Cherokee Park playground slated for major overhaul

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The St. Paul parks department would like your help planning for some much-needed upgrades to the Cherokee Park playground.

The city has received $342,000 from the state’s Legacy fund to pay for replacement of the play structure at the park. The original playground was built in 1994, according to project manager Cheeneng Yang.

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While the playground looks fine from a distance the wear and tear is evident on closer inspection. Portions of the structure are rusted, dented and broken, and the protective coating on the walkways is worn through in many locations.

Nearby swings are clearly much older, and one option under consideration is to consolidate the swings, now spread across the park, into a single location.

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To get involved, the easiest thing you can do is take the city’s online survey. There will also be a community meeting on November 17 from 5-7 p.m. at the Baker Park Recreation Center to discuss the project.

The city is also organizing a design task force, if you’re interested in participating you can contact Yang via email or at 651-266-6414.

Because this is a Legacy fund project, 1 percent of the budget will go to public art — and the city will be seeking out artists to contribute.

Project updates and documentation will be hosted at stpaul.gov/CherokeePlayAreaProject. The construction work is expected to be completed begin next spring.

The West St. Paul candidates discuss the future of Smith Avenue

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Approaching the Smith/Dodd intersection, via Google Streetview.

While the Robert Street project is getting most of the attention once again in the West St. Paul municipal election, there is another major construction project in the city that will be upon us soon.

As noted in this space before, the Highway 149 project will involve major work along the Smith and Dodd corridors in West St. Paul – resurfacing the roadway but also upgrading sidewalks and curbs in many locations to bring them into ADA compliance. The project presents an opportunity — perhaps the only opportunity in the coming decades — to implement the suggestions of the Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan, developed by a stakeholder group of residents and businesses in 2010 and adopted by both the West St. Paul and St. Paul city councils the following year. Specific recommendations from the plan include:

  • Improve walkability to enhance pedestrian safety
  • Establish safe bike routes for all users
  • Establish traffic calming measures
  • Design uniform elements to improve the streetscape

It’s important to remember that MnDOT sees this as a “restoration” project, i.e. resurfacing the roadway in its current configuration. Any changes above and beyond that will be largely up to the cities to implement.

So with that in mind, the stubbornlylocal blog posed the following question to the candidates for mayor of West St. Paul, as well as the city council candidates for Ward 3, which includes the entirety of Smith Avenue and Dodd Road in the city.

As MnDOT plans to rehabilitate the Highway 149 corridor in 2018 (including Smith Avenue and Dodd Road), it is looking for opportunities to make safety improvements and other upgrades. The Smith Avenue comprehensive plan, based on a yearlong stakeholder process involving residents and business owners and adopted by both St. Paul and West St. Paul, calls in particular for traffic calming and improved pedestrian/multimodal safety along the corridor.

Should West St. Paul use this opportunity to implement the recommendations of the comprehensive plan? And if so, what steps should the city take?

Their responses are published in their entirety below.

David Meisinger, current mayor of West St. Paul

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(Mayor Meisinger did not respond to attempts to contact him via email or social media)

 

 

 

Jenny Halverson, current Ward 2 councilmember and candidate for mayor

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Given the improvements planned by MNDOT along Smith Avenue in 2018, West St. Paul should use this opportunity to study the feasibility of incorporating the pedestrian/multimodal safety enhancements provided in the comprehensive plan. This plan should continue to be updated and vetted by our residents and business owners to ensure that the implementation of it makes sense for West St. Paul. Improving walkability and making West St. Paul more bike-friendly will make our City safer and more attractive to current and potential residents and businesses. Thank you for the opportunity to provide my thoughts on this important issue in West St. Paul.

David Napier, current Ward 3 councilmember

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I think it is a great idea to take a look at the plan prior to the reconstruction of 149. Vehicle and Pedestrian safety should be the top priority. The Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan (SARP) is well thought out and certainly calls for a more pedestrian friendly corridor. The Smith Ave and 149 intersection should be modified to allow for increased safety.

As you know, we purchased the old auto repair shop on the corner and removed the building. This open area might allow enough space to creatively redesign the intersection and possibly make room for economic development opportunities. I would not stop there. I would review the plan as it relates to West St Paul’s section of the corridor from 149 down to Annapolis. So in conclusion, I would suggest the City of West St Paul work with a consultant to review the SARP and determine if we should be doing anything to position ourselves better for the reconstruction of 149.

