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.

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 www.mndot.gov/metro/projects/hwy149highbridge.

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 adarequest.dot@state.mn.us.

 

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.

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

smith-dodd

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

meisinger

(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

halverson

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

napier

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

ramsay

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.

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).

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

149 map

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.