City Council approves Snelling median

By Peter Wright

With a unanimous vote Sept. 2, the St. Paul City Council gave a green light to plans for a median on Snelling Avenue. But after four years of planning and debate, the plans have left some Macalester neighbors seeing red.Tom Welna, director of Macalester’s High Winds Fund, said he first began looking into creating the median four years ago. Snelling has become a barrier, Welna said, separating the college from the surrounding community.

He said the median would make crossing the street safer for pedestrians and, based on studies of medians, could make drivers more alert.

The median, he said, could transform Snelling from “a parkway into a freeway.”

The proposed median received support from both the college and some residents of the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, but it also met resistance from local businesses and other neighborhood residents.

Macalester library director Terri Fishel spoke in favor of the median at the city council meeting, both as an employee of Macalester and as a nearby resident.

“We need something to slow down traffic,” Fishel said in an interview.

When Fishel takes the bus to work in the morning, she bypasses a crosswalk directly across from the library because she feels unsafe trying to cross without a signal light. Even in a car, she said, Snelling seems dangerous, saying that a driver can’t stop for pedestrians when there’s a semi barreling-up behind them.

“My husband and I no longer drive Snelling Avenue because I’ve had too many close calls,” Fishel said.

Gena Berglund, vice president of the Macalester-Groveland Community Council, also spoke in favor of the median.

The neighborhood council collected comments from residents responding to a test median. Berglund said 79 percent of the comments were in favor of the median, while the rest were either opposed or neutral.

Berglund said opponents most often seemed concerned about parking issues and the possibility of increased traffic on some neighborhood streets. In addition, business owners in Lincoln Commons voiced concerns that plans to remove a current left turn lane would reduce business.

Welna said the school has actually improved plans for the median based on people’s concerns, adding a left turn lane at Lincoln Avenue and adding bus bays to remove stopped buses from the flow of traffic. However, some complaints, he said, came from people who simply worry about change.

“It’s always easier to stop change than to make change,” Welna said.

Fishel said business at Snelling and Grand may even see an increase of customers if pedestrians feel safer crossing the street. Either way, she said, safety should be the main concern.

“Sometimes you have to consider the greater common good,” Fishel said.

Welna said he sees the median as having an impact even beyond making the road safer, adding over time to the value of the neighborhood and its homes.

“Because we’re an institution we can think in terms of multiple generations,” Welna said.

Berglund said the community council will continue to address residents’ concerns once the median is finished. She said even with the data collected ahead of time, there could still be unexpected issues.


Getting the city to approve the median took the efforts of a team of supporters and funds sealed by a presidential signature.

Welna said the debate over the median has helped Macalester build stronger bonds with its neighbors, working closely with the Mac-Groveland council and several other local organizations.

“We were able to build dozens of new relationships with great people,” he said.

Berglund agreed, saying that the median could have never become a reality without help from many different people.

“Definitely this was a team effort,” Berglund said. “No one could accomplish this alone.”

Welna said the Minnesota Department of Transportation will put $197,000 towards the median and $250,000 to resurface the road, which is designated as a state highway. An additional $475,000 will come from the federal government, money earmarked by Representative Betty McCollum and approved in the end by the president. Macalester High Winds fund, which is separate from the college’s operating costs, will spend about $348,000 on the median, and Facilities Management will take care of the plants.

The total cost of installing the median will be approximately $1.7 million.