John Ramsay, candidate for Ward 3 council seat

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I have not had the opportunity to review the options for the Smith/Dodd road project as of yet with the election close at hand. I am sure there are items that could improve travel on these roads. On a project of this scale, it will require some deep thought to take full advantage for the Residents and businesses needs in that area.

I look forward in reviewing the material that is available in the oncoming weeks.

Thanks to everyone for your responses – remember to vote on November 8!

Disclosure: The author of this post served on both the Smith Avenue revitalization task force and the MnDOT community advisory committee for the Highway 149 project.

Meet the candidates for West St. Paul city government

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As entertaining (?) as the presidential campaign can be, let’s not forget that local elections are important too.

Here is a link to last night’s candidate forum for West St. Paul. Remember that Smith Avenue and Dodd Road are scheduled for reconstruction by MnDOT in 2018, but any improvements/upgrades not directly related to the roadway or bringing sidewalks to basic ADA compliance will be up to the city. The Smith/Dodd corridor is in Ward 3, John Ramsay and Dave Napier are the candidates for that seat. Jenny Halverson is challenging David Meisinger for mayor.

To briefly recap the responses, Napier supports implementation of the city’s bike/pedestrian plan, Ramsay says because he and his immediate family seem to have no trouble getting around, he sees no reason to change the status quo.

Because of the timeframe for this project, this election could have implications for our neighborhood for decades to come. The choice is pretty clear, depending on whether you want to see changes or if you like things the way they are.

Please research the candidates carefully and choose wisely.

Preferred High Bridge redesign includes protected sidewalks, calmer traffic

A design concept for the High Bridge includes a protected sidewalk, similar to the one on the Wabasha bridge.

A design concept for the High Bridge includes a protected sidewalk, similar to the one on the Wabasha bridge.

If current plans move forward, the new High Bridge will feature calmer car traffic, bike lanes, and a separated sidewalk after reconstruction in 2018.

Members of the MnDOT community advisory committee were presented with two concepts at a meeting last night with project manager Tara McBride. One concept keeps basically the existing design but with wider sidewalks, and another has a barrier-protected sidewalk similar to the Wabasha bridge. The group unanimously endorsed the latter.

The current bridge has 12-foot-wide car lanes, an 8-foot shoulder that is used as a bike lane but not officially designated as such, and a 6-foot sidewalk. The new design would feature car lanes that are 10-11 feet, bike lanes that are 5.5-6.5 feet, and an 8-foot-wide sidewalk.

For context, 12 feet is a fairly standard lane width, including on freeways. The narrower lane widths are not uncommon on city streets, and even some sections of I-94 have 11-foot lanes. Plans call for lowering the speed limit to 30 mph, which will have a negligible impact on driving times as the bridge is only 1/2-mile long and has traffic signals near both ends, McBride noted.

It’s important to note that the design is not final, and still has a further review and approval process within MnDOT.

MnDOT engineers considered more than 20 different design concepts based on feedback from community workshops, but all but the final 2 had been rejected as not technically feasible or prohibitively expensive.

Some community members had suggested an asymmetrical layout, with car traffic on one side and a wider pedestrian boulevard on the other, but structurally the bridge couldn’t handle that type of load shift without millions of dollars in modifications. Other suggested features, such as bump-out viewing areas, would also add considerable cost.

Another important consideration was whether booms on inspection trucks could still extend over the side and underneath the bridge. That limits the position and height of barriers, however, the proposed concepts shouldn’t present an issue, McBride said.

A local suicide prevention group has pushed for railings to be made higher to prevent people from jumping off the bridge, that portion of the design is still in early stages but railings will likely be higher and more difficult to climb. Other issues such as lighting and design elements will depend largely on how much the city of St. Paul contributes to the project.

The design concept that’s moving forward represents a more balanced approach to serving the needs of everyone who uses the bridge, while keeping in mind cost and technical limitations. The MnDOT team has been very responsive to community feedback.

MnDOT staff will be on hand to answer questions at tonight’s bridge walk, which is organized by the Smith Bridge Community Health Forum. The group meets at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the top of the bridge (Smith & Cherokee).

Art on the Avenue is this Saturday!

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Smith Avenue comes alive once again for Art on the Avenue, this Saturday, July 23 from 2:30-8 p.m.

