Main Street – St. Paul (7th St. W. (Ft. Rd.) (Mn. 5))

“Whoever designed the streets (in St. Paul) must have been drunk. I think it was those Irish guys, you know what they like to do.” – Jesse Ventura on Late Night with David Letterman

We start in St. Paul, where 7th Street W. (running on old 8th Street) crosses 6th Street, and then 5th Street. Not being from Saint Paul, the obviousness of the answer to the question “Fort Road is a nice, unconfusing, name why didn’t they use that?” escapes me.

Our origin is roughly at the Ramsey County Juvenile Facility, which is across from the Children’s Museum. Warning to children “Behave.” We then approach one of the two different Mickey’s Diners on 7th Street. The famous one downtown, and another one down the road a 3.7 miles, the latter is subtitled: “By Willy”. I am sure there is a history here.

Mickey's Diner (from Google Streetview)

Mickey’s Diner (from Google Streetview)

We then approach Saint Paul’s attempts at economic development: River Centre, the X, parking lots. It is lifeless here but for the Dorothy Day Center, a Catholic charity which feeds the poor and always seems to have a crowd around.

Next we get some interesting older buildings mostly on the North Side. (St. Paul’s 7 Corners neighborhood) This should be a cool walkable neighborhood. It has some seeds (the coffee shop, the restaurant, the DQ, a real hardware store). But the road is too wide (4 lanes + 2 parking lanes, no median, few or no street trees) for this to have the relaxed, free to cross the street mid-block feel that Grand Avenue possesses.

Down the road to the west are more institutional and industrial and automobile service uses.

Then we get to another neighborhood retail node at Goodrich Avenue. This has a St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store. Nothing wrong with thrift stores, but they are indicators that rents are on the low side. And then lots of parking. Some more random retail. A Liquor Barrel. The road narrows up some.

We go over some rail tracks, and then in the distance, we spy  a brewery. Schmidt’s, the beer that made Saint Paul famous. This is being reused for housing and a taproom.

As we approach Randolph Road, there is another node. Then residential and auto-servicing retail businesses dominate until Otto Avenue. There a new Mississippi Market co-op store, a Shalom House, and some other higher density (but by no means high density) development prevails.

The road has an interchange with I-35E. We follow it past Montreal to the south side of Highland Park. We see the Second Mickey’s as well as a Famous Dave’s. The north side of the road takes on a wilderness character, as it is a steep wooded slope. Pearson’s Candy is on the south side. The street becomes more residential, and then Sibley Plaza emerges on the North side, a strip shopping area. There is a surprisingly random new apartment building on Davern Street. Then the road becomes a grade-separated divided highway.

Mickey's (by Willy) (from Google Streetview)

Mickey’s (by Willy) (from Google Streetview)

7th Street is one of those great pre-Interstate routes, one that lost a lot of business when long distance traffic migrated to I-35E, a route, that like Central Avenue and University Ave has seen better times. It was an early trail from Fort Snelling to Saint Paul that was geographically slated to be a significant transportation route. Running at a diagonal to the grid also makes it much more important, since that makes it a faster route, one which reduces the circuity of the network and attracts traffic. It was one of the early Streetcar routes, and the remnants of that remain.

The region has plans for Arterial BRT. This is a good thing. The transit already gets use, this should make it better. The city is in contrast proposing a Streetcar.