Ayd Mill Greenway Exten Clip700

The Case for the Current Ayd Mill Road Proposal

Ayd Mill Map Clip 300

Map of Ayd Mill Road.

I heard you groan: “Why are we still talking about Ayd Mill Road, especially amidst a global pandemic?!?”

Well, my friend, we’re talking about it because our Public Works Department and highway departments around America are continuing to pave things.

Like a Cyborg Terminator Coronavirus, highway departments will keep paving until the day civilization ends or until we finally cut off their money supply— whichever comes first. Paving is what they do! Despite our current pandemic lock-down, the Saint Paul Public Works Department is moving ahead with the Ayd Mill public process, online, in the hopes of bidding out the job in June. So we have no choice but to discuss it.

Some weeks back, Bill Lindeke wrote an excellent piece about the current Ayd Mill Road debate in which he urged the city to close the road to cars entirely and abandon it. In an ideal world, I agree with Bill’s piece one hundred percent … but we don’t live in an ideal world. So I’ll make the case for why we should all support the current proposal.

How Did We Get Here

I’m not going to rehash ancient history too deeply because so much has been written about it, including two pieces by me in 2019 and 2017. But, to summarize, since 1960, the Ayd Mill Valley has been in a political tug-of-war between car people who want it to become a four-lane connector freeway between I-35E and I-94, and folks like me, who’d like it to become a linear park with no road at all or something similar to Mississippi River Boulevard or Johnson Parkway.

Last spring, a scheduled repaving project on Woodlawn Avenue in Saint Paul was rejected by neighborhood residents. This freed up approximately $3.5 million of paving money. In an effort to be flexible and wanting to plug holes in the city’s leaking road maintenance budget, former Public Works Director Kathy Lantry proposed using this money to repave Ayd Mill Road. The city hasn’t repaved it since 2003, the road’s in horrible shape, and the city is currently spending a third of its entire pothole budget every year to patch it.

When bicycle, pedestrian and linear park advocates heard about this repaving proposal, they said: “If you’re going to repave the road, we demand you use some of it for bicycle and pedestrian access.” A multi-use trail along the corridor is part of city and county plans and was promised as far back as 1997. The mayor’s office responded with a $5.2 million proposal to reduce the roadway to two lanes on the west side and convert part of the eastern two lanes into a bike and pedestrian trail. $3.5 million of the cost would be paid for by the leftover Woodlawn Avenue money. An additional $1.7 million would come from a half-million-dollar pot of annual dedicated bike funding that the mayor set aside in 2018. It would be bonded and spread out over 10 years so that it would only be about a third of the annual bike fund budget. The money would pay for the trail, additional lighting, and paths at each of the entrance/exits to access Selby, Hamline, Grand, St Clair and Jefferson Avenues, as well as new signals with walk signs and crosswalks at St Clair, Grand and Hamline. The mayor’s proposal was in line with 2000 and 2009 City Council resolutions supporting a two-lane Ayd Mill road and was an excellent compromise that could have ended the long tug-of-war over the road’s future.

Last fall, when it looked like there might be enough political support to pass the proposal, the city hired an engineering consultant to more carefully analyze the road and draw up plans. When they looked at it more carefully, they made two unfortunate discoveries. The first was that a spring near Grand Avenue and drainage problems on the road were leaving large amounts of standing water on it. Without fixing these drainage issues, any repaving would last a couple of years at best. The cost for doing the drainage work was around $2.3 million. The second discovery was that, in order to make a two-lane Ayd Mill Road work, they needed to add left turn lanes in the northbound direction at St Clair, Grand and Hamline Avenues. Otherwise, queuing cars waiting to exit at these spots would back up rush hour traffic all the way to I-35E. To add these three left turn lanes to the west side would require bumping the road out into the median at these three locations …and there was nothing under the median but dirt. So new concrete road bed would have to be constructed at the three areas and this would add an additional $2.3 million to the price tag. Suddenly the original $5.2 million proposal was $9.8 million. Given the city’s budget issues and conflicts over spending on police, recreation centers and affordable housing, the City Council balked at the new price tag.

Ayd Mill 2 Lane Image700

Ayd Mill 2 Lane Turnlane Clip1500

 

In response, engineers drew up the current three-lane proposal. Since left turn lanes already exist on the eastern half of the roadway, they wouldn’t have to construct new concrete road bed. This reduced the price tag to $7.5 million and it was decided that the $2.3 million drainage repair money could be paid for out of the city’s sewer fund. The new proposal kept a twelve-foot, multi-use bike and pedestrian trail with a minimum six-foot, curb separated buffer between the trail and the roadway. All the other amenities– exit/entrance paths, new signals, lighting, etc– remained the same.

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Ayd Mill 3 Lane Clip 1500

 

To be sure, the new proposal is something of a letdown. The original proposal was much more of a linear park with greater separation between the road and the trail. The new proposal is more like Johnson Parkway or Phalen Blvd. There’s a temptation, voiced in Bill Lindeke’s piece to want to abandon the entire endeavor and demand the city just close the roadway. But based on my experience, this is politically impossible. Any project that reduces or eliminates motor vehicle lanes on Ayd Mill Road needs four votes to pass the City Council. The current proposal, which only eliminates one lane has two solid votes, one tepid vote, one staunch opponent and three undecided votes. I and other advocates have met one-on-one with all the wavering City Council members and listened to the staunch opponent– Dai Thao. Thao is concerned about one thing– traffic congestion. His focus in life is cars, congestion and parking. He’d like a four-lane connected freeway that gave cars more access to the Midway and Allianz Field. The undecided Council Members are also concerned about traffic congestion on neighborhood streets and were unwilling to vote for the proposal without traffic modeling and a mitigation plan (which they got). They would NEVER support a total road closure. Even the mayor’s office, as progressive as it is, probably doesn’t have the political will to propose closing the road entirely. So this is simply not an option. In fact, Dai Thao has promised to try and strip the bicycle and pedestrian trail out of the current proposal when it comes up for a City Council vote in April, in favor of a straight repaving of the roadway (at over $5 million).

