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Macalester College declares "my space" on city streets

Snelling Median has left only these remaining spaces at Grand
Snelling Median has left only these remaining spaces at Grand
copyright MDMR 2014

In the May 28 “The Villager” edition, Tom Welna, a Macalester representative who also directs the High Winds Fund is quoted as saying “We’ve spent a lot of time and money making that corner attractive and functional.”

He is referring to the Snelling and Grand Avenue intersection, which has potential for major future changes with a proposed bus rapid transit line running down Snelling Avenue.

Macalester College’s problem with preliminary station planning? One station design would eliminate on-street parking for one of Macalester’s buildings. There are other options, though those other options likely block access to other business, block access for turning traffic, and may even block a driveway along Snelling Avenue.

Station planning is a critical step in the success of Snelling Avenue’s proposed bus rapid transit. Metro Transit has said that the proper placement of a station will make a difference in travel efficiency.

Travel efficiency is something that Metro Transit desperately needs in order to maintain support for expensive projects. The recent reports of the Green Line tests show that the new train could take 67 minutes to travel 11 miles. Even the latest report of 48 minutes for the 11 mile trip is too long. Of course, no one traveling from downtown to downtown would ever take the train. The 94 bus service will still serve those areas, minus the Midway stop and the Capitol stop. Thus travelers between the downtowns will still travel those 11 miles, with few stops, in somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. Midway customers who previously enjoyed 8 minute travel time to either downtown will suffer the most and regular bus passengers who have had long travels on the 50 or the 16 will understand that this is business as usual for Metro Transit. It is doubtful, however, that crawling through a busy street on a train will induce anyone to give up their cars. But, then again, the Green Line was never meant to increase ridership. FTA policy changes now force cities to consider economic development.

While businesses and residents along University Avenue understood that the Green Line was poorly designed from the start, a larger portion of the city is starting to realize what their billion dollars of tax money has actually paid for. One would think that accountable elected officials would want to ensure less bad publicity for the several new multi-modal transit projects now in the works.

So, what can be done with Macalester College and their on-street parking dilemma?

Transit for Livable Communities lobbies Saint Paul in support of reducing parking requirements and limiting parking for communities within the city. High Winds was endowed with $300,000 in 1956, had $13M fifty years later, and now funds the promotion of urbanism. Macalester College donates to Transit for Livable Communities and Tom Welna is on its board of directors. According to Transit for Livable Communities, reductions in parking and parking requirements encourage transit use, biking, and walking.

In 2009, Macalester’s High Winds Fund and Transit for Livable Communities supported a median on Snelling Avenue, which included the intersection of Snelling and Grand Avenue. The median eliminated a great deal of on street parking for other businesses. Furthermore, Macalester College’s High Winds Fund and Transit for Livable Communities supported the recently approved median on Marshall Avenue.

In both of these examples, neighbors, businesses and bicyclists asked for better, safer designs that would actually improve multi-modal transportation. There were several options that could have been studied and implemented and those designs were brought up by the community. But, communities were told that any other design considerations were brought too late into the process. Public hearings were merely a symbolic gesture. The median design had been finished and was decided upon as the only option.

One could say that Macalester College has done this to itself and it should take its own medicine with the policies it demands of the rest of the city. Macalester College, being a supporter of improving transit options within Saint Paul, ought to jump at the chance to sacrifice for the greater good in order to allow effective transit options. If, as Mr. Welna states, this intersection is already highly functional, wouldn’t the addition of efficient bus rapid transit make it even more functional?

Perhaps Macalester College, in spite of its vocal support for multi-modal transit options and reducing car travel, understands what the rest of us understand. Public transportation is not a viable option for the majority of the people at this time. The goal of the bus rapid transit, like that of the Green Line, is an excuse for development, such as The Vintage, under construction at Selby and Snelling. Taking away on street parking from businesses doesn’t make businesses more accessible.

Macalester College may see development in its own future. Perhaps they hope the station planning design will favor them and reduce the vitality of neighboring businesses, allowing available property to become for sale to Macalester. After all, buying up political support like this certainly helped Episcopal Church Home of Minnesota secure Porky’s property. Per a March 28, 2011 issue of “Finance and Commerce,” Marvin Plakut, CEO of Episcopal Homes of Minnesota said that he had been in negotiations with Porky’s for months.

“Pioneer Press” City Hall Scoop blog quoted Mayor Chris Coleman as saying, “Light rail is doing exactly what we thought it could do,” at the groundbreaking ceremony for Episcopal Homes of Minnesota’s expansion.

Really? With all of the vacant buildings existing up and down University Avenue, closing an existing business to allow an incorporated business to expand is what you wanted the light rail to do?

There is a lesson to be learned here. Want to protect yourself from other businesses which might become too successful and encroach in your territory? Want to keep land prices down to help your potential future expansion? Transit for Livable Communities is just one of several non-profit advocacy groups that might have influence for sale and spin doctors to cure any ailing publicity.

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