Small Suburban Sidewalk Successes (and Obstacles)

Sidewalks in the suburbs have a long way to go, but many communities are chipping away at the backlog and that is to be commended. Edina, for example, has recently invalidated one of my earlier posted criticisms by building sidewalks along the France Avenue and York Avenue sides of Southdale. Even better, they eliminated one of the “No ped” crossings on France between 66th and 69th Avenues. They also built a pair of berm cut-throughs to connect York Avenue with the new Southdale Transit Center. Add to that new sidewalks along busy Vernon Avenue near Gleason Road.

The new York Avenue sidewalk, with a cut through the berm to reach the Southdale Transit Center.

The new York Avenue sidewalk, with a cut through the berm to reach the Southdale Transit Center.

Roseville is extending the County Road B2 sidewalk east from Lexington Avenue 2 miles to Rice Street, and opening a new sidewalk along Victoria Street from Larpenteur Avenue to County Road C.

Minnetonka is building a mile of sidewalk along Eden Prairie Road south from Excelsior Blvd.

Meanwhile, Ramsey County is putting portions of Larpenteur Avenue and Dale Street on a 4 to 3 lane road diet that creates a nice bikeable area. I’ve noticed the same thing recently in Richfield on Nicollet and Portland Avenues.

More research will undoubtedly uncover more such commendable accomplishments. They should be encouraged, because it isn’t always easy. Take the case of St. Louis Park, definitely one of the good guys when it comes to promoting density and walkability. Recently I noticed a new sidewalk had just appeared on 39th Street west from France Avenue. Mind you, this is just across the city line from Linden Hills, that paragon of city living. I wanted to learn more about the project, since this St. Louis Park neighborhood has a mix of streets with and without sidewalks.

It turns out this is the first phase of a 10-year city sidewalk initiative, and one of six segments being built this year (39th Street between Natchez Avenue and France Avenue, 41st Street between Utica Avenue and Wooddale Avenue, Joppa Avenue north of Minnetonka Boulevard to a section north of Sunset Boulevard, Louisiana Avenue between Lake Street and Oxford Street, Morningside Road between Utica Avenue and Browndale Avenue and Oxford Street west of Louisiana Avenue to the city’s Municipal Service Center).

Back in April the City Council approved this year’s construction on a 5-0 vote. There was considerable citizen support, but you wouldn’t believe some of the comments made by sidewalk opponents. They appear in an April 29, 2014 story in the Sun-Current newspaper, from which I quote. “Opponents of the 39th Street segment in particular argued that police have not documented incidents involving collisions between vehicles and pedestrians along the street. They also said the installation of sidewalks would lead to the removal of trees and landscaping. Some opponents have argued that sidewalks could lead to an increase of crime in their neighborhood as well as a lack of privacy considering walkers would be closer to their homes than previously.” And, “One opponent of the 39th Street segment asserted that sidewalks would provide ‘almost an excuse’ for drivers choosing to text and talk and use their navigation systems and  ‘not to be responsible.’ And, “…she believes a sidewalk on 39th Street that connects with France Avenue would encourage pedestrians to visit an area that is dangerous. ‘You’re promoting people to go down to that intersection and potentially get hurt,’ she said.”

Thankfully the City Council did the right thing and seem solid on adding more sidewalks each year. But if St. Louis Park, a first ring suburb with a street grid, can generate that kind of opposition, imagine what it must be like farther out.

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

11 thoughts on “Small Suburban Sidewalk Successes (and Obstacles)

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    Around Southdale there is also a new crossing across 69th between One Southdale and Galleria, it is in a rather clever split between two turn lanes. There is also a new Ped crossing for France between Southdale and the offices. FINALLY!

    I attended the St. Louis Park meeting where the public got to speak for or against the projects this year. None of the sidewalks had significant opposition except 39th. It was countered by a nearly equal number of locals from the neighborhood speaking for it. From my back seat observation it wouldn’t be out of line to say the people opposed leaned older and those in favor leaned younger. In general. Twenty years ago there never would have been that much in favor.

    I expected the Morningside and 41st sidewalk to get greater opposition. Times have changed in SLP. There is mostly good news there.