So the choice before us today is the current trail proposal (with three lanes of roadway) …or no trail at all, with Ayd Mill remaining as it is– a four-lane highway. I think the current trail proposal is a good thing. Not only would it be part of a Midtown Greenway Extension (if we’re ever able to get this done) but it would be a much-needed north-south bike link in its own right in a region of the city that lacks good north-south bikeways. It would also be a great amenity for dog-walkers, joggers and others who live at Selby and Snelling or wish to travel between this spot and the Grand Avenue business district or the other exits. It connects bikeways on Jefferson Avenue to Summit Avenue (via Grand) and, with a little work, to Marshall Avenue.

Ayd Mill Greenway Exten Clip700

On top of that, if it’s designed right, the road could always be reduced to two-lanes sometime in the future if additional money becomes available, or the road could still be abandoned entirely, if city repaving money runs out. In the meantime, it establishes bicycle and pedestrian access in the corridor and adds an additional impediment to building a four-lane connected freeway. To my knowledge, it would be the first removal of a highway lane in the Twin Cities, and possibly in the state of Minnesota. Ultimately, I’d rather have a trail and some highway lane reduction than no trail and no reduction. And that’s the choice we have before us.

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Even if you don’t agree with my logic, please look at the photograph above and take pity on me. This is me in 2002 with two hundred other people protesting then mayor Randy Kelly’s unilateral opening of Ayd Mill Road’s south connection to I-35E. I’ve been at this for eighteen years. Many folks have been fighting a four-lane highway a lot longer than me– people like Mike Madden and Debbie Meister at Neighborhoods First. Take pity on our poor souls and go to the city’s Ayd Mill Road page. Then (if you can bear it) watch their video presentation and click the “Comments or Questions” button and leave a comment supporting the current proposal. You can also take the quintessentially Saint Paul Ayd Mill Road Feedback Survey. You have until March 31 to do it. Even if you’ve written in the past, take a few moments to do this now.

Then, on April 6, there will be some kind of “public meeting” (it will probably be virtual/online) at which the Public Works Department will present their traffic modeling data and again solicit public feedback. Finally, on April 22, the City Council will vote on the proposal, possibly with an additional virtual or in-person public hearing. Again, we’ll need any of you who support this to e-mail your council members, particularly if you live in Wards 1, 2 or 3.

Civilization may be teetering on the brink of collapse but, if we go down, I still want to be able to ride a bike through the Ayd Mill valley. Please help make this happen!

(The biking part …not the collapse part.)

Thanks!!

Andy Singer

About Andy Singer

Andy Singer is doing his second tour as volunteer co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition. He works as a professional cartoonist and illustrator and has authored of four books including his latest, "Why We Drive," which examines environmental, land use and political issues in transportation. You can see more of his cartoons at AndySinger.com.

54 thoughts on “The Case for the Current Ayd Mill Road Proposal

  1. Bob Roscoe

    Ayd Mill Road sucks – and if unwise city ambitions become successful. it will suck even more.

    The wonderful topography of the chasm should not be dominated by cars. If cars are necessary, then building land bridges with mini-neighborhoods on top that can make more turf at least semi-continuous with the so-called city fabric..

  2. Dan Cross

    Andy is correct! CLOSING AYD MILL ROAD IS SIMPLY NOT AN OPTION!! If you have any desire at all to have a bike ped trail in this corridor then quite complaining and do something about it. Go to the link above and support the 3 lane option.

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

      But opening it up was probably seen as “simply not an option” back in 2002 and that happened. Why can’t we demand for what we want? Closing it to motor vehicles is very viable. Our city just needs to live up to its stated goals.

    2. Paul L Nelson

      The 3 lane option is too expensive and not needed. The 12 foot “regional trail design” is not wide enough to separate walk from bike. Because of the unstable surface conditions of the ground we never should have built any motorway structure through this space. The Midtown Greenway in Minneap was not designed by “regional trail standards”. It was designed to highway standards for non motorized transport.

    3. Nate Hood

      “It’s not an option” because our leadership at the city and within Public Works is saying it’s not an option. Truth be told, we could simply close it – and it would be the most cost-effective option.

  3. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    The thing I can’t wrap my head around: “we don’t live in an ideal world…”

    I understand when people say this about really big challenging issues. It would be nice to have peace on earth by next spring, but we don’t live in an ideal world and there are a lot of barriers to break down before that happens.

    But Ayd Mill Road is… not a challenging issue. The city could literally decide to close it tomorrow to give people a place to exercise during this period of social distancing. There are very few stakeholders. There are very few decision makers. There are very few logistical challenges. The money isn’t an issue, in fact, closing the road is the cheapest option.

    The main problem here is that St. Paul leaders have this insane mental block around the road, and it feeds into the city’s deeply embedded fear of actually making a dramatic change. I don’t understand why any advocate should settle for that.

    1. Nate Hood

      In my experience, the City of St. Paul supports bike infrastructure in so much as it doesn’t impact car travel. It’s one of the primary reasons we are beyond other peer cities when it comes to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

    2. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      Alex (and the rest of you), If you want to make it “Politically possible,” I suggest you run for Saint Paul City Council. Start off by joining a District Council as a volunteer. Mike Sonn and Nate Hood are the only ones of you who’ve taken that on (that I know of). Then, after you’ve gotten your name out there (maybe served as a district council president for a year or two, like Mike or Kevin Galatin), raise tons of money and run a serious campaign for city council. You could run against Tolbert, Thao, or Noecker– the three Council Members in whose wards Ayd Mill Road resides. None of them has had a more progressive opponent in any of their elections. Barring a change on the council, you’re just dreaming If you think you can get these folks to close the road. If you don’t think so, I will happily hand you my position as Bicycle Coalition Co-Chair. I’m totally serious. Like District Council positions, it’s not paid and has even less power, but maybe you can do a better job than me.

      1. Ian R Buck

        We did have Liz de la Torre and Anika Bowie running against Thao last year, good progressive options. Liz in particular is plugged in to transportation issues, and would certainly have been a Yes vote on this.

        1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

          True. What happened to Liz’s campaign? It seemed to be going well (she got some good endorsements) then petered out completely.

          1. Ian R Buck

            They were focusing exclusively on phone banking, which didn’t seem to give the returns they wanted. I think Anika’s campaign did more door knocking, and she had more traction by the end.

