06/13/12

The Friendly Street Movement on Charles Avenue in Saint PaulThe Friendly Street Movement on Charles Avenue in Saint Paul

(Next public meeting in early July 2012)

From Steve Clark, Bicycling and Walking Program Manager

Last year, as Central Corridor Light Rail construction commenced on University Avenue, neighbors to the north got together at a series of block parties to talk about "friendly streets."

There is nothing like a block party to create a friendly street!

The block parties were organized by the Central Corridor Friendly Streets Initiative, a working group comprised of residents of Frogtown and Hamline-Midway neighborhoods, formed by Lars Christiansen, a professor of sociology at Augsburg College.

Lars was aware that the Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan approved by the Saint Paul City Council (and funded by BWTC) proposed a bicycle boulevard for Charles Avenue. Realizing that residential involvement is the key to implementing a successful bicycle boulevard, the working group focused on how best to empower people to take an active role in transforming the streets where they live. The block parties were a big hit (see this link for photos posted by the Hamline-Midway Coalition) and included a variety of events (even a sing-a-long!), structured discussions, and tasty food for all to enjoy.

So what exactly is a "friendly" street? The Initiative's definition was a street that "utilizes place-making, public art, traffic calming strategies, and/or purposeful design for multiple modes and users."

   

At block parties, residents voted for different options for their streets. These images show just a few of the options considered. To see all the options, click here.

At the block parties, people saw images of place-making and bike-ped infrastructure. Large photographs on poster board contained everything from basketball hoops in the street (an example of place-making) to pedestrian refuge islands for crossing major streets. Residents looked at the images and then "voted" for their top choices. The traffic calming elements tended to be rated higher than place-making, but no one disagreed with the overall goal of creating friendly streets.

Some of the major concerns expressed by the block party participants were:

1.       Motorists drive too fast down the street

2.       Traffic will increase with the coming of the light rail

3.       There's already too much automobile traffic

4.       Charles Avenue doesn't seem safe for children who live nearby

 

Last fall, BWTC hired Toole Design Group (TDG) to create "plan sets" for twelve projects around the Twin Cities, with the idea that these projects would be "shovel ready" should funding for them be found. Charles Avenue is one of the twelve projects. Using the information garnered through the block parties, TDG began work on design elements for a bicycle boulevard on Charles Avenue consistent with the Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan.

 

"Having the report (on the Central Corridor Friendly Streets Initiative) and meeting with the organizers was a huge help in developing our concept plans," noted Bill Schultheiss of TDG. "The block parties were a brilliant strategy in bringing people together-and a model of how to ensure that the vision is being led by the people who live along the street."

On May 9, 2012, TDG representatives Tom Huber and Gina Coffman kicked-off what could be called Phase 2 of the Friendly Streets planning effort, in a more conventional public meeting hosted by the Hamline-Midway Coalition at the Hamline Library on Minnehaha Ave.

The discussion centered on how to take the ideas generated at the block parties to the next level and ensure that the result would be something that would benefit residents and road users alike. Tom provided this description of a "friendly street":

 

A neighborhood residential street modified to:

  • Be an inviting and pleasing street to live on
  • Calm automobile traffic
  • Discourage cut-through traffic
  • Promote walking and bicycling as an inviting choice

 

And Tom then proposed this design approach for Charles Avenue:

 

  1.  Prioritize pedestrian and bicyclist traffic along Charles, while accommodating local motorized traffic
  2. Ensure safe and efficient crossings for pedestrians and bicyclists where Charles crosses arterial streets (Dale, Lexington, Snelling)
  3. Ensure slower motor vehicle speeds and lower volumes along Charles
  4. Promote use of place-making features in traffic calming designs

 

The participants agreed with Tom that crossings for pedestrians and bicyclists should be made easier and safer at the busier streets. They also agreed that, wherever possible, the number of stop signs should be limited to make the street work better for bicyclists. Finally, there was consensus from the group that non-local motorized travel should be discouraged, through traffic calming devices or diverters.

 

 

A portion of the meeting focused on the challenges to maintaining a good route for safe bicycling in the segment west of Aldine Street, where Charles Avenue ends. Gina from TDG led a discussion of options.

"To get from Prior to Transfer Road, there are not a lot of choices. University Avenue is the only road that goes through, unless one is willing to travel many blocks out of their way," said Gina. The train tracks just west of the Menards store are a barrier that limits options.

While it might be feasible to someday build a bridge over the tracks at Minnehaha Avenue, Gina said, there were greater constraints where the tracks travel above University Avenue. Short term, the options are to find a way to make the sidewalk work for bicyclists (currently it is too narrow to be safely shared by pedestrians and bicyclists) or create bike lanes on University Ave. It was recognized that this would be difficult to do without reducing the number of lanes for motorized travel.

According to 2010 traffic counts, fewer than 20,000 vehicles a day traveled along this stretch of University, a volume similar to traffic on Marshall Avenue where there is only one lane in each direction. Toole Design Group said they would further consider the feasibility of bike lanes on University Avenue since there did not seem to be any other practical alternative to get people on bikes through this area. The Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan adopted by the Saint Paul City Council recognized the need for bicycle accommodations in this area of University Avenue.

Gina's presentation next turned to the question of bicycle facilities west of Transfer Road, where Charles Avenue resumes. While this segment of Charles is industrial and not residential, Gina suggested a possible treatment could be a "Cycle Track" on the south side of Charles to get bicyclists away from truck traffic exiting industrial driveways on the north side. Gina also discussed with the group how way-finding signs and markings will be extremely important in helping bicyclists reach the Campus Transitway west of Raymond Avenue, which would then bring them to the U of M Campus.

The full presentation can be found here:

Another (possibly final) public meeting on the Central Corridor Friendly Streets Initiative is being planned for an evening during the week of July 9. Visit www.bikewalk2012.org to stay current or learn more about this exciting planning study!

***