Saint Paul Residents Come Out in Full Force to Discuss Marshall AvenueSaint Paul Residents Come Out in Full Force to Discuss Marshall Avenue

By Steve Clark, Bicycling and Walking Program Manager


This spring, community members weighed options for improving Saint Paul's Marshall Ave. east of Snelling to John Ireland Blvd. Above: West of Snelling to the Mississippi River, bike lanes, landscaped medians, and other improvements have already been implemented.


When nearly 50 people gathered on April 10 to discuss how to create a "greener and more pleasant" Marshall Avenue in Saint Paul, one thing became clear very early on: what was a no-brainer for some was a no way for others.  

But by the end of the evening, something else became abundantly clear: when given a chance to weigh in on how to design a street that works for everyone, everyone works! And while we didn't reach total consensus in all matters discussed, several solid ideas did earn the support of much of the group before our time was up.

I left the meeting reminded that you don't hold community meetings because it's something you have to do, or even because it's the right thing to do. You hold community meetings because when done well, it's the best way (perhaps the only way) to get the best possible project. People know their streets, and what one person knows is a bit different from what another person knows, and so forth and so on. Put all those heads together in an environment where the goal is to truly learn from one another, and you can't go wrong.

As one attendee wrote in an email after the meeting:

It was a great information session on traffic calming and strategies on how to accomplish it. The data, and I'm a data-driven person, shows traffic-calming efforts reduce traffic accidents. . . . Can't wait to see their summary from the meeting and next steps.

Here's how it worked:

Paul St. Martin, a traffic engineer for the City of Saint Paul, kicked off the meeting describing why Marshall Avenue was being studied: the Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan identified Marshall as a future east-west route to help cyclists get to downtown Saint Paul from the Midtown Greenway; bike lanes, landscaped medians, and other "green" features now exist from Snelling Avenue to the bridge over the Mississippi River; and currently there is a Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) proposal to extend bike lanes and other features east to John Ireland Blvd. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what changes people might like to see on that stretch of Marshall between Snelling and John Ireland Blvd. As Paul told the group, Transit for Livable Communities/Bike Walk Twin Cities funded the Marshall Ave. planning effort (and eleven more local planning studies) through the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot program. 




Visioning Exercise

Paul and I turned things over to Bill Schultheiss, PE, of Toole Design Group (TDG)-a consulting firm that TLC/BWTC has contracted with to complete all twelve of the planning studies we have funded. Bill asked community members to introduce themselves and also share with the group their vision for Marshall: Did they like the street the way it was? How could it be made better? All the comments were written down for inclusion in the final report. Perspectives were wildly different, ranging from "leave it alone" to "no more medians-they're dangerous" to "we need more traffic calming and bike lanes to make it better for walkers and bicyclists."

Bill used the diversity of opinions to underscore the importance of participants   engaging during the breakout session with others who might see things differently from them. "Ultimately, this is your street-you all live here, or work here, or go to school here-it's up to all of you to work out your differences and try to make this street something that you are happy with," Bill advised.

A Changing Corridor

Marshall Avenue is a street that looks and feels very differently depending what portion you are on. West of Snelling Avenue, there are many more motor vehicles, a bus route, and bike lanes. From Snelling to Victoria, there is less traffic, but the street still serves important destination points like Central High School, Concordia College, and the Oxford Community Center (where the meeting was held). From Victoria to Western, the traffic drops off even more, with the street becoming a more typical residential street. Then, from Western to John Ireland Blvd., Marshall becomes a one-way street and serves Saint Paul College.

Menu of Options

For each of these unique segments Bill provided a menu of options-design elements or "treatments" that have been used successfully in Saint Paul or in other cities around the country to improve safety and livability for residents and travelers alike. Participants paid close attention to the examples provided knowing that later that evening they would have the opportunity to discuss and vote for their favorite strategies.

Minimal Trade-offs

Unlike many of the roads in Saint Paul and surrounding cities, it appears Marshall Avenue could be easily improved for bicyclists and pedestrians without causing any major inconvenience for people who choose to drive. For instance, the section between Snelling and Victoria currently features one travel lane in each direction, two parking lanes, and a shared center lane for left turns. TDG's analysis revealed that, for most of this section, either the center lane or one or more of the parking lanes was not well utilized, meaning there could be space for new bike lanes without widening the roadway. From Victoria to Western, where traffic volumes are much lower and the street much narrower, bike lanes would not be necessary. Here, traffic calming could help lower speeds and make it a more pleasant corridor for people walking and bicycling. From Western to John Ireland Blvd, (the one-way segment) there would be enough width to allow for a contra-flow bike lane, so that the road would in effect become a two-way street for people on bikes, while  also maintaining one-way travel for motor vehicles.

Breakout Sessions - Where the Real Work Began

With huge maps covering large tables scattered throughout the room, community members could choose a segment of Marshall they were most interested in, and discuss with others their ideas, concerns, fears, and hopes. These small groups yielded much fruit, as was made clear when each group reported on their most popular ideas. You can see all of the written comments here.

Looking at the Votes

For the final activity of the evening, participants used colorful sticky dots to vote on their favorite treatments-as depicted on Treatment Boards taped to the walls.

Many people also chose to use the dots to express what they did not want to see, by writing "no" in the dot. Overall, participants conveyed much more interest in traffic-calming elements than place-making features, and, surprisingly, the most votes went to a raised intersection design, which more clearly defines pedestrian space for crossing the road while also slowing down motorists. The intersection at Marshall and Hamline was one place where community members suggested the use of this treatment.

Traffic circles and bump outs (curb extensions) received a large amount of support at the meeting as well. But each of these also received some no votes.

Next Steps

Having compiled the results of the April meeting, Toole Design Group and TLC/BWTC will use this valuable community input to draft a plan to make Marshall Avenue a friendlier and safer street for all road users. City of Saint Paul officials will then weigh in on the draft and determine what is feasible and cost-effective from their perspective. We anticipate that the draft plan will be presented to the public for additional comment later this spring.

Stay current on the progress of this exciting project by checking www.bikewalk2012.com.



Marshall Ave Improvement

I live on Marshall between Kent and Dale. When we first moved here (20+years) Marshall from John Ireland to Dale was a one way with no parking to allow commuters an an express option from downtown to 94. It was very dangerous and not family friendly. Within one or two months 2 children were hit by cars at the intersection of Kent and Marshall. It is where local children cross to get to the park and Rondo Education Center. Through our complaints the city gradually, made it a two way, allowed parking on both sides and made the intersection of Kent and Dale a 4 way stop. Traffic was slowed and the number of cars reduced immensely. Our street became a residential street again.

I am not opposed to, but very concerned about any changes being made from Dale to John Ireland. I cannot see how putting a round-a-bout at Kent and Dale would be an improvement. I think the safest option is what we have right now, a 4 way stop.

Bus Transport

Public transportation is really very necessary. Use of Public transport will be really helpful to protect the Eco-system up to some extent. Bus transportation is one of the popular mode of public transportation and widely used everywhere. People from several places use bus transit to travel to different places or to their work places. Bus transit is a very popular mass transit mode. It is also very affordable in terms traveling fares.