Median under consideration on Snelling Ave.

By Anna Waugh

More than three years after the installation of a median along the portion of Grand Avenue that cuts through the Macalester campus, the High Winds Fund is exploring the possibility of installing another median along Snelling Avenue, stretching from Grand to St. Clair Avenue. The High Winds Fund is Macalester’s neighborhood development fund that works to better the surrounding Mac-Groveland community.Proponents of the new median say it would make Macalester more accessible to neighborhood residents living on the east side of campus and it would make Snelling more pedestrian-friendly. Opponents point to a potential loss of parking and the loss of points at which to turn left onto Fairmount, Sargent and Lincoln Avenues.

Tom Welna ’86, director of the High Winds Fund, said that, through studies, it was determined that residents who live to the west of campus, in the neighborhood known as Tangletown, are much more likely to use the Macalester Campus than neighbors to the east. He attributes this difference to the barrier created by the dangerous traffic on Snelling.

Right now, “you don’t dare cross Snelling,” Welna said.

One of the reasons Snelling is heavily trafficked is that it is one of the major truck routes through St. Paul.

Historically, trucks have been prohibited from the portion of Interstate 35E that runs through St. Paul. This means that trucks must exit from the freeway at West 7th Street and drive north along Snelling, turning the street into a residential freeway. Snelling is also a state highway.

The latest traffic count, taken in April 2006, indicated that an average of 25,325 vehicles per day drove the portion of Snelling between Grand and St. Clair.

The High Winds Fund has been working since 2005 with other groups, including the transportation committee of the Mac-Groveland Community Council, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the St. Paul Public Works Department to make Snelling safer.

The proposed 10-foot median would serve to enhance pedestrian safety in two ways, Welna said. By creating a break in the middle of the street, it would allow pedestrians to deal with one direction of traffic at a time. It would also serve to calm traffic flow. Though the current speed limit of 30 miles per hour will remain the same, the median would narrow the street, and would most likely cause drivers to drive more slowly and sanely.

Last Friday, St. Paul’s Public Works installed a series of vertical tube delineators-orange, rubber tubes that simulate the conditions of the proposed median-along the center line of Snelling Avenue between Grand and Saint Clair. The High Winds Fund paid $14,000 to finance the tubes.

These tubes will test traffic flow for approximately four weeks, after which time a report will be written, and neighbors and students will have an opportunity to comment on the construction at a Transportation Committee meeting Monday, Nov. 26. At this meeting neighborhood residents will be able to decide whether or not they will endorse the new median.

Neighbors’ reactions have so far been generally positive, although some concerns have been raised.

Katrina Wentzel, who lives a few houses east of Snelling on Sargent Avenue, said she sees the new median as part of an effort to “green up” the neighborhood.

In addition to making the street easier to cross, the new median could help to decrease noise from traffic, said Wentzel, who owns the Wine Thief, a store located at St. Clair and Fairview Avenues. She is also supportive of the new median, she said, because the High Winds Fund has pushed the idea of planting trees and installing lights in the center. This will address another neighborhood concern, the loss of hundreds of elm trees in the past few years due to Dutch elm disease.

Opponents have raised three main concerns with the median. The first is a loss of parking along Snelling with the addition of the median.

The median would also block left-turning traffic onto and off of Snelling at Sargent, Fairmount and Lincoln Avenues, as well as at alleys and driveways along Snelling to the east. Also, some residents are concerned that the slowing of traffic flow along Snelling Avenue would cause more congestion along an already busy and overcrowded street.

However, the overwhelming majority of e-mails and responses received by the High Winds Fund have been positive, Welna said, and many residents seem to agree with Wentzel.

While she recognizes that “these types of inconveniences will be a nuisance,” Wentzel said, she “would much rather waste a minute and have beautiful trees in the neighborhood.”

Though the exact funding for the median has not yet been determined, the cost is estimated at $335,000. The High Winds Fund, Macalester, and the state and federal government would ultimately split the total cost.