2019-09-16

Ayd Mill Road Comments from Dai Thao and Russ Stark

[CM Thao talking to the group riders.]
I had the pleasure of attending some of the Sierra Club's annual bike ride this weekend. The ride, done in partnership with the Midtown Greenway Coalition, the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, and other groups, was an exploration of some of the potential routes that might someday connect the Minneapolis Midtown Greenway into Saint Paul and all the way to Ayd Mill Road.

At the end of the ride, there were some speeches by notable elected or appointed officials , including the wonderful County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo, Ward One Council Member Dai Thao, and Mayor Carter's Chief Resilience officer, (and former Council President) Russ Stark.

Both Thao and Stark gave speeches before the Sierra Club's bike-riding, greenway-loving crowd. Because they both mentioned Ayd Mill road in their speeches, I'm transcribing them for you here. If you're following the epic tragic hopeful saga that is Ayd Mill Road, I think you'll be interested in what they have to say.

First, Ward One Council Member Dai Thao:

[Note that the first part of Thao's speech was about riding bicycles in Minneapolis as a young boy. I did not transcribe it.]

Thank you for promoting health. As an Eagle Scout one of the important things for me is environmental justice. It's so easy for us to construct something man-made, but for our earth and our environment, it takes millions of years. To save our hills, our mountains, our landscape, our treescape, and so its important that we protect our environment.
And part of making sure we have equitable transportation is [that it's] a vehicle where you preserve our environment so that future generations, and our kids, and their kids, and their kids, can enjoy and they can look back, and its because of y’all coming together, taking responsibility, and working with office holders and policymakers to ensure that the future voices can be heard. I really appreciate you all doing this, and leading this effort.  
I want to thank Joshua for inviting me to speak today. 
And most of you probably want me to talk about Ayd Mill Road. And so, you know, look, so I was surprised when the Mayor announced that at the budget address because I wish I had known that in advance, and it wouldn’t be a surprise. And then, after that, I had meeting with Kathy Lantry, the Public Works director, and I asked here where the money’s going to be coming from? Are we going to cone it off? Are we going to model it? Just so there’s a process, right?  
Just like if somebody made a decision to not do the bike plan, or if somebody made a decision to take away a bike path, you all would want fairness. You all would want a process so that you could be at the table to see how its going to be implemented, and how its going to work out. And if there’s any mitigation that needs to be done, you would want to have money and resources to mitigate those issues.  
One of the hard and important things about being an elected official is that we get to hear from all sides of the story. I think that most people support the changes to Ayd Mill Road. But I think that, as government, we need to be transparent. We can’t just tell people what to do. We can’t just tell them that this is the right thing to do. 
One of the examples that we did, the organized trash, there are several things we could have done to save all that [from becoming a] fiasco. That is, maybe implement it, to do one ward at a time, so we could fix all the glitches.  
I’m saying this as being in the IT industry for 20 years, and when we do data migration or update from Windows 2000 to Windows 365, we don’t migrate the data all at once. We don’t do all the migration, we do department by department, and we fix those and then we implement them organization wide.  
Just with these thoughts, I look forward to having this conversation with you, and we’re going to do, we’re going to make Ayd Mill Road work for everyone. And we all need to be at the table, and lets make this work for everybody, and I look forward to making this work for the road ahead.  
Thank you so much.

After CM Thao, Russ Stark from the Mayor's Office took the microphone:

