|[Cleveland Ave before picture; dangerous street next to a University.]|
By Michael Mischke
Two local road projects -- one all but a done deal and the other just a proposal -- share two common features: the laudatory goal of making the streets safer and the potential to cause serious unintended consequences. Let's examine the pros and cons of each.
Dedicated bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue along the 2.75 mile stretch from Eleanor Avenue in Highland Park to University Avenue in Merriam Park were approved by the St. Paul City Council on March 17. The controversial $362,000 project pitted individual bicyclists and bicycle advocacy groups against local residents and businesses who are concerned about the resulting loss of on-street parking on the narrower stretch of Cleveland north of Randolph Avenue.
In just the most recent battle in the ongoing war between bikes and motor vehicles in St. Paul, the bikes won 5-2 before the City Council. Ramsey County is now expected to give its blessing to the bike lanes. (Cleveland is a county road!)
[This is the only part of the column that annoyed me, the idea that there is a "war" between cars and bikes or that "individual bicyclists and bicycle advocacy groups" were "pitted" against local residents and businesses.
The reality is the bike plan is part of a much larger movement. For years in Saint Paul there have been people from all over the city working on improving street design, walkability, and bike access for a whole bunch of different reasons including safety, sustainability, livability, personal and public health, and even local business reasons. Highland and Mac-Grove are full of people that want safer streets for bicycling, and there's a lot of local support for better streets and bike lanes that go far beyond the usual bike advocacy suspects. That's one reason that the Council vote was 5-2 in favor of bike lanes, and the Highland District Council vote was 14-0 in favor of the ped medians.
In my experience, safer streets don't come at the expense of cars. On the contrary, making Snelling safer, and adding bike connections from Highland Village through both Colleges all the way to University Avenue, will improve the neighborhood in many ways, including making it safer for drivers. Once you stop thinking that convenient parking is the only thing that matters, street design is no longer a zero-sum game.]
There's little doubt that bicycling on Cleveland will be safer and more popular after parking is banned, the bike lanes are striped and the speed limit is reduced from 30 to 25 mph.
There's also little doubt that another north-south designated bike route on the western end of St. Paul is desirable for the growing number of people who are biking for recreational and commuting purposes.
However, the loss of nearly all of the on-street parking for Cleveland Avenue residents and businesses will mean more traffic, and parking congestion on nearby side streets and the real possibility that customers of Cleveland businesses will opt to make their purchases where parking is more convenient and plentiful. There are already 10 resident-only permit parking districts near Cleveland Avenue owing to the presence of St. Thomas and St. Catherine universities. The added parking pressure on streets outside of those districts can be expected to create a push for expanded permit parking districts, thereby compounding the problem.
The Highland District Council has not come up with a plan to construct a series of center medians on Snelling Avenue between Randolph Avenue and Ford Parkway. There too the goal is to create a safer street by slowing down traffic, creating a safe haven for pedestrians crossing the street, and eliminating half of the left turns on to and off of Snelling from and to local side streets.
However, there too the benefits come at a cost beyond the estimated $2.25 million tab for construction. the eight-to-10-food-wide center medians would mean the elimination of nearly of the on-street parking on the east side of Snelling, pushing those vehicles onto local side streets. The elimination of half of the left turns to and from Snellign would force more motorists to use side streets to get where they're going. And access to the parking lots of local businesses would be restricted, further exacerbating parking and traffic congestion in abutting residential areas.
But Snelling serves the parking needs of more than just residents and businesses. The worshipers at three churches along that length of Snelling also use the street for parking, as do the people who attend services at three funeral homes, watch hockey games at the Charles Schulz Highland Arena, and hop buses to the Minnesota state Fair with the satellite shuttle service that operates annually from Gloria Dei Church. Those people too would be forced to find alternative parking elsewhere.
The board of the HDC voted 14-0 on April 7 to recommend going forward with the Snelling medians. The City Council must sign off on the project, as must the Minnesota Department of Transportation because Snelling is a state highway. Construction could begin next year.
Both of these road projects have the potential to improve the quality of life for people living in and traveling through local neighborhoods on these two arterial streets. But they also have the potential to increase parking and traffic in nearby residential areas and adversely affect the business that operate along those streets. A good case can be made that the cons outweigh the pros.
Michael Mischke is the publisher of the Villager.
[Well, I like this editorial because it least Michske lays out the facts in a pretty straightforward way, although his description of the Cleveland Avenue situation differs markedly from my own. The only strange part is the very end of the column, where Michske comes to the conclusion that convenient parking trumps walkability and safety. That's exactly the opposite conclusion that I make.
I think it boils down to a difference in vision for Saint Paul. Michske sees the goal of competing with the suburbs, places (as he says) "where parking is more convenient and plentiful." Presumably Michske's ideal kind of commercial land-use for Saint Paul would be one of the few places where the retail has a distinctly suburban character, like the Midway Shopping Center, the Highland Lunds' strip mall retail area, or maybe the Kowalski's or Trader Joe's stores. All of these buildings place parking front and center, and use a suburban design that values easy parking over walkability, a quality streetscape, or connection to the neighborhood.
Personally, I think the strength of Saint Paul's small businesses comes from creating walkable places without large parking lots in between all the buildings. People don't shop or dine in Saint Paul because its easy to park. They come for the unique neighborhood businesses, the quality public space, and because our streets are beautiful and historic. The more we can entice people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks of Selby, Marshall, Grand, St. Clair, or Cleveland, the more our businesses and communities will thrive. Safer, more walkable, more bikeable streets are a big step in the right direction.
If they are thriving, and as long as parking meters are voted off the island, high-demand areas like Grand or Selby Avenues will always be places where it's rare if you find a parking spot in front of the business. That means that people will always complain about parking, either because its too expensive or too difficult. The solution isn't to pave more of our city for parking lots, but to create safe and inviting streets that people enjoy. Improving Saint Paul's streets and sidewalks will mean that customers will more gladly walk a few blocks or pay a few bucks. Great streets will make our unique local businesses all the more inviting. That's why, for both these projects, the pros greatly outweigh the cons. In fact, it's no contest.]