Throughout the summer, I have had the pleasure of organizing another series of walks for the District Councils Collaborative Walkability Survey. The Walkability Survey was launched in 2012 as a tool for community members to evaluate the pedestrian environment around the new Green Line station areas that would improve pedestrian accessibility to light rail. The District Councils Collaborative (DCC) collected over 375 surveys across all fourteen stations along the line and compiled the results and suggestions for improvement in a summary report (found at our Walkability website (http://dcc-stpaul-mpls.org/special-projects/walk).
This summer, I have been tasked with working in the Capitol/Rice station area, an area that did not record as many survey results compared to other stations. While the average transit user might assume that the Capitol/Rice area has some of the more pleasant pedestrian amenities (and to a certain extent, this is true), the paths around the station do possess significant problems.
In the different walks that I have put together with local organizations and residents, I have been struck by the stark differences in pedestrian accessibility from block to block. Participants have raved about the many positive aspects walking through the Capitol. Lush trees line the path heading south on Park Street and wide, smooth sidewalks make the stroll easy for all pedestrians. The station itself is also accentuated by the natural relief from urban bustle that is Leif Ericson Park. Fresh air, lush grass and cool shade add comfort and vibrant green space, and I can imagine it being a more utilized space with more transit passengers passing through. It is certainly a fine way to welcome employees, residents and visitors to the Capitol area.
A Walkability Survey participant passing through the shade in Leif Ericson Park
But, just one block to the west, on Rice Street, the landscape becomes much more difficult and treacherous for all pedestrians. Participants continually cited high speed traffic, cracked pavements and slanted sidewalks. Pedestrians with mobility devices noted that curb ramps were slanted into the street, forcing them to maneuver into traffic just to access the sidewalk. Pedestrians with vision impairment also face difficulties as that one of the braille signs on University and Rice does not indicate the correct intersection. And, while the environment along the Capitol is welcoming and pleasant, Rice Street is less so, with litter scattered at the adjacent bus stops and very little presence of nature.
A stretch of sidewalk, just north of University on Rice Street. While the sidewalks is wider here than most parts of the street, the lack of shade and any greenery leaves it an undesirable place to walk
While the Walkability project is focused on improving the pedestrian conditions, it is also about building capacity to make changes happen. The District Councils Collaborative partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to host two walks with employees at their building right by the Capitol building. The partnership came about thanks to a connection with MnDOT’s Complete Streets legislation which states that transportation must be considered equally for all users and levels of accessibility. The DCC has also been able to partner with local groups such as the League of Women Voters and Christ on Capitol Hill Church to walk and brainstorm pedestrian infrastructure improvements together. The goal of this work then is to connect the feedback from the community with the government representatives and officials who are in a position to make decisions to improve the pedestrian realm and increase accessibility. We hope that this community discussion can help facilitate better walkability and access for all.
The DCC Is still taking input for the Capitol/Rice station area. Check out the event for Wednesday, August 7th below to find out how you can be part of a public group to fill out the survey.