Open Letter to the Saint Paul City Council about Ayd Mill Road

[Rendering of one possible design for Ayd Mill Road, from the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition.]

As someone who grew up next to Ayd Mill Road, and have been using it my entire life, I was thrilled to hear that Mayor Carter and the city’s Public Works Department are going to commit to reduce and reconfigure Ayd Mill Road when they repave it this year. I believe this decision reinforces and reaffirms many of the city’s values, puts Saint Paul in a better place fiscally, and will not create major traffic problems on Saint Paul’s streets.

For those reasons, I think you should support this decision.

First, a key criteria for deciding the future of Ayd Mill Road has to be costs versus benefits. Ayd Mill Road is a 100% city-owned street, and city taxpayers are on the hook for any long-term maintenance of this infrastructure. This makes it very different than other freeways or major traffic arterials, and for a sixty-year-old road with deteriorating surface conditions, we should think carefully about how best to spend precious city dollars.

As you know, the long-term maintenance picture for Saint Paul streets is a bleak one, and when opportunities arise to downsize overbuilt streets and roads, we should seize that chance. This unique street, a four-lane divided roadway that connects with walkable city streets on one end and a freeway on the other, is a the most obvious of these kinds of projects. Reducing the road’s footprint will save the city millions of dollars in both the long- and short-terms.

Second, I believe the traffic impacts will be minimal. A grade-separated two-lane road with few intersections can actually handle a lot of daily traffic, and in cases like these, reducing lanes affects speed more than overall volume. The problem with Ayd Mill Road has always been its intersections with the regular street grid, rather than any congestion problems on the road itself. I would encourage you to keep an open mind about how this transition might work out well for all parties involved.

Finally, this decision reflects our shared values, especially those in the draft Climate Action Plan. Facing the existential problem of climate change, the Climate Action Plan lays out the ambitious goal of reducing city vehicle miles traveled by 2.5% each year. If we hope to achieve meaningful action on climate change, reducing and reprioritizing space given to roadways is an absolutely necessary step. 

Ayd Mill Road is a decades-long saga, the kind of “third rail” that few political leaders want to address. Debates over the road began in the 1940s and continued vehemently throughout many lifetimes of political leaders, neighbors, and advocates. In 2002, the decision to “connect” the road to 35E was done as a “test” by then-Mayor Kelley with very little public input. On the other hand, the most recent Council action was the 2009 vote to adopt the current proposed configuration.

This is to say that Mayor Carter’s bold action on Ayd Mill Road reflects a long-process of deliberation and indecision over the future of this valley. I am thrilled that, at long last, the City of Saint Paul will be taking steps to transform this polluting liability into a public space that reflects and amplifies our shared values.

Please support this process as it moves forward this fall.

Bill Lindeke
Chair, Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission


Mikesonn said...

Thank you, Bill!

karen said...

As I sit here at rush hour time, Google maps is telling me getting from Whole Foods at northern end and Trader Joes at southern end would take 6 minutes and the congestion occurs at the intersections with at north and southern ends, where cars are down to one lane already, not in middle.

Alt routes on surface streets would take 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, an actual freeway, 35E is super congested red on the map.

Depending on where someone is going, using surface streets like Snelling might be a tie with time to get on and off AMR.

If somehow losing one lane in the currently slows this road down by 2 minutes in the middle, at rush hours, maybe it would slightly change use depending on exact route, but doubt it will have much impact as congestion in middle is not likely to slow people down much at all to compared congestion at ends that this plan will have no impact on.

Still really interested in how they plan to get bike traffic east west across car lanes, and what they will set speed limit to

Unknown said...

Very well written, thanks Bill!

Hybrid Banker said...

