St. Paul, Minnesota is putting a renewed focus on helping people get around on foot, as the city has released a draft of the city’s first-ever pedestrian plan.
The plan emphasizes safer street crossings and adding sidewalks where none exist, especially in areas where people already walk more. Those are the priorities identified by four thousand people who responded to a city planning commission online survey or attended in-person events. Being St. Paul, residents also requested that the city do a better job of clearing snow and ice from sidewalks.
In response, the city’s plan recommends increasing funding for crosswalk improvements and sidewalk construction and developing a public-awareness campaign to encourage property owners to shovel their sidewalks after a snow. But among the top recommendations from the report are encouragements to develop some basic, equitable and transparent processes for prioritizing pedestrian improvements. “Some of the city’s high-need areas may be left without improvements because there is not a defined process for identifying and prioritizing projects,” the report said. The report went on to say that St. Paul does not “routinely” use pop-up pedestrian interventions nor does it have a program to identify priority locations for such tests, for example.
To address the lack of process, the city has identified high-priority corridors for sidewalk improvements, looking at existing population and employment density, access to transit, connectivity, and more. Those corridors are “likely to see the greatest benefits from improved opportunities for walking,” the report said.
Adding or maintaining sidewalks is a major component of the plan. Starting in 2017, St. Paul requires any street repaving project to replace or add sidewalks on both sides of the street, but the city still has about 330 miles of “sidewalk gaps,” Monitor St. Paul reported. Part of those 330 miles are 62 miles of arterials without sidewalks.
Mayor Melvin Carter’s 2019 budget includes $1 million for sidewalks, about double last year’s spending, Monitor St. Paul wrote. (Between 2000 and 2018, the money allotted for sidewalks has fluctuated from $500,000 to $1,300,000, the city said.)
Reducing traffic deaths is of course also a priority. St. Paul is not a Vision Zero city like its neighbor, Minneapolis, although the city’s new comprehensive plan recommends adopting a Vision Zero program. However, it does already run a number of pedestrian safety programs, such as “Stop for Me,” a program in which plainclothes policemen use crosswalks and issue citations to drivers who ignore the law. (Research shows that only 3 in 10 drivers in St. Paul actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, the city said.) It also runs a low-cost program called Paint the Pavement, which encourages local artists to brighten up (and thus improve the visibility of) crosswalks with colorful murals. The walking plan also encourages Paint the Pavement program managers (who are currently staffers with other responsibilities at the city) make the program easier to apply for.
The pedestrian plan will be discussed at a planning commission hearing in early February. A recommendation from the commission goes to the City Council, and approval from the council, likely in March, means the pedestrian plan will be adopted into the city’s comprehensive plan.
Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.