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.