49 thoughts on “Why I Will Never Attend Another MnDOT Meeting

  1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    Pretty much. I was at a lot of these meetings, too, and wrote tons of emails to the various parties. Living a block off Snelling, I was so excited for all these changes. Even implementing a few things from the plans would have made huge quality of life improvements for my neighborhood and safety. I crossed Snelling to get the library, day care, and work. Nothing says F.U.N. like taking a bak fiets with two kids over the Snelling bridge over the railroad tracks to swimming lessons at the U, the Como Park, or to volunteer at Lyngblomsten.

    Nope. Nothing. What a waste of time. My hopes were dashed. Again. Snelling is still completely auto-centric and dangerous. The plan was so glorious.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    “By throwing out large portions of it, MnDOT wasted our time, betrayed our trust, and wasted public money.”

    I agree that there are a lot of missed opportunities, but was there ever a promise that the plan would be implemented within the scope of a maintenance project like a mill and overlay? My understanding was that the main purpose of the project was simply repair of the asphalt surface, not reconstruction of the highway. Thanks to neighborhood advocates, significant improvements to the sidewalks and lighting were also brought into the project. Most of the time, the only thing outside the roadway MnDOT will do is the bare minimum improvements to make them ADA-compliant — usually remove a lot of crosswalks, and fix the curb ramps and beg buttons on the remaining ones.

    A mill and overlay is not a 50-year project. I would guess it buys a busy trunk highway another 10-15 years. The only catastrophically missed opportunity I see is not including bike lanes on the 94 bridge.

    1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      My understanding at the time was that while a plan is not a promise and not everything we suggested would make the final project, much of it would. Hardly anything did. I wouldn’t have spent my time contributing if it were made clear from the beginning that so very little would be implemented.

      The sidewalk improvements are hardly improvements. The sidewalks were in such horrible condition before (it was difficult to push a stroller at some points because they had been patched so many times and had buckled, curb cuts that were several inches from the asphalt, etc) that the “improvements” just brought them up to what I would consider a basic standard.

    2. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      I would consider the lack of bike/ped improvements over the bridge from Hewitt to Como a catastrophically missed opportunity. They would have connected existing bike lanes or routes. So many people walk or bike over that bridge because there just aren’t other realistic options and it is so dangerous.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Did they do any work on that bridge, though? 94 is so grating because they redecked the whole thing, and could easily have reallocated space. But I don’t think the Pierce Butler/Railway overpass saw any changes.

      2. Serafina ScheelSerafina

        I biked that bridge daily for years and agree that doing nothing there is a catastrophically missed opportunity. There really aren’t other options.

    3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      If you removed a lane and removed porkchops – especially on the six lane horror stretch between University and Marshall – you could easily add in a nice bike lane and calm traffic.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I heard a few MnDOT promises as part of my role at the Transportation Committee as well, and can corroborate that there was a good plan out there and that little-to-none of it was actually built.

    The ironic thing about that failure is that NOW that a soccer stadium is being built on that corner, I’d bet MnDOT would love to be able to go back and actually built something there. Part of the agency’s problem is that they almost always prioritize regional commuters over people in the neighborhood. I.e. someone driving through as fast as possible is more important than the guy trying to cross the street. Someone on their way to work is more important than someone living next to the road. This has always been true, and in a way, this is the entire purpose how DOTs relate to cities: to create systems that prioritize through-traffic at the expense of neighborhoods. They’re talking more about changing, but not actually changing.

    Why not? Good questions for someone with more knowledge of agency dynamics than I have.

    At any rate, the deeply ironic thing about it is that with the soccer stadium construction, all of a sudden you have a unabashedly regional need for bike and walking paths connection this area with points South, and now someone (i Hope it’s MnDOT because they have the money) is going to have to “go back” and fix all these sidewalks that were just replaced at great expense, make them wider, add a bike connection somehow, etc.

