St. Paul Sets Out to Make Streets Safer for Young and Old

Now here’s a public works concept that holds a lot of promise.

The plan for a downtown St. Paul bike loop, shown here in a rendering, would get an $8 million boost from the mayor's 8-80 plan. Image: Streets.mn
A proposed downtown St. Paul bike loop would get an $8 million boost from the mayor’s “8-80” plan. Rendering: Streets.mn

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has proposed a $42 million “8-80 Vitality Fund,” the goal of which is to make local streets safe places for physical activity for people of all ages and abilities, whether they’re 8 years old or 80.

Anne White at Streets.mn says the seed of the idea came from livable streets visionary Gil Peñalosa:

If approved, the fund will invest $42.5 million in infrastructure projects designed to promote economic development by enlivening Saint Paul’s streets and public spaces. The idea for the fund was inspired by Gil Penalosa’s presentation at the Great River Gathering last May, where he urged Saint Paul to embrace a bold vision of a city that works for everyone, from 8 year olds to 80 years olds.

The Mayor introduced the initiative in his 2015 budget address on August 13th, as part of a proposed $54 million investment in street repair and transportation upgrades. The goal, he said, is to “create places where people feel safe to walk and bike, businesses feel confident in investing, and all means of transit and travel, including cars, work harmoniously together.”

When the Mayor first announced his 8-80 initiative in August, I was hopeful that a substantial portion of this investment would go toward bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, which has been sorely neglected over many years of designing, building and maintaining streets for cars. I was pleased that the nine arterials scheduled for repair in 2015 were to be reconstructed or rehabilitated, with the possibility of improving the walking and biking environment as well as the roadway.

White still has some concerns. She hopes the 8-80 program won’t neglect neighborhood streets, for one. And more broadly, she says the city’s plan has yet to adopt to type of ambitious, specific targets that Penalosa recommended:

Hopefully the 8-80 Vitality Fund will do more than just fill in the gaps in funding for desperately needed repairs or projects already on the books. To create an 8-80 City, we must challenge ourselves, think big, embrace creative new ideas, broaden engagement, attend to the needs of our elderly and infirm, and refuse to settle for less than the best. As Gil Penalosa says: “The cities that will lead the world in the future are not making small plans today.” Will Saint Paul be one of those world leaders?

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Boston is planning to add public space and a parking lot under Interstate 93 in the South End. And the University of Oklahoma Institute for Quality Communities, riffing off Jeff Speck’s recent CityLab article, finds only 6 percent of local traffic lanes are no wider than 10 feet, the maximum width Speck recommends for safety. Meanwhile, a whopping 65 percent are 12 feet or wider, promoting speeding and undermining pedestrian safety.

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