Re-envisioning the Smith/Dodd intersection

This year, the city is convening an advisory committee to discuss options for realigning the Smith/Dodd intersection – a confusing knot of three arterial streets and multiple curb cuts and driveways.

The process is looking not just at the intersection but surrounding land use and zoning, and helping to envision what the area will look like long term. The group is incorporating recommendations from the 2010 Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan (three of the former task force members are also on the current committee).

Most visibly, the process will make recommendations for the city-owned 1010 Dodd property, the former auto repair shop on the southwest corner of Smith and Dodd. It may be absorbed into the street grid or redeveloped as commercial or park space.

Here, briefly, is more information about the process:

What’s wrong with the intersection as it is?

The two main problems are that it can be confusing and difficult to access businesses and that the intersection is particularly dangerous for pedestrians. It’s all subjective, but most people I’ve talked to who walk in the area say they’ll jaywalk midblock rather than take their chances at the crosswalk, where drivers often make turns on red lights at high speed.

Who’s on the committee?

The group includes some area residents, representatives from businesses including the Doddway shopping center, Zak’s Auto Repair, Camelot Cleaners, the Cherokee Tavern and Amore Coffee, and Ward 3 council member John Bellows and planning commission chair Morgan Kavanaugh.

I’ve heard there’s going to be a roundabout. Will there be a roundabout?

Possibly – that’s only one of the design options under consideration. A recent meeting explored the idea of dramatically remodeling Doddway and replatting the streets entirely – something that probably won’t happen because it would be considerably expensive. It’s also possible the intersection won’t be changed at all.

The process is not to choose between roundabout and not-roundabout, it’s to help city staff and engineers understand what the community regards as most important. That includes safety, preserving parks/open space and existing businesses, access to businesses, etc. So the end result will (hopefully) be a design that incorporates all of those concerns.

What about Albert Park or the Scott Patrick memorial?

Some design concepts relocate Albert Park while others keep it in its existing location. All of them include public/open space that could be used for a memorial for Officer Patrick.

When can we expect to see some changes?

Years from now, if ever. The project depends on unidentified future funding, and will likely be in the range of $1 million-$3 million.

But isn’t MnDOT about to redo the whole road?

Yes, and while they’re making improvements to intersections in St. Paul and Mendota Heights, Smith/Dodd will only see sidewalks and ramps brought up to basic ADA compliance. City staff are still pushing MnDOT to see if any incremental improvements can be made at Smith/Dodd as part of this project but no luck so far.

How can I get involved?

There will be a series of open houses, most likely in August, and recommendations are expected to go to the city council in November. You can always submit comments to your city council representative.

Update to the update on Smith Avenue construction

The city of St. Paul will continue to do water line replacements along Smith Avenue in the coming weeks. Once again this is not the impending High Bridge closure, which isn’t happening until fall.

Starting April 17th Smith will be closed from George to Cherokee, with official detours to side streets thusly:


The work is expected to last five days.

Crews will continue working their way up Smith with detours to side streets as appropriate (exact detour routes haven’t been worked out yet).

Update on Smith Avenue construction

By now you’ve probably noticed the road closure signs on the High Bridge. Fear not! The bridge is not closing early. Here is a statement from the city of St. Paul.

The city is closing a short section of Smith Avenue on the north end of the High Bridge as part of a lead replacement project. The bridge itself will not be closed. Smith Avenue will be closed from McBoal  Street to Cliff Street (two blocks) starting Monday, April 10 through April 17. Restoration will follow and the work should be finished by Wednesday, April 19.

There will be a short traffic detour from Smith Avenue using Cliff Street, St. Clair Avenue and West 7th Street. Here is a link to the city’s road closures map and list:

Once work is complete on the north end of the bridge, the city will move to the south side. They will be working in the area for a couple of months, most likely.

If you need further details, please contact Jodi Wallin with the city of St. Paul:

Note that this is a city project, not MnDOT. Not clear yet if the work on the south side of the bridge will involve street closure but hope to have an update soon.

The closure of the High Bridge is still scheduled for later this fall.

West Side photographer opens ‘What We Hide’ show on Smith Avenue

"Leah," one of the photos in Ellie Leonardsmith's "What We Hide" series.

“Leah,” one of the photos in Ellie Leonardsmith’s “What We Hide” series.

(from a news release)

Photographer Ellie Leonardsmith has been making photographic portraits for her project, “What We Hide,” for the last year and a half. She will release the photos Saturday, January 28 at 4:30 p.m. at Block Studios, on St. Paul’s West Side, and have the collection’s book available for sale. The project aims to shed light on the struggles we all share, but which are often not discussed or allowed.