    At least I hope that’s what will happen. Frankly it has to happen if you’re going to have 25K people on the sidewalks safely using these streets. Snelling is better now, because it couldn’t have gotten any worse, really. But this project really screwed up!

    1. Monte Castleman

      Is Snelling actually regional traffic, or is it mostly city residents going a couple of miles from their house to the store? (Especially south of Shelby where regional traffic can use Ayd Mill). Although I use it now and then to get to Ax Man or Midway Books, it doesn’t really link the suburbs to a job concentration and doesn’t seem nearly as important to the region as say I-35W.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        I think this is a time where I agree with Monte. Do we really know what portion of the traffic on Snelling is pass-through vs simply serving people who live in the neighborhoods north/south of 94? Especially to the west of Snelling south of I-94, which doesn’t see a 94 entrance ramp until Cretin/Vandalia (1.3 miles). The consistent 30-40k cars every day between University Ave and Hwy 36 is likely due to Hamline and Cleveland not having a direct connection down to I-94 for access connecting across the tracks as well. Add in that Snelling is the logical (and designated) route for trucks to get to Pierce Butler & Energy Park Dr (which is still serving “local” business users in the area and it’s tough for me to pinpoint

        Obviously, Snelling should be calmed and could be narrower if it weren’t carrying some of the truly regional traffic, but I’m guessing that many actual St Paul residents living within 0-1 miles of Snelling would be very upset with this because they’re the ones that use it to hop on 94 to get to work every day. Which is to say that Snelling is a symptom of a larger problem that includes poor transit (outside the Green Line walkshed), a disconnected grid, job sprawl (even for an area midway between two major downtowns), un-priced freeways inducing trips, etc. Metro Transit made huge strides with the Green Line, bus route reorganization, and the A Line on the way. It’s too bad those improvements weren’t weighed by MnDOT when they decided to drop many of the calming elements from the plan.

        1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

          Having lived a block off Snelling near Minnehaha for eight years, I doubt many of my neighbors would be too upset about calming and narrowing the road. Yes, people use it and drive on it who live in the area. But, nobody likes it. Neighbors that drive don’t like it and try to use Fairview or Hamline. Neighbors that bike or walk or take transit hate it. It is seen as an uncross-able chasm that limits access for families to parks, the library, and other parts of the neighborhood. It is stressful to even walk on with children, let alone let children cross. It severs Midway in half.

          It is a truck route and carries lots of trucks going from 94 to the railroad and is a major artery – no doubt. It is also in a neighborhood where people live and have to use it to get to regular destinations, like the library and parks. The plan was a good balance of those uses.

  4. paddy

    I am deeply sympathetic to your concerns and troubled by the behavior/disposition of MnDOT.

    Someone with a more conservative outlook towards “the government” might say this is a great example of where more local control would be beneficial to the citizens. Maybe we need a politician who would #MakeStPaulGreat (I’m being VERY sarcastic BTW)

    Overall this is a failure to address the intercontectedness of the whole system. If there were bike/ped crossings of the railroad tracks at Fairview and Hamline and Pierce Butler was better, I wouldn’t care that Snelling is a nightmare for peds. And make no mistake it is a nightmare. I’ve walked to the State Fair and its downright scary.

    MnDOT might be right that some of these ideas are bad for Snelling but the problem is that they are good ideas for somewhere.

    Snelling south of Grand or St Clair shouldn’t be four lanes full stop. Though I do appreciate the new HAWK system at Lincoln. If St Paul can’t calm traffic on Snelling because MnDOT won’t let them they should simply install the HAWKS every other block. They actually work

  5. Brian QuarstadBrian Quarstad

    I think there’s another force going on here that is also effecting this situation. I have been told by both employees of MnDOT and the City of St. Paul, that the former has been trying to dump Snelling off on the later for a number of years now. MnDOT feels the road is no longer a highway as it has evolved through the years. This of course is accurate. They’ve had talks with the City of St. Paul to hand the street over to them but the city knows the cost of maintaining that street and also knows MnDOT has created the expectation for drivers of a thoroughfare with priority on vehicles. As Bill said, in a sense this has been their job although I believe they are understanding that this is changing. Credit to MnDOT for allowing Snelling to have the boulevard type application installed between St. Clair and Grand. They have been pleased with the results of this which was sort of an experiment for them. But I was also that told MnDOT was none too happy about the Met Council’s decision to use Snelling as the bus rapid transit route which in places stacks traffic up behind the buses at certain stations. All hail to the car commuter.