With regard to bike infrastructure, we are really excited about the greenway. I've personally been involved in that idea for almost 20 years now. I’m really excited that the Sierra Club and the Greenway Coalition and others are keeping the dream alive on this. It's really great work. there’s a really good opportunity for us to create a wonderful piece of infrastructure. It’s a long way forward and its not going to be easy, but I’m really looking forward to doing that together. 
With regard to what we’re doing here in Saint Paul, there a few things to comment on. Mayor Carter created our city’s first ever, with the council’s support, ongoing funding for bikeways in the city. Its five hundred thousand dollars, and it's the first year we’ve had that funding in place. It's a really good start, but we have more work to do.  
Number two, thanks to a change in state law, we are working with our partners both here and across the river in Minneapolis to look at opportunities to lower speed limits on city streets. This is something that a lot of us have been wanting to do for a long time. It is one of a series of things we’re going to have to do to to make our streets safer for everyone. It's one of the key things we need to do. 
Number three, the Ayd Mill Road proposal. This proposal is literally 20 years in the making, in many ways. Some of you may not know that 21 years ago the city of Saint Paul created a task force of community folks to look at the Ayd Mill Road corridor. That actually ended up recommending tearing the thing out and putting in a park.  
We never found the resources to do that, and it was not supported by mayors back then. And this idea of a two-lane roadway was identified by the Council back then, and then reiterated by two young council members, Melvin Carter and Russ Stark, back in 2009 as the preferred plan with a bikeway.  
Ayd Mill Road is the most studied road in the history of Saint Paul. There is nothing more to study. We know exactly what will happen when we make changes to the roadway. Some of our suburban neighbors will choose a different route to get from the suburbs to downtown Minneapolis. That’s what will happen. The rest of us who actually have to make local trips here in Saint Paul will continue to do what we’re doing, and the road will still be able to carry lots of cars. 
It will just also carry tons of bikes and people, and that’s really the idea. Thank you all for doing what you’re doing. Again, the mayor sends his regrets. He appreciates everything that you’re doing, and have a great rest of your weekend here. 

There you go!

Make of it what you will, and feel free to post comments or reactions here. I would currently put the odds of this road project happening at 4:1 in favor, though there are still plenty of things that could change that, including a big City Council election in November.

2019-09-13

Reading the Highland Villager #242

[A Villager protrudes from a fence gate.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]


Headline: St. Paul's debate over trash enters the political arena [Why couldn't they have said "trash debate"?]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Thanks to a petition and a ruling by a judge, the city's organized trash policy will be on the ballot. Mayor Cater says that if the referendum fails and people vote "no", the city will probably pay for the trash anyway. [You can keep your trash and eat it too. "Let them eat trash!," said the Mayor from the palace balcony, when asked about the starving Highlanders.] Article includes some fo the legal arguments. Some people running for City Council are using the trash question as a campaign issue. Article quotes people who like and don't like the new trash system. [This whole debate is certainly garbage.] 


Headline: Little council that could: Lex-Ham celebrates 50 years
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [I grew up in Lex-Ham.] A neighborhood group is old. Article describes what life was like in the late 1960s.


Headline: Neighbors appeal parking variance for new Highland Montessori
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking, and whether an daycare place will have to build a larger parking lot or not, or change how they have their parking arranged. Parents sometimes drop off or pick up their kids by driving in an alley and speeding. Neighbors would like to have parents drive on Ford Parkway instead.



Headline: Concerns raised over charging $5 daily fee for popular rec programs
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is now going to charge for some things like crafts and games and homework time, the Parks and Rec department has to make cuts and this is one of the cuts. [He said for the 100th time, why not charge for parking at Como Park / Zoo / Conservatory, which is 100% free to use but should not be free to park at. The city Parks and Rec department are leaving both money and climate action on the table right there, and for what? Certainly it's better than charging needy kids to do their homework.] 


Headline: Chief says cutting police force would mean even longer wait for service
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The police chief wants more police. The Mayor does not. Article talks about crime trends and police reform.


Headline: Study focuses on traffic impacts of development on the Ford site; study suggests ways to manage expected increase in traffic
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: As part of the development of an abandoned truck factory, the developer did a study of how traffic might be impacted twenty years from now. [In twenty years, I can only pray that we are not driving everywhere in our private fossil fueled cars any more.] There was a meeting to present the study's report. [The study assumes that vehicle traffic will be growing between now and then overall in the city. Meanwhile, the city's draft and soon-to-be-adopted Climate Action and Resilience Plan calls for reductions in vehicle traffic citywide of 2.5% per year.] Article includes some numbers of predicted vehicles per day and how intersections might work. The report says that the city could widen streets and add turn lanes to make traffic flow better. [That would also make it harder to walk or bike around, of course, making streets wider and more dangerous. So it's kind of counter-productive. This study is very 1995 in its approach.]  


