St. Anthony Village is an interesting suburban town. It has an excellent school district. It has pretty good “bones” – a solid grid system which has worked for centuries. Not much of the twisting, un-navigable dead-ends found in a traditional post WWII suburb:
St. Anthony Village has sidewalks(!). And the intersections even have stuff like bump-outs that us urban design wonks love:
But something isn’t right in Stepford Village. The town itself lies in two counties: Hennepin and Ramsey, which may contribute to the Jekyll and Hyde qualities of the city…
Silver Lake Road is effectively St. Anthony’s “Main Street.” On the south end of town (Hennepin County Rd. 136) they’ve somehow managed to keep it two lanes and 30MPH. Then as the road crosses the county line and becomes Ramsey County 44, it transforms into a 4-lane, no-shoulder, auto-oriented, and decidedly bike and pedestrian unfriendly behemoth. The city has managed to keep the Ramsey County road’s speed to 35MPH, but it’s really a 40MPH design speed road where everyone goes 40MPH (or faster) anyway.
But enough about stroads that every suburb has, let’s take a closer look at the good stuff like those bump-outs:
They serve the purpose of calming traffic, because cars turning right must slow in the middle rather than using shoulder. But one of the biggest benefits of bump-outs is to provide a pedestrian a shorter (and faster) walk across a street. While the walk is shorter, they clearly don’t want you to cross Silver Lake Road as there are no curb-cuts or crosswalks leading across the street. So go ahead and walk, but stay on your side!
Also, what happens when we leave Silver Lake Road to head into the neighborhood? I guess it’s back to walking in the street 🙁
They gave it a good college try. But when we look at the full picture of the zoning map, you can see that much of the city is suburban business as usual:
All of the retail is in one area (on the stroad part of Silver Lake Road). The city hall, fire station, police station, community center, schools, and city park are all located in middle of town in one square block. So you can walk to church or school, but if you want to buy something or go out to eat, it’s time to fire up the Family Truckster.
No corner stores. No mixed use. It’s nothing but homogeneous single family residences.
My wife still likes to point out that St. Anthony Village still has sidewalks. But it really doesn’t. They only have them where it’s convenient. It’s almost insulting to see where the city abuts Minneapolis:
Minneapolis has sidewalks and a sidewalk assessment fee to prove it (at the displeasure of the anti-sidewalk lobby). And you can see above that St. Anthony Village does not have sidewalks where it borders Minneapolis. But hey, they at least installed that little sidewalk section on the corner by the cemetery. You can either stand there for the bus, or wait for traffic to clear so you can cross over to a city that respects pedestrians.
Of course, much of the first ring has a similar problem. Sidewalks are provided along major streets, but rarely along neighborhood streets. Edina and St. Louis Park have select areas where there is more consistent sidewalk coverage — but then again, Edina also has some major gaps along busy streets. Columbia Heights is the only first-ring suburb I’m aware of that has really substantial areas of residential sidewalks. Even St. Paul has many neighborhoods with sidewalks on one side of the street or nothing at all. In this regard, Minneapolis seems to be the unrivaled gold standard.
As I eagerly point out, though, those old first-ring cities are caught in a particularly awkward middle ground. Many new suburbs features sidewalks, at least one side of every through street. Many developments in places like Maple Grove and Apple Valley feature full sidewalk coverage (even though there are fewer places to walk to).
Do the first-ring cities like St. Anthony Village really think they’re going to attract the next generation of homebuyers by neglecting a safety feature and community amenity that older and newer cities alike have?
I also think they did a pretty good job on the new Hennepin County portion of Silver Lake Rd. I would have wished they’d acquired a few more feet to do grassy boulevards, but the bumpouts seem to work well. Since the on-street parking is lightly used, I also appreciate that the bumpouts don’t extend so close to the travel lane so as to prevent cyclists from riding on the shoulder.
Yeah, I’d like to know the history and whatever battles the city has tried to fight over Silver Lake Road in the different counties.
I’m really glad you wrote this post, Justin. As a matter of fact, St. Anthony Village has a group of citizens advocating for more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods that just started up called Bike Walk St. Anthony Village – https://www.facebook.com/BikeWalkSAV. Primarily they are interested in expanding the sidewalk system and creating a bike network that connects destinations throughout the city as well connects with the bike networks of other jurisdictions (i.e. Minneapolis). Improving transit connections and infrastructure is another goal.
It is actually in the City’s mission statement to be “a walkable village,” and as best I can tell, current city leadership wants to make this happen. Unfortunately they are stuck retrofitting these improvements into 1960’s suburban street design. The City actually plans to complete the sidewalk on their side of Stinson to complement Minneapolis’s system. They also have sidewalk installations planned along 37th. 37th/Ramsey County D is the border between Hennepin and Ramsey. The Ramsey side of this stroad has a sidewalk, while the Hennepin side lacks them. The Bike Walk group would like to see a sidewalk installed on the south side since Willshire Elementary is located on that side of the stroad. The city is also currently pushing Hennepin County to extent the sidewalk system along 29th Ave NE/County 94 to east of New Brighton Blvd where there is a commercial/light industrial area. In the winter, people taking the bus to/from work in these areas are forced to walk and wait in the travel lane next to 5 ft snowbanks along this 45 MPH stroad.
From what I’ve heard about the history of Silver Lake Road, this was originally a 2 lane road with no sidewalk. Hennepin County wanted to build a 4-lane stroad similar to what Ramsey County has north of 37th, but the city pushed back heavily and was eventually able to get the engineers to agree to the current design.
I think there is more reluctance to push back against Hennepin and Ramsey Counties on the design of their roadways in St. Anthony than what you see in Minneapolis. It was mentioned that the curb ramps on the bump outs discourage pedestrian crossing of Silver Lake Road. I think the City doesn’t want to challenge the County in asking for more crosswalks across this street.
I do credit the City for successfully implementing in-roadway pedestrian crosswalk lighting at Silver Lake Road and 34th Ave NE by City Hall. Traffic engineers in Minnesota have thrown out every excuse in the book to avoid installing these (most notably fear of snowplow damage), but the City kept pursing them. They have proven that these can be reliable and sustain Minnesota winters, and the County Engineer actually praised the City for their leadership in getting this technology implemented now that positive results are seen.
The City also received a Safe Routes to School grant from MnDOT for Willshire Elementary, but I’m not sure what the plans are for that.
There is an interesting story about why the bike trail along St. Anthony Blvd. doesn’t continue through St. Anthony to the Diagonal Trail, but I would encourage you to ask the Mayor or a City Council member about that one. I think it could happen in the near future, but it will take some leadership diplomacy between Minneapolis and St. Anthony. Another issue for the Bike Walk group to tackle.
Peter, excellent insight!
I’m delighted to see that there are citizens dedicated to the cause of improving the quality of life in St. Anthony. Unfortunately the cynic in me leads me to believe that actions speak louder than words and the city government won’t have the pocketbook or political will to act.
In Fridley, the council unanimously passed an Activate Transportation Plan but it’s not a law, just some guidelines. Once an engineer squashes an idea and no one has the evidence or simply the muster to counter, things may continue as usual.
I’m really interested in knowing if taking away land to add sidewalks will survive the political battle. In Blaine, a few citizens got their council to block a Safe Routes To School sidewalk. When there’s no school involved I think your average suburbanite is going to oppose reclaiming part of their land for public right-of-way.
Don’t get me wrong, everything you mentioned sounds great and I hope it all happens, I just wish it wouldn’t be such a battle.
P.S. I’ve love to hear your story about the Diagonal Trail. I’m not much for politics – would you be interested in writing it up as a streets.mn story?