Snelling Avenue is a wound on Saint Paul. A north/south gash bisecting the city’s west side. It’s a road that fails to serve anyone outside of a car in any meaningful way, but at most times fails the driving public it has been built to cater to. Snelling has a grim record. Pedestrians crossing anywhere but signaled lights, spaced a half mile apart, require strong legs and good cardio. Cyclists laugh and roll their eyes when asked if they ride there. Motorists bemoan the tangled snarl as Snelling passes 94 and University. Nearly every Minnesotan has a story of woe involving Snelling and the end of a long day at the State Fair, but times change and there are people hard at work transforming Snelling from a misplaced freeway into an avenue that serves the communities it runs through instead of the vehicle traffic trying to run through the community.
One improvement is already in place, the A-Line, a rapid transit bus line from South Minneapolis up to the Roseville mall. The high frequency bus makes transit travel along the corridor fast, comfortable, and simple. It also has free wifi, but I’ll spare you the grocery list of the A-Line’s virtues.
Mixed use development has begun sprouting up along Snelling. Recently The Vintage has been leasing a whole bunch of luxury apartments built atop of a Whole Foods. This kind of denser development lends itself to more street life and the new neighbors will likely be on board calming the 5 lanes of traffic surging past their front door making for a safer intersection at Selby. Further down the road are plans for another multi-story mixed use building at St. Clair, with both developments book ending a stretch of road with a history of danger posed to Macalester students and others attempting to cross Snelling.
The south side of Snelling in Highland Park is getting a median installed come late summer thanks to the Highland District Council, Councilman Chris Tolbert, and City Engineer John Maczko. Between Randolph and Ford, the median will bring a canopy of trees to cut what stands now as 5 to 6 lanes of asphalt. This will serve to calm traffic and reduce the distance pedestrians need to travel in order to cross. With a road that wide and it being a stretch known for speeding the median will go a long way in making that area accessible to the people who live there; like the seniors at The Water of Highland Park. They already have an A-Line stop right out front soon to be combined with a more walkable avenue, our elders living there will be able to stay independent longer as our neighborhood becomes more accessible.
Beyond that, the groundwork is being laid for more improvements to Snelling. A chunk of Snelling just south of Macalester College was just recommended for up-zoning, making way for a more human friendly variety of development to take root. There is a study being done on the north side from Hewitt to Midway Parkway to see what can be done to improve life for cyclists and pedestrians around the hallowed grounds of The Great Get Together. Most prominent of all these plans though are for Minnesota United’s soccer stadium which will be replacing a gravel pit of a bus parking lot behind a highway strip mall.
Snelling in it’s current form does little for the surrounding communities aside from ferry their cars to the nearest highway, but looking forward a decade it’s easy to see all the hard work from a myriad of Saint Paul’s citizens translating into a space where people want to be, not just to drive past.