On any given day, a journey down the Marshall Avenue corridor between Snelling Avenue and John Ireland Avenue can be quite interesting for pedestrians. Without any marked bicycle lanes, cyclists must keep safety at a premium. For cyclists, those on foot, and motorists, once Victoria Avenue is reached, the roadway becomes half as wide. And, in a puzzle of traffic infrastructure, Marshall ceases to continue eastbound at the Western Avenue intersection… while the westbound portion of Marshall coming from John Ireland Avenue meets the other side of Western Avenue, in the form of a one-way street. In response to possible pedestrian safety outcomes of such a complex corridor, local residents have lit the metaphorical traffic lamp to raise awareness.
“I ride along Marshall Ave and find the whole thing unnerving,” St. Paul resident Kristina DeLaundreau posted on the City of St. Paul’s Open Forum webpage in May. DeLaundreau was giving her thoughts in response to the launch of the Marshall Avenue Pedestrian and Bike Improvement Project, which the City of St. Paul is operating, alongside the Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), a non-profit that advocates for sustainable public and private transportation. The Project’s goal is to improve and mitigate safety and traffic concerns along the corridor via community input and scientific analysis. The City has been and continues to solicit public comment through the forum http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5208, and has allowed the TLC to conduct a feasibility analysis http://www.stpaul.gov/DocumentCenter/View/66197, and issue a concept layout http://www.stpaul.gov/DocumentCenter/View/65640, that highlights what has been observed along the corridor and what steps could be taken for modification and improvement.
“The impetus for the partnership dates back to 2005 when the federal government established the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) and awarded $21.5 million in funding to the Twin Cities for improving pedestrian and bicycling conditions,” Sustainable Transportation Planner and Engineer Reuben Collins wrote in an e-mail to the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Collins works for the City of St. Paul’s Department of Public Works. “TLC was selected by the federal government to administer this funding in the Twin Cities.” After the 2010 Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan, which highlighted Marshall Ave as a high volume traffic area with “strong connectivity to other bike routes throughout the city”, TLC and St. Paul began the feasibility process. The process entailed hiring a research consultant, fielding opinions from community residents, businesses and other institutions on what could be improved along the corridor and actual observation of traffic patterns and specific intersections where the current infrastructure could be upgraded. At this juncture, the city and TLC are weighing the opinions and scientific highlights of the concept report and feasibility analysis before advancing to the implementation stage.
“Reception to the project has been positive overall,” Collins explained. “There seems to be widespread agreement that there is room for improvement to help pedestrians cross Marshall Avenue, and to help pedestrians on Marshall Avenue to be able to cross some of the larger roadways, such as Lexington Parkway. Several other ideas have been popular, such as the idea to reconfigure the intersection of Marshall Avenue and Western Avenue, and the idea of a contra-flow bike lane east of Western Avenue, which would allow cyclists to use the street for two-way traffic while motorists would continue to use the street for one-way traffic. Other elements such as bumpouts at intersections that have a traffic calming impact and shorten pedestrian crossing distances have also been well-received. The bicycling community has been receptive to the idea of bike lanes, sharrows, and other treatments for bicyclists along the corridor.”
With the outcome of the analysis and concept report possibly leading to cost-heavy construction and permanent modification of the Marshall corridor, some in the community are taking the opportunity to raise concerns.
“I disagree with putting bike lanes on major streets,” resident Brad Davies posted on the forum, also in late June. “It makes no sense to cause problems for the thousands of cars that use these streets for the few bikes that may use them for a few months a year. Seems like another way to spend tax dollars for the benefit of the most-vocal few!!”
Near the intersection of Marshall and Hamline, the Twin Cities Daily Planet received the opinions of several neighborhood residents whom were also not in favor of installing bike lanes along the corridor, a project possibility.
“Not a good idea; better to renovate and extend the bike lanes that already exist on Summit Avenue,” a nearby Carroll Ave resident said. He declined to be identified. “We don’t want to end up like Uptown, with tons of lanes, foot and bike traffic, noise… this (Marshall corridor) is one of the few quiet areas left outside downtown. I bike and walk often along here, and have never had any problems, haven’t witnessed any either.”
An employee for Kierra’s Kitchen, a mobile soul-food vendor, also weighed in, affirming his dislike for how the safety project may end up. The vendor, who also declined to be identified, expressed how adding bike lanes could hamper in-road traffic by eliminating roadside parking areas and hampering his ability to distribute food curbside to customers.
“Safety? Right now, most bikers I see just share and use the sidewalk alongside other pedestrians, with no issue,” he explained. “I don’t agree with possibly using taxpayer dollars to build something that isn’t necessarily needed. This area, near Concordia, has been functioning for years without them, and to change that now for ‘safety’ reasons could really disrupt businesses, residents, and the community at large.”
-The concept layout and study report commissioned by TLC can be found on the City of St. Paul’s website at http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5208.
-The City of St. Paul encourages residents and those curious about the project to comment on the Open Forum Page of the website at http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?nid=5000.
-Reuben Collins welcomes comments and feedback at his personal email address, email@example.com