The Gauntlet of Construction Signs: A Neighborhood Walk

One warm summer day, I tried to walk down my street with my dog, only to encounter a series of obstacles that began to feel like a practical joke. In the first block, I encountered a “sidewalk closed ahead,” directing me to cross Saint Clair to the other sidewalk. Despite the careless disregard of drivers as they sped by without stopping (yielding to pedestrians is required by law), I managed to make it across the road safely and optimistically kept walking.

Construction sign placed across sidewalk
I believed this sign

A block and a half later, in the middle of the bridge over Ayd Mill Road, I encountered another sign blocking the sidewalk. This sign read “Road Closed Ahead,” but did not mention anything about the sidewalk being closed, nor advise any particular course of action. I backtracked a bit, to try to cross St. Clair again and walk on the other sidewalk, but there was another “sidewalk closed” sign on that sidewalk. There did not appear to be any reason for this sidewalk to be closed, but the signs were very emphatic on this point, and I believed them.

Blue line is my route, red line is the “closed sidewalk.” The “X” marks show the locations of the first three signs I found blocking the sidewalks.

So, with both sidewalks “closed” (or at least barricaded), my options to cross the Ayd Mill Road ditch were:

  1. Walk in the street, with high-speed drivers who seemed extra angry that I was occupying 5′ of their 20’+ “lane”
  2. Move one of the construction signs, and take my chances that sidewalk wasn’t really closed
  3. Detour ~1.3 miles to the next bridge (Grand Ave) and back down to St. Clair, adding 26 minutes to what should be a two minute walk.
The suggested detour for the sidewalk closures on St. Clair over Ayd Mill Road

I ultimately chose option #1, walked into the street around the sign, and made my way back to the sidewalk. Moments later, I encountered another sign blocking the sidewalk – this one not even in use, just stored on the sidewalk (rather than the large amount of green space, the wide road, the grassy boulevard, or the closed off-ramp).

Large metal construction sign sitting on sidewalk, blocking the sidewalk curb cut. More signs in background, on roadway.
The sign blocking the sidewalk ramp, rather than performing it’s intended function of closing the road.

A block or two later, I encountered a drilling machine perched on the sidewalk, making a lot of noise and surrounded by workers. This one did not have any construction signs (but probably should’ve). We crossed St. Clair again, though my dog continued to be bothered by the loud noises.

We eventually made our way back home after accomplishing our goal, braving the complex gauntlet of signs, barricades, broken pavement, noisy machines, and dangerous drivers.

Jenny Werness

About Jenny Werness

Jenny is a carfree, bicycling, tree-loving St. Paul resident, with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Our rapidly changing climate should be of utmost concern to all of us. Board of Directors of streets.mn, 2019-2021; Climate Committee Founding Member; Editor-in-Chief.

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11 thoughts on “The Gauntlet of Construction Signs: A Neighborhood Walk

  1. Bill LindekeBill LindekeModerator  

    Moderator’s note: I removed a comment here that belittled the author. Please avoid personal comments of any kind.

    As for sidewalk closed signs, they are almost always absurd. And yes, the proper response and the route that the majority of people take, is to simply step around them. I’ve been taking pictures of them for years (http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/search/label/sidewalk%20closed%20signs) and at least 75% of them are useless.

    I think Jenny makes a good point though. Detours impact people on foot far more than anyone else, a fact typically ignored by construction crews.

  2. Jenny Werness

    As the author, I can say that the comment did more than “belittle” me. It was contrary to streets.mn’s explicitly-stated comment policies (https://streets.mn/about/comment-policy/) and did nothing to enhance any conversation or further our mission here. Thanks for catching it and deleting it quickly, Bill.

  3. Pat ThompsonPat Thompson

    It makes one wonder if there is a policy about how to place sidewalk closed signs. Bill’s comment leads me to believe that if there is, it’s not followed. Seems like they should be placed as close to the actual closed place as possible where it is safe to cross (intersection, I assume), and be used only when the sidewalk is actually impassible. From Jenny’s map, this example doesn’t meet at least the first criterion, if the closure was at Ayd Mill.

    1. Jenny WernessJenny Werness Moderator   Post author

      Yes, and I did try to talk with the city about what their rules/guidelines were, for exactly the reasons you’re talking about. In this case, there didn’t seem to be any actual need to close the sidewalk on either side, let alone both sides, and the signs were left there for weeks. So it seems more like a “useless gesture” than anything reality-related.

      1. Monte Castleman

        I’m guessing it’s for liability reasons. Even if an alert, reasonable person could easily walk through the area, can’t have someone texting on their phone stubbing their toe on a concrete form and then suing for millions of dollars.

        Then there’s the Hastings bridge project where they closed the only sidewalk crossing between Red Wing and the Wakota Bridge for the entire duration of the project despite the new bridge being built on the opposite side.

        1. Jenny WernessJenny Werness Moderator   Post author

          You’re probably right about the liability thing, and that’s part of the problem with the way they approached this project. They’re essentially creating more liability by putting barricades on the sidewalks, so people don’t even have the option of semi-safely taking the sidewalk, they have to step off the curb and walk in the road.

          I didn’t know about the Hastings bridge project, that sounds like particularly poor planning!

  4. Kyle Constalie

    I like this piece a lot! One of the things I think is really good about it is how it weaves in this first-hand narrative to explain the impact of these construction and way-finding (or lack thereof) operations. Also the maps and breakdown are impressively outlined. The dog photo is great! Very well done 🙂

  5. Serafina ScheelSerafina Scheel

    You’d think there’d be a policy on sign placement, but if there is, no one seems to follow it, and the impacts are always heaviest on the most vulnerable people out and about. I’d love to see more firsthand perspectives on getting around Minnesota.

  6. Scott

    Can’t speak too much about the writers experience, except to say that the “road closed ahead” sign encountered on the bridge was likely indicating to car traffic that the ramps to Ayd Mill Road were closed. The sign blocking the sidewalk in the last photo looks to me like a worker might have messed up when temporarily moving the sign for access to the work area (as evidenced by the sand bags near the sign), so that is bad on them, and should be corrected as soon as possible. However, my point in commenting is that it appears that the Ayd Mill Road project is going quite well, and they seem to be doing a great, speedy job. Coming from Portland, Oregon, it’s nice to see public works projects go so quickly and smoothly (Ayd MIll and Summit Ave Bridge). They’re getting in and getting out as quickly as possible. I’m very much looking forward to the finished projects. It seems there is nothing but criticism for the City of St. Paul public works these days, so I figure I’d give credit where credit is due, in my humble opinion.

    1. Scott

      One more comment – I have actually walked across that bridge a number of times during the Ayd Mill Road construction and haven’t really noticed any impediments along the sidewalks, but the experience might be different for someone with limited mobility. I may have merely subconsciously sidestepped any issues without even noticing them.

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