“Participants were invited to drop the posing and presentation that come with the typical portrait, and instead to allow what is often there- but usually hidden- to come to the surface,” said artist Ellie Leonardsmith. “We are confronted every day by a society that tells us to be young, fertile, stable, thin, rich, white, and able to move through the world without needing help. These standards are simply unattainable. In undertaking this project, I am stepping up to lessen their power, and to share my understanding of our humanity.”

Ellie Leonardsmith

Ellie Leonardsmith

Participants in the project will be speaking at 4:30pm, with refreshments provided afterward. The event is free and open to all ages, though it is a gallery showing and some discussion of sensitive subjects may occur. Images and information about the event can be viewed at

“She may be the least manipulative photographer I’ve ever encountered. She has an rare ability to be with her subjects while taking their pictures,” said Marisha Chamberlain, a local Schmidt artist who wrote a forward in Leonardsmith’s book.  “Her theory that great beauty and fresh truth would be found by asking her subjects to show what they’ve usually hidden is proven true, page after page. In the unexpected frankness in her compositions, awkwardness, uncertainty or a sense of incompleteness are revealed as harmony. She’s achieved in image what the poet, John Keats has proposed in words, that “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty.”

RSVP via Facebook here.

About Ellie Leonardsmith Photography

Ellie Leonardsmith Photography has been in business for ten years, originating in New York, then Boston, and now on the West Side of Saint Paul for the last four years. Leonardsmith focuses on portraits but has also donated her time to event photography for local organizations such as the West Side Citizens Organization (WSCO) and Art on the Ave.  To learn more visit, or call (612) 460-5524.

Open house on Feb. 7 for new High Bridge design

Below is a news release from MnDOT:

ROSEVILLE, Minn. – The public is invited to provide input on aesthetic design options associated with the Smith Avenue High Bridge deck in St. Paul at a community gathering scheduled for Feb. 7.

The open house will be held from 5 – 7 p.m. in the community room at Bad Weather Brewery, 414 West Seventh Street in St. Paul.

The focus of the open house will be on the Smith Avenue High Bridge deck aesthetics. Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and project staff will be on hand to answer questions and gather input.

The deck of the Smith Avenue High Bridge will be reconstructed as part of a larger project on Smith Avenue and Dodd Road, also known as Highway 149. Construction on the bridge deck will begin in fall 2017. Additional work on the larger project includes:

  • Resurfacing Smith Avenue and Dodd Road—Highway 149—between West 7th Street in St. Paul and I-494 in Mendota Heights.
  • Improving drainage, sidewalks and pedestrian accessibility.
  • Replacing signals at five Highway 149 intersections.
  • Constructing an additional left turn lane from westbound I-494 to southbound Dodd Road in Mendota Heights.

The project will extend the lifespan of Highway 149 and the High Bridge, and provide a smoother road surface and improved ride for motorists.

This work is expected to result in the complete closure of the High Bridge for one year.

Please visit the project website for upcoming event dates and times, in addition to project updates, at

To request an ASL or foreign language interpreter, call 651-366-4720. To request other reasonable accommodations, call 651-366-4718; the Minnesota Relay service toll-free at 1-800-627-3529) TTY, Voice or ASCII) or 711, or email your request to


Quick update on the MnDOT/Smith Avenue plan

MnDOT held an informal meeting for community advisory board members to view current plans for the Highway 149 project. For those who haven’t been following along, this will involve a redecking of the High Bridge and a mill and overlay of Smith Avenue as far as Dodd Road.

I’ll post renderings as they become available, but briefly, here’s what we saw tonight:

  • The High Bridge layout will change to include bike lanes and protected 8-foot sidewalks on both sides (similar to the Wabasha Bridge.
  • Pedestrian safety improvements at the top of the bridge, including removal of right-turn lanes and a wider center median.
  • Bumpouts where Smith intersects with Baker and Curtice to slow traffic and create shorter crossing distances for pedestrians (with similar treatment at Goodrich on the north end of the bridge).
  • Possibly increasing the elevation of the Smith/Annapolis intersection to create more level sidewalks.
  • Bike lanes on Annapolis (while still preserving parking on one side) and pedestrian improvements at the Chippewa intersection near Cherokee Park.

At the moment there are no plans to change the Smith/Dodd intersection (other than updated traffic signals; West St. Paul is pursuing the idea of a roundabout or some other significant realignment.

This does not exactly turn the corridor into a pedestrian-friendly paradise. But these are significant improvements and frankly probably more than one would have expected from MnDOT even a few years ago. The agency is making a sincere effort to improve safety for pedestrians and other users while still being responsive to their mandate to move car traffic.

Coming up: Plans for visual and design elements for the bridge and other parts of the corridor.

Cherokee Park playground slated for major overhaul


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.


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.


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 The construction work is expected to be completed begin next spring.