      2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        I appreciate this, and my point isn’t to criticize. It’s to question why it is that the cheapest, safest, and most sustainable long-term solution is somehow not on the table.

        I’ve heard that some city council members are afraid that closing Ayd Mill Road would lead to spillover traffic on other roads. But that excuse doesn’t hold water when you consider that there has been no effort from the city to do a traffic study or a long-term plan or really look into the issue in any way.

        So I keep coming back to my confusion, because it makes zero sense to me why this is so politically difficult. I’m not saying activists shouldn’t acknowledge the reality of the political situation, I’m saying that it seems like there is some kind of aversion to change that is really deeply rooted, and that ultimately it’s that which needs to be challenged, otherwise everyone is just rearranging the furniture.

        1. Sheldon Gitis

          The political reality is that Mayor Carter could close the mile and a half road, just like Mayor Kelly opened it, and he could also add 30% to the street maintenance budget from the savings. He could also take the $7-10 million that he’s recommended for an asphalt overlay and a stream sewer project, and use the funds to implement the linear park plan recommended more than 20 years ago instead. No one is going to boot Mayor Carter out of office for doing the right thing, and certainly not Dai Thao. The Mayor managed win on the organized trash collection, and I imagine if he was so inclined, he would win handily on rejecting the plan to waste close to $10 million on an asphalt overlay and stream diversion project, and then continue wasting millions of dollars maintaining the asphalt and sewer indefinitely.

          Politically, “the cheapest, safest, and most sustainable long-term solution” makes sense, unless, of course, it’s the concrete and asphalt contractors and their business partners who are really pulling the strings, and the Mayor is just their puppet.

        2. Andy SingerAndy Singer

          I think that that solution isn’t on the table because folks who want it haven’t mobilized in sufficient numbers to force the Mayor and Council to act on it. They need to go to the mayor’s meet-and-greets and repeatedly ask him about it. Same with all the council members (particularly those in Wards 1, 2 and 3). Simultaneously, they need to do a mass letter-writing campaign about it to the mayor and council and engage with the car-worshippers on neighborhood chat groups on Facebook and Nextdoor and in the comment sections and editorial pages of local media. If they do all that in sufficient numbers to persuade the mayor and Council that there’s enough support for anything, then it will happen. Or they can run for City Council (or the mayor’s office) themselves. That’s the reality of politics. I share everyone’s goals in this comment thread. I’d love to see the road demolished and turned into a linear park …and I’d like to see a lot of other roads and freeways in this city abandoned or downsized but I can’t snap my fingers and make it happen. No one can. It takes some serious political organizing and effort. From going to that effort and talking to Council members and the mayor’s office, I’m just saying (in this post) what I think is politically possible at this moment. I encourage you to ask all your questions to the Mayor and your council member and tell them what you think, repeatedly. The more people who do that, the better chance we have of getting what we want.

          1. Sheldon Gitis

            Andy, you suggest there’s a need for some sort of concerted effort to close the road. Where’s the coalition of motorists that’s mobilized for keeping the road open? It seems to me, at least among the participants here in this discussion, that there’s a pretty clear consensus for closing the road. Where’s the campaign for keeping it open? Is it just the traffic engineers in Public Works and a few of their road construction allies, or is there some other group of “car-worshippers on neighborhood chat groups on Facebook and Nextdoor and in the comment sections and editorial pages of local media” pushing to maintain or expand the road?

            1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

              When it comes to transportation and land use policy, StreetsMN is a progressive bubble that’s not always representative of views in the larger cities, particularly Saint Paul. There are a ton of “car-oriented” citizens who come to public meetings and write letters to the Villager and the PiPress and fill Twincities.com with their comments. There’s Joe Soucheray, Lisa Raduenz, James Hamilton (I think his name is) and all the folks who opposed organized trash hauling or supported Patricia Hartmann (who ran against Tolbert in the last Ward 3 election). There’s “Saint Paul Strong”. There’s Pat Harris who had “share the lane” markings on Jefferson Avenue painted over because he was so opposed to bikes, and former state legislator for 64B (my district) Michael Paymar, who just wrote an angry letter to the Sierra Club criticizing them for supporting bike/ped access to Ayd Mill road. There’s Norm Coleman’s former aide Erich Mische who sued the city and Transit for Livable Communities over the Jefferson Bikeway, costing thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of staff time producing documents for him. There’s the golf club who sued the city over the sidewalk on Marshall Avenue (forcing the city to pay for it), all the “Free parking” folks who turned out when then mayor Chris Coleman tried to add metered parking on Grand Avenue, or Angel Chandler (a residential and commercial property landlord) who organized local business into opposing the Cleveland bike lanes, sending out glossy dis-information mailers TWICE to the entire neighborhood and running petition drives out of various local businesses. There’s the former owner of O’Gara’s who was a huge advocate and booster of connecting Ayd Mill Road and routinely showed up to bloviate at public hearings. The list is endless. How “organized” (with each other) they are at the moment is hard to say but I see posts, letters and comments from all these folks on Next Door, Facebook neighborhood groups in the Villager and on Twincities.com (and have argued with them on these forums, including with Joe Soucheray’s daughter) …and I see them at open meetings with City Council members and know that they too are writing, calling or talking to the Council. We had a big City Council budget “listening session” last year and lots of these folks turned out, especially for Wards 1, 2 and 3. The participants in this forum are a very self-selecting group and while things have improved in Saint Paul for non-motorized transportation, StreetsMN is considerably more progressive than the Saint Paul public at large.

              1. Sheldon Gitis

                Andy, I get it that there a bunch of old farts, and not so old farts, who think driving is right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But frankly, I think those of us who vent on Streets.mn are as authoritative as the morons venting in the PiPress or the Highland Villager. When it comes to the Town and County Golf Club folks, that’s a different story. Money talks, and unless you’re willing and have the resources to sue the city when it ignores an EIS recommendation or attempts some screwball stream diversion, no amount of Facebook, NextDoor, editorial writing, public commenting is going to make a bit of difference.

                Your right, I wasn’t at the meeting, but the Thao resolution, for what it was worth, was pretty clear. Unless Melo got it wrong, it said: “remove Ayd Mill Road from city’s $20 million bonding package for road repair.” Sounds like a good idea to me.

