Let's Get It Right [IMAGE]
Neighbors Speak Out

by Kent Petterson

It received mixed reaction, my contribution to the Great River Passage (GRP) proposal debate in last month’s Community Reporter. Neighbors offered support and congratulations and one cited an “even-handed” approach. From the City, one official labeled my piece as “a wealth of inaccurate information.” I had offered criticism of the GRP proposal for its inclusion of a soccer complex at Victoria Park and for the implementation structure in Chapter 7 of a new River Division with unnamed nonprofit and action committee partners. One thing my opinion piece did was to undermine the assertion that this proposal had gained consensus, which I had heard at a recent meeting. I am not the only one who would be offended to be included as agreeing with this current proposal rushing toward approval.

Share Your Ideas for a Great Community Park: As the GRP and Victoria Park planning processes continue, Community Reporter will dedicate this space to sharing your ideas. West End resident Lori Harris says: “Victoria Park is a part of the West End. The West End is sorely in need of true green space. The citizens of the West End have a vision of the park as a place rich with a connection to the river. Let us hope that our voices will be heard and that the democratic process can still be found in the West End and in our city.” Credit: St. Paul Parks & Recreation.

My piece was offered as opinion; I did strive for accuracy of fact. I wish I had that impression of striving for accuracy in the consultant work in the GRP proposal officially offered to the City on January 11. We have come to learn from St. Paul Parks and Recreation (Parks) that as far back as August 15, 2011, Parks had resolved to remove any reference to the soccer complex in the GRP proposal. Yet the plan was published on December 15 and posted on the GRP website with those pesky soccer fields still mentioned and shown numerous times. It wasn’t until mid January at the urging of Fort Road Federation President Tonya Nicholie-Johnson that Parks asked her for a list of the mistaken soccer references, indicating they still wanted to remove the soccer complex.
On or about January 19, Parks indicated they would be removing the references to soccer in the GRP plan, but added “the sketch on page 128 shows light standards on a flat expanse of green, (and) we believe that this is a true depiction of the various ideas that have been discussed.”

On January 28 the Community Reporter was out on the street and on February 2 Parks finally gave up on the last vestige of soccer in the GRP, the lighted field illustration on P.128. It took from August 15 to February 2 for Parks to resolve a second time not to prejudge the Victoria Park advisory process that is just beginning. If you wish to comment on the future of Victoria Park, please contact the Fort Road Federation: fortroadfed@fortroadfederation.org or 651-298-5599.

About my Neighbor Speaks Out piece, a city official commented “I always thought you were one of the most informed, most involved and most supportive of the GRP process. What happened??” Well, I was, I am and what happened? I read the document when it came out on December 15. I was shocked at how much of the final GRP document had not been discussed in the Advisory Committee process. Soccer was there, but now it is removed; the references to river and community parks were sloppy consultant work; from where was the money for a budget of $9 million dollars for the river division coming? The implementation language in chapter 7 was not fully descriptive and troubling especially for the Action Committee. Why were the SITES sustainability benchmarks discussed without mentioning or reconciling to the fact that most of the 3500 acres is in the flood plain? Where was an overlay map in the proposal showing the 100-year flood plain? Why is a $7.5 million dollar Environmental Learning Center proposed for Watergate in the flood plain? Why was a clear overlay map and discussion of the Critical Area of the National Park not included? The current site for the Patrick’s Mound memorial at Victoria Park is terrible; Why was the grade-separated crossing at Walnut now out of the plan on one map and still shown on a second map when it was favored by neighborhood committee members and clearly in the GRP plan back in June? This grade separation was the last major piece to complete the only bike path going north in that area.

We do have lovely pictures, aspirations and ideas included. We have a change of character for Shepard Road, which I had said at the first meeting needed to be safer for crossing of pedestrians and bikers or the proposal would have “come up short.” There also is much to like.