Headline: GABA's finances under scrutiny following fest that almost wasn't; Federal investigation comes at time when association is working to restructure itself
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A business association for a commercial street is being investigated for "possible financial mismanagement." Nobody really knows what is going on. Lots of board members have resigned int he last few years. There is a police report. $3K was spent visiting the Mystic Lake casino in 2016. [Your friendly reminder that this group spent over $50K to hire a right-wing group to do PR and disinformation in opposition to the city's proposal to install parking meters, resulting in a meeting where an angry mob booed people talking about doing something to prevent climate change.] 


Headline: Midway Walmart set to close
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Walmart is closing. It opened in 2004. [That is not a long time for a big box store.] They cannot sell enough groceries because of their lease. 


Headline: Local projects earn STAR funds
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city gives out grants for things like benches and security cameras.

2019-09-11

Ayd Mill Road Reduction Money is Coming from the Dedicated Bicycle Fund

The Saint Paul City Council got a chance to ask questions about the mayor's proposed Public Works budget today and the topic of Ayd Mill Road came up.

What follows is Ward 3 Council Member Chris Tolbert's interchange with Director Kathy Lantry on the proposed changes to Ayd Mill Road, with some annotation by me.

Council Member Tolbert: I have a few questions. I think it might be good to have some sort of follow up. To be clear mill and overlay won’t happen this year as council directed and allocated, right?

Director Lantry: That is correct.

CM Tolbert: And there’s no mitigation strategies for Lexington or other roads, including the Lexington bike paths we just added and the other road diets stuff we did over the last 10 years to mitigate the traffic on that street, which includes 4 schools and a rec center on two blocks on it.

[It's worth pointing out that Lexington Parkway is a County road, and I am not sure what the point is here. Also, the term "mitigation" is strange. What are we mitigating? Speeding? "Traffic calming" is a better way of looking at this, especially if there are four schools and a rec center nearby. The concern is traffic speeding through residential streets? Funding for bumpouts, tightened curbs, maybe starting/finishing the bike boulevard, would be a way to shape that. We should prioritize reducing speeding through design features.] 

Director Lantry: I am going to check with my staff. The answer is not that we just assume the traffic is going to goo there, and we’re not going to do anything about it. Because I don’t think that’s the case I can certainly follow up with you about how we’re thinking bout those changes.

[The assumption seems to be that the two-lane Ayd Mill Road is not going to be able to handle 20,000 cars a day. It's worth noting that a two-lane road can handle significant traffic volumes. The West River Road peaks around 10,000 cars a day. This road should have good performance as it is grade separated and there are few intersections. Id' be interested in a traffic engineer prediction about this. I guess we'll find out. My best guess is that 15% goes to other regional routes, 15% goes to nearby arterials, 10% simply disappears, the rest of the cars stay on the two-lane road only going a bit slower but without any potholes.]

CM Tolbert: Can you tell us where the $5.2M comes from?

Director Lantry: Sure. The plan had $3.5M allocated to the mill and overlay of this road. Remember we’re making a one-way road into a two-way road. There are a ton of changes that have to happen there because of the on- and off-ramps. So the total estimated costs there are $5.2. So we have the $3.5M, and the additional $1.7M will be added to the street reconstruction bond sale this spring.

CM Tolbert: OK, is that coming from the bike path fund?

Director Lantry: For 2020 our recommendation for how you pay for the debt service on that additional $1.7, which finance tells me is $111K a year for 2020, is coming from the designated bike and ped fund. It uses $111K out of the $500K total.

[Um, this is not really a bike and ped project. It's a road reduction project, a climate action project, a traffic calming project, and long-term fiscal savings project. The bike and ped path is sort of a side effect of the larger policy decision about what this road should be and how the city should pay for it. It's a bit unfortunate that the $500K of dedicated bike funding is going, not to a regular bike plan project, but to clean up a problematic freeway. At least that's my view.] 

CM Tolbert: The administration made this decision and is there any plan to have this public process either with citizens or with the council on how to implement this, or whether or not this decision should be made?