                1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

                  Actually, in all the instances I mentioned, money lost. The sidewalk on Marshall got built, Jefferson Bike Boulevard got constructed, and bike lanes were striped on Cleveland Avenue (resulting in about two miles of on-street parking being removed). All those things happened because people organized in sufficient numbers, showed up to public meetings, wrote council members and the mayors office and wrote letters to the editor and/or debated the issues with opponents on social media.

                  I’m not saying anything about the age of Ayd Mill bike/pedestrian access opponents …but many of them are younger than me. You asked me for who opposed it, and I merely gave you some examples. Certainly cutting off all funding for Ayd Mill to force its closure is a legitimate strategy for trying to close the road, but that’s not what Dai Thao or other council members who voted for Thao’s motion were/are trying to do.

                  1. Sheldon Gitis

                    Keep up the good work. As long as it isn’t a “transit-oriented” development scam like what happened with the rebuilds of Selby and University Avenues, and it really does improve bicycle access, I’m all for it.

                    I have no idea what motives Thao, Noecker and Prince would have for cutting the funding for the Ayd Mill Road repair. It seems to me, if you want it closed, that’s a pretty good strategy, and if you want it open, it’s not. What motives did the other 4 council members have for not cutting the funding? Why did “progressive” Mitra Jalali want to spend millions of dollars now, and millions of dollars later, keeping the mile and a half road open to lots of fast moving traffic pouring on and off the Interstate Highway? Why didn’t Mitra Jalali support the Thao motion to cut off funding?

                    1. Mike Madden

                      I have sent an email to Councilmember Thao asking him if his proposed amendment would have cut off all funding for Ayd Mill Road, including the mill and overlay.

                      I’ll let you know when, and if, he responds.

                    2. Andy SingerAndy Singer

                      The video of that meeting may still be up on line somewhere but Thao’s motion was an effort to stall for time in the hopes of killing a lane reduction next year. He rambled on for ten minutes in the debate, saying that traffic congestion issues around Allianz Field and wanting a direct automobile connection to it (via Ayd Mill) was his motivation. Jane Prince’s motivation is harder for me to be certain of but (my charitable interpretation is) I think she supports bike/ped access, but would have preferred the original 2-lane proposal and heard this from folks at Neighborhoods First and old contacts she had in Ward 4 (when she was Jay Benanav’s aide). So she was also stalling for time …but to get something better for bike/ped. Same thing for Noecker (hopefully) but, again, despite repeated meetings with her it’s hard to say where she’s at until she votes. The other council members opposed the motion for various reasons as well. Some really want bike/ped access now because their constituents overwhelmingly want it. This is Mitra’s situation because the Greenway Extension and bike/ped access to Ayd Mill are enormously popular in Ward 4 (with resolutions by the Union Park District Council and other folks supporting them). She came to our “Extend the Greenway” rally and bike tour at Lake Monster Brewing in September and briefly spoke. I think the greenway extension and bike stuff are also popular in Ward 5 (whose district council, I believe, also passed a a resolution supporting the mayor’s Ayd Mill proposal). Yang’s motivation I can’t say because she’s brand new, but she’s friends with Mitra and was friendly towards bike stuff when we met with her at the beginning of this month. With Tolbert (and others to a lesser degree), it was unclear if the Woodlawn Avenue money would still be available next year and Public Works director Kathy Lantry in a hour of Q and A had just claimed that pot hole patching is starting to fail to be adequate to keep the road driveable. So he and others to a lesser degree wanted to move on with the project and not let it sit around festering for another year. Tolbert got his request for traffic modeling and a mitigation plan so this was part of his motivation as well. When Thao’s motion failed and the decision to move forward happened, Thao said out loud to no one in particular, that he’d try to strip bike/ped funding out of the proposal when it comes back for Council approval in April. If you can find the video on line, and you’re really bored, you can watch it all– at least an hour and a half just on this subject!

                  2. Mike Madden

                    Here is the question I posed to CM Thao:

                    Dear Councilmember Thao,

                    When you proposed removing Ayd Mill Road from the City’s $20 million
                    bonding package for road repairs, did that mean that even a
                    straightforward mill and overlay (without any bike and pedestrian trail)
                    could not be undertaken?

                    Thank you for your response,

                    Mike Madden

                    And below is the response from his aid Kristin Koziol:

                    Hi Mike,

                    On behalf of Council member Thao, thanks for the question. CM Thao’s initial amendment asking for Ayd Mill Road to be removed from the 5 Year Street Reconstruction Plan was regarding the current proposal to reduce vehicle lanes while adding bike/ped facilities. CM Thao has often stated his desire to honor the March 2019 Council decision that would have seen a mill and overlay happen in 2019 instead of 2021.

                    While that amendment failed, he was able to secure additional public engagement sessions and a final separate proposal to be presented to the Council this Spring. He has been in contact with Public Works throughout the public engagement session and is looking forward to next steps.

                    Best,
                    Kristin

                    Kristin Koziol (she/her)
                    Executive Assistant to Councilmember Thao – Ward 1
                    E: kristin.koziol@ci.stpaul.mn.us
                    P: 651-266-8613

                    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

                      Yeah, there it is– he supports a straight mill and overlay with no lane reductions. Thanks for that Mike.

      3. Sheldon Gitis

        Regardless of what Noecker and Thao’s sentiments regarding fast moving, high capacity, mile and a half motorways may or may not be, it doesn’t look like they’re the ones pushing to get the paving and stream diversion project done.

        “Thao resolution to remove Ayd Mill Road from city’s $20 million bonding package for road repair dies 4-3, with Council Members Amy Brendmoen, Chris Tolbert, Mitra Jalali and Nelsie Yang in the majority. Dai Thao, Jane Prince and Rebecca Noecker outnumbered.”
        https://twitter.com/FrederickMelo/status/1230300319529213954

        It looks to me like the Brenmoen majority is the problem, not the Thao minority. Maybe it’s the “progressive” Mitra Jalali that’s the problem, not Noecker and Thao. Had the Thao resolution passed, and the paving and stream diversion project been removed from the budget, the Mayor and City Council may have had no choice but to shut the road down due to the state of disrepair.