    A St. Paul official recently told me that they city would be open to talking to MnDOT about taking over Snelling if they were to do the much needed long term repairs to the infrastructure of the road. From what I’ve read, there is procedure written for MnDOT to turn a highway back over to a city, which does explain that the road/street must be brought up to certain standards before that can be done. I believe there is plenty of precedent for this and has happened in Mpls.

    Handing Snelling back to the city would seem to be beneficial for the overall design and use of the road. Perhaps at this point the best thing we could do would be to petition MnDOT to make the needed repairs and then hand this back to the city from Montreal to Larpenteur.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I would think I-94 to TH 5 would be the lowest-hanging fruit. Isn’t Snelling a principal arterial north of 94?

      In any case, I’d think you’d either do 94 or 36, turning back to Ramsey County. It would be kind of odd to just end a trunk highway at the city limits.

    2. Monte Castleman

      Mn/DOT never wanted Snelling, they were forced to take it and a large number of other roads ranging from important to dubious, along with the existing marked highway within Minneapolis and St. Paul by a 1933 law.

      Reconstructing it completely the way St Paul wants and then giving it to them is certainly a good idea, but for now I got the idea that there were potholes the needed fixing and needed fixing now; moving curbs around all over the place fell victim to the usual funding shortage.

      Also, a redecking is not a 50 year fix for the bridge, and it’s likely to need be completely demolished if Mn/PASS lanes are ever built on I-94

  6. SuperQ

    Thanks for writing and working on all of this. As a former resident of the Snelling and Minnehaha area, it makes me terribly sad that very little was fixed. I used to walk and bike quite a lot in the area. Sure I owned a car, but it seemed like such a waste to drive from Minnehaha and Snelling to Rainbow Foods. So I just toughed it out and walked, even in winter.

    After having moved away from Minnesota in 2005, I have lived in San Francisco and Berlin, Germany. Berlin especially has been a huge eye opener as to how horribly broken streets like Snelling are. We have some similarly sized arterial streets in Berlin.


    This is in my neighborhood, and would compare to Snelling and University in terms of traffic sewer quantity and quality. The main road going through there is Bundesstraße 1, a 6-lane federal highway. But it’s also a major U-Bahn subway route, and the cross street above also has a light rail line.

    The multi-modal experience is far better than Snelling.
    * There are off-street cycle lanes
    * Dedicated bike signaling, including bike turn lanes and signals.
    * There are no beg buttons.
    * There are no slip lanes.
    * German default is no turn on red.
    * Pedestrian/Bike signals change first.
    * No individual crosswalk section is longer than about 30.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I like the example of Karl Marx Allee. I’ve ridden on that road when I visited Berlin. Too often it seems we see things as a one-way sliding scale between automotive capacity and pedestrian/bicycle compatibility. Although a low-volume, low-speed street will probably always be *better*, that doesn’t mean we can’t make major streets pretty good, too.

  7. Nathanael

    Is there any legal requirement that MnDOT act in conformance with approved plans? There is in some states…

    1. Monte Castleman

      So what would have happened if this had been in other states? Would people driving and riding bicycles on the street need to put up with potholes for several more years because there wasn’t enough money now for things like the solar powered bicycle repair station?

  8. Cherokee Schill

    I enjoy your book “why we drive” and have learned a lot from it.

    My approach to this problem is more activist then advocate.

    It is time to hold walk-a-thons and mass bike parties up and down that road. MnDot needs a firm reminder that this land is not their land. It was paid for by the people and it belongs to the people.

