Snelling Median may include trees, streetlights

By Anna Waugh

As interest mounts for the proposed 10-foot wide median between Grand and Saint Clair on Snelling Avenue designed to make the street safer for pedestrians to cross, the idea continues to gain support among local community organizations and business owners.Since 2005, Macalester’s High Winds Fund has been working with local organizations including the transportation committee of the Mac-Groveland Community Council, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the St. Paul Public Works Department to make the street safer to cross.

According to Tom Welna ’86, director of the High Winds Fund, the proposed median would serve to enhance pedestrian safety in two ways. First, it would allow pedestrians to deal with one direction of traffic at a time by creating a break in the middle of the street. Second, it would narrow the street, calming traffic flow and causing motorists to drive slower even as the current speed limit of 30 mph would remain the same.

One of the reasons why Snelling is so dangerous is because of its proximity to Interstate 35E. Since trucks are forbidden from using the portion of the interstate that runs through St. Paul, many exit at West 7th St. and drive north along Snelling, effectively making the street a residential freeway.

The latest traffic count, taken in April 2006, showed that about 25,000 vehicles per day drive the portion of Snelling between Grand and Saint Clair, the stretch the proposed median would cover.

Snelling is in the second week of a four-week trial using orange vertical tube delineators to simulate the conditions of the median on traffic flow. Following the trial, a report will be issued for public consideration. On Monday, Nov. 26, students and neighborhood residents will be given the opportunity to comment at a meeting of the Transportation Committee, and decide whether or not to endorse the median.

Katrina Wentzel, who lives east of campus on Sargent Avenue and is the owner of The Wine Thief, a popular wine shop on Saint Clair, said that she supports the median because it will reduce noise from traffic.

Wentzel said she appreciates the project as an effort to beautify the neighborhood, since the High Winds Fund has been pushing for the median to include elm trees and streetlights. This will address another neighborhood concern, the loss of hundreds of elm trees in the past few years due to Dutch-Elm disease.

Despite its support, residents have raised concerns.

The first is a loss of parking along Snelling. With the addition of the median, parking will no longer be allowed in some places along Snelling where parking is currently permitted.

The median will 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 will cause more congestion along an already busy and overcrowded street.

Support for the median within the neighborhood remains strong, Welna said. He said this is evidenced by the numerous emails sent to the High Winds Fund concerning the proposal.

For her part, Wentzel echoes the sentiment of numerous other residents, saying that while “these types of inconveniences will be a nuisance, [I] would much rather waste a minute and have beautiful trees in the neighborhood.”

Though the source of funding for the median has not yet been determined, the cost is estimated at $335,000. The High Winds Fund, Macalester College, and the state and federal government will ultimately share the total cost.

The vertical tube delineator trial was paid for entirely by the High Winds Fund at the cost of $14,000.