by: Carol Swenson, Executive Director, District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
November 13, 2013
How do we make Dale Street a safer and more pleasant place to walk? That was the question roughly forty community members, urban designers and public transportation planners and engineers wrestled with at the Dale Street Walkability Workshop in the Kings Crossing community room on October 29 and 30th.
What were some of the responses? Signals with enough time for everyone to cross Dale Street and University Avenue, wider sidewalks on the Dale Street Bridge over 94 or a companion walk/bike bridge, a pedestrian crosswalk at Aurora, calmer traffic, better pedestrian lighting, benches and green spaces and a lot more…a long list, but not an impossible list.
The Dale Street Walkability Workshop is a partnership of the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC), Frogtown Neighborhood Association, Summit-University Planning Council and the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation Design Center. It is a part of a two-year “Last Mile” demonstration project funded by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. The Dale Street project aims to make Dale from Selby to Minnehaha a safer and friendlier place to walk, test pedestrian guidelines in the draft St. Paul Street Design Manual to provide feedback for the city and demonstrate use of the guidelines in a community-led process. Importantly, the workshop also aims to leave a legacy of community leadership on pedestrian issues and concerns.
To increase opportunities for community participation, the Walkability Workshop was held over two days starting late in the afternoon and going into the evening. On the first day, participants were oriented to the project and went on day and nighttime walkabouts on Dale. During the walkabouts, community members and public agency staff surveyed pedestrian infrastructure and conditions and observed the behavior of young and old pedestrians as well as drivers. Walkabout conversations explored the physical realities of the experience of walking on Dale at night and during the day to help create common ground for the second part of the workshop.
On the second day, everyone rolled up their sleeves and began identifying and discussing solutions, using a draft version of a deck of “Walkability Solution Cards”. Patterned after the Stormwater Management Best Practices cards developed by the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation Design Center, each card has a picture of a pedestrian safety solution on one side and a description of the solution on the other. The deck also included blank cards to encourage and capture new ideas. Design Center facilitators at three worktables used the cards as both a learning tool and a means to focus discussion. At the end of the workshop, each table presented a solutions map identifying proposed improvements and where they should be made. Community members shared that the cards empowered them with information and “planner lingo” to express their concerns and ideas for making improvements.
In addition to the Walkability cards, involvement of planners and engineers from the City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, MnDOT and Metro Transit was key to the workshop’s success. Their participation deepened discussions and provided real time input into each table’s set of proposed solutions. It was a first step in building a direct relationship between community members and agency staff.
Although workshop outputs are still being analyzed and synthesized, there are several next steps in the works. Ramsey County and the City of Saint Paul are communicating informally about no cost or low cost walkability solutions, such as signal timing changes and coordination of sidewalk improvements. Additional information about the scope and process for Dale Street bridge improvements is being gathered. The City of Saint Paul is interested in revising and incorporating the Walkability Solutions deck of cards into their implementation of the Streets Design Manual for Complete Streets. Plans and tools for deepening community engagement, such as mini pedestrian workshops, are being developed and implemented. And the community steering committee will be convening soon to review preliminary solutions and implementation strategies emerging from the Dale Street walkability workshop process.
It is exciting to think about the Green Line starting operations in 2014 and even more exciting to think about Dale being a wonderful street to walk on to the station!
For more information about the workshop, please contact Carol Swenson with the DCC at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-528-8165, Sam Buffington with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association at 651.789.7481 or Irna Landrum with Summit-University Planning Council at 651.228.1865. For information about the DCC Last Mile Initiative and 2012 Walkability Survey that identified Dale as a prime candidate for improvements, please go to dcc-stpaul-mpls.org.