by Dennis Dalman
Pinecone Road will not be closed for the 31st annual Sartell Apple Duathlon, after all.
At an early April Sartell City Council meeting, members of the duathlon-triathlon club had requested the council close Pinecone Road from 7th Street N. to 35th Street N. for safety reasons during the upcoming Sartell Apple Duathlon. The race will take place on the morning of Saturday, May 25.
The council deferred the request for further study by the police department. However, when Police Chief Jim Hughes talked with Sartell Apple Duathlon organizer, Brandon Testa, he learned Testa had never requested that portion of Pinecone Road be closed. The request, instead, had come solely from members of the duathlon-triathlon club.
At the April 22 council meeting, Sgt. Dale Struffert, acting on behalf of Hughes, informed the council of the police department’s knowledge about the road-closing request. He recommended to the council the race course be patrolled as it always has been in the past, with a police presence and the help of volunteers. Struffert said the department could consider adding more patrol, but that Pinecone, starting at 27th Street N. narrows considerably and more police cars would probably crowd the road and make it even less safe.
As many as 450 runners-bikers will take place in the duathlon, which this year is a world-qualifier race.
Council member Amy Braig-Lindstrom, who has participated in the Apple Duathlon, said she is very concerned about safety on Pinecone Road. While understanding the time and cost to the police department, Braig-Lindstrom said the city should definitely consider closing that road for a time on the morning of the race or at least making traffic just one-lane that morning.
Others, however, said a one-lane traffic solution would be unfeasible and possibly more unsafe than leaving the road wide open.
Council member Sarah Jane Nicoll said she understands safety concerns but that solutions offered have been unfeasible, creating new dangers for athletes and motorists.
Council member David Peterson agreed, saying proper plans must be implemented or the situation could be much worse.
For next year, the Apple Duathlon committee should perhaps consider a new, safer route for the race, otherwise the safety problem will just continue to get worse every year as already busy traffic increases on that stretch of Pinecone Road.
Mayor Joe Perske said if the duathlon committee and organizer Testa didn’t request the closing, the city cannot do it. Then Perske noted some safety concerns of his own. Racers in wheelchairs, he said, should probably come equipped with flashing lights or some other means of warning motorists since it’s harder to see them as they are lower to the road.
After further discussion, the council voted unanimously not to close the road, but throughout their discussion they made it obvious everyone – racers, police and volunteers – work together to maximize safety on race day.