As planning for the Central Corridor light-rail line to run between Minneapolis and St. Paul keeps chugging along, so do questions from the people who live and work on its planned route along University Avenue.
On Monday night, they wanted to learn more about the loss of more than 80 percent of on-street parking on the avenue and about any options to minimize the effect.
Concerns about access to businesses and about pedestrian and bicycle safety are on the minds of many avenue dwellers.
Some of those affected have suggested that they're giving up more than they're gaining from the light-rail project.
More than 50 community leaders, residents and business owners gathered at the Rondo Outreach Library in St. Paul to listen and question Met Council project officials Monday.
Construction on the 11-mile line between the downtowns is scheduled to begin in 2010, with completion in 2014 if everything falls into place. The price tag is $892 million.
As the design process has evolved, it has become clear that about 975 of University Avenue's 1,150 on-street parking spaces could disappear.
Two sets of tracks, two lanes of traffic, left-hand turn lanes, traffic lights, stations and sidewalks will take up plenty of room.
In many areas, the combination of those things means parking has to go.
"We're losing more parking than any of us anticipated," said Steve Boland, executive director of the Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation.
Many business owners along the avenue are concerned about getting customers to their door.
Hai Truong, who owns Ngong Vietnamese Bistro at Avon and University, said losing that much parking space isn't good for a business district as a whole.
And Peter Latuff, who owns Latuff Brothers Auto Body on University, bluntly said to planners: "You're just ruining University Avenue."
Eyeing ways to ease crunch
Planners knew in 2006 that about 625 spaces would need to go because of mandatory features, such as the double traffic lanes in each direction. Another 350 spots could be eliminated because of desired features, such as pedestrian crossing at areas without traffic signals, which were requested by residents and St. Paul.
Planners point out a city of St. Paul study that shows more than 25,000 off-street parking spaces along University. Many of them aren't public, however.
The city has applied for a grant to study parking solutions and is also considering adding meters or requiring permits on side streets.
Between 17,000 and 22,000 vehicles travel on University every day.
At the city of St. Paul's request, engineers recently studied what would happen if University Avenue were reduced to one lane in each direction, leaving a lane for parking, wider sidewalks or bicycle lanes on each side. The study showed that afternoon peak traffic delays at 13 intersections would increase significantly and travel speed would decrease 9 to 13 miles per hour.
Linda Winsor asked whether throwing out parking spots to keep intersections running smoothly was worth it. She suggested planners look for other vibrant cities that have intersection backups and see how they handle them.
Project planners are also studying traffic at other times of the day and whether it's possible to allow parking for part of the day and ban it during rush hours.
At this point, said traffic engineer Dan Soler, there's no money in the project to help lessen the effects of the parking loss.
Met Council employees are still working with businesses along the avenue and might be able to add some spaces here and there, although a dramatic change isn't likely, said Laura Baenen, Central Corridor spokeswoman.
"That's not a set-in-stone number, but it's based on what the community said it wanted," she said.
Monday's meeting also elicited safety concerns. Brian McMahon, executive director of University United, said all the concern seems to be about traffic. But having a sidewalk next to moving traffic with no buffer is a real safety issue, he said, and could drive desired pedestrian traffic away from the avenue.
Chris Havens • 651-298-1542