On Wednesday, October 8th, at 10:00 am, the Saint Paul City Council Budget Committee will review Mayor Chris Coleman’s proposed 8-80 Vitality Fund. If approved, the fund will invest $42.5 million in infrastructure projects designed to promote economic development by enlivening Saint Paul’s streets and public spaces. The idea for the fund was inspired by Gil Penalosa’s presentation at the Great River Gathering last May, where he urged Saint Paul to embrace a bold vision of a city that works for everyone, from 8 year olds to 80 years olds.
The Mayor introduced the initiative in his 2015 budget address on August 13th, as part of a proposed $54 million investment in street repair and transportation upgrades. The goal, he said, is to “create places where people feel safe to walk and bike, businesses feel confident in investing, and all means of transit and travel, including cars, work harmoniously together.”
The 8-80 proposal lists six key elements to be funded:
- $8M to renovate the Palace Theater in downtown Saint Paul, with additional funding anticipated from the State of Minnesota ($5M) and from management partners (almost $1M).
- $8M for Jackson Street reconstruction and installation of a two-way off-street bike trail from 2nd Street to 11th Street — the first leg of a proposed downtown network loop to connect to popular downtown attractions.
- $13.2M to go toward completion of the Grand Round, including $6M for street reconstruction on Wheelock Parkway, and $7.2M for trail construction and amenities on Wheelock Parkway, Johnson Parkway and Pelham Boulevard. The project will also leverage $900,000 in CIB funding designated for Grand Round planning.
- $1.8M to invest in a citywide fiber optic network.
- $2M to restore Dickerman Park to its originally intended use as a park. An additional $1M to $2.4M will need to be raised (hopefully from private sources) to plan and complete the project.
- $9.5M for additional development or reconstruction of 8-80 streets and public spaces. $2.5M of these funds will go toward reconstruction of St. Clair Avenue, with the remaining $7M to be used to support a variety of projects with a focus on street reconstruction, bike facilities, trail improvements and public spaces – specific projects still to be determined.
When the Mayor first announced his 8-80 initiative in August, I was hopeful that a substantial portion of this investment would go toward bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, which has been sorely neglected over many years of designing, building and maintaining streets for cars. I was pleased that the nine arterials scheduled for repair in 2015 were to be reconstructed or rehabilitated, with the possibility of improving the walking and biking environment as well as the roadway.
At the same time, I have a number of concerns. First is the fact that this investment in repairing the “Terrible Twenty” arterials comes at the cost of our residential neighborhoods, given that two thirds of the funding for the Residential Street Vitality Program (RSVP) will be shifted to arterial streets. While I understand the need to invest in our arterials at this time, I think it’s important that a goal be set to bring funding for RSVP back at least to its current level of $12.5M within the next few years.
I’m also concerned that the eleven streets being repaired this fall through the emergency mill and overlay projects did not offer any options to address walking and biking needs. Given that most of these streets are extremely unsafe and unpleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists, I would advocate for a community process to be undertaken in early 2015 to assess the highest priority needs, and that funds be set aside from the as-yet-unassigned $9.5M (#6 above) to implement biking and walking improvements. Otherwise, we may have to wait four to seven years for the next opportunity. (See “2014 St Paul Street Repairs – An Opportunity for Complete Streets”, streets.mn September 10, 2014)
Finally, I would urge the Mayor and the City Council to establish bold, transformational goals and set clear funding criteria for the 8-80 Vitality Fund. Gil Penalosa proposed “Fourteen Steps to Make St. Paul the World’s Best City”. Among my favorite admonitions on Penalosa’s list are:
- Develop a Sense of Urgency to Make Things Better
- Put Pedestrians First
- Make Biking and Walking Utterly Normal
- No Traffic Deaths by 2025
- Plan your City Around People Not Cars
- Focus on Making St Paul Great in Everything You Do
- Shift Your Aspirations from Good Enough to Great!
Hopefully the 8-80 Vitality Fund will do more than just fill in the gaps in funding for desperately needed repairs or projects already on the books. To create an 8-80 City, we must challenge ourselves, think big, embrace creative new ideas, broaden engagement, attend to the needs of our elderly and infirm, and refuse to settle for less than the best. As Gil Penalosa says: “The cities that will lead the world in the future are not making small plans today.” Will Saint Paul be one of those world leaders?