        1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

          I was at that public hearing (where Thao and others cut off public comment) and people voted the way they did on Thao’s motion for different reasons. It’s not as simple as you suggest. Some just want to have the debate and get it over with, even if they are not planning to support the proposal. One (hopefully) is sensitive to the folks that wanted a 2-lane and wanted to stall for time, not aware, necessarily that the Woodlawn Avenue money that started the whole debate wouldn’t necessarily be around next year. One, I have no idea what’s going through her head. …But (in my opinion) if the motion was to close the road entirely, based on my conversations with all these folks, I don’t think it would pass …and the mayor isn’t even proposing it. Remember the mayor originally ran on connecting the north end Ayd Mill Road, something I debated with him about on the phone and via e-mail. If you’re into this stuff, I seriously suggest you meet with the various council members yourself (they all have monthly meet-and-greets) and the mayor or his staff.

        2. Ian R Buck

          Having AMR closed completely was definitely not Thao’s goal with that motion; he has talked over and over about the need to do a traffic study before reducing AMR to two lanes, so he certainly wouldn’t want to close the road without a traffic study. I think he just wants to avoid having to vote on this issue entirely.

  4. Rob Spence

    I’ve been flogging this concept – https://pasteboard.co/J0BypS6.png – but now I see why it is not being considered – the gap between cement slabs would be where the Northbound lane in my rendering would be laid.
    STILL… event if this makes the project more expensive, it should be consider. The 2 and 3 lane options are half-baked and have fatal flaws.
    Perhaps spend the money now on renovating the road and come back later for the bike/pedestrian path (don’t shoot me).

      1. Pete Barrett

        In the interest of clarity, could you give a brief side by side comparison of the two (3? 4?) proposals at hand?

        I think the info is in your piece, but it’s not easy to tease out.

        1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

          There’s only two options at hand:
          1. A 3 lane road (with new asphalt and drainage repairs) with a 12-foot mixed-use trail to the east of it …(which is what the mayor is proposing)
          2. …Or no trail and a 4-lane road, exactly as it is now (with new asphalt and some drainage repairs).

          Option 1 is about $1.7 million more expensive than option 2 (but has not bicycle or pedestrian access).

  5. Paul L Nelson

    Hello Andy:

    “The mayor’s office responded with a $5.2 million proposal to reduce the roadway to two lanes on the west side and convert part of the eastern two lanes into a bike and pedestrian trail..”

    The above statement is not quite correct. Mayor Carter did propose to reduce the roadway to two lanes on the west side, but he also proposed to convert the entire eastern two lanes to non motorized use.

    I mention this because from a cost and labor standpoint utilizing the roadway surface that is already there would most certainly be the most cost effective way to rebuild and redesign the road.

    The cross sections you display above show at least half of, or the entire east two lanes being torn out and rebuilt and divided in to two widely separate spaces. The narrow eastern trail section is a complete rebuild outside of the current east two lane roadway space. The cross sections you show, clearly are a very costly way to reconfigure the roadway, involving the entire length of road being completely rebuilt.

    I should explain this in more detail. Andy, thank you very much for providing clear images with the cross section measurements clearly displayed.

  6. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    Andy,
    Good for you for advocating for the doable and pragmatic instead of holding your breath until you turn blue waiting for the perfect outcome which will probably never happen.

    1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

      I would love to see some science fiction universe in which all the traffic for closing Ayd Mill lands in Mac Groveland instead of on Lexington and Dale where all of us poor folks live.

      I think y’all would change your tune if it were your kid whose life was shortened ten years due to health inequities resultant from increased traffic.

      But strangely enough, all the rich white dudes from MacGroveland never have a freeway built in their backyard to accommodate a linear park in an affluent neighborhood.

      The morally minded white dude bike advocate shtick gets old when you clearly aren’t able to give up even an inch of compromise for the health equity of a neighborhood (on Lexington Parkway) with one of the lowest life expectations in the state.

      The morals you shout are much different than the actions you take, or in this case, explicitly refuse to even acknowledge are a logical action.

      Stop gaslighting people for this stupid road. Stop assuming that a park for white people will magically help brown folks.

      And stop pretending you give a shit about poor folks when in the 13 years Ive lived here you have never not even once taken significant action to improve equity.

      1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

        Lexington is in MacGrove, btw. So is Randolph, St Clair, and Grand. All streets that would (they won’t) see increased traffic (there won’t be).

      2. Paul Nelson

        Hello Daniel Choma:

        If I am reading your words correctly, you are concerned about increased traffic in your neighborhood. Lets look at this issue more closely. Do the roads Lexington and Dale have protected space for all people to walk and use a bicycle their entire length? No they do not. Can you pedal drive a bicycle from your neighborhood on Lexington and enter on to the I-94 motorway only structure? No you can not. If you look a little more closely to the structures that you refer to as “freeways”, you obviously recognize that no one can use these roadway systems unless they are using a car; no people can walk, no people can use a bike, period. And it is like that for many streets and roadway systems throughout our region and the entire country.

        The Ayd Mill structure is just one short roadway. My own view is that it was not a very good idea to build a motorway through this space to begin with. However this road was designed and built as a motorway only structure. That was a mistake. And it was a big mistake to design and build far too many of our roads only for the movement of cars trucks, and buses, Nothing else. That simple fact is why we have far too much traffic on most all of our streets and roads throughout our region, in every neighborhood.

        When Ayd Mill was first opened, it was assumed that it would decrease traffic on south Lexington, and bike lanes could be built south of Grand. It did not work out very well. It decreased some traffic on South Lexington, but it increased MV traffic in a lot of other places too, like the back yards of people living on Portland where Ayd Mill exits on to Hamline.

        The overall issue and concept is that a motorway only approach to policy and design of roads and street systems has not worked any where on the planet, and especially within cities and metro regions around the world.

        We could close Ayd Mill to MV traffic as a test for a couple of months to see what the outcome would be. Or, we could close it down to two lanes with orange cones to see how that works out. I seem to recall that was done many years ago. Anyway, would that increase MV traffic in your neighborhood? You live a little bit north of south Lexington, so probably not much, but we could try it. We could also try closing all of the exits in the city to I-94 for single occupancy vehicles, and just allow for freight trucks and emergency vehicles. Would that decrease MV traffic in your neighborhood? It probably would. Would that be an ultimate solution? No, I do not think so. The alignment chosen for the I-94 expense-way was not a very good idea to begin with, but that is a whole other issue by itself.

