Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Surely There’s Room For Trees on South Robert Street

Dateline: 7:46 pm November 13, 2013 Filed under:

Today’s Star Tribune article about the reconstruction of South Robert Street moved me to respond (it also moved me to depression and rage). The $20+ million project is controversial, and among other things (including walkability and the future of humankind) three simple things from the article jumped out at me:

1) traffic counts of 16,000 to 26,000 vehicles per day

2) a crash rate that is 89% higher than comparable four-lane roads

3) there’s not enough room for trees, according to the traffic engineer


Take a look at the accompanying image from the article (photo courtesy of Jeff Wheeler of the Star Tribune). Are you seeing the same image as me? Moreover, are the Star Tribune and traffic engineers talking about the same street? I’m not really sure what the debate is. According to the article, the number one goal of the rebuilding project is to make the road safer. (It must be asked, safer for people or safer for cars?) At 16,000 to 26,000 vehicles per day, there ought to be a way to reduce the through lanes in each direction from two to one and still have plenty of room for trees and public realm improvements. Based on the project website, I’m sure that hasn’t been suggested.

The SRF engineer explains in the article that the first two feet from the curb have to be clear in case a car jumps the curb, four feet need to be clear on the sidewalk for wheelchairs, leaving them with only two feet. Sigh. Where to begin?

First of all, shouldn’t trees and other immovable objects be located in the “clear zone” to stop errant cars from actually reaching the sidewalk and hitting a pedestrian (they should be called “clutter zones”)? Second, it seems as thought the rebuilt sidewalk might only be four feet wide. Any sidewalk worth walking on should be at least twice that if not more to be worthy of a pedestrian. And lastly, look at this photograph one more time and tell me with a straight face that one lane of traffic in each direction can’t be freed up for street trees, benches, a sidewalk and other humane elements so that the roadway might remotely deserve to be referred to as a “Main Street.”

The article indicates there are negotiations with adjacent property owners to create 10-foot easements for streetlights and trees. As a human being, this discussion of a haphazard pedestrian realm human makes me sad. As a taxpayer it makes me irate. This roadway falls under MnDOT jurisdiction. Since MnDOT has a complete streets policy, and it strikes me that if complete streets are to be taken seriously, a lane reduction should be one option. To the Federal Highway Administration to MnDOT to the Met Council and the City of West St. Paul, please stop wasting scarce public resources on a roadway that doesn’t improve walkability and reduces the taxable value of land alongside it.

1 Comment »

  1. MnDOT doesn’t have a complete streets policy they have a complete streets Memorandum AKA: Minnesota Department of Transportaion Engineering Services Division Technical Memorandum No. 13-17-TS-06

    Comment by Jeff — November 13, 2013 @ 8:38 pm

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