A corridor of calm could emerge near traffic-snarled W. 7th Street in St. Paul, a place where children may someday safely frolic while cyclists and walkers travel between Highland Park to the edge of downtown.
The still-unfunded project called the “Spur” will come up for discussion at the City Council on Wednesday. It’s another opportunity created by the redevelopment of the former Ford plant site — an industrial corridor possibly reborn as a recreational amenity.
Heading east from the Ford site, the 5-mile rail spur begins in a wooded trench and moves through modest neighborhoods before running parallel to W. 7th and connects to downtown. The land is owned by Canadian Pacific Railroad, but it’s only partly used as an active rail line since the Ford plant ceased manufacturing in 2011.
A study completed in April includes a hiking and biking greenway and a future link to the urban village envisioned for the 122-acre Ford site. The plan to be presented to the City Council doesn’t identify how the trail could move forward, nor who might come up with the estimated $12.4 million it could cost to develop. But the idea excites those wanting a safer way to walk and ride between the West End and Highland Park.
“For us, this trail is huge. It’s a game-changer,” said Dana DeMaster, who lives near the Mississippi Market on W. 7th and bicycles with her husband and two sons. “There isn’t any funding yet and they don’t own the railroad yet. But a trail there opens up so many other possibilities.”
St. Paul City Planner Mike Richardson, who is shepherding the study, said the question moving forward will be how to transform it into a trail.
“The response has been very positive to the idea of having a trail serving these neighborhoods,” he said. “It goes through commercial areas, natural areas, industrial and residential areas. The variety of land uses it passes through makes it a very attractive idea.”
Attractive, too, to Alicia Vin Zant, owner of the Seven Spokes Bike Shop on Cleveland Avenue near the Ford site. Bicycling now along Cleveland and W. 7th, she said, “is not real safe.” A dedicated trail, buffered from traffic, would get more families out pedaling. Proponents envision the trail as a cross between the Minneapolis’ urban Midtown Greenway and the quieter vibe of the Gateway Trail connecting St. Paul to Stillwater.
“I think having a Gateway-type trail in that area would be great — a quiet niche,” said Vin Zant, who opened her cycle shop in 2016 “to encourage more families to get out and ride together. Having a designated path would be fabulous.”
While both the Fort Road Federation, which represents the W. 7th area, and the Highland District Council say they support a trail corridor along the spur, Canadian Pacific has given no indication it’s willing to sell, or for how much. The cost estimate to develop the trail doesn’t include land acquisition.
“This remains an active rail,” Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings said in an e-mail. “CP has no further comment at this time.”
Ryan Companies, the Minneapolis-based developer chosen to redevelop the Ford site, is “very much aware” of the proposed trail corridor, Ryan vice president Tony Barranco said in an e-mail. And the company has analyzed the city’s study.
“We are intrigued by the possibilities of the Ford Spur connection and think it has the potential to be a significant benefit to the region, including the Ford redevelopment in Highland Park,” he said. “While the undertaking is a significant public effort, our redevelopment plans support the connection through the CP Rail site and ultimately connecting to the proposed extension of Cretin Avenue.”
As excavators and dump trucks rumbled about the Ford site on a recent snowy weekday, Linda Hoaglund shoveled her sidewalk less than 100 feet away from the spur. While she admits to years of concerns about the city’s plans for the site — traffic, density, building heights — the idea of turning the spur into a recreation corridor is appealing. This was her parents’ home before it was hers, Hoaglund said, and trains used to roll past her home at night.
“A bike trail and walking path?” she said. “That’s what I’d like to see.”