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DOT Considers Bulldozing Brookings Trees and Boulevards to Widen 6th Street

Nathan Cole-Dai and his dad Jihong tie a red ribbon to a tree on Sixth Street in Brookings to raise public awareness of a Department of Transportation plan to remove trees and boulevards to widen the street. Photo by Phyllis Cole-Dai, April 2014.
Nathan Cole-Dai and his dad Jihong tie a red ribbon to a tree on Sixth Street in Brookings to raise public awareness of a Department of Transportation plan to remove trees and boulevards to widen the street. Photo by Phyllis Cole-Dai, April 2014.

Motorists cruising through Brookings on U.S. 14 will see dozens of stately trees along sylvan Sixth Street ribboned in red. The ribbons protest the state Department of Transportation's plan to widen Sixth Street from Main to Medary and remove as many as 39 nice big trees.

Arboreal advocate Phyllis Cole-Dai is appalled. In an opinion column published in last Saturday's Brookings Register (evidently print edition only), Cole-Dai rightly notes that the leafy appearance of Sixth Street through the historic district makes a verdant oasis along the highway, a welcome break from the open prairie and from the concrete businessplex at the I-29 gateway. She says that instead of widening Sixth Street, Brookings should look at lowering speed limits, re-routing traffic, and promoting bicycle and pedestrian travel to reduce accidents. She also rejects the asphalt-über-alles thinking of the engineers and says Brookings should plant more trees, not fewer.

I agree whole-heartedly. I love trees, but I also love boulevards. The DOT would remove the boulveards and run the outside lanes of Sixth Street right up to the sidewalk. That makes walking along the highway less pleasant and more dangerous. Boulevards also provide a necessary buffer for snow removal. Without boulevards, the city plows throw piles of hard, heavy snow right onto the sidewalks, piles that even some snowblowers can't cut through. As I've seen in other snowy urban settings, a boulevardless highway usually becomes impassable for pedestrians in winter.

Cole-Dai is gathering hundreds of signatures online in the run-up to the Department of Transportation's public meeting on its Sixth Street plan on April 28 (that's next Monday, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Brookings Government Center, in the council chamber). If you're in town, drop by that meeting and tell the DOT to keep Brookings beautiful: keep the trees and the boulevards.


  1. El Rayo X 2014.04.24

    Cory, are you talking about Brookings, SD? I wasn't aware they did snow removal in Brookings.

  2. larry kurtz 2014.04.24

    Don't it always seem to go. That you don't know what you've got. Till it's gone? Brookings had best be preparing for a hundred 100-car oil trains every day.

  3. chris 2014.04.24

    Now Brookings can become as ugly as Sioux Falls. Really dumb idea.

  4. crossgrain 2014.04.24

    I'm a Brookings resident. That stretch of 6th St. is the only beautiful area left along major traffic corridors in the city (unless you count parts of South Main and 8th St. S. for the one week a year when the flowering crab trees are in bloom). The DOT engineers are probably correct in their assessment of the safety concerns should traffic and speed limits remain as they are, but I think they need to learn the lessons that departments like the TSA never did: sometimes quality of life trumps safety, and if we look hard enough and work together, there's probably a 3rd, 4th, or even 5th way of doing things.

    I think my beautiful bride summed it up best: "If they cut down those trees, we're gonna look just like Watertown... and nobody wants to look like Watertown. ;-)

  5. Daniel Buresh 2014.04.24

    Unfortunate aspect of growth that i don't see anyway around. Widening North or South corridors to push traffic to the outside of the city will create the same issues for those landowners. While you attempt to save the trees on the main thoroughfare through the city, you are essentially pushing that problem to even more residents by increasing their traffic and requiring more lane widening in their areas. To me, 6th street is the main East/West route and I don't think that will ever change. The same thing is happening in Madison and I haven't heard a reasonable alternative yet. The traffic just passing through the city uses a bypass so the increased traffic within the city will be tough to push onto those bypasses. People are coming through town for a reason, and in Brooking's case, the school is a huge factor for the amount of traffic on 6th st. Re-routing that traffic will be next to impossible since it is local traffic.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.24

    Dan, you and your cursed inevitability. You excuse a bad situation by saying there's nothing we can do about. Baloney. We can say no to widening Sixth Street, on grounds that keeping that area beautiful and green will do more for the community than turning it all to concrete. We can lower the speed limit and prioritize people over cars. We don't have to run a wider thoroughfare through anyone's front yard. We can keep trees and boulevards. We can find alternative routes that will not require eliminating trees or pedestrian safety. There are always possibilities. We just need to think bigger than your acceptance of your favored authorities allows you to think.

