Matt Von Pinnon, Published February 11 2012
Von Pinnon: Moorhead should fix lights at downtown intersectionsI have lived within a half-mile of railroad tracks my entire life.
I suspect others in Fargo-Moorhead – two cities named after railroad men – can say the same.
I like the rhythmic clickety-clack of train cars moving along the track and the ding-dong warning song of the crossing arms, especially on an open-window summer night. I don’t even mind the blare of train horns as long as I’m not too close to them.
But as train horns grew louder to pierce the sound-proof cabins of modern vehicles and the tolerance of moneyed people now living downtown grew shorter, it was inevitable that railroad Quiet Zones would eventually rule the day. Call it an evolution of modern convenience.
Or, in the case of Moorhead’s Quiet Zone, just the opposite.
Ever since Moorhead began its Quiet Zone, unlucky motorists caught in the travel trap have been sitting idle at nearby intersections, waiting for their traffic lights to turn green.
It’s so bad that many drivers I’ve spoken with avoid downtown Moorhead, afraid a passing parallel train might add several precious minutes to their commute.
Here’s what happens: When a train approaches downtown Moorhead, traffic lights at nearby intersections are engaged. The lights running parallel to the tracks turn red. The lights running perpendicular to the tracks turn green, allowing traffic that might be crossing the tracks at that moment to keep moving and get out from under the crossing gates. This is for safety, and all of this makes sense.
However, once all vehicles have cleared the crossing gates, and until a good portion of the train has passed, the nearby traffic signals remain red in all directions. Some of the parallel signals have been known to stay red the entire time a train is present, essentially keeping east-west traffic at a standstill for no apparent reason.
How does all this improve Moorhead’s quality of life? Yes, downtown Moorhead is absent train whistles. But now downtown Moorhead is absent traffic movement.
It certainly doesn’t help that Moorhead has three parallel train tracks within three blocks of each other, unlike Fargo. Maybe Moorhead’s traffic signal problems are more pronounced because of that.
But while Fargo’s Quiet Zone intersections have some of these same traits of holding up nearby traffic a bit while trains are approaching, the waits seem many times worse in Moorhead.
I grew up in Moorhead. I’m fond of the place. The trains are part of the city’s heritage. The Quiet Zone could be a good move to get people living, working and shopping downtown. But it only works if people are able to get around, and right now the setup won’t allow it.
Fix the problem. Fix the signals. Then fix the surface of Main Avenue.
Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.