Walking in Saint Paul — What Will It Take to Make It Safe and Pleasant?

In the last couple of years, I have begun walking pretty much every day. I  walk to go to nearby meetings or to buy fresh produce, bread or fish. I walk to the bus or the Green Line to reach more distant destinations. I walk for exercise aiming to reach 10,000 steps a day, and I walk and talk with my husband or a friend to catch up while relaxing and enjoying the tree-lined streets and spring flowers. Recently, I’ve also found that a walk can be calming and therapeutic, helping me deal with challenging situations.

Spring tulips

Spring tulips

It’s clear that more and more people want to be able to walk in the Twin Cities. This is in line with a national movement that is largely driven by the recognition that walking is a powerful antidote to the obesity and diabetes crisis in the United States. In response, as more and more people choose to live in walkable communities, there’s a gradual shift in the division of street real estate. Driving lanes are being narrowed and parking spaces limited to allow space for a connected network of sidewalks and bicycle lanes. But rebalancing the streets is a long and complex process, slowed by an ingrained car culture that fears increased traffic congestion or loss of parking. In the meantime, many people do not feel safe walking, especially when crossing at busy intersections.

I live close to Snelling Avenue, a multi-purpose roadway that provides a direct route from the Highland Park neighborhood on the south end to the Roseville shopping centers to the north. It’s a major state highway and truck route — one of just a handful of roadways that bridge over the rail yards. At the same time, it also serves as a Main Street for clusters of small businesses, institutions, churches and recreational facilities. It’s a street that is widely viewed as unpleasant to walk on and dangerous to cross.

Traffic at Snelling and Concordia

Traffic at Snelling and Concordia


Traffic lights are generally spaced far apart, which encourages cars and trucks to pick up speed, hoping to catch the next green light. And although drivers in Minnesota are required by law to stop for pedestrians crossing at any intersection, many do not. This situation is exacerbated by people on foot who hesitate to step off the curve, leaving drivers uncertain about whether to stop. In this situation, most drivers will simply proceed through the intersection or turn through the crosswalk ahead of the pedestrian. At the other end of the spectrum are those who step off the curb without looking, lost in thought or grooving to their favorite tune and oblivious to traffic. The result is that too many people are injured or killed in traffic crashes in Saint Paul.

Over a five year period from 2010 to 2014, 669 pedestrians were killed or injured in traffic crashes in Saint Paul. That’s 669 too many as far as I’m concerned. Isn’t it time to figure out what can be done to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries due to traffic crashes? Isn’t it time to recognize that everyone has a stake in making streets safe for the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians and bicyclists? There are many efforts underway to make walking safer in Saint Paul and in the Twin Cities metro area. Here are two examples, chosen because each will be highlighted at a workshop in the next few weeks:

  1. Toward a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan: With the adoption of the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan, many people have expressed interest in developing a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan. After undertaking a number of walkability studies, the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) is beginning the conversation about what a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan might include.
Woman crossing Selby at Snelling

Woman crossing Selby at Snelling


The DCC is hosting a roundtable discussion, Pedestrian Planning for Saint Paul: Learning from Minneapolis, on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 6:30-8:00 pm., at the Western District Police Station, 389 Hamline Avenue, Saint Paul, MN. The evening will begin with a presentation of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Plan, by Minneapolis Transportation Planner, Mackenzie Turner Bargen. This will provide a good opportunity for Saint Paul to learn from our sister city how well their plan is working, since it was adopted in 2009. A panel  will respond (with our own streets.mn writer Rebecca Airmet as one of the panelists), and we’ll open it up for what we hope will be a vibrant and meaty roundtable discussion. The roundtable is free, and refreshments will be served. For more information, contact the DCC at 651-528-8165.

  1. Toward Zero Deaths (TZD). Minnesota’s state traffic safety program, TZD, was launched in 2003, and has achieved a 41% reduction in traffic fatalities and an increase in statewide belt use to 95% over the last decade. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the program’s vision is to create a culture where traffic fatalities and serious injuries are no longer acceptable, and ultimately to reduce the number of traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths in Minnesota to zero. The short term goal: “Fewer than 300 fatalities and 850 serious injuries on Minnesota’s roads by 2020.”

Minnesota Traffic Fatalities — 1990-2014


Toward Zero Deaths is offering a daylong Metro Region Workshop on Friday, June 5, 2015, at The Prom Center, 484 Inwood Avenue North, in Oakdale, MN. The program includes a session on Pedestrian Safety and a Walking Audit of the area around the Prom Center. The workshop is free, and includes continental breakfast and lunch. For more information and to register, go to: http://www.minnesotatzd.org/initiatives/regions/metro/workshop/index.html






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.

14 thoughts on “Walking in Saint Paul — What Will It Take to Make It Safe and Pleasant?

  1. HazelStone

    There is no obesity crisis. Exercise is really, really good for you. There’s no need to blame or shame fat people to make that point. If you want people to avoid diseases of inactivity, then say so.

    Here are some good quick reads on this topic, but there are plenty more out there:




      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        It may not be a useful way to characterize it, though.

        We have an inactivity crisis. We have a sugar intake crisis. Re-balancing those things would likely have an impact on obesity, but are good things in and of themselves.

  2. Keith Morris

    I think the fact that roads like Snelling are configured as a “major state highway” explains the death toll. You can’t have a pedestrian-oriented business district double as a state highway: more customers = more road deaths. Business owners on streets like Snelling (and Ford and Hennepin and Lyndale, etc) need to take the incentive and responsibility to provide a safe environment for their customers. Not just once they make it inside their doors.

