St. Paul Announces Sweeping Transportation Policy Changes

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In St. Paul, Minnesota, in a surprise joint press conference on April 1, Mayor Allcity, flanked by Public Works Director Carskill, all seven city council members, Jim Stitchesray, and Ramsey County commissioners, announced sweeping changes to city transportation policy. The attendees all arrived together leading a bike train of elementary school students along Wheelock Parkway to Como Park Elementary. Mayor Allcity announced that in light of our declared climate emergencydegrading city and resident finances, and public safety and health challenges brought about by car dependency, our streets and transportation systems will no longer prioritize private car drivers above all other transportation modes. Instead, people walking, biking, and rolling (hereafter simply referred to as “people”) will no longer be treated mostly as an afterthought by city planners and engineers, and the safety and convenience of low-carbon, active transportation modes will be prioritized. This announcement is in keeping with multiple policies already enacted by the city and county (see here or here), which public works has too often continued to either ignore or creatively interpret up to this point.

Mayor Allcity arrived at the press conference fresh off back-to-back interviews. In the first, he was a panelist with fellow mayors of Emeryville, California, and Paris to chat with hosts of the War on Cars podcast about the role of mayors in freeing us from car dependency. Following that, he sat down with Stitchesray, a longtime opponent of transportation freedom and advocate for car dependency, who has recently become one of the most outspoken and influential safe streets advocates after learning the conservative case for cycling.

The mayor started his remarks with a riff on Thomas Jefferson’s words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that for too long, prioritization of cars has resulted in extensive damage to our environment, ourselves, and our economy. Decades of poor planning, though sometimes well-intentioned, has resulted in too many places that are degraded husks of their former glory. Today, we begin a committed and lasting program to reverse those damages and begin to strengthen and rebuild the public spaces of our city while giving people true freedom of transportation choice. While St. Paul is truly a special and uniquely livable snowflake, our transportation challenges and the means to solve them are not and have often been studied and tested elsewhere. Instead of reinventing the wheel, St. Paul will look to the many existing examples of street safety improvements and get to work!”

He then passed the microphone to Director Carskill, who continued, “Mayor Allcity is correct. For decades, we at public works have designed and built streets that we now know to be dangerous for all users, but especially those outside cars. The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem—today we finally admit the colossal problem we have created and commit to taking immediate, tangible steps to fixing that problem.” Director Carskill then outlined changes aimed at catapulting St. Paul to the forefront of people-centered transportation policy, which include:

No new car lanes.

It was emphasized that for too long, St. Paul has added space and capacity for cars alone, which has only served to hollow out our city and hurt the tax base, while adding massive infrastructure liabilities. This will start with portions of Kellogg currently slated to see expensive new bridge construction projects, which will instead see existing street space repurposed for other modes while shoring up the integrity of the existing bridges. This will save the city millions of dollars and easily cover the costs of the other projects.

Design for safety first.

Instead of prioritizing “level of service” and high-speed throughput exclusively for those driving, public works will design streets in accordance with the number one priority of residents: safety. Planners and engineers who continue to design projects that demonstrably put people in danger from moving cars (such as adding unprotected bike lanes next to 40+ mph car traffic) will be given two options: be fired or resign in disgrace

Snow will no longer be an excuse.

Too often, winter and the need for “specialized equipment” have been cited as an excuse for why we can’t have protected bike lanes. It was finally acknowledged that we live in a northern climate where it snows and “specialized equipment” for a narrower protected bike lane costs a fraction of what our fleet of full-sized plow costs (as with most bike infrastructure), so this was a lame excuse all along. As Jason Slaughter says, “Winter is a lazy excuse, used by ignorant people, to make the discussion of safe road infrastructure go away.” That discussion will no longer be ignored.

Raised crosswalks with tight corners incorporated into every new project, with prioritized retrofits along existing trails.

As demonstrated in places with civilized transportation networks, these small changes have an outsized impact on the safety of vulnerable road users and will now be the standard design, unless it can be demonstrated that using another design can be done without jeopardizing safety. Raised crossings will also help to reduce the incidence of puddles and icy messes that can frequently be found at crossings during winter and spring snow melts.

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