A LITTLE SAFER FOR EVERYONE

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

For decades neighbors have been asking for something to be done to make it safer to cross the street in Snelling and Englewood.
In October 2022, the city finally installed a traffic light.
“I had heard about it for so long and had no idea something was going to happen this year,” said Mike Reynolds, a member of the Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) transportation committee and Hamline professor. “I had just heard rumors that this would ‘happen’. Then suddenly, one day this summer, public works was around the corner doing stuff. I texted [HMC Executive Director] Sarah O’Brien and [HMC board member] John Levin and said: This is it?
It was.
“I was very excited when this was put together,” Mike Reynolds said. “I spoke with a group of new students at Hamline University about the long problems and how difficult but rewarding it can be to try to solve what seems like a small problem – but putting the focus on ways in which the community can be empowered to find solutions. I have also been involved with Hamline Elementary in my role at HU, as we develop and continue to refine the partnership between schools. This summer, as Galtier was closing and as these families sought to learn more about Hamline Elementary, there was a lot of anxiety walking through Snelling…and seeing the lights come on was a huge relief for a lot of people.

A COMMUNITY PROBLEM
With a primary school on one side of Snelling and a university on the other, the intersection is very busy with students. The dual carriageway makes the crossing perilous, as one side of the traffic may stop but not the other. “This is compounded by very high speeds heading south over the bridge to Midway, but also when people are speeding from the Snelling/Minnehaha intersection. Various interventions (the flashing speed sign; planted medians; crosswalks; public art projects including murals at SuperAmerica, Mirror of Korea and Hamline Elementary, as well as a wire project the along the fence at elementary school) never really reduced speeds or concerns,” Reynolds said.
“Without the red light, adults have to stand in the middle of the road, facing traffic, to make sure everyone stops so kids can cross safely,” Jessica Kopp remarked, who sits on the St. Paul School Board.
Conversations about safety in Snelling and Englewood date back at least to the 1990s, when a former Hamline sculptor, Mike Price, made a rough design for a pedestrian bridge. Around 2004, HMC and Hamline University staff connected with MnDOT and the City of St. Paul to explore options, but nothing was implemented. The MnDOT did a major study on Snelling Avenue sometime between 2008 and 2011, but again there was a lot of talk about improving footpaths around schools and libraries, but nothing came of it. been done at Snelling and Englewood.
Kopp became involved around 2017 when her daughter was attending Hamline Elementary School. One year there was a safety walk when a designated person walked with a group of families and then neighbor and school board member Mary Vanderwert to both be visible to the community and show how much he was difficult to cross Snelling Avenue safely. Kopp investigated a planning grant application through the Safe Routes to Schools program in 2018. She was part of a Stop For Me program in 2019.
Kopp reignited the questions and conversations. Working with Ward 4 and the Ward’s District Council, Kopp and other community members reaffirmed the paramount need to improve pedestrian safety at this intersection. What street level changes might be possible at the intersection? Those questions were posed to the City of St. Paul’s traffic engineer, St. Paul’s Department of Public Works — and they got some traction, according to Reynolds and current HMC chief executive Sarah O. ‘Brian. The city has offered some options to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Then, once again, neighborhood activists waited, thanks to a thorough investigation and technical study.
The city’s traffic engineer attended several meetings of the Hamline Midway Coalition’s transportation committee over a two-year period to discuss the intersection, the alternatives being considered, and the rationale for choosing a traffic light. circulation as the preferred treatment.
HMC worked with Ward 4 and local businesses on a North Snelling revitalization project in 2019. “I know pedestrian safety and difficult traffic conditions have been set as key criteria for the challenges of increased development of properties along North Snelling,” Reynolds said. “I think the last conversation may have been the straw on the camel’s back, and caused various parties to go back to previous proposals and get them out of the ‘parking lot’ and into budget/planning.”
The process of getting that new red light was “at times a bit mysterious and a bit slow, but overall I think it’s pretty amazing how many people put their time, energy and expertise into it. to get things done,” Kopp said. “Every time I felt like it was fading, someone else would pick the ball up and run with it. As a neighbor, I felt incredibly supported by then council member Samantha Henningson, and current board member Mitra Jalali and HMC for taking the perspective of Hamline Elementary families seriously and gathering information from various neighbors and then bringing the right people together to find solutions. hoped that there was, however long, a path for neighbors to play an important role in creating the community they want.

MULTI-HANDED
“It’s such a great story and so many people have made it possible – many people in the Hamline Elementary community, including parents Karen McCauley and Jen Power, the Ward 4 office, Hamline University, the city of St. Paul and of course HMC – current and former executive directors, boards and members of the transportation committee have all been part of this story,” Kopp said. “I’m probably forgetting someone because this project was carried by many hands.”
Kopp is now employed at Hamline University and has watched the light progress on her daily walk to work.
She said: “Seeing the red lights was quite surreal – I never thought a bit of infrastructure could make me so happy.”

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