Like many parts of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the Midway in Saint Paul is a slightly strange hybrid between urban and suburban built forms. Houses and apartments on narrow lots and streetcar-era retail buildings with zero setbacks coexist (oftentimes uneasily) with suburban-style big-box stores that have giant parking lots. The Green Line provides frequent transit service to places that have incredibly poor pedestrian realms surrounding them.
I live there, so I get to experience this shabby pedestrian realm on a frequent basis (side note: I really took note of it the first time I took my son along, via stroller. Cars flying by less than ten feet from your defenseless kid is a…..sub-optimal experience)
In the case of the Midway Super Target, the main pedestrian path is a very busy one. So many people arrive to shop via Green Line that I sometimes wonder if there are any Target stores that have more people arriving via transit, anywhere. Unfortunately, the transit-arriving guests must navigate a very long, bumpy, cramped, cluttered sidewalk directly adjacent to a very busy stretch of Hamline Avenue.
There is no room here for the functions associated with an urban environment: people waiting to meet a friend, walking in groups, or enjoying a pleasant stroll. Everything is oriented toward the automobile, down to grassy areas and trees that serve mainly to frame monument signage and screen parking, rather than give a place for refuge from the surrounding environment. To call pedestrians an afterthought here is an understatement. The fact that this busiest of pedestrian paths interrupts a dense and largely walkable neighborhood is a real detriment to the rest of the city.
That said, a relatively simple intervention can be made that would vastly improve the experience of places like this. For the low, low price of one row of parking, (about 50 stalls, out of a literal sea of parking!) enough space can be bought to create a true pedestrian realm along this stretch.
The proposal below creates a 25′ wide path buffered by raised planters adjacent to Hamline Avenue. In order to negotiate the grade change along this stretch, a retaining wall would be required at the Hamline/University intersection, which becomes a seating wall as it extends up the hill to Super Target.
At the intersection of Hamline and University, enough space is created to allow groups of pedestrians to queue up without getting pushed into traffic. The buffer of trees would shade the path from hot summer sun, and planter beds offer a place to take a seat.
At the plaza outside the Target entry, the visual clutter of the existing space is better organized, allowing the pedestrian path to create a clear visual connection to Hamline Station.
The combination of these simple moves – reduced parking, a vegetation buffer against the street, and a wall to help define a path – adds up to create an environment with obvious practical and safety benefits. Equally importantly, this project would serve as a signal that pedestrians are welcome and accommodated in the Midway, encouraging still more pedestrian activity, and promoting the kind of development the City is interested in attracting to the area.
Big-box stores like Target have advantages of utility and cost that mean they are unlikely to go away anytime soon – not to mention the Midway Super Target is only 10 years old. I think projects like this offer a practical chance to chip away at the auto-dominance of places like the Midway, and begin to connect them to the surrounding city. Who wants to help get this built?