Director Lantry: [Displaying wise incaution, because nobody nobody wants to have another task force or panel or committee or public meeting about this damnable project.] Ayd Mill Road is a street that has been studied for decades. That is not an overstatement. When we go out to the public to ask for feedback, and then you don’t intend to take it, it's is a waste of everyone’s time. The current city policy is to look at bike and ped infrastructure and ask if it fits into how we use our infrastructure. And so we’re happy to provide information about the timeline and items that we expect to do, but I want to be careful that if we have some public process and you’re looking for feedback and people say "don’t do it" and the intent is to go through with it, I don’t know that that’s the best way to go. Certainly we're hearing people’s opinions. We have a little briefing memo that we sent to some Council Members. We can send that briefing memo to adjacent district council asking if they have anyone from Public Works attend their meetings.

CM Tolbert: Ayd Mill Road needs to come back to this Council because we’re not part of this decision. The last decision we made was to Mill and Overlay it this year, and its not going to get done this year, which is a shame because its in terrible shape. [For the record, the "discussion" about the Ayd Mill Road mill and overlay was also done with almost zero notice or discussion. Public Works simply announced it, and there was a City Council hearing where almost nobody asked any questions. CM Noecker and CM Jalali Nelson were the only ones to meaningfully interrogate Director Lantry about it at all.] All the arguments we made last year, and its not going to get done this year.

The other thing is I appreciate your statement on public process I personally its important to me what my constituents think and I’m hearing a lot about it both for and against the proposal. And I suspect my colleagues are too. The budget thing last Wednesday, with one or two exceptions, we spent 90% of our time discussing Ayd Mill Road. Citizens are interested in what it has to say because this an important decision that will affect the neighborhoods and the arterial streets that are on there and hope it comes back to this council.

CM Prince: I did receive a really interesting idea from some constituent the idea was to do the mill and overlay on portion of AMR that’s the two-way street first, and then, because bike and ped improvements require different kids of treatments for on- and off- ramps, hold off on that part. But it would effectively be proceeding on the two-lane option and then seeing how that goes before you make a commitment to completing the bike and ped portion of that. I thought it was a way to handle it in the short term that might potentially save us some money. Wanted to put that out there. [Not a terrible suggestion but it also is not a money-saving one. The bike path is the cheapest part of this project. It's probably a zero-cost expense because you'd have been paving that part of the road regardless. The real expenses come from pouring new concrete to reconfigure the car traffic, and adding in all the signs and new signals needed.] 

CP Brendmoen: I'm hearing we would like to continue this conversation about this particular project we’ll work through Holly to get things set up to continue to have that. [More conversation about Ayd Mill Road. What fun!.]

[Watch the whole thing at the St Paul website; forward to 50:00 in to see the Ayd Mill Road discussion..]

UPDATE:

Here are the documents that Director Lantry mentioned in her spiel, the 2019 "briefing memo" and the 2009 Council resolution.


2019-09-09

Twin City Lampposts #22

 [Washington, DC.]

 [Cincinnati, OH.]

 [Baltimore, MD.]

  [Baltimore, MD.]

  [Baltimore, MD.]

  [Baltimore, MD.]

  [Baltimore, MD.]

 [Baltimore, MD.]

2019-09-05

Sidewalk Poetry #63: Ayd Mill Road

Oh Ayd Mill Road
Why do you invest in "rough road" signs?
Why can't you just fix the road?
Oh Ayd Mill Road
How it pains me to travel your cracked and aged road
If you think it's bad in your all-wheel drive, try riding down in a
15-year-old metro mobility bus with no shock absorption
feeling everything,
my body vibrating,
teeth chattering,
my legs like Jell-O I can hardly stand.I have to peel my legs off the seat and stumble down the steps.
Please fix Ayd Mill Road
I've lived in Minnesota for 18 years and it has never been fixed, only
patched.
Earlier this winter a sign appeared on your construction cones asking
"Please fix this road!"
My dad and sister thought this was me, as angry as I get, when the
name Ayd Mill Road comes up in conversation.
If only there were another way to get home.
Oh Ayd Mill Road
Your name fills me with dread.
Though it's funny to hear the GPS pronounce your name "A-Y-D Mill Road"

[By Nicole Noblet, from the zine "Please Fix Ayd Mill Road", published by Cow Tipping Press and purchased at Boneshaker Books.]


[The bridge over Ayd Mill Road.]