This week, signs are being installed along the Green Line corridor that are meant to encourage more walking to and from the light rail. Here’s how they got there.
How the project came up
My wife and I moved to St Paul in 2013, buying a condo on Grand Avenue close to Hamline. Despite living only a mile from a Green Line station, we almost never got there on foot. We would take the 63 bus east to St Paul and west to Minneapolis (via the Westgate Station of the Green Line) but we rarely seemed to walk straight to the train.
I quickly realized that part of the challenge might be that the walk to the train feels much farther and more daunting than a mile. That’s probably because (from the south) you have to cross a massive interstate and many of the routes (from north or south) follow somewhat intimidating roads for pedestrians. As I was riding the bus one day (rather than walking) I saw a tweet about the Knight Foundation’s Green Line Challenge and decided to submit a roughly 100 word application for a project that might help.
My idea was to improve walkability in neighborhoods along the Green Line by putting easy to understand signage throughout the entire corridor. The only must haves for the signs would be:
- They referred you to a specific station
- They told you how far it was
- They told you how long it would take
- They showed you a map of how to get there
The rest, I would let the experts decide.
Ask the experts
In this case, many of the experts were folks from the neighborhoods. Representatives from community councils and the city agreed that roughly 20 minutes (or one mile) was probably the most an average person would be willing to walk so that’s as far as my “grid” of signs would stretch. Many people wanted to have signs close to public assets like parks, schools, and libraries and others even wanted signs close to new restaurants and bars in the area. The most interesting part for me was learning about the differences in what each neighborhood wanted. In places like Hamline-Midway, where there is a standard street grid and lots of families, they wanted more signs to help more people get around. In places like downtown that are already somewhat overloaded with street signage, they wanted to make sure there weren’t too many new signs cluttering things up.
Significant input and expertise was also provided by:
- HunWen Westman, Brian Vitek, and John Maczko in Public Works
- Saint Paul’s 8-80 Vitality Fellow Margaret Jones
- Emma Pachuta of St Paul Smart Trips
- Will Schroeer of East Metro Strong
- Keith Pille (my designer)
Creating the grid
In the end, I had decided on two levels of sign placement. First, I created a standard grid that placed signs at roughly half mile, and mile long intervals away from each station. Next, I tried to place extra signs near every library, school, and park – including our many colleges. I decided against posting signs that sent people out into the neighborhoods in part because Metro Transit already created neighborhood signs and placed them at each station. I also decided against placement based on private development because it may have less longevity or it may favor one business over another.
There are plenty of ways this project could be expanded/improved. Based on my limited scope, I wasn’t able to develop signs in multiple languages or create a system of signs encouraging people find other significant assets like the A-Line Bus Rapid Transit line. In the end, about 175 signs should be installed in St Anthony Park, Hamline-Midway, Union Park, Summit University, Thomas-Dale-Frogtown, the North End, Payne-Phalen, Dayton’s Bluff, Downtown, the West Side, West Seventh, Summit Hill, and Mac Groveland. Hopefully they will encourage you meet at least one more person, explore at least one more business, and learn at least one more thing about the neighborhood as you walk to the Green Line.
Thanks again to the Knight Foundation for their investment in such innovative grant making, to East Metro Strong for their support of the community engagement phase of this project, to Keith for all of his rock solid design work, to Safety Signs for their outstanding customer service and printing work, and to all of the local experts mentioned above who gave fantastic advice.
I hope the signs help you #WalkTheGreenLine.
This is great! Thanks for your efforts.
What a wonderful idea. I’ve been thinking about how we can encourage people to walk & bike to SWLRT (if/when it ever gets built), and this is a tool we could add to the toolbox. I’m thinking signs for biking could go a few miles further out.
Thanks for this!
Wow, what a great idea, sounds like you came up smart implementation plan also.
When I was attending a community meeting about development south of the Westgate LRT station possible new trail/park, better wayfinding through the neighborhood and connections came up several times.
I’ve notice trails north of University Ave through the University and to Downtown East, the signs for Dinkytown Greenway etc were very appealing and encouraging to me.
I totally agree with part of the problem of using walking and transit options is we simply often don’t have the idea to walk someplace (or bike) or a good route in mind, given our Car First mentality and culture. Often we don’t think of walking or using transit when walking or biking path involve going across a freeway or arterial road – but even when overall, with the exception of the time on the overpass, walking can be a really appealing option.
As an example, I live to south of University Avenue, near 280. To get to Hampden Coop market, in car, I have cross 280 overpass and University, wait for several lights, make left turns etc. It takes 5-6 minutes in car, if lights are with me but it seems like I drove a world away and it is not a pleasant drive.
I never really wanted to walk or bike to the Coop because of University and 280, ugh, but just this weekend I biked up to U of MN transit way, out of my way to the north, headed west went under 280 at the SAP community gardens, then biked one whole city block to Hampden park and arrived at the Coop in ten minutes, a grand total of 5 minutes longer than the car ride, with only one big traffic cross (University Ave, made nice by ped crossing at LRT station). The rest of the trip I hardly saw a car and was on trails and in parks. This will be my preferred route now. After nearly two years in the neighborhood, I don’t know why this slightly out of way, but far more appealing option, had never occur to me – inspite of my use of Google Maps, I’m still finding new ways to make walking and biking more appealing option, so wayfinding matters.
I think attractive signs can be an asset, really encourage walking, biking and transit use and also provide some cohesion and connections.
Following such signs is much more appealing, in my mind than stopping to check smart phone frequently, especially if you are a bike.
Major roads for motor vehicles do not have to be a barrier to walking or cycling. Here is a video with no less than 25 examples of good crossings in just one Dutch city.
So excited to see your project on the streets! Thanks for pursuing this and making it happen.
Matt, Kudos on a really great project. A great idea and great implementation — two things that too often do not come together. I remember hearing about this when it was submitted and didn’t realize it was you. Congrats!
I only wish that the signs also included bicycling. Maybe in the future. 🙂
I’ve seen these appearing lately, and thought they were genius! Thank you for the great idea, and taking the initiative to make it happen.
Good on ya!