Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #4

[The Snelby rendering.]

Transit redesign can help handle the growth at Snelling-Selby

by Russ Stark

With light-rail service set to begin by mid-2014 and the growth in jobs and housing along University Avenue already well under way, more and more attention is being focused on the future of Snelling Avenue.

In 2012, the city and members of hte local community partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) to create a plan for making Snelling between Selby Avenue and the northern city limits are more multi-modal street by providing better facilities for transit riders, pedestrians and, in some areas, bicyclists to be able to share the avenue more safely and efficiently with cars and trucks.

The Metropolitan Council plans to introduce a new type of bus service on Snelling in the next few years, referred to as Rapid Bus or Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, with the goal of providing a faster, higher-amenity service on an already well-used transit route. Within the next several years, MNDOT also plans to rebuild the Snelling Avenue bridge deck over I-94.

Snelling carries more traffic than any other stret in St. Paul, with the highest traffic between Selby and University. But it also doubles as a center of retail and commercial activity for the neighbohroods that it bisects. Because Snelling serves these two primary functions, managing change will continue to be a balancing act. We need to ensure that people have the ability to move efficinetly around our community through manty modes of travel, and also maximize opportunities to create great places to live nad work.

The proposed Vintage on Selby, a new development on the northeast corner of Selby and Snelling with a Whole Foods supermarket and 200 units of market-rate apartments, has been well-received by the community, but has also raised important questions about trafic flow, parking and access to the site, as well as reigniting conversationsa bout how the city can best use Ayd Mill Road.

At the former bus barn site on the northeast corner of Snelling and I-94, the city and the Metropolitan Council are working together to solicit development concepts for one of the key gateway sites in our community. Further north on Snelling, retail vacanices and a tired streetscape are leading to community conversations about the need for revitalization. Further north still, the former Sholom Home site at Snelling and Midway Parkway remains vacant and the re-purposing of that site is a top priority.

I attended the recent annual meeting of Union Park District Council and was part of a panel talking about managing change in our community. One of the topics of discussion was the appropriate density of development. I believe that as a community, in many ways we are of two minds about density. On the one hand, St. Paulites in general do not want to see taller buildings anywhere near their houses. On the other hand, many of us live in the city in part because of its walkability and our proximity to businesses.

I believe we need to accommodate growth and greater density along our commercial corridors, including Snelling, in order to create more options in businesses, housing and jobs than exist today. But our approach to this development must be thoughtful and must complement the great stock of single-family homes in our neighborhoods without detracting from our quality of life. [Depends on what you mean by quality of life. For me, quality of life is very subjective. Having a dense streetscape, a Snelling Avenue that isn't completely dominated by cars, being able to cross the street without feeling like a superhero, being able to relax when I bike, is quality of life.] The denser the ndevelopment, the more thoughtful we must be about how to handle parking and traffic and create a safe environment for walking and bicycling.

Change is coming to some parts of Snelling, and now is the time to be thiking about how we want to shape that change to ensure that our neighbohroods become even better places to live, work and play.

Russ Stark represents Ward 4 on the St. Paul City Council.


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