2014 St. Paul Street Repairs — An Opportunity For Complete Streets

In response to widespread public outrage about rutted, ice-clad streets, and jolting potholes throughout the City of Saint Paul in the winter and spring of 2014, Mayor Chris Coleman has proposed a plan to resurface eleven of the “Terrible Twenty” worst arterial streets before the end of the fall construction season.

On July 23rd, the City Council approved the Mayor’s plan to add $2.5 million to the Public Works budget to complete a mill and overlay for these eleven roadways. (Link to list of streets) As the Mayor noted in his budget address on August 13th, the emergency repairs, combined with the effective deployment of resources in 2015, will mean that “even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, driving in Saint Paul will be different next winter and spring,”

The only problem with this proposal is that the 2014 resurfacing focuses solely on improvements for motor vehicles, with no consideration of new bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. The 2014 emergency repair will not change anything on the street except to make it smoother. According to Public Works Engineer John Maczko:

“Due to the need to complete these emergency repairs before the end of the 2014 construction season, there is simply not enough time to conduct the public input process and perform necessary engineering reviews before beginning these projects.”

I certainly agree that it makes sense to repair as many of the “Terrible Twenty” as possible before the winter of 2015, and that community input and technical planning are needed if bicycle and pedestrian facilities are to be added. But we will be missing a huge opportunity if we do not take steps NOW to ensure that these busy streets are upgraded to serve all users. In fact, if we do nothing more than a mill and overlay in 2014, it is likely that no additional improvements will be made to these eleven streets for four to seven years, which is the length of time the resurfacing is designed to last, according to Public Works Engineer Paul St. Martin.

That’s too long to wait for infrastructure upgrades for people on foot or on bicycles. These streets were chosen on the basis of their condition (terrible!) and the volume of traffic (exceptionally high), but cars are not the only roadway users that should be considered. Most of the “Terrible Twenty” arterials are also unsafe and unpleasant for walkers and bike riders, and specific needs have been identified by community members for bike lanes, sidewalk repairs, ADA-compliant pedestrian ramps, safer crosswalks, better lighting, more shade trees, and benches.

Yikes! Pretty scary for people on bicycles, on foot, or riding in a wheelchair.

Yikes! Pretty scary for people on bicycles, on foot, or riding in a wheelchair.

The Complete Streets policy adopted by the City Council in 2009 was intended to reverse the long-standing pattern of favoring motor vehicles over other modes of transportation by building streets to “accommodate and balance the needs of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit, freight, and motor vehicle drivers” (from the Transportation Chapter of the City’s Comprehensive Plan).

Substantial progress has been made in the last few years in developing action plans and identifying best practices to implement the city’s Complete Streets policy. A draft Citywide Bicycle Plan envisions a connected network throughout the city, while a new Street Design Manual, also in draft form, provides guidance on strategies to make sure streets are safe and convenient for all modes of transportation. Now it’s time to go beyond the talk and walk the walk.

Eight of the eleven streets being resurfaced in 2014 have been identified as future bike routes, and most are also primary walking routes to and from transit, schools, grocery stores and facilities that provide services for the most vulnerable populations, including children, seniors and persons with disabilities. So it is critical that bicycle and pedestrian upgrades be added for these streets.

Even if there’s not time this fall to include the striping of bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks, or installing new lighting and Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant pedestrian ramps at corners, planning could proceed over the next few months, and funding could be included in the Mayor’s 2015 budget to address the most urgent needs for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

So please, let’s grab the opportunity presented by the terrible winter of 2014 to do more than just resurface the roadways. No more excuses. Let’s fully embrace our Complete Streets Policy as we invest in the “Terrible Twenty” streets, following the vision of Gil Penalosa, “to create streets that work for everyone, from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds” (from his presention at the Great River Gathering in May 2014).

Anne White

About Anne White

Anne White lives in the Merriam Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. She is currently the Land Use Chair for the Union Park District Council (District 13) and serves on the Governing Council of the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC). After moving to the Twin Cities in 2003, she retired from her work as a professional photographer and began working to ensure that community concerns were fully considered in planning for the Green Line LRT. Now that the line is up and running, including stations at Hamline, Victoria and Western, her main focus is on walkability, making sure that people of all ages and levels of mobility have safe, pleasant walking routes to LRT and other destinations. She was recently appointed to the St Paul Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission as the Active Living community representative.

19 thoughts on “2014 St. Paul Street Repairs — An Opportunity For Complete Streets

  1. Jeff Z

    Don’t federal guidelines require ADA Pedestrian ramps be installed in conjunction with any mill and overlay project? Regardless of whether or not it is “Emergency” or not.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Regardless, traffic engineers love installing them if it means they can install beg buttons (ADA compliance requires begging of course!) or shorten crossing distances so people are even less in the way of MOVING CARS! (see Hiawatha Ave).

