On the eastern edge of Saint Paul, there’s a dangerous intersection: a four lane stroad, with on-ramps/off-ramps to I-94, and (until recently) almost no pedestrian infrastructure. It is, however, a critical link for the neighborhood, so people had to make the best of it.
Image of McKnight / Hudson intersection from Google Maps (2016)
To get to the grocery store from the south, you had to navigate to the west side of McKnight (no sidewalk on the east side), walk under a dark freeway bridge, and then were faced with no obvious route to access the Sun Ray stores. The choices:
Option 1: Take the sidewalk north, which abruptly ends and has no connection to the Sun Ray stores. Then:
a. walk in the street with traffic
b. walk along the curb (if you’re lucky, and it’s not covered with snow/ice)
c. walk a bit further north, through a large parking lot, to a secret stairway at the opposite edge, which goes down the hill to the grocery store
Staircase at the back of a parking lot
Option 2: Elect to take a more direct route, through a completely unused rectangle of land. No sidewalk here, and it still ends at a fast-traffic road you have to cross, but it’s shorter and you don’t have to have special secret stairway knowledge.
This situation resulted in a seriously well-formed desire path, as you can see here:
Worn dirt path toward the grocery store, from 2016 google maps streetview
In the fall of 2017, as part of MNDOT’s I-94 construction work, they put in a new (very short) multi-use path underneath the freeway. This included a wide path with nice curb cuts, new “flashing yellow” left turn lights for automobile traffic, and refreshed crosswalk paint. It was a huge improvement for the under-94 crossing, and made my commute much safer.
The next spring, the construction crew was back and was grading a path across the grassy rectangle. I was so excited, I stopped to awkwardly talk with the workers and see if they were really going to put in a sidewalk. They said yes!
And then there was a sidewalk.
Google maps image from August 2018, showing the newly-constructed sidewalk
It’s not perfect, but it’s a meaningful improvement that affects the lives of people who frequent this area. It’s currently in the running for my favorite sidewalk, even though there’s nothing scenic or attractive about it. It’s heavily used, too. One day before 8 a.m., the morning’s snow revealed the tracks of many people who’d taken this walk.