Discussion of how to best handle traffic through Old Town Mankato is not a new topic.

Riverfront Drive has been a longtime main thoroughfare that dissects the business district and will continue to be. The question that’s been raised by city leaders once again is how many lanes of traffic should go through Old Town and what accommodations should be made for pedestrians.

The city of Mankato is right to consider ways to improve safety in the area. Old Town has been revitalized with unique shops and businesses with public art springing up to make the neighborhood attractive. The well-attended Day of the Dead Festival last month emphasized the area’s vitality and gave the district a chance to show off its offerings.

But the area is also a corridor of transportation for trucks that come and go from the area as well as a way for commuters to get from one end of the city to the other.

Meshing those two distinct purposes for a place is tricky. That’s why the city will be setting up a trial balloon type of project to see what works best. A 10-month demonstration will begin in late April to study the impacts of reducing the number of lanes on Riverfront Drive through Old Town.

The concept will be tested using pavement paint, planters and barriers to simulate the changes before they’re set in concrete.

The lane reduction will be between Plum and Vine streets and will create shorter distances for pedestrians to cross Riverfront Drive, which carries about 18,000 vehicles daily. The change also could bring more space for landscaping, wider sidewalks and more public art.

The reputable engineering firm Bolton and Menk will be collecting data, tabulating the current conditions for drivers and pedestrians on both Riverfront and Second Street and then investigating how the demonstration project impacts travel times, vehicle volumes and pedestrian crossings.

But along with collecting important data, the firm will be helping gather opinions about the project. One of the key elements to make this demonstration as meaningful as possible is that it needs lots of public feedback based on how it works and doesn’t work. Doing that requires residents to visit the area and reach those conclusions based on experience. Blasting opinions without observations or firsthand experience isn’t helpful — and neither is circulating misinformation.

Changes are tentatively planned to be made in 2024 as part of a major reconstruction of Riverfront Drive between Main Street and Madison Avenue.

Old Town with its history and recent revitalization is a special part of Mankato. Figuring out how to best keep it accessible and vibrant will benefit the entire community.

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