The world faces rapid man-made climate change that some scientists are saying is now beyond our ability to control. Yet we have a con-man president who believes, despite overwhelming evidence, that Climate change is a hoax. This is hardly surprising given that he’s been getting his information about climate change and many other issues from discredited conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Meanwhile, half of California is on fire, other parts of the country are flooding, we’re involved in multiple armed overseas conflicts, we face a possible trade war, huge budget deficits and skyrocketing national debt, and we have a host of other major domestic and foreign policy problems. In the face of all this, you might ask: “How could any sane person concern themselves with Saint Paul’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan?”
It’s a good question. I have no answer except to say that Saint Paul might still be here in twenty years and, if it is, I hope it’s more bicycle and pedestrian friendly than it is now. City plans could impact that. Ideally, they are guiding documents on city policies and expenditures. They sometimes get ignored, when a rich business owner or developer wants to do something contrary to the plan. But, often, they get followed. If nothing else, city plans can be used as a tool to shame public officials into doing the right things. Also the plan’s maps are really cool! Check out map T-6 “Households without vehicles and transit”.
Back in April of this year. Bill Dermody of Saint Paul’s Planning and Economic Development agency came to a Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition meeting to present a preliminary draft of the plan and answer questions. Though this is not the version of the plan that will be submitted for “Official Public Review,” it will give folks a good idea of the plan and presents an opportunity for public reflection and comment. Below are my comments on the transportation chapter, which I e-mailed to Bill and plan to send to the City Council. If you’ve got nothing better to do, I urge you to read the plan and submit comments of your own. You can read the plan here …and you can get more information on the planning process and where to submit comments at–
My comments on the preliminary draft of the “Saint Paul For All” 2040 Comprehensive Plan’s Transportation Chapter:
In many respects, this is an excellent plan. I love that, in infrastructure design and decision making, it prioritizes street users by speed, from slowest to fastest– pedestrians, cyclists, transit, cars/trucks. Policies like T-3, T-5, T-7, T-20, T-21, T-22, T-37 are a huge leap forward for the city and I am super grateful they were included. There is a lot of clear language and good ideas in the plan but there is also some vague “word salad” where the intent of the language is difficult to decipher. This, some highway projects mentioned only in the Maps and Appendix section, and some other areas where I find the plan lacking will be be my focus.
Page 52, lower left paragraph, it says:
“Since opportunities to remake streets are infrequent due to limited funds and a high volume of needs (the life expectancy of Saint Paul streets is approximately 40 years, and many go 90 years or more before being reconstructed), the chapter establishes clear priorities for project selection. Projects will prioritize safety and equity benefits, followed by support for quality jobs. Maintenance is also established as a “first cut” for project selection, because regular maintenance is much more cost-effective in the long run and allows for a greater number of projects to be accomplished over time. Further, the ability to obtain outside funding will be considered.”
First off, you never define what “first cut” means …and you say “maintenance is much MORE cost-effective” but never define “than what”. Is it more cost-effective than new construction? If so, you need to say that in a complete sentence.
Then you don’t define “equity”. Do you mean “equity between modes” (bike,pedestrian,transit,car)? …or do you mean racial equity as in “we have to prioritize this project because it’s in a largely Hmong or African American neighborhood”? This is important because, as written, “Safety and equity” are more important than “maintenance” or the age of a given piece of infrastructure.
For example, my block hasn’t been repaved since it was built in 1917, over 100 years ago. I have a picture of the brick and manhole covers with dates on them (used for this post). We still have a lead water line coming into my house. I’d like to update it when we get our street redone and save myself $4000, but the city scrapped its RSVP program before it got to my street and now they’re saying it might not be redone for another 10-20 years (after previously telling us it was going to be redone in 2014). My block is in a fairly affluent, white neighborhood. It is also not a bike or transit route (the other possible meaning of “equity” in this context). From the way this paragraph is currently written, I might therefore assume that my street is very low on the city’s priority list. So clarity is important.
Finally, you don’t say what “support of quality jobs” means. Yet, like “safety” and “equity”, you place this above maintenance. So it’s kind of important to define this. Do you mean “transportation access to quality jobs”? …Or that you will prioritize a project if it pays city planners, engineers and contractors more money”? The term makes absolutely no sense. What is a “quality job?” One that pays more? More than what?
