No one knows more about the crumbling state of municipal roads than Mayor Chris Coleman, who has famously labeled St. Paul's most notoriously rocky streets the "Terrible 20."
So Coleman, serving this year as president of the National League of Cities, is in the perfect position to bring those concerns to Washington in hopes of securing more federal funding for roads and infrastructure.
Coleman is meeting Tuesday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Washington as part of an "Infrastructure Investment Summit" at the Treasury Department.
Among the topics: how to jumpstart movement on President Obama's surface transportation plan, which would dedicate billions to filling the funding gap in the Highway Trust Fund and addressing deteriorating roads and infrastructure across the nation.
Coleman also plans to tell Foxx about the coalition of Minnesota mayors being formed to lobby the state for additional funding for local streets.
Repairs began Monday on 11 of the "Terrible 20" St. Paul arterial streets most in need of work. Coleman and the City Council agreed to spend $2.5 million to scrape and repave those streets for now; that work should be finished before winter sets in.
In the long term, the mayor has proposed $34 million in new funds next year to begin rebuilding the worst streets from the ground up.
City Council members, who have gotten an earful from constituents this year about the streets and as a result proposed their own aggressive program to address the road problems, are convinced that St. Paul needs to act now before more tires go flat and suspensions are busted.
Geraldine Balter just wanted to take a load off her feet. And that's when her problems began.
One Sunday in April, the 69-year-old woman was walking in the St. Paul skyway after shopping at the downtown Walgreens when she pulled a muscle in her leg and decided to stop and rest at a dining area in the Town Square building. A security guard approached her after she was there for a few minutes with her backpack and warned her that if she didn't leave in five minutes, the police were going to be called.
A YouTube video posted last week of Chris Lollie, who is black, being arrested in the skyway by police after he was told that he needed to leave a seating area designated for tenants only in the First National Bank Building has sparked renewed debate about public use of the downtown pedestrian routes and how the law should be enforced. The St. Paul city attorney has said that Lollie was in a public area when he was confronted in January.
When a security guard approached her, Balter, who is white, said she was also angry at how she was treated. There was a sign saying that the food court in that area was closed, but she hadn't interpreted that to mean she couldn't sit in a chair in that area. She decided not to fight it, Balter said Friday.
There's a problem with a lack of public seating in the St. Paul skyway, said Balter, who is a member of the Skyway Governance Advisory Committee of the downtown CapitolRiver Council.
"There's long distances where there's no place to sit and we have lots of seniors in the downtown area," she said.
Balter, who also lives in downtown, said she started a project in June where she walked through the whole skyway (some of the photos she took are shown above) and asked all the security guards she met what their policy was about people sitting in areas of their building. She said she was shocked to learn that most of the guards she spoke with were told by their bosses not to let members of the public sit there.
"I was surprised," she said. "To me, if you see a chair I don't see why you can't sit down."
At First National, she said she was told by the security that only tenants could sit in that seating area. However, she has sat there before and no one said anything to her.
Balter said she was going to try to personally call the different building managers and owners and see if they will add public seating in their buildings.
One topic was notably absent in Mayor Chris Coleman’s budget speech this month, especially given the fact that it was one of last year’s major subjects: recycling.
His plan for 2015 had been to give residents wheeled carts with lids for their recycling, making it easier and more convenient. You can toss everything together into the 96-gallon cart and then wheel it out to the curb or alley.
But that plan has been pushed back. Anne Hunt, Coleman’s environmental advisor, said that the fees proposed by the city’s recycling contractor, Eureka, to implement the wheeled carts would have been too high to stomach right now.
Eureka, on the other hand, says its proposed fee hike was not nearly as high as Hunt says.
Coleman had announced last year a new effort to boost St. Paul’s recycling rates. It involved enlarging the circle of products acceptable for recycling and making it easier for residents to do.
The city’s program now accepts many plastics it had previously rejected, such as yogurt tubs and microwave trays. It also converted to a single-sort system, making it unnecessary for residents to separate newspapers, cans, bottles and other recyclables into different bins.
Hunt said that for 2015, Eureka proposed a fee hike for single-family homes of 58 percent and that city officials negotiated that increase down to 32.6 percent. That was still too high, she said, for the mayor to recommend to the City Council -- especially given the fact that he was proposing a 2.4 percent increase in the property tax levy.
“We’re committed to offering a high-quality program, but also have to be sure that we’re getting the best value that we can,” Hunt said.
But Tim Brownell, co-president of Eureka, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, disputed her figures.
He said the first estimate they gave the city was a 40 percent fee increase for weekly service moved from the curbs and into the city's alleys, which would require different trucks. The city was to cover the cost of the wheeled containers, he said.
