Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #5

[The ugly and dangerous 4-lane status quo of Hamline Avenue.]
Final design for Hamline Avenue is a bridge too far

By Paul Busch and Mike Madden

Neighborhoods First! would like to thank St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and the St Paul Department of Public Works for the recent series of public meetings held at the Western District Police Station regarding the design of the proposed Hamline Avenue bridge over Ayd Mill Road and the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks. City bridge engineer Glenn Pagel, in particular has been informative and responsive to inquiries from neighborhood residents about the new bridge.

Unfortuantely, we are unable to support the final design of the the bridge. It is our view that four traffic lanes are excessive to accommodate the current traffic volume of approximately 16,000 vehicles per day on Hamline Avenue. We believe that a three-lane configuration would not only be adequate, it would be safer.

When the similar north-south arterial streets of Fairview Avenue and Lexington Parkway were converted from four lanes to three a few years ago, the purported threshold of traffic volume for those conversations was no more than 18,000 vehicles per day. Indeed, the Federal Highway Administration suggests that three-lane conversions can be considered for roads of up to 20,000 vehicles per day.

We recommend that the entire stretch of Hamline from Summit to University avenues be restriped as a three-lane road, with the resulting surplus right-of-way converted to bike lanes. This would benefit both bicyclists and pedestrians en route to and from the Central Corridor's Green Line after it begins operating next year. The bike lanes would provide a buffer between motor traffic and pedestrians, making the sidewalks safer and more inviting to use.

We also believe that the width of the proposed replacement bridge at 68 feet, 10 inches, is excessive, and thus more expensive to build that it needs to be. If it were constructed with three 11-foot motor vehicle lanes, two 5-foot bike lanes, and two 8-foot sidewalks, it would accommodate all three modes of travel at a width slightly less than the existing bridge's 60 feet, 6 inches, Significant money would be saved on the construction of the span itself, and the work that is needed on the existing bridge abutments would be minimized.

While we are gratified to learn that the placement of the bridge's piers will accommodate any future alternative uses of Ayd Mill Road, the explicit linkage of the bridge's functional design to the final disposition of Ayd Mill Road is troubling to us.

Those who were in attendance at the December 12 public meeting were told that if and when Ayd Mill Road is extended to I-94, the Hamline bridge could be reprogrammed with sidewalks and bike lanes widened to 10 feet and 8 feet, respectively. However, this is just a further overexpenditure of taxpayer money and an attempt to link the Hamline bridge to Ayd Mill Road. Those two projects should be separate and distinct.

Finally, we ask that Ayd Mill Road be restriped with a single lane in each direction, that its speed limit be reduced to 30 mph, and that bicycles be safely reintroduced to that roadway to coincide with the construction of the Hamline bridge. Such a configuration is consistent with the preferred alternative for Ayd Mill Road that the City Council has identified: a two-lane configuration extended north to St. Anthony Avenue.

Adopting all of these recommendations would bring a measure of relief to the residents living near the north end of Ayd Mill Road who have endured the hardships and hazards brought about by the premature opening of the south ramps to and from I-35E in 2002.

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