      1. Monte Castleman

        Engineers actually hate installing the new pedestrian push-buttons where they’re not needed because, say in pretimed installations or when the minor street crossing is on recall like University. They’re expensive, have to be custom programmed, and tend to be hit a lot by drunks.

        I’m not sure if there’s a federal requirement for any mill and overlay project. In the case of Mn/DOT they’ve reached a legal settlement to bring all it’s signals into compliance in the next few years. This doesn’t affect local agencies, but there may be a requirement to do so when the local road is substantially rebuilt.

    2. Nathanael

      The core ADA law requires ADA compliance with any “renovation”, if I remember correctly. The guideline is that you have to spend at least 20% of project funding on compliance (unless you are already achieving total compliance with less money).

      There’s also a rule that you’re not allowed to make the access situation worse (so if there was any sort of ramp, and you change the level of the pavement, you have to fix the ramp).

  2. Jim

    Marshall Ave just got repaved between Lexington and Snelling. There are bikes lanes painted there now. So there are some small improvements happening.

    1. Anne WhiteAnne White Post author

      The Marshall Avenue repaving was done by Ramsey County. Bike lanes were striped because a community process had already taken place and plans were approved before the emergency mill and overlay project was initiated. Also included on Marshall are ADA compliant pedestrian ramps. When asked why this was not being done on streets being repaved by the city, the response from Paul St Martin was that replacing the ped ramps would be an extra cost and take more time, which would reduce the number of streets that could be repaved. Also, we were told that St Paul’s policies did not require installation of ADA ramps with a mill and overlay; this is different from the MnDOT and Ramsey County policies which require updating of ped ramps with any resurfacing project. As to whether this is a federal requirement, it’s a good question. Does anyone have additional information on this?

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        If I’m reading this right, Anne, the city’s answer is that they would rather do a poor job in more places than do a good job in fewer places. The problem is that this logic will ALWAYS be true, as it will ALWAYS be cheaper to cut corners and built crappy sidewalks.

        IMO, “it’s cheaper to do a bad job” should never be used as an excuse, especially in a city that claims to be “the most livable city in America.”

      2. Monte Castleman

        As I mentioned above, with Mn/DOT their policy (and they will be redoing all the ramps and signals, not just the ones associated with mill and overlay or reconstruction projects) is a result of a legal settlement with disabled advocacy groups, not any federal policy.

        1. Nathanael

          They were probably breaking the law before they signed the agreement — the 20% guideline which I’ve mentioned a couple of time is federal policy.

          When state agencies are violating the ADA, they generally get sued by disabled advocacy groups, and they usually end up making settlements where they agree to do *more* than the law requires (instead of paying compensatory damages, punitive damages, etc.)

      3. Nathanael

        If the area being worked on is noncompliant, then 20% of the project funding must be devoted to ADA compliance. (Or as much as is needed if less than that is needed.) I don’t know how much St. Paul is spending on the mill and overlay, but if 20% of it would get you a ramp, they need to install a ramp.

  3. Jeremy

    I’m concerned about what’s happening in Saint Paul. After looking at the recent proposal for the A Line (http://www.metrocouncil.org/Council-Meetings/Committees/Transportation-Committee/2014/June-9,-2014/Information-7-A-Line-Recommended-Plan-(Roth)-c-(1).aspx), I’m disappointed to see that the most convenient and logical bus stop options are getting pushback. Based on the document, I assume this is because of concern over a loss of street parking.

    Saint Paul strikes me as being very car-oriented, with loads of on-street parking, not many bike lanes, and lots of cars everywhere. Could the residents of the adjacent neighborhoods not tolerate the loss of under 10 on-street parking spots? Does anyone have any insight on what’s going on in our capital city?

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Yep it’s about parking. A dentist’s office and Macalester College (who own the bookstore) both complained quite loudly about the bus stops, and so Metro Transit is cutting a few corners.

        1. Nathaniel

          Re: Look at the Mac Parking Lot by Pad Thai on Grand, west of Snelling. It’s a student lot for the apartments above. Maybe once I saw 3 cars there. Maybe, usually it’s one or two. And it takes up great, valuable Grand Ave frontage.

  4. Janne

    I had no idea St. Paul had a complete streets policy. It’s unacceptable that it and the bike plan are being ignored. Are there advocacy groups in St. Paul who can push back?

    If the mill and overlay takes place this fall, but the striping edits until spring, there’s time for some process.

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