I woke to a very sad tweet this morning from Nate Hood that the Ramsey County Commissioners voted to stop waiting on St. Paul’s dithering and will move forward with re-doing Cleveland Avenue without any bicycle facilities.
I’m sad about this on many levels.
Level 1: Missed Potential
First is that St. Paul has the potential to be such a great place and in my opinion a much greater place than Minneapolis. Interestingly it was likely dithering on the part of St. Paul that provided this opportunity. While others were busy tearing down great architecture and building noisy multi-lane roads, St. Paul didn’t make so many of those mistakes.
It won’t be such a great place with a gob of cars though. While cities across the U.S. and around the globe are working to reduce the numbers of cars on their streets because of the noise, pollution, danger, and just plain discomfort and unpleasantness that come with them, St. Paul appears to be doubling down.
This is kind of like watching someone who has great talent ruin their life with drugs or alcohol. They always say they’ll get their act together tomorrow though.
The St. Paul Bicycle Plan is, in my opinion, already quite weak. Even if fully implemented I think it will leave us far behind other cities across the U.S. It was a start, though. Weak as it is, the plan may have even been ambitious given how far behind St. Paul already is.
But St. Paul can’t even follow through on this weak plan.
Level 2: Dashed Hopes
Finally, I’m sad for the people who live in St. Paul and who thought St. Paul might begin to turn the corner. St. Paul is full of people like Elizabeth Saathoff who posted a great commentary on Cleveland Avenue a few weeks ago. Lots of people want to be able to safely and comfortably live in St. Paul, walking and riding bicycles for local trips, rather than driving and take up parking spaces.
What is St. Paul doing for people like Dana DeMaster who along with her 6-year-old son was recently hit (again) by a car in downtown St. Paul?
Bikes Are A Key To The Future
People don’t often move themselves or their business to a city because it has a great convention center, ballparks, or multi-lane high speed roads. What people increasingly want are places that are comfortable and appealing. People want places where they feel safe walking, riding bicycles, or even using mobility scooters to reach local places.
We had our auto age and it was exciting. It’s the age that people like me and Anne White and Tony Desnick grew up in. Motor vehicles were the future and they were sexy and we embraced them and built our lives around them (quite literally, the suburbs were a radical departure from how cities had been built for thousands of years and were designed exclusively around auto travel).
But then there was too much of a good thing—increasing congestion and noise and pollution and costs from our cars took the shine off. Today we are over twice as likely to be killed by someone driving a car as by murder. And this doesn’t include early deaths due to our poor health and obesity that is partially the result of our no longer walking or bicycling for local transportation. Cars are become a stone around our necks (but one that we don’t want to part with).
Today St. Paul is still a relatively comfortable and welcoming city that people want to live and work in. This won’t last long though. At some point people like Elizabeth and Dana and Tony who love St. Paul and contribute to their communities and neighborhoods will determine that, relative to other places that have become more liveable and human-friendly, St. Paul no longer compares very well.
And that won’t be good for St. Paul no matter how much parking it has.