A crowd of people at Mac-Grove Fest, held every September.

How Walkable Is Your Neighborhood? Mac-Groveland Took Steps to Find Out

On April 1, 2023, over half a foot of snow fell in the Twin Cities, blanketing the ground with a new layer of snow and bringing the seasonal snowfall to a whopping 90.2 inches; it was the third snowiest year on record according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesotans across the Twin Cities and beyond grabbed their snow shovels and plows for the umpteenth time and began chiseling away at the layers of powder and ice on their sidewalks, driveways and other footpaths. 

Lynn Ihlenfeldt, a longtime resident of the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood in St. Paul and a board member of the Macalester-Groveland Community Council (MGCC), spent last winter thinking about the walkability of sidewalks in Mac-Grove and greater St. Paul with frequent storms and freeze/thaw cycles coating sidewalks and paths with ice.

She brought the topic of walkability to the MGCC transportation and community building committees for larger discussion. Both committees concluded that a survey would be helpful in gathering feedback from community members on walkability and obstacles that residents face when trying to walk to and from destinations around the neighborhood.

An "All Are Welcome Here" yard sign covered in snow
How welcoming is a neighborhood with slippery sidewalks? Photo by Amy Gage

“As an avid walker, improving walkability is a priority for me,” says Ihlenfeldt, “and surveying the community allowed us to gather and prioritize all our neighbors’ concerns for determining and implementing change on a larger scale.”

Overall, residents of the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood felt that walking on their neighborhood sidewalks is unsafe, especially during times of ice and snow. Among their chief concerns:

  • Slippery or snow-covered sidewalks, 63%.
  • Uneven sidewalk surfaces, 52%.
  • Unsafe traffic, 37%.

During a presentation of the survey results to the Union Park District Council transportation committee on March 11, Ihlenfeldt and Hugo Bruggeman, a year-round cyclist who chairs the MGCC transportation committee, seemed open to the suggestion that they promote a similar survey in more diverse neighborhoods around St. Paul.

Scenic and tree-lined, Mac-Groveland has a population that is majority white (88%) and affluent: 58% of households have incomes of $75,000 or more; nearly 62% of residents own their homes; and 76% hold at least a four-year college degree.

Why People Walk

In August 2023, a few board and committee members visited block clubs on National Night Out to survey the community. A digital version of the survey was open on the MGCC website during August and September and was promoted at the organization’s annual Mac-Grove Fest in the fall. (The survey remains available to St. Paul residents at this link; include your ZIP Code.)

In total, 172 responses were collected from neighbors who said they walk for enjoyment or exercise (87%), to run errands (56%), to exercise their pets (44%), to get to public transit (13%), to get their children to school or daycare (12%) and to get to work (8%).

A girl with a hat paints at Mac-Grove Fest in St. Paul
The walkability survey was distributed at Mac-Grove Fest in September 2023. Photo by Macalester-Groveland Community Council

Other results showed that 79% of participants walk year-round, though fewer walk during the winter; 8% percent use some sort of mobility device; and 80% walk with at least one accessory, such as lights, reflective clothing or cleats.

MGCC hosts multiple programs throughout the year focused on walking and biking, such as Mac-Grove Moves and the annual Little Free Library Tour. As we plan those events, we want to ensure accessibility for all. “Whether people walk for exercise, to spend time with their pets or to make everyday trips to school, work or stores and shops, walking is the backbone of all communities in our city,” says Bruggeman, the transportation committee chair.

Moving forward, MGCC seeks to collaborate with other St. Paul district councils on an expanded survey for wider data gathering, with possible additional questions about crime and safety while walking at night, as well as asking whether people are homeowners or renters in their neighborhood. We hope this survey will develop into a tool for the city to help more community members make everyday trips — running errands or getting to and from school and work — by walking.

Please send us a note if you are interested in developing a survey for your neighborhood: mgcc@macgrove.org.

Managing Editor Amy Gage contributed to this report based on the MGCC presentation to Union Park District Council.

Alyssa Mitchell

About Alyssa Mitchell

Pronouns: She/her

Alyssa Mitchell is the Program and Events Specialist for the City of Vadnais Heights Parks and Recreation Department.