  3. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    I don’t think that high traffic volumes and pedestrian-friendly design are mutually exclusive, especially since larger cities and cities worldwide seem to be able to manage. I do think that in the US, we need a thoughtful, innovative, and individualized approach to multi-modal transportation. In Saint Paul, as a pedestrian and transit user, I sometimes feel that advocacy groups are using me (and people like me) as a means to slow traffic rather than consider what designs would allow me to travel efficiently. I wonder if bicyclists feel similarly with some of the bike lane designs.

    I’ve always liked being a pedestrian in cities where pedestrian scrambles, leading pedestrian intervals, and pedestrian tunnels were implemented. I have to wonder if local engineers would be as concerned about traffic back up with scrambles and leading intervals if we weren’t also preoccupied with reducing traffic lanes at the same time.

    There has been research in Europe that has demonstrated safer, more efficient traffic flow for everyone has been made more possible through technology such as GPS that routes drivers along multiple similar routes, reducing congestion and reducing their impact on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit flow. For that to be successful, there has to be some choice of through streets. Omron is an engineering company that I’ve been recently reading about that has been working with Asian cities to individualize traffic devices in highly dense urban areas. They study the pedestrian and auto traffic at various times of the day and help cities develop systems that are efficient and safer for all modes.

  4. Monte Castleman

    That is an interesting thought, that advocacy groups may be just trying to punish car users rather than help pedestrians. If I said it no one would believe me, but it’s more credible coming from someone that’s actually a pedestrian and transit user. The problem is that it’s essentially impossible to make an improvement for pedestrians that doesn’t hurt things for cars, or make an improvement for cars that doensn’t hurt pedestrians. (The only exceptions are really small things like automatic walks signals when the pedestrian phase and clearance are less than the minimum green time, or things like providing sidewalks and MUPS when there is no impact to traffic lanes.). So its hard to be absolutely sure of motivations. So it’s not a stretch to assume (and could even be correct for all I know) that the advocacy groups have a different agenda than what they present. You see some of the reverse too, where people from the suburbs claiming buses and trains “gum up traffic” really just don’t want to make it easy for low income people to come in.

    1. Rosa

      unless you take car drivers at their words that nobody wants to hit or kill another person, slowing traffic is not punishing cars.

      Faster driving is not the only value car drivers have. People who only drive say this to me all the time so I choose to believe them.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Unless you’re on an interstate with a minimum speed limit, what’s stopping drivers from going slower anyway, if that’s supposedly what they want?

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      You define slower as “hurting” cars, so it makes sense you see it that way.

      I don’t see slower as inherently worse for cars. In fact, slower and smooth flowing can be significantly more pleasant for me when driving.

      I just got back from Naples, Florida. Home of the 6-lane divided road with a 45 mph speed limit on which everyone drives 55-65 mph. Some with bike lanes and sidewalks.

      These are terrible roads for everyone involved. Driving is stress-inducing. People drive aggressively and race to get around anyone who is going anything close to the speed limit. You have to be brave to bike on them.

      I try to avoid them, and look for narrower, slower, more pleasant roads whenever I can.

      1. Monte Castleman

        OK, There’s different opinions on this blog and I accept that. But how about interviewing random drivers and see what comments you get. I don’t think you’ll get many responses for things that are pro-pedestrian like “I wish speed limits are lower”, or “There’s too many traffic lanes” or “I want more red lights”.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          I agree that you would not get those answers.

          However, if you were to ask drivers about how they feel about their experiences on different kinds of roads, I’m not sure they would rate the widest and fasted as the ones they have the best experiences on.

          I don’t know, but that’s not how I personally feel. Lyndale from 31st to 56th, for example, is a much more pleasant driving experience than Lyndale north of 31st, for example.

          I think bigger, faster and more lanes makes people stressed, aggressive, easily frustrated and unhappy, even if they don’t really realize (or stop to think about) it. I also think those things are the cause of congestion, not the solution to it.

          I also think they tend to cause more and longer red lights, not fewer.

  5. Keith Morris

    St Paul has a meager walkscore of 56 .and it doesn’t far much better in transit or bikes.


    St Paul has too many streets that are too fast, especially where walkable destinations are. Even when I visit Groundswell off of Thomas and Hamline, both of those largely residential streets are treated as raceways and striped to be that way: they’re not comfortable to bike on or walk across, let alone 4 lane death roads like Dale. And then riding down the Griggs bikeway St Paul messed up and right before the bridge the bike lane ends because they wanted to keep on-street parking when there are huge seas of parking lots on both sides of the block. When it comes to following through on executing bike and ped infrastructure correctly you can count on St Paul to drop the ball even when they were so close to doing it right.

    Yesterday I biked and bussed to Lake Phalen and once I got off at Larpenteur and Arcade I was floored by how inaccessible the entire west side of the lake is to local residents no crosswalk at Larpenteur, traffic speeding at 50 MPH with a 40 MPH limit, no traffic signal to cross and you have to bike in that for a block til you turn into the golf course parking lot. On top of that there’s no path or sidewalk once you walk across since the golf course goes right up along Arcade you just have to akwardly walk alongside it feeling like you shouldn’t be there. And then to catch the 61 back I ended up having to go all the way down to Ivy St near Maryland to cut over to Arcade which is a hostile death road even where it has somewhat walkable businesses. Totally soured my experience and way too much of a pain to bother to visit again when there are so many other scenic and easy-to-reach lakes. At least they have Como.

    It’s not just making St Paul streets safer to cross that will enhance the walking experience: better biking and transit infrastructure helps boost that as well. Where the city is at in 2015 speaks volumes: they’re happy to half-ass it like Generic Midwestern City, USA.

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