        The bicycle and walking are modes of transport, nothing else. It is not a bike advocate issue.

        If we are going to talk about equity, we need to talk about equity for everyone, We are all human.

  7. Ian R Buck

    Andy, you’re a greater hero than we deserve. I’m very impressed that you’ve been at this for so long, and still going strong.
    In 2002 I was in 1st grade, my school bus route took the Randolph bridge over 35E. I remember looking down at the (then closed) ramps to AMR and thinking, “where the heck do those go?”

  8. Bill LindekeBill LindekeModerator  

    In case anyone missed it, I had a post with some AMR updated info on my blog the other day. http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2020/03/still-further-thoughts-on-ayd-mill-road.html

    A few highlights:

    “First, the concrete roadbed underneath the degrading is in better shape than people (and myself) had thought. That means that a mill and overlay will theoretically last longer than one might have initially expected (maybe 15-20 years instead of 7-10).

    The caveat is that there’s a particular spot near Grand Avenue where there’s a natural spring (that presumably once fed Ayd Mill Creek). There, the city needs to do something — re-grading, or installing a new drain — that will cost at least $1M. I’d imagine that, in any roadbed re-paving scenario, including re-paving the status quo, that would would have to happen to keep the project from quickly degrading.

    That said, I imagine that with a theoretical park/trail-only option, this cost could be avoided. Or maybe, the money could be spent instead on rainwater or daylighting.)

    Second, the main cost driver of the two-lane road option is installing turn lanes, which would require pouring new concrete to create enough stacking capacity to allow people to wait for the light before exiting.”

    My conclusion is that I still think there should be a 2-lane option that falls within a reasonable budget and that it’s unfortunate that there isn’t a more thoughtful process here that would get us to that outcome. I have a few ideas about how to get there, but with the short timeline we’re on and the too-constrained public conversation, I don’t see an alternative way out apart from the plan on the table here. Anyone who has watched that video can see the writing on the wall.

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      I like your Sidewalk TC post a lot (and your original post on Streetsmn). I particularly like your critique of their video and some of its assertions like them saying that the current 3-lane, divided road proposal is “safer” than a 2-lane because it eliminates the threat of head-on collisions. This is one of my biggest beefs with the “Median Movement”– it often increases speeds and divided roads are inherently designed for higher speed by eliminating the head-on threat. By contrast, Mississippi River Blvd or Johnson Parkway have a two-way road design with curves that makes people drive slower (precisely because of the head-on threat and narrower lanes) and this is more conducive to a parallel mixed-use bike/ped path. I wish that, in my piece, I’d urged people (as you did) to ask Public Works to lower speed limits on Ayd Mill via design elements (constrictions, speed tables, dynamic speed signs), particularly given that the Twin Cities are lowering them throughout the metro. The SPBC sent them a letter to this effect. And there’s no harm in folks urging Public Works to find an additional $2.3 million and do the 2-lane (or abandon the road entirely). There’s just, currently, no money allocated for the former.

      I think neither of us got into the subtler politics around this that (I think) exist between the mayor’s office and Public Works (and some members of the Council) that have helped to constrain the timeline and the process. For example, I think some folks at Public Works didn’t want to alter the road at all, had other stuff to do, and just wanted a straight mill and overlay. So they stonewalled the mayor’s office in terms of studying it more, and forced them to hire an outside contractor. But maybe it’s all just bad communication. Yes, that survey is horrible as is the public process around virtually all road projects in Minnesota.

      Finally, in addition to inflation pressure, I think the speed of the process could be related to the desire to spend the leftover Woodlawn Avenue money before the bonding for it expires …but I’m not sure. I asked Russ Stark about this but never got an answer.

    2. Paul Nelson

      Hello Bill and Andy:

      What am I missing here? What happened to Mayor Carter’s proposal for a two lane conversion with the car traffic on the western two lanes in each direction and the eastern two lanes striped for walk and bike? Why did the 24 ft east two lanes for non motorized get switched to a narrow 12 foot wide “regional trail” pushed all the way to the east?

      Respectfully, you both may be asking and talking about this same issues.

      1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

        Paul, that’s what my entire post is about! Mayor Carter’s original proposal became more expensive than a majority of the city council wanted to pay for …so we ended up with this 3-lane proposal because it saved $2.3 million.

        1. Paul Nelson

          Thank you, Andy. I will attempt to write an article because this subject has some complexity. However, I do not think the original two lane proposal was more expensive. The PW two lane proposal in the video should be significantly more costly than the original two lane because it involves more work to tear 50% of the current roadway apart. Therefore the PW two lane proposal presented is more costly than the 3 lane because the two lane tears up more roadway than the 3 lane option presented. The three lane option presented tears up the less 25% of the road. The original two lane concept of the road utilizes the entire substructure width of the current road without tearing apart any of it, and no added road road rebuilding, except for the short lengths of the rebuilt left turn lanes, only at St Clair, Grand and Hamline.

          The original two lane proposal with the rebuilt turn lane pockets seems like it would be less costly than nine million, and possibly less costly than the three lane PW version without the left turn lane rebuild.

          Does any of that make sense? I think all of us, the public should know the reality of how much this all costs.

          Overall, the video to me seems to have a “forked tongue”.

          I do not think the high speed motorway only Ayd Mill was a very good idea to move car traffic through this space. Not really needed.

          1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

            Paul, I don’t think breaking up pavement is very expensive. They have machines that will do it in one pass. I think building new concrete roadbed is much more expensive because you have to lay down gravel, build forms, add re-bar, and pour the concrete (which, as a material, along with the re-bar has a cost to purchase). Talk to Russ Stark or someone at Public Works …but this is how it was explained to me. I think the video is an attempt by Public Works to sell this project to car people (and certain recalcitrant Council members). It contains many inaccuracies of history, highlighted by Mike Madden and flawed thinking about 2 versus 3 lanes …but, sadly, it’s one of the better presentations I’ve ever seen them make (and I’ve watched a lot of their presentations).