Both sides knew 40 percent wouldn't work, Brownell said, so Eureka came back with an 18.8 percent fee hike for every other week service. From there, he said, the city and Eureka negotiated a reduced proposal of 12.2 percent.
With Eureka’s contract with the city ending in 2016, St. Paul officials plan to seek competitive bids for the next contract period. Eureka has provided recycling services for the city since 2000.
Whatever the figures, Roger Meyer, a consultant and neighborhood activist who briefly ran for mayor last year as a Green Party candidate, said he was disappointed by Coleman's decision.
“I think it’s a reflection of where his priorities lie, rather than a negotiated deal with Eureka,” he said. “It was such a big deal in last year’s budget address and then this year there’s no acknowledgement, like it didn’t exist.It just feels like a pretty substantial departure from a commitment made."
If you drive up the hill too fast, you might miss it. The street signs attached to lampposts on a stretch of 6th Street in St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff neighborhood read "Ron Ryan Jr. Blvd."
The street was dedicated in 1999 to the memory of Officer Ron Ryan Jr. who was shot and killed 20 years ago on Aug. 26, 1994, after he responded to a report of someone sleeping in a car in a church parking lot. Officer Tim Jones and his K-9 dog Laser were shot and killed later that same day by the man who shot Ryan as they searched for Ryan's killer. On Tuesday, the 20th anniversary of the killings, the two officers were honored in two ceremonies in St. Paul.
"It always makes you feel good that people still remember," Ron Ryan Sr. said about his son.
Ron Ryan Sr. and his wife, Kelly, attended a special mass at Sacred Heart Church to remember their son and Jones. Ron Ryan Jr. was shot in the church's parking lot 20 years ago.
Pastor Eugene Michel told those in attendance that the service was to reflect on "the tragedy that occurred here on this property."
"We believe that Tim and Ron are with God," Michel said.
Kelly Ryan hugged people as they entered the sanctuary. About 100 friends, family and other officers attended the mass. Among them were several current and past St. Paul police personnel such as Metro Transit Police Chief and former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington.
"For me, it's important to be here to remember," Harrington said.
Officer Kevin Clarkin, who grew up on St. Paul's East Side, said he remembers when the shootings happened. Clarkin, who had yet to join the department, said he was out washing his car when he saw helicopters fly overhead. It wasn't until he turned on his TV that he found out what happened.
"It's hard to believe it's been 20 years," said Clarkin, who made it to the mass on his day off.
Later in the morning, at the St. Paul police headquarters, officers and family along with other guests such as St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and retired St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney gathered for a brief ceremony to honor the officers.
"Twenty years ago was one of the darkest days in the history of the City of St. Paul," said current St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith. "I don't think anybody would argue that fact. It was a day that we lost two of our own."
Ron Ryan Sr. said that Tuesday was going to be a long day for him and his family. Sometimes it feels like his son has been gone "forever." Sometimes, it feels "like yesterday," he said.
To this day, the Ryans still get mail from people offering condolences. Besides making a visit to his son's grave, Ryan said there will also be a gathering Tuesday to remember his son.
August always has been a slow month for the folks at Signal Garage Auto Care. So, 11 years ago, they decided to do something that would help drum up a little business -- while also doing some good for the community and their customers. Signal is offering free brake inspections and, if necessary, repairs to people who bring in a bag of groceries or school supplies. The effort is meant to help restock food shelves and school supply inventory as the new school year is about to start.
"As a neighborhood business, contributing to the lives of those in the community is important to us and our employees. This year marks our 11th year Free Brakes For Food drive." said Heidi Wessel Derhy, co-owner of Signal Garage Auto Care.
Here is the deal, says Avi Derhy of Signal:
For the month of August, customers who make an appointment and bring their car in on a weekday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. -- and provide a bag of nonperishable food items or school supplies -- will get a free test drive and brake inspection. After that, if the vehicle needs new brake pads or shoes, the garage will replace them, free of charge. If the vehicle needs more than that, like calipers or brake lines or rotors, the garage will charge for parts and labor -- but not before getting customer approval first.
As far as foodshelf efforts go, this one seems to work. Derhy said that, in 2012, Signal collected 6,138 pounds of food and $2,000 in school supplies. Last year, the numbers rose to 7,200 pounds of food and $3,106 in school supplies. Signal will also accept cash donations.
Last year, as part of the promotion, Signal performed 331 brake inspections and replaced 138 brake pads sets.
To make an appointment through Aug. 31, call 651-455-1045. Signal locations are at 84 E. Moreland Av. in West St. Paul and at 2050 Grand Av. in St Paul.