Notes from The Saint Paul Transportation Summit - March 9, 2011

[Tables in the 3rd Floor ballroom at the downtown Vniversity Club in Saint Paul.]

The University Club building is very fancy, though much less fancy then it used to be, as it now houses outreach offices for the College of St. Scholastica and Lifetime Fitness (?). But, regardless, there is still a huge fireplace and 100% marble plated bathrooms and a player piano, and it is here in the 3rd floor ballroom where I find the Saint Paul SmartTrips 2011 Saint Paul Transportation Summit.

This is a high ceiling'd ballroom, and in the back of the room someone has put together three or four tables, and there I find all the usual players: MNDOT touting the new Lafayette Bridge, HOURCAR, the soon to be expanded NiceRide, the Central Corridor outreach crew, a group from the Midway Chamber of Commerce with a new "buy local" campaign called "Discover Central Corridor" (or something like that), MetroTransit, a Union Depot guy, a guy from the Saints pushing the Lowertown stadium, folks from Sibley Bike Depot, and Dero bike rack company with something called the ZAP.

After some mingling, we sat down at the tables (each marked with a different category, somehow organized according to roles like "advocacy" or "promotion") and proceeded to get coffee, fruit, and a sandwich while listening to talk about the tranportation future of Saint Paul. I'd say that about 40% of the room was business types, represnting a business or organization that might be affected by transportation or the impending light rail construction, 40% were transportation professionals working for one of the orgs or planning offices, and the rest were advocates or community group people (like myself).

We heard:

Mayor Coleman ...
  • ... mention that Saint Paul has, not just a sustainability coodinator, but a sustainable transportation coordinator on staff.
  • ... argue that sustainable transportation can appeal to Council Members if we think about "the economics of it" and about how constituents need access to transit
  • ... claim that bike paths combine health, safety, and time saving benefits
  • ... describe how he can "sell his city to business owners" by talking about transportation infrastructure
  • ... explain that urban economic concerns are driven by policy and environmental choices
  • ... use the excellent metaphor that "you don't look at your feet to see where you're going, you look out at the horizon" to discuss how these changes would have impacts far into the future.

Council Member Russ Stark ...
  • ... delicately understate that the last few years have seen a number of "healthy debates" where the "level of conversation is higher" around transportation issues, particualrly the Central Corridor, bikeways, and bike lanes
  • ... explain how the Planning Commission's new Transportation Committee has replaced the old Bicycle Advisory Board, so that you don't just have "bike people talking to bike people" but bicyclists talking to transit folks talking to motorists, etc.
  • ... add that this previous change led to the birth of the Saint Paul Bike Coalition, who are now free to do advocacy
  • ... admit that you can change policy (e.g. Complete Streets) but that doesn't actually translate in changing the practices on the ground (e.g. St. Paul Public Works)
  • ... reveal that his #1 priority is to make the city safe for pedestrians, and there will be a new program aimed at city staff to educate people about safe driving for all
  • ... expound that pedestrian safety is "important for cities" and impacts "why people live in cities" in the first place
  • ... offer, for example "State Highway 51", a.k.a. Snelling Avenue, that is a great example of this because in the last 10 years, 150 cyclists and pedestrians have been hit by cars on this street, leading to 7 fatalities
  • ... and argue that there is safety in numbers, that Complete Streets make it safer not just for pedestrians and cyclists, but also for drivers, i.e. traffic calming makes it safer for everyone!

The MetCouncil's Central Corridor outreach person Robin Caufman ...
  • ... outline the timeline for LRT construction in very specific detail, especially downtown
  • ... mention, for example, about how Cedar Street between 5th and 7th Streets will be closed from June 2011 until November 2012 (!)
  • ... mysteriously use the acronymn "TMO"
  • ... and how in April they will be demolishing the Bremer Bank building, but also replacing the skyway there (for some reason, no doubt to appease skyway owners elsewhere)

John Siqeland (sp?) from Metro Transit ...
  • ... also use the acronym TMO right out of the gate to refer to the SmartTrips folks, which I would guess means "Transportation Management Organization"
  • ... drop the word stakeholders three times
  • ... put up a graph of increasing ridership since 2004 (following the transit strike, which really cut into ridership numbers)
  • ... talk about how GPS trackers on buses, installed since 2005, have made them more on time (even though his graph of 'on time percentage' didn't really back him up)
  • ... talk about how park and ride users have doubled since '03
  • ... mention the new "student pass" program aimed at high school students
  • ... (after a question from Michelle Dilbee at TLC) talk about prospects for the state budget this year, and how Governor Dayton's budget has taken "material cuts to transit" off the table
  • ... use the excellent metaphor "larger piece of a shrinking pie" to discuss transit's MVST funding stream.

Finally, you had Damian Goebel from Saint Paul SmartTrips ...
  • ... lead everyone in multiple rounds of applause
  • ... mention the telework policy program
  • ... and the commuter challenge
  • ... the Bike/Walk week
  • ... Commuter Challenge Award
  • ... "programs" in neighborhoods.
And that's all! Lots of mingling. Sandwich was pretty tasty.

[The very delicate, very green model of the potential Lowertown Saints stadium.]


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