            1. Paul Nelson

              The building of the left turn intersections at Grand and St Clair, and maybe Hamline, really does not involve a lot of work or engineering because all that is needed is to realign the southbound lane slightly (about 15 feet) to accommodate the build of anew left turn lane for the northbound traffic. The length might be twenty or thirty feet. The entire length of the realignment might be forty feet. The ramps do not need to be rebuilt. The ramps would remain the same as they are now. So where is the big cost factor? I do not see it.

              Shown in the image above is a new build curb and apron on the right side of the north bound single lane. The lane width is a whopping 15 ft. Most people would not notice this so I do not think it is done to sell the project to car folk. Is this 15 ft width the reason the non motorized road is only twelve feet wide?

              The new cast curb and apron and the new build for the bike/walk road, both run the entire length of the roadway. Both represent added costs in addition to the tear up of the existing road and landscaping etc.

              I will still attempt to write about this because I think this all is a mess. I will retract my “forked tongue” comment as the PW staff and the engineering consultants just may not have the knowledge or skill set.

              I could consult an engineering firm myself for some solid answers. I am not able to argue “splitting hairs”. If we do not have all of the facts for the costs.

              Thank you

  9. Bill Mantis

    Thanks to Andy Singer for his clear and carefully researched presentation of the topic. Thanks to readers who follow his recommendation to respond to the city’s survey.

  10. Angela

    The city dont need a Hwy running thru the middle of city.When 35W bridge fell the traffic went elsewhere there was no Armageddon.Reconnect the streets

  11. Scott

    Don’t get why St. Paul has to pay for AMR, which appears to serve more as a regional highway than a city street. Plus, it doesn’t seem that important as a transportation route relative to its’ cost. Close it down and create a park.

  12. Mike Madden

    Good article Andy. I find no harm in people using this opportunity to express their preference for a Linear Park. I did so myself before ranking the two concepts under consideration. I also had some choice words for the presentation’s ‘background’. My full submission is below:

    Before commenting on the two options presented in the video, I would like to
    state that my first preference for the corridor is the Linear Park as
    recommended by the City’s Ayd Mill Road Task Force; decommission the
    road and turn it over to recreational and non-motorized transportation
    uses. Because there is no development in the valley, and there never
    will be, the road is a drain on the City’s road maintenance budget
    without enhancing its tax base, and the volume of suburban cut-through
    traffic that it attracts diminishes our quality of life. The threats
    posed by climate change also demand that we reduce fossil fuel
    consumption, and eliminating discretionary roadways is a good place to
    start.

    Of the two options presented, my first preference is for the 2-Lane
    Concept (the $9.8 million option) because it complies with the City
    Council Resolutions of 2000 and 2009 (Council Files 00-347 and 09-878).
    It would also provide a safer and more enjoyable experience for walkers
    and bikers.

    I also support the 3-Lane concept even though it does not meet the
    aforementioned Council Resolutions’ demands for reduction to two lanes
    of through traffic. I do so because, with its price tag of $7.5 million,
    it may be the only option the City can afford at this juncture. The
    important thing to accomplish at this point is bicycle and pedestrian
    access to the corridor, something that all EIS-considered alternatives
    provided for.

    My greatest disappointment with the presentation, and with the City’s
    approach to the road more generally, is captured in the non-commitment
    to a lower speed limit for the road. Even if the City were not
    considering lifting the ban on pedestrians and bicycles, it would be
    wise to lower the speed limit. A lower speed limit would increase travel
    time through the corridor making it a less attractive cut-through
    route, thereby easing congestion at the north end, where we have seen an
    emphasis on transit oriented development. Nick Peterson also notes in
    the presentation that the safety of maintenance crews is a challenge due
    to heavy traffic and high speeds. Why not fix that problem now,
    concurrent with the lowering of speed limits across the City?

    Speaking to the current city-wide speed limit reductions and the
    decision to evaluate the 45MPH speed limit on Ayd Mill Road at a later
    date, Paul Kurtz said in the video, “we recognize that Ayd Mill Road is a
    little bit different roadway in Saint Paul” and that “it feels like an
    extension of I-35E”. This is precisely the problem, and it will become
    more so with the introduction of bikes and pedestrians.

    To rectify the problem, to make it feel less like a freeway, the speed
    limit should be lowered to 25MPH now. I agree with former Public Works
    Director Kathy Lantry who characterized convenience for motor vehicles
    as a low priority for the transportation network in her presentation on
    February 19, 2020. City Council Resolution 09-878 also sought “to ensure
    that Ayd Mill Road remain a city street (rather that a highway or
    freeway) in perpetuity”. With low speed limits, city streets function
    perfectly well without the “vehicular separation” between opposing lanes
    of traffic that Mr. Peterson said was a problem for the 2-Lane Concept.

    Finally, I wish to comment on the inaccurate portrayal of the Ayd Mill
    Road EIS in the video presentation. The EIS was not undertaken in 1999
    as claimed. It was first recommended in 1988 by the Short Line Road Task
    Force in its Phase I Report. In 1989 the City Council concurred that an
    EIS was warranted, and it formally got underway when funding became
    available in 1993. Between 1993 and 1995, during the scoping Phase of
    the EIS, the Ayd Mill Road Task Force identified the alternatives to be
    studied. Between 1996 and 1998, during the Draft Phase, the Task Force
    winnowed the alternatives. In 1999, the Task Force selected its
    preferred alternative (the Linear Park) and voted to release the Draft
    EIS for public comment.

    I am also surprised to see that Public Works continues to lend
    credibility to the Four-Lane Record of Decision found in the Final EIS.

    The Draft EIS recognized the Saint Paul City Council as the final
    authority in determining the Preferred Alternative. The Council made its
    decision on April 12, 2000. Its selection of the Two-Lane Extended to
    St. Anthony, memorialized in Council Resolution 00-349, was signed by
    Susan Kimberly on behalf of then-Mayor Norm Coleman, making it the
    unified position of the City of Saint Paul.

    The next step in the process should have been to ‘document and evaluate’
    the Two-Lane Alternative in the Final EIS. Instead, former Mayor Randy
    Kelly hijacked the process. He abandoned the legitimately selected
    alternative, and substituted his personal choice for study in the Final
    EIS. He conducted his study unilaterally, without reconvening the Ayd
    Mill Road Task Force as was promised in the Draft EIS, and over the
    objection of the City Council.

