Saint Paul Construction Kicks Pedestrians Into the Streets

I have lived in St. Paul for three and a half years so far. (Yes, I said years, not decades, which is the usual standard of measurement for how long one has lived in St. Paul, depending on the public meetings you attend.) In that time, I don’t think I’ve seen a single temporary pedestrian access route through a construction zone. The St. Paul standard seems to be that the “most livable” city should just close off a sidewalk. That’s all. Like they’ve done now, at Randolph and Cleveland.

Closed sidewalk with no temporary pedestrian accommodations

Or at Highland and Cleveland.

Closed sidewalk with no temporary pedestrian accommodations; person standing in traffic

Or at University and Emerald, right by the Westgate station on the Green Line. Note the safety banner: “Use safety from the start.” Except when it comes to accommodating pedestrians by a transit station.

Person walking in the street outside a closed sidewalk and construction zone

Or on East 7th at Greenbrier.

Closed sidewalk on a busy street with no temporary pedestrian accommodations Bus stop sign with a closed sidewalk right after it

You could probably provide countless other examples within the city right now.

I could scour the information from MnDOT on Pedestrian Accommodations through Work Zones. But all I need to read is the background to wonder: If other cities can do it, why isn’t St. Paul?

Minneapolis can provide temporary pedestrian access routes. (Except for when the 4th Precinct was blocked off during protests.)

Temporary protected pedestrian accommodations adjacent to a construction site Protected pedestrian accommodations adjacent to a construction work zone

Washington DC can do it.

Temporary barriers set up to provide a pedestrian route adjacent to a construction site

And New York City, which doesn’t have any pressure on any of its public spaces and streets at all, can do it.

Temporary pedestrian accommodations adjacent to a closed sidewalk

As a St. Paul resident, I hear so much about it wanting to be “the most livable city” and an 8-80 city. I don’t need to quibble over technical details in the MUTCD to know that if the most livable city truly looked out for 8 to 80 year olds traveling on foot, it wouldn’t be constantly sending them into the street among vehicle traffic when we know that people on foot usually take the most direct route, and it wouldn’t expect them to cross the street and cross back again on streets that are often not that easy to cross in the first place. Now imagine if you couldn’t see or if you depended on using a wheelchair to travel through the city.

Heidi Schallberg

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Heidi Schallberg tweets @laflaneuse more than she posts here. Her posts reflect only her opinion and not those of any organization.

18 thoughts on “Saint Paul Construction Kicks Pedestrians Into the Streets

  1. Emily Metcalfe

    I encountered a “bike lane closed” sign this morning on Summit west of Dunlap due to a small construction site. So my kids and I took the sidewalk (after yielding to the dog walker).

    The construction meant that cars and bikes would have to share space on a very short section (maybe 30 feet?), so a shared road sign would have been more appropriate.

    1. brad

      That sign annoyed me, too. I took it as a cue to take the lane, but I know not everyone likes doing that. Seems to me there’d be space there to specify no parking and mark a temporary bike lane as another alternative.

  2. Nathaniel Hood

    Good article. Great points. We should be doing this. Construction on busy / moderate to heavily traveled streets should have a pedestrian & bike accommodation plan.

  3. Hokan

    “I don’t need to quibble over technical details in the MUTCD”?

    I don’t know what you mean by that, but the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices specifically requires accommodating cyclists and pedestrians with temporary traffic control devices. I guess the engineers ignore that part.

    1. Monte Castleman

      My interpretation of the MUTCD is not that the sidewalks on both sides of the street do not need to both stay open. Here’s some snips

      “If the TTC [temporary traffic control] zone affects the movement of pedestrians,
      adequate pedestrian access and walkways shall be provided”

      “Pedestrians should be provided with a convenient and
      accessible path that replicates as nearly as practical
      the most desirable characteristics of the existing
      sidewalk(s) or a footpath(s)”

      “In general, pedestrian routes should be preserved in urban
      and commercial suburban areas. Alternative routing should
      be discouraged”

      The word “should” has a very specific meaning in the MUTCD. It does not mean something is required, it is a suggestion. “Shall” means it is a requirement, but does “shall” in the first snip mean both sidewalks on both sides of the street need to be open in light of the 2nd and 3rd snips, which use “should”? I’d say no, and pedestrians can still get through the area, just on the other side of the street. Whether this is desirable or not is beside the point but I do not think it is a MUTCD requirement.

