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.