guild theater, St. John’s Lutheran, the former home of Northfield Bank Raid hero Joseph Lee Heywood, and Longfellow School (the site of the school district’s early childhood programs). Past Longfellow, the street bends to the south and becomes Forest Avenue.
|The former home of Joseph Lee Heywood on W. 3rd St.|
A plaque from the Northfield Historical Society is affixed to the
rock in the foreground.
Before Forest curves south to become Armstrong Rd. and meet Highway 19, I cross the street into Odd Fellows Park. The woods here are a remnant of the Big Woods that at the time of settlement covered the land west of the Cannon River. On the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board there have been discussions of moving the city dog park from Babcock Park to Odd Fellows Park, fencing in part of the woods and leaving dogs and their owners to trample the bloodroot I find blooming in the woods.
|Bloodroot blooming in the Odd Fellows Park woods.|
I come out of the woods at the northeast corner of the intersection of Highway 19 and Armstrong Rd. Again, the 2009 modal integration study examined the possibility of a traffic light at this intersection, and again found that traffic volume did not currently meet the necessary threshold. Oddly, though, there a crosswalk on the west side of the intersection, despite the absence of a sidewalk along Armstrong Rd. on either side of the highway. The only sidewalk runs west along the highway for about 300 feet, away from the city.
|Sidewalk to nowhere. The northwest corner of the intersection|
of Highway 19 and Armstrong Rd.
From the intersection of Highway 19 and Armstrong Rd., it’s less than a mile (0.8 miles) to the west entrance of Sechler Park (the site of most of Northfield’s youth baseball games). There’s no sidewalk, the shoulder of the road is narrow, and the road is often lined with semis and traveled by truck and cars taking yard waste to the city yard waste and compost site. Ironically, because of an underpass under Highway 3 in Riverside Park and the Prowe Bridge over the Cannon River, Sechler Park is now more easily accessible to pedestrians from the east side than from the west side. It can’t be reached from the west side without crossing Highway 19.
As I’m walking along the narrow shoulder of Armstrong Rd., again feeling that I don’t belong, I imagine a controlled crossing at Highway 19 and a green corridor, including a pedestrian and bike trail, connecting Odd Fellows and Sechler Park along Armstrong Rd. What a beautiful gateway to the city that would be! How amazing it would be to connect three of the city’s parks—Odd Fellows, Sechler, and Riverside—in a continuous greenbelt.
But it’s just a daydream.