    Regarding his rogue action, Council President Kathy Lantry wrote to the
    Lexington-Hamline Community Council on March 25, 2005:

    “Unfortunately, Mayor Kelly has chosen to ignore this resolution
    [Council File 00-347] and study a vastly different configuration for the
    road. The Council has no legal authority to prevent him from this
    course of action. However, the Council is under no obligation to proceed
    forward with the results of this study.”

    Mayor Kelly’s successor, Chris Coleman wrote during the 2005 mayoral
    campaign:

    “As you know, my position on Ayd Mill Road is clear. I support the
    compromise two-lane parkway plan (Council File #00-349) passed by the
    City Council on April 12, 2000… Just to be clear, I do not support a
    four-lane highway or Mayor Kelly’s proposed $45 million connection on
    the north end of Ayd Mill Road.”

    Or as the City Council put it in 2007 (Council File #07-1011) while
    supporting the conduct of a Supplemental EIS:

    “WHEREAS, the Final EIS, conducted unilaterally by Mayor Randy Kelly, in
    breach of the 13 year official community process that concluded with
    the selection of the preferred alternative, did not study the preferred
    alternative as required under law, but instead focused on the ‘Four-lane
    Extended to St. Anthony’ alternative;”

    The video also mentions that the road was opened to I-35E in 2002 as a
    test, and has remained that way since. This is true if one believes that
    former Mayor Kelly actually intended the opening as a “test”, rather
    than a fait accompli. In either case, it lacks critical context.

    The Kelly administration declared the connection permanent in December
    of 2004 following an 18 month extension of the original “test” which
    began in June 2002. There was no data collected during the 18 month
    extension, further eroding claims of it being a “test”. Most
    importantly, the declaration was made seven months before the EIS was
    determined to be adequate. This was a black-and-white violation of MN
    Statute 116D.04 Subd. 2b. which prohibits final governmental decisions
    to “grant a permit, approve a project, or begin a project” prior to
    completion of the EIS. It also violated Environmental Quality Board Rule
    4410.3100, which prohibits any action by the Responsible Government
    Unit that will prejudice the outcome of the project prior to completion
    of the EIS.

    The Kelly administration justified the permanent opening at the time by
    claiming that the “test” results validated the computer traffic modeling
    contained in the EIS. The fullness of time has proven this claim to be
    false as well. The EIS projected that the Four-Lane Extended Alternative
    would carry 20,000 vehicles per day in the year 2020. We are now living
    in the year 2020 and according to the video, Ayd Mill Road south of
    Grand Avenue is carrying 27,500 vehicles per day without a north
    extension to I-94 having yet been built. The north extension would
    certainly take that figure significantly higher.

    On July 11, 2005, just prior to deadline, a challenge to the adequacy of
    the Final EIS was filed regarding these violations. The response from
    the Kelly administration was not substantive, it merely asserted that
    the “voluntary Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was prepared in
    complete compliance with the procedures of Minnesota Statutes 116D and
    Minnesota rules, Chapter 4410 and complies with Federal laws and
    regulations.”

    I also take issue with the claim made in the video that the indirect
    connection to I-94 that was part of the 2005 preferred alternative (the
    Four-Lane Extended to St. Anthony) did not move forward because “it
    really boiled down to not having the required funding”. There was a more
    fundamental reason why it didn’t move forward; the City Council, the
    Chris Coleman administration, and a large segment of the public opposed
    the Four-Lane and did not recognize its legitimacy as the preferred
    alternative. Public Works did attempt to secure funding for land
    acquisition in 2007 by submitting a Capital Improvement Budget proposal
    titled “Ayd Mill Road R/W and Hamline Bridge over Ayd Mill Design”.
    However, it was withdrawn under public pressure that resulted in the
    adoption of City Council Resolution 07-1011 which resolved that, with
    the exception of necessary repairs and maintenance, “no additional
    funds shall be appropriated for, or construction done, on Ayd Mill Road
    until the EIS is complete.

    I greatly appreciate Mayor Carter’s initiative to finally open the Ayd
    Mill Corridor to bikes and pedestrians. I also appreciate the
    presentation of the two options put forward by acting Director Kurtz and
    Mr. Peterson. If my critique of the background presented seems harsh, I
    can only say that there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding
    the history of this project, and I take every opportunity to set the
    record straight.

    Mike Madden
    1768 Iglehart Avenue
    Saint Paul, MN 55104

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      Yeah, I’m all for people expressing a preference for a linear park, or the 2-lane, or speed reductions, etc …and I’m grateful you wrote to the city about its video presentation. The line in the video about the 3-lane being “safer” than the 2-lane because it eliminates the head-on collision threat also pissed me off because that threat makes people drive slower and produces more of a Mississippi River Road vibe rather than a freeway. My gripe (expressed in my response to some comments) is all the folks who say “It’s easy” to close the road and take issue with my assessment of “What’s politically possible” at the moment. Where have they all been? Why aren’t they at all the public hearings, meeting council members, meeting with the mayor, passing resolutions in their district councils in support of ANYTHING (closing the road, 2-lane, 3-lane, speed reductions, etc). I’ve been at this off and on for 18 years and I haven’t seen any of them. …You’ve been at it a lot longer than me. The SPBC also wrote to the city about speed limit reductions and some other stuff. I feel like that battle is still winnable.

  13. Paul Nelson

    The two lane concept drawings that the SPBC and Sierra Club composed and displayed is, based on the numbers mentioned here and in Andy’s article, a significantly lower cost to build than the two lane concept presented by PW with their consultant. In other word, a much better two lane concept would be a lower cost to build than the 9 million price.

    How did that happen?

    I get that the judgement sequence of CM Thao is going to cost all of us a lot more money.

    A real traffic study would include a test with orange cones to see how a two lane concept would work in real time and conditions. Everyone could see how it actually works.

  14. Sheldon Gitis

    New 38-minute video from the City – comments disabled on YouTube.

    Haven’t watched it, but maybe some may wish to critique it here.

Comments are closed.