At Macalester College in St. Paul, where campus and neighborhood life often intertwine, pedestrian safety has been so vital a goal that an official describes its Grand Avenue median as the college's "expensive little jewel."
Next, perhaps, comes a landscaped median down Snelling Avenue -- a four-lane straightaway where motorists are more apt to speed up than slow down. It's an idea that has supporters beyond the school.
A green median, they say, not only would offer a pedestrian refuge between Grand and St. Clair avenues, where the median is proposed, but also could advance the concept of "livable streets."
"Elements of livable streets and pedestrian-friendly areas are being brought more into the mainstream," David Kuebler, a city public works engineer, said recently. "And if you can make a trunk highway into a more livable street, it should be doable in other areas, too."
On Thursday, the Macalester-Groveland Community Council agreed to back city efforts to seek state money. It has yet to lend full support, however, saying the city needs to resolve issues involving access to a nearby strip mall.
In addition to business-related concerns, opponents also have worries about how changes associated with the median might affect traffic flow and parking in the neighborhood east of Snelling. Others see a median as a potential "waste of money," according to written comments.
But critics are in the minority. A breakdown of the comments, collected when the city tested traffic flow by simulating a median, showed 161 of 204, or 79 percent, in favor.
A median, supporters say, could increase pedestrian safety, calm traffic and beautify the Snelling Avenue corridor.
For decades, Macalester College has fostered a culture in which the people who work there also live in the neighborhood, said Tom Welna, director of its High Winds Fund.
When focus groups were assembled in 2005 to help create a 10-year agenda for the fund, Welna said, a universal message was: "Do something about Snelling." The avenue, he said, "is a river of cars."
According to the city, there were a total of four pedestrian accidents and two bicycle accidents in the six blocks between Grand and St. Clair from Oct. 31, 2004, to Oct. 31, 2007.
A median would retain two lanes of traffic in each direction, but eliminate much of the parking on Snelling, as well as a majority of the left turns into the neighborhood.
Like the median constructed on Grand Avenue, which splits the campus, a Snelling median is envisioned to have trees and planters, but unlike Grand's, would have grass, too.
That appeals to Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit group that works statewide to encourage walking, biking and transit-oriented development. In November, it urged public support of the Snelling median.
Joan Pasiuk, who oversees a bike/walk grant program for the group, said that because Snelling is fully built, there are limits to how much it can be changed. But a landscaped median, she said, would be a major improvement.
Construction could cost as much as $750,000, if historic lighting is included. No city tax dollars would be used.
Anthony Lonetree • 651-298-1545
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