We have heard from the City and agree that this is the people’s plan for its vision of the river, and I would like to get it right. As those who have examined the proposal carefully are finding, the proposal has enough that is problematical in small and big ways that indicate the need for improvement, correction and revision. All citizens, district councils and responding bodies should take a long hard look at the details and take as much time as necessary to make sure we have a plan that lives up to what we all expect for the city. I continue to believe this adoption process is scheduled to go too fast to achieve the document that the city deserves. What exactly is the rush? This is a plan for the next 50 years and we should take time to get it right.

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Smarter Travel Around St. Paul [IMAGE]

By Sharon McCord

Thanks to funding by the City of St. Paul and St. Paul Smart Trips, modish bicycle parking racks that look like artwork grace the front of a dozen West Seventh businesses. Promotion of bicycling as an alternative to driving is part of Smart Trips’ vision.

St. Paul Smart Trips, a nonprofit organization, strives to improve access and mobility for those traveling in and around St. Paul. Through collaboration with individuals, organizations and government, Smart Trips promotes sustainable transportation such as improved transit services, new and safer bicycle and pedestrian pathways, and less use of single occupant vehicles.

St. Paul Smart Trips, created in 2008 from the merger of two transportation management organizations, is funded by Bike Walk Twin Cities and a federal program, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement, which is designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Smart Trips offers many programs and services in sustainable transportation including their signature program, the Neighborhoods program which has reached three St. Paul neighborhoods so far — Summit-University, Union Park and Highland Park. The Neighborhoods program helps St. Paul residents explore options like walking, biking and transit and learn about healthy, green, and economical ways to reduce automobile travel.

According to Jessica Treat, Executive Director of St. Paul Smart Trips, “We need to create better options to car travel, make people aware of those options, and get people to overcome barriers and try something new.”

To promote the Neighborhoods program, Smart Trips sponsors workshops, bike rides and neighborhood walks. In addition, a direct mailing to each household offers motivational materials they can order such as pedometers, reflective leg bands, tote bags, and Metro passes. Residents are encouraged to set goals for increased use of noncar travel, record their trips, then mail in the completed trip log to receive prizes like Metro Go-to cards.

Treat said the term “active transportation” best describes one of the Neighborhoods program goals. For example, bicycling to work is “active transportation” that accomplishes several things at once — it saves money, helps the environment, and provides exercise so that a trip to the gym isn’t necessary.

In the 2010 Highland Park Neighborhoods program, which cost $134,000 according to the published report, more than 1,000 residents were engaged; 83% of survey respondents reported taking new biking, walking or transit trips; 3% of respondents reported increased biking, while 5% of respondents reported increased walking. Treat said the Neighborhoods program is currently being tweaked, with the hope of bringing the program to every St. Paul neighborhood.

Additional Smart Trips outreach efforts include free services to employers that help develop and support employee transportation options. “The goal,” said Treat, “is for the employer to offer bus passes, bicycle parking or HourCar service instead of subsidized car parking.” Treat said that Smart Trips, located in downtown St. Paul, offers its employees HourCar service for short trips while at work. HourCar is a St. Paul service with car rental membership plans as an alternative to car ownership.

The Ride Match program helps commuters find someone who lives and works near them to share rides. Also, Smart Trips hosts commuter fairs, conducts surveys of employees’ commuter preferences and educates employers about federal and state tax savings available to them for adopting better commuter options.

Each year Smart Trips partners with Metro Transit in Commuter Challenge. A pledge to trade out one drive-alone trip for one by foot, bike, bus or train was signed by 15,000 commuters April through June, 2011. Pledge participants were entered into a draw for prizes such as an iPad or Amazon Kindle.

Another annual event that Smart Trips sponsors along with other regional partners is the Commuter Choice Awards that recognize organizations, employers, and individuals for creative solutions to promoting alternatives to driving alone. At a November 2011 luncheon, seven Twin Cities’ organizations and four individuals were honored for their achievements in the past year.

Being a leader on a whole array of transportation topics is another goal of Smart Trips. For example, Treat educates the public and public officials on how a bump-out at an intersection helps a pedestrian by shortening the crossing distance, or how a crossing signal should be timed to allow the slowest pedestrian to cross the street safely.