We see this last problem in “Policy T-1”. What does “equity” mean? What does “Support of quality, full-time, living wage jobs” mean? What does “Business support” mean? Does it mean that we will build a bunch of new streets, ramps and parking at taxpayer expense for some stadium developer? …because that’s what we’ve done for the MLS stadium and for CHS field. Is that more important than “condition and multi-modal usage rates” (in Policy T-2)? Personally, I think T-2 should be policy #1 …and T-1 should be either T-2 or T-3 (and should be more carefully defined). If all three policies are to be considered equally and there is no hierarchy, you should state that at the outset of the plan chapter.
For Policies T-1 and T-2, you need crash data and usage data to prioritize “safety”, “multimodal usage rates” and “equity” (depending on what you mean by equity). Data collection and analysis or “Evaluation” is the most important part of “The Four E’s” (Evaluation, Engineering, Enforcement and Education). The city now collects and maps some bicycle and pedestrian crash data, and it collects and lists some very limited pedestrian/bike count data. By contrast, car usage data is much more extensive– literally every street in the city gets counted and mapped. Bike/pedestrian count data is limited to just a dozen spots in the city. So I’d add a new policy for Goals #1 and #2 that says:
“The City will endeavor to improve its collection of multimodal crash and count data, especially as regards pedestrians and cyclists. This includes adding the travel directions of crash participants as a reporting requirement for the Public Safety Department, because this will greatly assist the city in designing safer streets. It also includes expanding bicycle and pedestrian counts to more streets and intersections so we can assess the ‘Crash Per Crossing’ rates on different streets and intersections and prioritize ‘safety’ based, in part, on this data.”
We also need data to evaluate how effective our engineering measures have been. On Marshall, for example, bike and pedestrian crashes have actually risen somewhat since we rebuilt the street with medians and bike lanes. Is this due to increased bike and pedestrian usage rates or a flaw in our design? Since we don’t have count data longer than half a year before project implementation (and only for a few spots), we have no idea whether our infrastructure spending improved safety or made it worse.
The above discussion of data collection, analysis and “Evaluation” should also be mentioned in Policy T-4 under “components of the program.”
Policy T-12, break into two sentences so it reads: “When street design changes involve the potential loss of on-street parking spaces, prioritize safety for all transportation modes. Explore mitigation of lost spaces where feasible.”
Policy T-13, you say: “…freight transportation improvements in and near industrial areas of regional economic importance, particularly West Midway, the Great Northern corridor, river industrial areas, and the portion of West Side Flats east of Robert Street, to improve safety and connections to the regional transportation network.”
What do you mean by “safety”? Safety for trucks? How about for pedestrians since Midway truck routes like Pierce Butler Avenue is also a bikeway and has numerous important, often unsignalized pedestrian crossings, including at least one for kids going to school. What do you mean by “connections”? Is this referencing a possible “Pierce Butler Extension” in Map T-14?
Policy T-14, add the words “and provide safety to pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.”
In general, GOAL 3 lacks any discussion of truck routes, or what priority is going to be given to trucks on the arterial and collector streets that Ramsey County or MnDOT have decided are truck routes and need to be designed with wider lanes, no bump-outs, and slip turns for higher-speed truck turning radii. These streets, like Seventh and Snelling are among the most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists in our city, and a lot of this has to do with their design. Not only are these streets three and four lanes but they are three and four lanes that are designed for high speeds and larger turning radii. Other than Map T-15, Policy T-35 is the only place in the plan where truck route consolidation/identification is talked about and only in the context of pavement condition. It should also be discussed in the context of how designing for trucks impacts the safety of non-motorized users.
Policy T-23, how will you “anticipate” high pedestrian activity? You should spell this out a little bit. I suggest that combining crash and count data to get ‘crash per crossing’ can give you an idea about latent demand, particularly at unsignalized intersections. When people are repeatedly crossing (and getting hit) in dangerous areas, combined with other factors (like the existence of a school, bus stop, stores or other destinations), it tells you that there is latent demand for better or more numerous crossings on a given street.
More important than Policy T-24, is the lack of safe crossings on many of our city’s arterial and collector streets. We see this on 7th Street, Shepard Road, Snelling, Rice, Dale and numerous other streets that can go over a mile between signalized intersections. Because of low vehicle compliance rates in stopping for pedestrians (based on data from “Stop for Me”), traffic “control“ is sometimes more important than “traffic calming”. With this in mind, you should add a new Policy:
“Policy T-23.5, Guarantee signalized or safety-enhanced pedestrian crossings of all three and four lane streets at least every quarter mile, because being able to safely cross city streets is a human right.”
