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Students propose pedestrian bridge at Dry Run Creek

Don Burger, second from right, an assistant professor of landscape architecture at South Dakota State University, talks with Ken Tracy, mayor of Mitchell, after SDSU students presented the Active Transportation Assessment of Mitchell Friday morning at City Hall in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

A pedestrian bridge linking Dry Run Creek Park to Mitchell's historic downtown district could improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in the city, a group of South Dakota State University students told city officials Friday at City Hall.

And that was one of the ideas presented by the students, who were tasked with coming up with ideas to encourage physical activity by enhancing amenities available to pedestrians and cyclists in the city, all as part of program that brought together the students, the city and the South Dakota Department of Health.

Mayor Ken Tracy, who attended the presentation, said in an interview that all of the ideas suggested by the students are worth considering, though he admitted they varied in scope and potential cost.

"What they have proposed are things that would improve the quality of life in the city," Tracy said.

McKenzi Kohlnhofer, the student who presented the idea for a pedestrian bridge, said the bridge would give pedestrians and cyclists a safer and more direct route between the neighborhoods on the south side of Mitchell and the downtown area.

"It allows families with children and people who don't want to walk right next to speeding cars to be able to walk to the Main Street area," Kohlnhofer said.

The only way for pedestrians and cyclists to get between those two areas now are to go under the railroad tracks on Burr Street or over them on Sanborn Boulevard. If a pedestrian bridge was installed, it may encourage more people to come downtown and shop at the businesses, Kohlnhofer said. And with a variety of design options, the bridge itself could become an attraction.

"By putting in a bridge, it's going to be another huge, recognizable icon for Mitchell," she said.

Meredith Bargenquast and Andrew Krier, two other students, presented an idea for a downtown plaza, similar to a proposal last summer from Mitchell Main Street & Beyond. It would be located at the south end of Main Street, where a public parking lot currently sits at Railroad Street and Main Street, and would include an outdoor amphitheater and playground, and water features, public art displays and seating areas. The area could be used for outdoor concerts, festivals and other events, in addition to day-to-day use by residents and tourists.

"One of the overall goals is to create another landmark in Mitchell," Bargenquast said.

Tyler Landry and Brianna Wenner presented an idea to add bike lanes on a few main roads in the city. Among the proposed locations for the new bike lanes was Havens Avenue, which the students suggested could be reduced from five lanes to three lanes. That would allow bike lanes, or even bike paths complete with a buffer zone, to be installed on either side of the street.

"We want to know that Mitchell believes in the pedestrian over the car," Landry said.

They also suggested adding more amenities for cyclists, such as bike racks, downtown.

"Our goal is to revitalize downtown and I think this will really help with that," Wenner said.

David Rutherford and Shane Hoitsma suggested installing an 8-foot wide sidewalk on the east side of Burr Street, along with a buffer zone where trees could be planted. Improving the look of the area is important, Hoitsma said, because it is the first area of Mitchell many people see coming off Interstate 90.

"We want to make it is more welcoming and draws people into the city a little bit more," he said.

Jay Bredburg and Billy Schwarz suggested adding more pedestrian-friendly lighting, or light poles less than 15 feet tall, to commonly used areas of the city, particularly near parks.

"It increases the sense of safety in those areas and increases the usability," Schwarz said.

Dusty Rodiek, the city's parks and recreation director, also attended the presentation and said he, too, was excited by many of the ideas.

"A lot of this is just going to come back to what the people of Mitchell are interested in pursuing," he said.

Beth Davis, physical activity coordinator with the South Dakota Department of Health, said the purpose of bringing the students and the city together, which was done at no cost to the city, was to increase the number of people living active lives in the community.

"The message is that when you create communities where it is easy to be physically active, then you're more likely to get people to be physically active," Davis said.