The Nov. 17 article “Ford site planners are counting on fewer cars” was informative, in that it revealed the extent to which the Ford site transportation plan is based on little in the way of facts and objectivity.
In September 2017, the city of St. Paul approved the Ford Site Master Zoning plan, which set forth a range of 2,400 to 4,000 housing units for the 122-acre site. The developer for the project settled on a proposal of 3,800 housing units, which likely will result in a population density considerably higher than New York City’s.
The recently completed environmental review for the Ford site indicates that the development will generate 22,000 additional daily vehicle trips, and even more if you count the nearly 8,000 vehicle trips that the city categorized as “various reductions” to be trimmed off the total amount. The same study also estimates that for midrise multifamily housing units, there will be only one commuter trip for every four dwelling units, implying that most of those residents will stay in their apartments, walk, bike or take mass transit.
Even more puzzling, the conclusion of the study appears to be that the existing infrastructure in the area will accommodate the increased demand generated by the development.
What steps are we taking to make sure that we have transportation infrastructure commensurate with the scale of this new development? Belaboring the obvious, City Council Member Chris Tolbert stated: “[T]he more people who choose transit … the less we’ll have to worry about traffic and parking.” Kevin Gallatin of the Highland District Council and Planning Commission Transportation Committees stated that there is a “strong desire in the community” to ensure that residents of the Ford site development use modes of transportation other than cars and that there’s “talk” of adjusting current transit routes, but “not much talk” of adding new routes.
Tolbert’s and Gallatin’s assumptions ignore the elephant in the room. We are about to break ground on an urban development project that is 10 times the scale of the surrounding neighborhood, and the city doesn’t have a coherent transportation plan.
To be clear, promoting multimodal transportation options and pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure is good policy. However, forcing reduced demand for vehicle trips through indifference to traffic congestion is misguided policy that undermines the environmental sustainability objectives the planners are intending to serve.
The Ford site development presents a remarkable opportunity for our community. Current and future residents deserve a thorough transportation plan, supported by rigorous analysis, that ensures safe and efficient travel into, out of and adjacent to the new development. Such a plan must be based on objective and reasonable traffic estimates, and take into account that the Ford site is landlocked and cut off from arterial highways.
It’s possible to balance environmental and housing goals with a transportation plan that prioritizes safety, efficiency and livability.
Matt McGuire and Lynn Varco are both Highland Park residents and board members on the Highland District Council. The views expressed here are solely their own.