Now in its fourth year, the event will include neighborhood, local and regional artists, live music, a puppet show, craft demonstrations and more. A few highlights include:

• Live performances at Capital View Park (top of the High Bridge) by the On-Time Circus puppet theater (2:30 p.m.) and the Twin Cities Youth Symphony (4 p.m.)
• An interactive exhibit at Block Studios, 676 Smith Ave.
• A bike scavenger hunt at Capital Deals, 710 Smith Ave. – registration at 7:30, ride starts at 8, click the event link for details
• The kids’ Color Dash fun run at Dodd Park, 7 p.m.
• Exhibits at Electric Machete studio (Smith & Curtice)
• Live performances by Autumn Irlbeck at Cherokee Park United Church, 371 Baker (4 & 6 p.m.)
• Beer tent from the 5-8 Club at Dodd Park.

Click the map above for a complete schedule.

This event was originally conceived as a way to unite the community, and bring neighbors out into the street to celebrate Smith Avenue as a vibrant space – so get out and stroll around, bring your bikes and strollers, and see the amazing work created by your neighbors and friends.

This event is made possible by the tireless work of neighborhood volunteers, the West Side Community Organization, the City of West St. Paul, as well as support from the Nomadic Press, the South Robert Street Business Association, the West St. Paul Commercial Club, and WSP Mayor David Meisinger.

We can’t wait to see you!

What to expect from the Smith Ave / High Bridge construction project

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Tonight was the first meeting of the Community Advisory Committee for the High Bridge / Highway 149 construction project. Here’s a brief recap:

MnDOT is taking community concerns seriously. This type of community engagement is a relatively new process for MnDOT, an agency that admittedly is better at finding ways to move cars quickly than making a safe, inviting environment for residents. The project officials in attendance are very receptive to improving safety for cyclists, pedestrians, transit users, etc., and are coordinating with city governments (St. Paul, West St. Paul, and Mendota Heights) along the route. As one MnDOT staffer said, “it’s our roadway, but it’s your community.”

That said, don’t get your hopes too high. This is a “preservation” project — a mill and overlay, rather than a reconstruction, which means MnDOT is limited in changes in can make by existing rights of way, design standards, and so forth. For instance, the roadway won’t likely be widened through Mendota Heights to create wider shoulders, and the unique engineering of the High Bridge limits how it can be configured.

Some things that will change include replacement of all the sidewalks along Smith Avenue to make them ADA compliant. The project engineers will consider bump-outs or other traffic calming measures in some locations to make it safer to cross the street. The High Bridge roadway will be designed in a way to slow traffic rather than speed it up.

Also, a section of Annapolis (from Smith to Cherokee Heights Blvd) has been added to the project. That means sidewalks along this stretch will also be brought into compliance, and a sidewalk is expected to be added on the north side of Annapolis through Cherokee Park. The Annapolis work had been originally scheduled for 2020, MnDOT thought it made sense to just combine with the Smith/Dodd work.

Here’s what you can do to help. As mentioned previously, MnDOT has a limited budget for significant improvements, but will coordinate with cities to implement changes they want to make. Both St. Paul and West St. Paul have bike/pedestrian plans that include the area being constructed, and Mendota Heights is trying to find funding for a pedestrian path along Dodd Road. If you support increased pedestrian safety along the corridor, now would be a great time to contact your city council representative and let them know. Don’t wait until the barricades go up in 2018, get involved now.

Coming up: We’ll do a “site visit” to particularly troublesome spots along the corridor.

Sign up for the Smith Avenue/High Bridge community advisory committee

(MJI Photos / Creative Commons)

(MJI Photos / Creative Commons)

MnDOT is taking applications from community members for an advisory committee to provide input on the Highway 149 (Smith Ave/Dodd Road/High Bridge) reconstruction project.

This will be a transformative project for the neighborhood and will likely set the tone for development for years to come. This will also be an opportunity to discuss implementing the provisions in the Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan.

From the news release:

The Community Advisory Committee will advise the project management team on the final design of both the bridge and roadway components of the project. The committee is intended to include residents, businesses, property owners and organizations for the purpose of advising development of the project and representing the diversity of interests that can be found along the Highway 149 (Smith Avenue and Dodd Road) corridor. The diversity of interests desired for representation on the Community Advisory Committee include:

  • Residents (homeowners, renters)
  • Businesses operating within the project limits (a range of size and business type)
  • Major employers
  • Institutions and schools
  • Travelers along Smith Avenue and Dodd Road (existing transit users, bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers)
  • Other special interests

Meetings will be held on weeknights between March 2016 and October 2017 (there will be eight meetings total), locations are yet to be determined but will be along the Smith/Dodd corridor. The deadline to apply is Feb. 19, and selected applicants will be notified in early March.

To apply, download the application via this link.