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    We had similar problems in Shoreview last year and it was caused by one of those you show above — Weis Builders. I know the city talked to them several times and told them to not block the bikeway and at least one woman called the sheriff’s office to have a truck removed. What was most irritating is that most of the problems were construction workers parking on the bikeway. They obviously deemed their convenience more important than the safety of the hundreds of people who walked and rode through there every day including gobs of children.

    WEIS Builders blocking bikeway

    Then we thought they’d finally done something good and provided a safe bikeway. That was only until some people got yelled at for using and riding through their construction site. We later found out that the cones were to protect construction workers from traffic, NOT to protect citizens from anything.

    1. Nick M

      This is sort of an aside, but I don’t get why construction workers get to park their vehicles in such ways that traffic/sidewalks/bike lanes are obstructed. It seems like there are a goodly number of construction sites where the physical size of the site under construction is expanded to the detriment of a full lane of road/bike lane/bike path/sidewalk for the sole purpose of providing on site parking for the workers. Often times, I have observed that 0 work is ultimately done on the portion they block off for their own parking. This seems like BS. They should have to park a couple blocks and walk to their worksite like everyone else who drives and works.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Not everyone that drives to work has to walk several blocks. If you work in a suburban office building you can usually park within a couple of hundred feet of the door.

        But assuming that we should make the workers walk a couple of blocks to keep infrastructure open, where do they park? In the case of Walker’s pictures it doesn’t look like there’s any alternative around. The same time construction workers work is peak times for other businesses. A church would be good since the parking is usually mostly empty except for Sunday mornings but is there always a church around? Would a church or anyone else let workers park there without making sure everyone signed a liability waiver?

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

          In this case there was an agreement with a church a block away for all workers to park there and per agreement with the city all workers were required to park there. Most did and only filled about 10% of the lot so there was plenty of space for others.

          Even aside from that there’s an 11′ wide parking shoulder that would have been a better option than the bikeway that is fairly heavily used.

          In NYC at some sites without good transit workers are bused in from remote parking lots.

  5. Ben

    As I get around Minneapolis I highly appreciate the bike and pedestrian detours/passages. Especially considering a few years a go a student was killed by a car around 10th Ave and University as one of the student housing buildings went up.

  6. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    This is a huge issue in Philadelphia. The city is thinking of hiking the sidewalk blocking fee (right now it’s something like a $1-3 per square foot per day). I’d rather they just made it illegal and demanded construction sites provide a shed.

    There are issues with that though. New York has a billion dollar shed industry and there are perverse incentives at play that lead to some things like zombie sheds still up years after work was stopped or completed.

  7. GlowBoy

    Sidewalk closures are still a major problem in Portland too (where I am right now). Downtown can be a real obstacle course for pedestrians, with a fair amount of construction going on.

    And the closed-bike-lane thing just drives me crazy in Minneapolis. It seems like there aren’t any continuous bike lanes across downtown, despite having far more bike lanes (in theory) than Portland.

    At one point last year the Portland Avenue bike lane disappeared *FOUR TIMES* for construction projects in traversing 15-20 blocks across downtown. If there’s a closure for cars there are all sorts of accommodations – advance warning signs, detours, carefully striped lane shifts – but construction projects just close portions of bike lanes at their own convenience without the slightest thought for the danger it often puts cyclists in.

    FWIW, St. Paul – much lamer than Minneapolis in accommodating cyclists – has a similar bike-lane closure on Jackson Street right now too, leaving absolutely zero safe streets to ride on in their downtown.

    And bike lane closures create a much bigger safety hazard in Minnesota cities than in Portland, because downtown vehicle speeds are so much higher in the former.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      The one okay thing about downtown bike lane closures in Minneapolis is that the drivers actually do generally okay at realizing that a person on has to be in a car lane.

      1. GlowBoy

        So it seems. I haven’t had any problems other than having to wait in the general lane when traffic was backed up. irritating but not dangerous.

  8. Jackie Williams

    every viable bike route out of downtown Minneapolis is blocked off by condo construction. The only way out now is in the gutter on 3rd ave.

    thanks Minneapolis for making it dangerous to go home.

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