    Taking this story into a condensed form and sharing it with everyone in the community via leaflets is important. The more people are aware the more likely they will participate in taking action.

    Something needs to be done.

    What can I do to help?

    1. Monte Castleman

      By that logic anyone should be able to break whatever laws they want on government owned property since it’s “their” land. Maybe my friends and I should get together and have a barbecue in the lobby of city hall.

      1. Rosa

        except that walking across Snelling isn’t illegal – isn’t Snelling like other city streets, where cars are supposed to stop for pedestrians at every intersection, signalized or not? You could completely legally shut it down just by using it for people on foot.

        And of course bikes as traffic are also perfectly legal on Snelling.

        So it’s 100% nothing like lighting an open fire in the lobby of a public building.

        1. Monte Castleman

          There’s a difference between people on foot legally using a crosswalk to get some place and illegally blocking people driving cars. You know it when you see it.

          Bicycles need to ride as far to the right as practical unless making a left turn. So bicycles riding legally would not shut down Snelling.

          1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

            I’m not saying streets would come to a complete gridlock, but if every driver at rush hours had to stop for every pedestrian trying to cross at legal unsignalized intersections on major Minneapolis & St Paul collectors and arterials, and this behavior prompted more people to see walking (or, walking to the bus) as a safe, viable means of transportation, things would get at least a little sticky for drivers, right?

            And, I often find people who rarely ride bikes to be the ones who seem to have the loudest voice on how far to the right is practicable.

            1. Monte Castleman

              The reading I got from the original post was that they proposed some sort of illegal protest and milling around, blocking the street, not just legally crossing at crosswalks. Of course things would slow down for people in cars if they actually stopped every time, but that wasn’t my take on the original post.

  9. Andy SingerAndy Singer

    Ha ha, I’ll come to that BBQ Monte. Let me know when you’re planning to have it. Cherokee, I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m about to do another post on what it took to stop a freeway interchange at Prior Avenue and I-94 (in the 1950s and 1960s). It required enormous community organization and protest unlike anything we’ve seen in the USA since the early 1970s. I think we need to change how MnDOT and transportation are funded (as I outline in the book) but that will be politically difficult as well. Perhaps we also need legislative changes that force agencies to adhere to their plans, as well as more transparency about when projects are scheduled to be scoped so that communities can become more involved in the planning process.

  10. Paul Nelson

    Thank you Andy for writing this in excellent detail and chronological time frame. The documentation is very helpful. I feel it is fair if I do not mention names, to simply say that MNDot does not know how to build roads.

    1. SuperQ

      Sorta, it’s the other way around. MNDot is fantastic at building roads. Roads between cities. MNDot does not know how to build city streets.

      1. Paul Nelson

        Actually no, my assertion applies to all streets, roads, and interstates, and so called “highways”. For many decades we have built all roads and tuned our streets to just move motor vehicle traffic as fast as possible from point A to point B, and ignoring all the other uses of a road and street. That is a mistake. Snelling Avenue in my view is not a real highway because it does not fully accommodate human beings to safely walk and bike its entire length. Snelling avenue is extraordinarily incomplete and unsafe.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            Why not? Maybe not literally — but Norway has a great nationwide system of bike routes adjacent to highways. They use networks of surface streets, rural roads, and trails as needed to provide a continuous route.

            Not many people are riding the full equivalent distance from Minneapolis to Fargo, of course, but for town-to-town, it’s great to have a continuous network — and having it as easy to find/follow as “take the 94 bikeway”

          2. SuperQ

            There are several long distance cycling trails in Minnesota. You can get from Minneapolis to St. Cluod via the Mississippi River Trail. A bunch of the route to Duluth is along the Munger Trail.

        1. SuperQ

          Maybe you should re-read what I said, and pay more attention to the article. Snelling is not a street, atleast not as far as MNDot is concerned.

