In Defense of Livability on Cretin Avenue

The empty land where the Ford Plant once stood in St. Paul as seen in this aerial photo taken on Friday, June 20, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

The 135-acre Ford Plant site in Saint Paul. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

As the public forums churn on to test visions of how the former Ford Plant property might be developed, I find little evidence of complementary planning to alleviate the impact on the communities surrounding the Ford site.  At a recent gathering, participants questioned and clucked about the ingenious, elegant, sustainable, and green options envisioned in the draft plans.  Presenters exuded delight in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to plan and manage one of the larger housing and commercial development projects in the nation.  Others salivated over the increased tax revenues the project could generate.

Aside from the convivial innovation of holding the public meeting with an open-bar at the Summit Brewery, it was easy to see what all the excitement is about.  I frankly think that the development can be a good thing for Saint Paul, drawing upon the examples of other cities around the world we know, like Paris, with amenities and aesthetics in higher density habitations that preserve, enhance and celebrate life in community.  I love life in the city, and know that increased density is not incompatible with a rich and enjoyable lifestyle. 

What concerns and frustrates me about the Ford site initiative to date is its focus on one piece of real estate.  The city is like an organism with many members, each affecting the experience and quality of life of the whole.  Missing is consideration of the impact this development will have on the lives of those whose homes border the development; in particular, residents of neighborhoods where I live along Cretin Avenue.  Any creative efforts to improve one neighborhood of the city should entail the responsibility to engage adjacent, adversely affected neighborhoods to reach equally creative solutions that maintain, if not enhance, the livability of their community.  The project should not be pronounced completed until we can all agree that this has happened.

Four thousand new housing units and supporting commercial, service and recreational development that engender a self-contained village are planned for the 135-acre site.  Commendable work has gone into reducing reliance on cars through planning to create walk and bikeways and mass transit options, but in the end, traffic will inevitably increase and be funneled through Cretin Avenue.  An increase of 200 cars per hour at peak morning and evening travel times is projected.  It could be higher, for a street that is already congested and at times difficult to cross safely during these same hours.  Assuming that there is no alternative to Cretin, it’s time to plan on mitigation measures to slow the traffic with things like stop signs, curb bump-outs, pedestrian cross-walk signals, maybe even speed bumps.  I’m not ready to lie down on the street to block traffic, but I could get there.  I appeal to Cretin Avenue neighborhood residents and the creative development planners to work together to explore and integrate every possible measure in the final plan to favor “joie de vivre” livability along this corridor, and a better Saint Paul for all.

6 thoughts on “In Defense of Livability on Cretin Avenue

  1. Seve

    I agree 100%. Cretin Ave is a complete mess from I94 down through Highland Village. I understand why it is a convenient access road for many, but I never understood why the city has continued to allow it to be so congested and poorly maintained for pedestrians. The area around Cretin and Marshall is particularly terrible. After the plant is built, there will be far more than 200 additional cars per rush hour. That figure is a joke.

  2. Serafina ScheelSerafina Scheel

    In some ways, the Ford plant project in St. Paul is akin to Towerside in Minneapolis, both former industrial sites seeking to transform into sustainable, high-density urban villages nestled against long-standing neighborhoods. The partner organizations working on planning Towerside have been reaching out to nearby residents in a variety of ways (meetings with block clubs, presentations at Surly, etc., some more successful than others), to engage on the vision. There’s generally strong support in the neighborhood for the growth, built up over time. But there’s also nervousness about the increased traffic and safety issues that come with density.

    Now is a great time to engage nearby residents on ways to build those necessary connections between existing structures and the planned development.

  3. Kevin Gallatin

    Tim, nice piece and thanks for coming to the Transportation Committee meeting last night. As a body we will be a strong advocate for maintaining the high quality of life on streets surrounding the Ford Site. As you heard, the Highland District Council will be putting together a series of meetings with residents on impacted streets including Cretin Avenue. The first will be with Mt. Curve residents on January 10th and the rest of the dates are TBD. The Macalester-Groveland Community Council is interested in participating in the Cretin Ave meeting. In the meantime, I suggest reviewing some of the mitigation options in this MnDOT document, Minnesota’s Best Practices
    for Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety.

  4. Dennis

    All the people complaining about the traffic,do they use transit?With the many empty seats in buses it’s highly unlikely they do.

    1. Seve


      There are 3 bus stops on Cretin between 94 and Marshall. If you get off the bus and attempt to cross Cretin you can sometimes wait upwards of 10-15 min to cross because there is either no break in traffic or drivers will not stop for the pedestrians. There have been numerous complaints to the city about this issue and nothing is ever done. So yes, the people complaining about traffic use transit.

  5. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    While I still think there’s a lot of variability on how much traffic the Ford development will create, depending on how its designed with or without parking and transit, you’re right that Cretin will continue to be congested and have more cars. Existing conditions on Cretin near the site are about 7K cars per day. That means you have a lot of flexibility about doing some traffic calming there, to try and reduce speeds and make it more walkable.

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