Policy T-26, point #3, add “snow-removal” …or a “Consider public-private partnerships for snow removal on bike lanes and sidewalks”. Because the city is unable or unwilling to do the job, perhaps some of the Universities, churches or major companies could sponsor snow removal along certain stretches of sidewalk or bike lanes.
In general, you need a policy statement about snow removal— that the city will spend more time studying the “best practices” (in equipment and techniques) from other cities and commit to keeping at least some of its major bikeways free of snow and ice during the winter. Policy T-32 is the only place I see snow mentioned and just for alleys.
Policy T-35, see comment above about “GOAL 3” and trucks.
Policy T-39, add “…without increasing its costs.”
Policy T-40, add “…unless designing for automated vehicles significantly increases city costs.” Many automated vehicles currently require signage, signals and other infrastructure that electronically communicates with the vehicles. Implementing some of these technologies would greatly increase infrastructure costs for the city at a time when it is unable to maintain its existing infrastructure. There is a lot of evidence that widespread use of driverless vehicles is a lot farther away than the auto industry would have us believe. The city should avoid spending extra money on it until it’s proven and in widespread use around the rest of the country.
Map T-12 “Forecasted 2040 Average Daily Traffic (ADT)” has not yet been included with the plan but the methodology by which this forecast is conducted needs to be included. I realize the city is getting this data from the MET Council but it needs to request the data’s methodology because past forecasts have been grossly inaccurate and failed to take energy costs into account. The 2008 Comprehensive Plan’s ADT map predicted major traffic growth on Saint Paul city streets that never came to pass. These projections were often used as justifications for widening intersections or refusing to do 4-to-3-lane or 5-to-4-lane safetly conversions of streets that were well within federal guidelines for such conversions.
Maps T-14 and T-16: I am totally opposed to the “Ayd Mill Road Redevelopment Project” mentioned in Map T-14 “Future Right of Way Needs” and in Appendix B. No where in the plan is this project spelled out. This road was unilaterally and illegally connected at the south end by former mayor Randy Kelly, over community opposition and without a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. To include it in a city comprehensive plan without proper public review is illegal and contrary to the notion of “public planning.” Mayor Norm Coleman’s task force on Ayd Mill Road chose a “Linear Park” option as did the Lexington-Hamline and Snelling-Hamline Community Councils. The Merriam Park Community Council selected “No Build”. Yet, since 1960, your agency and the city’s elected officials keep trying to ram through an Ayd Mill highway connection from I-35 to I-94 over public opposition. It’s much the same thing with the Pierce Butler and Kittson Extensions (referenced in Map T-14 and T-16). While other cities are tearing down urban freeways, redeveloping the land, and making money by doing so, Saint Paul is proposing to build new highways. It’s byzantine, automobile-addicted thinking of the highest order. How can the Transportation Chapter of this plan state that it prioritizes maintenance, pedestrians and all its other lofty goals when it is planning more roadways that will further divide and segment our communities, increase maintenance costs and Vehicle Miles Traveled, and remove valuable land from possible residential, retail or industrial development?
Finally, for the plan overall, (including the transportation chapter) there should be some policy point that the city will seek to:
“Work with state and county governments to overcome legal issues that create food and service ‘deserts’, where food and basic services are not within walking distance of a given neighborhood. These issues include bank redlining and restrictive lease clauses for grocery stores, lumber yards and other services that require specialized buildings.”
Lack of groceries diminishes the “livability” of a neighborhood. In acknowledgement of this, Saint Paul went to great expense to build the Penfield Apartments and bring a grocery store into downtown. Meanwhile, when Whole Foods left its store location at Fairview and Grand, no other grocery stores could move into the site because of a restrictive lease clause. With the eviction of Mississippi Market from Randolph and Fairview by Saint Paul Academy, an entire neighborhood is no longer within walking distance of a grocery store. It now takes up to forty minutes of walking and two miles to reach one, which is more than most people are willing or able to do. Another example is the Home Depot in Cottage Grove, which left the town with a restrictive lease clause, no lumber yard and a vacant property.
Grocery stores or lumber yards require specialized buildings with loading docks, large refrigerators, and large square footage. Given that many of our neighborhoods have a limited supply of such buildings, and given that groceries and building supplies are basic necessities for a functioning neighborhood (and city), the state legislature could end restrictive lease clauses for grocery stores and certain other classes of retail goods and services. The Comprehensive Plan should state that the city will work towards this end.