Central Corridor Friendly Streets Initiative Achieves Extraordinary Public Engagement Results

by: Lars Christiansen, Hamline-Midway Coalition
October 18, 2012

The Central Corridor Friendly Streets (CCFS) Initiative was active in public engagement for the past two years to involve residents of Frogtown and Hamline-Midway on a proposal to redesign Charles Avenue in St. Paul.  Among the highlights of our work were a series of block parties along Charles Avenue (three in Frogtown, two in Hamline-Midway) throughout the summer of 2011.  These block parties drew over 700 residents.  At the block parties, we displayed 23 images of various infrastructure and placemaking concepts, asking people to give their opinions about what they would like to see on Charles Avenue.  We also asked attendees to complete surveys to express their opinions about traffic on Charles and what changes should occur on the Avenue.  
 
CCFS also partnered with Springboard for the Arts to enliven the creative imagination of residents as a form of community building, as well as to demonstrate the multifaceted ways that residents can engage in placemaking.  Also, we supported restaurants on University Avenue by hiring several to cater our block parties.  These block parties were energizing, informative, educational, and fun.  They were a true expression of the kind of pride that everyday folks have in Frogtown and Hamline-Midway.  
 
What was special and effective about the block parties was that we were bringing the ideas to people, to where they live, making it as simple as walking out one’s front door or walking down the block to participate.  This is in contrast to asking residents to go somewhere else and attend a more typical meeting.  Consequently, the block parties were representative of who actually lives in the neighborhoods (in comparison to those who are likely to attend more standard public forums).  
 
The volume of data we gathered at those block parties – 1700 opinions, over 200 surveys – was staggering and took months to analyze.  This analysis may be found in “Central Corridor Friendly Streets:  Report on Phase 1”.  We also held three events in 2012 to gain opinions about median closures at the major arterials, placemaking, mid-block features, ‘greenstreets’ concepts, and other ideas.  All told, CCFS has reached out to almost 900 people over eight events, gathering over 2400 opinions and over 200 surveys.  
 
What we learned at our eight events was the following:
 
Residents want less automotive traffic on Charles Avenue
Residents want the automotive traffic that is on Charles to move more slowly
Residents want to feel safer on Charles Avenue, and to worry less about their children on Charles
Residents want to be able to safely cross larger arterials on foot and by bicycle
Residents want placemaking and other creative street design features (i.e., intersection paving; landscaped traffic circles)
Residents want greening features, including permeable pavement, landscaping, and gardens
Residents support changes that allow for walkers and bicyclists to use Charles safely
 
In short, our data revealed two overwhelming patterns:
 
1. That residents support infrastructural changes that are consistent with pedestrian-bicycling boulevard concepts, as well as placemaking features that make a street and neighborhood unique and an expression of ‘pride in place’.
 
2. That the redesign of Charles Avenue must attend not just to the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists and others moving through Frogtown and Hamline-Midway, but also the needs of residents who live in both neighborhoods. A new Charles must emphasize stopping and experiencing, as well as moving through.
 
Once we reviewed the data and discovered these patterns, CCFS turned our attention to advocating for changes, seeking to bring to fruition what we heard from residents. In June 2012 we officially partnered with the City of St. Paul to work on redesign decisions as well as City public engagement processes.  According to City workers, the attendance at the City public engagement processes in July 2012 was the largest they’ve seen in relation to any public meetings associated with the Central Corridor Light Rail.  Credit for the outstanding attendance at those meeting was given to CCFS’s prior public engagement and community organizing efforts.
 
After having received unanimous support from the Planning Commission in August, the St. Paul City Council heard from the public on September 5 and made the decision to support the Charles Avenue redesign proposal (see the approved design and more). With a vote of 5-2 in favor, the St. Paul City Council not only approved the project, but affirmed the extraordinary public engagement efforts of residents of Frogtown and Hamline-Midway.