  7. Daniel Buresh 2014.04.24

    Yeah, I'm sure you will get those few residents on 6th street to agree with you, but the increased traffic on roads that go through more residential neighborhoods is going to cause a backlash. Then, when people decide to not travel into the center of town because of the increased hassle, you are now putting retailers on the outskirts at an even bigger advantage. I'm sure those businesses downtown will love that as well. I won't go against 50 years of civil planning to reroute an entire road because of a few people who want to keep some trees. The growth of that road has been planned for years. Are they supposed to just scrap all the new work that has been going on the past couple years widening the western entrance to 6th st? Don't confuse understanding common sense and years of planning as "favoring the authorities". It must hurt that little brain of yours to think people who put these things into motion have done their homework and are looking out for the growth of city and not the aesthetically pleasing trees on a few people's property. The trees will grow back. The road will do more good for the community than a few trees. The needs of the town outweigh the wants of a few.

  8. Gayle 2014.04.24

    Having lived in Brookings for years.......... years ago,it was inevitable.

  9. John 2014.04.24

    Brookings has a bypass, or two. If safety is a concern then slow down the traffic - lower speed limits, speed bumps, fewer signs and traffic controls (as per the European experience). Sixth Street is a residential street so treat it like one.

  10. scott 2014.04.24

    6th street serves as the major east-west street through Brookings. It is not a residential street today and I would have to say it has not been a residential street in several decades.

    The enrollment at SDSU keeps rising, and SDSU is the center-point of what drives this community. We need to make sure we keep this community appealing and pleasant for all these college students. Pleasant means there daily commutes are easy and as quick as possible.

    To sacrifice public safety to keep trees is not a good idea. Personally I believe all communities should has rules prevent trees from being located along busy streets like 6th street. Trees block views at driveways, intersections and prevent drivers from seeing street signs.

    Suggest people allow the removal of the trees, allow the road to be widened, then take advantage of the increased property value this area will gain as the lots along 6th street will be better positioned as commercial property. Homeowners can then sell the homes along 6th street and purchase homes in true residential areas of the community.

    To those who want to reduce speeds or even add speed bumps, consider how this will impact the community. 6th street is meant to move people through the city in a quick and efficient manor. How many of you want to add time and costs to you daily commutes? How many want to delay emergency vehicles because the streets are clogged with slow traffic? This is Brookings chance to improve one of our major streets, so lets not stop progress.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.25

    Scott, removal of trees and boulevards makes travel less safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased property value and faster traffic are not absolute signs of progress.

  12. scott 2014.04.25

    I would argue that removal of the trees make the road safer for pedestrians. With all those trees, street lights do a poor job of lighting the sidewalk and even the road. The tree canopy blocks the light from reading the sidewalk and road. Better lighting makes for safer travel for both cars and pedestrians. Trees can block sight distance such as not being able to see a young child who may be hiding behind the tree.

    Traffic is just going to increase on 6th street as Brookings and SDSU grows. That means more noise for the homeowners and less privacy. I would suggest adjacent land owners work with the various government entities and their adjacent neighbors to come up with a plan. Work with a commercial developer or form a partnership with your neighbors and turn your block into commercial property such as a profession office strip mall. Use the revenue from the government and sale of your property to purchase a home in a quite neighborhood.

    Of course I would be made if I was one of the homeowners, but the homeowners need to be smart and take advantage of the situation before them. Work with everyone involved to get the most for your property and then move on. Even in small communities such as Arlington, business is moving from the downtowns and relocating along the major highways. US14 in Brookings is no different than US212 thru Watertown, or US12 thru Aberdeen. These homeowners can fight this and ultimately the neighborhood is going to change even if the street stay narrow and the trees remain. Eventually some homeowners will get tired of all the noise and decide to sell to a commercial developer and this will just make the situation worse and this will create even more traffic. The first to sell will make the most money from their property.

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