My wife said to me the day after the announcement "dont read the paper". The fodder of reducing ANY streets to single lanes so as to accommodate the smallest population of people walking and biking down Ayd Mill road is as much a blight on "progress" as is leaving the fouled up street as is. The 1000:1 ratio of auto to cycle is all that needs to be addressed. Not the feigned attempt to change societies behavior to cede to the ruling class or their obtuse- abusive bike lobby. What do i know I've only lived on both sides of ayd mill here in this one party town for 35 years - I know my application for permanent residence status is easily rejected because I'm too salty
But if you ask the Mayor he knows. Cause we are a racially diverse household of three known to Mayor Carter as the Crazy Catholic Conservative Christian (Patriotic Enthusiastic Trump family) that voted for him and even against the backdrop of this fodder still Love the Man and respect the office. BUT SERIOUSLY ITS TIME TO GIVE THIS SILLY SHIT UP! The overused English language tricks about "our values" "our commitment" "climate change" "minimal impact" "only slightly" "2040 plan" "vision" are tools to tamp us down as you gently pat us on the arm. I'm the part of the electorate who doesn't feeled soothed when those words are used to justify the bureaucratic effort to Lord Over me my neighbors
So this is me calling bullshit on the plan to radically change Ayd Mill road into two one lane thoroughfares while giving a dozen or so bikers and walkers a freshly paved super highway for their total enjoyment and long term benefit to better living over me and the thousands of drivers sitting stopped in our gas and electric burning vehicles staring at the the empty super expressway used mostly by 9 year boys riding Limes for kicks "bruh it's super smmooth"!

Bill Lindeke said...

It has nothing to do with the bikes. Reducing AMR would be a good idea even if you used the extra space as community gardens, curling rinks, or the world's largest log flume. I'd think as a supposed fiscal conservative, you'd see that.

Biz the Clown said...

Great article! I couldn't agree more.

Kevin P said...

It's important to remember the road is only one lane each way when it connects to 35E and Selby. Increasing to two lanes between mostly serves to quickly move cars to the bottlenecks. Redesigning the intersections can reduce the impact of losing a lane.

This is also admitting that the connection to 94 is probably not happening, which is fine, since it's probably not. This creates the opportunity to redesign it as the road it is rather than always viewing it as future freeway connection.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what the issue is. Ayd Mill is currently one lane each way at the beginning, one lane each way at the end, and unnecessarily two lanes each way in the middle. I can't see how this will effect anyone driving through, except the folks that can't stand driving behind other folks going the speed limit. Make sure there are adequate north-bound left-turn lanes at intersections (maybe even timed stoplights?), and it will be just fine. The fact is, if this project was billed as merely a way to streamline the road and reduce the high maintenance costs, it would not have caused a stir. Add the 4 letter word (bike), and everyone goes cuckoo-banana pants. As for me, I'll enjoy the New-and-Improved Ayd Mill in my car and on my bike. It'll be a great car-free bike option that will hopefully lead to new connections (to the Midtown Greenway, to Soccer Stadium, to Downtown St. Paul via the 35E bike route, etc.).

Scott Walters said...

What Anonymous said. The price tag to fix this deteriorated mess is astronomical. My recommendation would be to just close it and let it continue to deteriorate back into its constituent ingredients, but that's really hard for us humans to allow. Randy Kelly unilaterally opened it, Melvin Carter could just as easily and quickly tell public works to go down and dump a pile of dirt back on the ramps and put the Jersey Barriers back up. Road Closed. Surprise! And this could be done for the low low price of free.

This is a great compromise. The pass-through crowd still gets their connected shortcut and it won't destroy their vehicles as today's pot-holed dodge-em driver test does.

The tree-huggers get a new and awesome bike path/scooter track.

Students get a cool science experiment. I'll be curious to see how two strips of blacktop, laid at exactly the same time, on top of the same substrate, and experiencing the same weather conditions age with very different traffic loads upon them.

Paul L. Nelson said...

Thank you, Bill. Nicely written.

I believe your response to the reply by "Hybrid Banker" was read by the columnist Joe Soucheray who recently wrote about Ayd Mill.

He wrote: "Ayd Mill Road, for example, could remain two lanes for motorists in each direction. Doll it up. Old-fashioned street lights. Lower speed limits. A true green and leafy parkway."

Of course, Joe and "Hybrid Banker" are broadly incorrect about the bicycle and any inclusion by design for non motorized transport in our public ways.

In the case of Ayd mill road the ongoing high cost of maintenance and deterioration should be well understood by all of us.

We seriously need to reconfigure the design of Ayd mill and other roads, and significantly change the direction of design policy that has not worked very well for over 100 years.