  2. Sean Hayford Oleary

    What’s odd about sidewalks is that they don’t follow the usual trajectory of core city, first-ring city, second ring, outer-ring burbs, etc. There are lot of sidewalks in Maple Grove and Apple Valley — seriously, usually both sides of every residential street. SLP has a lot of sidewalks, but the majority of residential streets don’t have them. Edina has some areas with walks, but much of the city is lacking sidewalks, even on seriously busy streets. Within Bloomington, suburban West Bloomington has far more residential sidewalks than the more traditional (grid, alleys, small lot) East Bloomington.

    I think the #1 greatest factor determining acceptance of sidewalks is whether there are sidewalks currently.

    I have long insisted that sidewalks would be appropriate on basically every street in Richfield. Although many are supportive, those who oppose it use similarly spurious arguments. “I haven’t been hit by a car once!” “I don’t want people walking through my front lawn, looking in my picture window!” (Nevermind that they could, right now, legally walk in the same space the sidewalk would occupy.) Trees are another common concern, perhaps the most legitimate gripe about sidewalks — of course, nobody ever complains about all the trees that could be grown if the roadway weren’t there, or were much narrower.

  3. Isaac

    The Dale 4 to 3 conversion didn’t happen due to neighborhood opposition:

    “A public meeting was held on May 28th, 2014. Approximately 65 people attended. The meeting provided an opportunity for the community to voice their opinions and concerns about the project. Many questions were heard regarding loss of parking, the potential to increase congestion and traffic on side streets. Frequent stopping of service vehicles, such as garbage trucks, buses and funeral processions were also raised as potential problems that could increase congestion. The most significant concern raised at the meeting was the short timeframe for the public involvement process.

    Staff has determined that any changes to Dale Street would require additional public meetings and more analysis of the project to address concerns. The project, as proposed, will not be constructed in 2014. The Federal funds received for the project require deadlines that cannot be met for a more in depth public process. The federal funding will be returned to the Federal Government.”

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      As I heard it, that public meeting was very disingenuous, announced with little notice and people’d almost entirely by a pre-organized group organized by a Ramsey County Commissioner. There are many people in Saint Paul and the North End/Como area that want safer streets, and did not get a chance for input. It’s a real shame that the city and county can’t practice what they preach: safety and complete streets for all.

      1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

        Woops. I got that one off the Ramsey County website. Didn’t know it had been withdrawn. It certainly reinforces my point that not everyone supports these changes.

        1. Sean Hayford Oleary

          There was a small constituency in Richfield who opposed the 4-to-3 on Penn (not yet implemented, but will be done this fall yet). Main concern was lack of adequate gaps in traffic.

          There is a larger constituency who oppose the planned reduction to 3 lanes on 66th east of Nicollet (2016) — fearing that traffic will be too congested.

          But with Portland in place for about 5 years, people have generally really liked the changes — including people who never walk or bike.

  4. Tenderfoot

    The new sidewalks on Vernon haven’t actually been built yet (I’m assuming this refers to adding sidewalks to the north side- I think it’s scheduled for next year). That improvement, plus the upcoming Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail, will be good news indeed for west Edina.

    1. Joe

      I’d appreciate it if we could also point out that on most of these roads it has nearly nothing to do with the cities. Cities provide input but these are mostly county roads, and the decisions to add sidewalks is only influenced by city leaders at best.

      1. Sean Hayford Oleary

        Actually, sidewalks are pretty much city business, even when the county owns the street and right-of-way. In Minneapolis, county roads are sometimes reconstructed without even touching the sidewalks — like on the residential portion of Lyndale. In all cities in Hennepin County (and Rice County, where I’m from), the city is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk, replacing panels, and even clearing snow (or requiring residents to do so).

        In the Edina project, it was an entirely city-led project done mostly with donated easements from Southdale Center and other property owners. Obviously they had to get Hennepin County’s blessing (especially for the roadway stuff), but the cities usually have to do the legwork here.

  5. Betsey BuckheitBetsey Buckheit

    And with Rice County projects within the City limits, the City needs to negotiate any changes to the County design standards which do not include sidewalks. So, when the County owns the ROW and is reluctant to change the lane widths, boulevards, etc. there is often “no room” for sidewalks. Rice County, of course, is mostly rural and faces significantly different issues than Hennepin County.

    As for opposition, proposing a sidewalk on a residential street where one does not currently exist sparks more citizen participation than any other project with more anger, threats and fearmongering than any other issue I encountered as a planning commissioner or City Councilor.

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