          Snelling is classified as a state trunk highway, and MNDot treats it like it was any other highway in the middle of nowhere. The outcome is highly predictable given the input variables.

          Just because it cuts through the middle of a moderately dense area makes no difference to the MNDot engineering models. The MNDot people are not the only factor at work here. There are decades of procedures and models that dictate how they design. Backed up by Level of Service and Safety through Highwayifcation.

          The motivation of MNDot engineers is not creativity or passion. It’s cover-your-ass follow the rules.

          See Also: The Stroad


  11. Andy SingerAndy Singer

    I’m sure they’d say that “bikes aren’t allowed on both approaches (so we have no obligation)” …but I wonder if the Snelling Bridge over I-94 got any federal funding? Here’s the Federal Code on bicycle accommodations–

    Title 23 United States Code section §217 requires that bridges being replaced with federal funds include safe accommodation for bicyclists: Bicycle transportation and pedestrian walkways

    (e) Bridges.‐‐In any case where a highway bridge deck being replaced or rehabilitated with Federal financial participation is located on a highway on which bicycles are permitted to operate at each end of such bridge, and the Secretary determines that the safe accommodation of bicycles can be provided at reasonable cost as part of such replacement or rehabilitation, then such bridge shall be so replaced or rehabilitated as to provide such safe accommodations.ii

    Bridge projects using federal funds must include bike access as long as bikes are allowed on both approaches and safe accommodation does not represent an excessively disproportionate cost. FHWA suggests “excessively disproportionate” as “exceeding twenty percent of the cost of the larger transportation project.” xiii Twenty percent is also the standard set for disproportionality in the Americans with Disabilities Act. xiv It is the percentage of total costs, not the dollar amount of the facilities that should deem bike/ped facilities excessive or not. Under normal conditions, a large financial cost is not an appropriate reason not to accommodate bicyclists. Even on large projects like the bridge at the Port of Long Beach, where the separated bicycle facility could cost $45 million, it would cost less than 5 percent of the bridge’s $1 billion total.

    1. Cherokee Schill

      They can say whatever they want. I highly recommend cycling on this road. Lane controlling as specified by state law and getting your friends to join you. Safer than pedestrians crossing.

  12. Heidi Bergstedt

    The Snelling Avenue project must be rebuilt. The recent reports of pedestrian fatalities in St. Paul should be a wake up call to MnDOT and to us. MnDOT did not hear our voices, ignored the community and only increased the longstanding safety issues on Snelling.

    MnDOT is decades behind on implementing civil rights laws to the state transportation program as well, not only the Americans with Disabilities Act but also the Civil Rights Act of 1964. MnDOT is required to be accountable to people with low incomes, people of color, immigrants, aging seniors and people with disabilities. Tragically, MnDOT has ignored these obligations and we see it first hand with the Snelling Avenue project. I use a wheelchair, I lived near Snelling. I can testify that it is unsafe for all people. I, too, have written letters to MnDOT with little effect.

    We as citizens must do more. Right now, MnDOT is seeking more money from us. Yet, the agency ignores us and ignores the needs of some of the most vulnerable people of the state. I highly recommend we write the governor, our own legislators, the Office of the Legislative Auditor and also Representative Betty McCollum. She needs to know how dissatisfied we are with the way MnDOT spent the federal funding to do a study but then implement none of it. Let’s organize and mobilize and get things done. Life is precious. Think of the children trying to cross Snelling safely to get to school.

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      I agree Heidi. I have written to all these people– the governor, my state senator and representatives, the MnDOT commissioner, staff at MnDOT and Betty McCollum. I recommend other folks do the same. I don’t think this agency should get an additional dime until it can prove through actions that it cares about something besides cars. It needs to start by tracking exactly how much it spends on bike and pedestrian projects statewide and in the twin Cities, and make this information public. We’ve passed “Complete Streets” laws and other feel-good legislation but we need to have something with actual, quantifiable targets that holds the agency accountable and forces them to make improvements.

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