Treat explained the “complete streets” policy that the city of St. Paul has adopted and that Smart Trips helps promote. When a street is being redesigned or repaved, all the users of that street — bikers, pedestrians, bus riders and motorists — are considered in the plan. Treat said a section of Snelling Avenue is slated to be repaved within two years and using the “complete streets” policy should result in improved intersection design.

The Smart Trips website offers links to Metro Transit, biking and walking maps and information about car pooling. The monthly newsletter provides a calendar of local events, information about organizations and resources involved with transportation in the Twin Cities, as well as links to sustainable transportation news.

Additional information about St. Paul Smart Trips is available at smart-trips.org. Additional information about HourCar service is available at hourcar.org.

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Is There a Pattern Here? [IMAGE]
Neighbors Speak Out

A Letter from The Friends of Lilydale Park
by Grit Youngquist & Jon Kerr

We have tried to represent our 13 years of interactions with literally thousands of Lilydale Park users, during which three main priorities have consistently been identified: 1. Protect and interpret the unique natural and historical elements and character of the park; 2. Appropriately (in keeping with #1) improve trail and water access opportunities; and 3. Add limited public amenities that have a small eco-footprint and impact on the park experience, therefore: small scale, well-designed and environmentally sensitive: restrooms, small gathering areas for environmental education/interpretation (that include fire circles), and a dog park.

Sadly, we have to report seeing very little of those public interests represented in a Lilydale plan “final” design presented by staff and consultants to us for the first time February 6. Instead, we see a project driven by staff insistence on a major road redesign and parking lots they maintain are necessary first steps — with all other Lilydale Regional Park Master Plan elements put off into the undefined future. Parks staff plan to begin construction on their priorities by early summer.

This comes even as Parks staff finally confirmed our long-suspected fears of an approximately $700,000 budget gap that should seemingly force even more focus on public priorities. Yet, staff reaction has been to put off funding items such as restrooms, small scale public shelters, many trail and water access improvements and other elements of the Master Plan, which the public had welcomed. In addition, the Feb. 6 final plan drawings allowed no vehicular access to Pickerel Lake, thus eliminating or greatly diminishing, current patterns of use enjoyed by many people with non-motorized boats — including easy access for ice fishing.

Over the past several years we have tried in multiple ways to raise all these concerns with Saint Paul Parks & Recreation staff, leadership and their consultants. Especially given the new budget shortfall, we have asked if it wouldn’t be prudent to implement the road redesign in stages. We specifically suggested a way initial road work could be done to address most needed road improvements (east entrance into the park up to the narrow railroad underpass), while allowing funding for at least some of the other desired park improvements. Staff and consultants seemed reluctant to even consider such options, though they admitted these ideas would not be impossible.

We continue to believe that there must be better options that fit with both the new budget situation and the long-term Lilydale Regional Park Master Plan goals. We would be happy to talk with or provide information: lilydalepark@oldmanriver.com or 651-227-2264.

We urge anyone concerned to contact Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Director, Mike Hahm: 651-266-6400 or michael.hahm@ci.stpaul.mn.us; Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman: 651-266-8510 or chris.coleman@ci.stpaul.mn.us; and for Saint Paulites, your City Council member: 651-266-8560.

If you don’t live in Saint Paul but love Lilydale Park, your voice is important. While this is a City of Saint Paul plan (Saint Paul Parks & Recreation manages the park), Lilydale is a regional park and the plan in question will utilize Met Council funds paid for by all surrounding cities and citizens. Please ask staff and elected officials to look seriously at alternatives before locking into an approach that changes the park without clearly addressing top public priorities.

Everyone wants to have a process and ultimately a Lilydale Park we can be proud of. We believe democracy and good planning is not always something that can be rushed and certainly not decided without full public input. We urge all parties to reconsider and look closely at all options before jumping into a decision that could set the tone for how we all ultimately view and experience Lilydale Park.

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