“We live in the Saint Paul Midway neighborhood. One of the reasons we love it here is that we are in the center of everything. Coffee shops, groceries, libraries, hiking/biking trails, parks are all within walking distance. Public transportation is fantastic and freeways are also close by. We also hang out with our neighbors like extended family. It’s awesome!” says a Midway resident about the Hamline-Midway Neighborhood.
Many people have chosen to make Hamline-Midway, Merriam Park, and Frogtown neighborhoods their home due to convenient location, access to multi-modal transportation, and affordable housing.
So the need for a light rail to spur development has always been questionable. The market had seemingly been doing a great job as neighbors have watched businesses leave and new businesses enter with a relatively low vacancy rate both in housing and business. An example of the affordability of the area can be seen in the locally owned Asian restaurants along Frogtown that are enjoyed by many within the city. These business owners cited affordable property as the number one reason for moving to the neighborhood.
Now that the light rail has actually been built, plans continue around the neighborhoods to make the area “walkable” and “affordable.”
A recent tour around the area of new development leads one to wonder if any improvement has actually been gained. $25 million Federal dollars were given to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul- area to improve non-motorized transportation. Marshall Avenue in Merriam Park received $495,000 of those funds for bicycle lanes and medians along 0.39 miles of the avenue. The project was deemed successful because the report submitted by Bike Walk Twin Cities stated that the project “improved connections for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.”
Yet, experience around the “improved” area shows that the project isn’t really useful to a market share of people. Take a ride on the 21 and any rider will immediately experience the slowdown of bus travel once entering the “improved” Marshall Avenue area. Alert bicyclists will note buses making frequent turns into the bike lane, forcing riders back into automobile traffic. Residents along the avenue may note rush hour times lead to backed-up traffic blowing fumes into their homes. Pedestrians trying to cross at the median have the joy of trying to be visible to auto and bike traffic while standing amongst the plantings.
The Green Line received Federal and State funding for building of the line as well as streetscape improvements. Along this corridor on University Avenue, developers partnered with lobby groups to ensure that automobile travel is challenging. But, does this serve the purpose of efficient and effective travel around the neighborhood? Because of the overzealous automobile traffic restrictions, pedestrian traffic has also been restricted at several intersections. At one busy intersection, the pedestrian crosswalk is to the right of right turning traffic, placing pedestrians in jeopardy. A photo comparison of the Snelling and University Avenue intersection and the busy Marshall Avenue and Snelling Avenue intersection show that neither area is really designed to safely accommodate any form of transportation, though the Marshall/Snelling intersection might be safer as drivers have less distractions and pedestrians and bicyclists might have more visibility.
Many of these urban development projects are supported by groups that express contempt for automobiles. What they fail to realize is that restricting automobiles also restricts buses, causing an increase in travel time for a mode of transportation that was already inefficient. It often also restricts bicycle and pedestrian traffic. These groups fail to recognize that camouflaging pedestrians in planted medians decreases visibility and safety. Members of these groups may be comfortable biking alongside cars, but not everyone is and thus “share the road” and bike lanes that are barely separate from car traffic do not significantly increase bicycle ridership.
For the majority of people in the Twin Cities, the automobile is still the most effective mode of transportation. Unless we seriously invest in alternatives to auto traffic that people actually find to be safe and efficient for them, the automobile will continue to be the preferred method to travel within the city. Purposely restricting the auto without defining true alternatives ends up wasting everyone’s time and money.