At the big development announcement in St. Paul last week, the potential of a fully built-out Ford site had city, state and development officials positively giddy.
By 2040, what is now a 122-acre patch of dirt in Highland Park is expected to be transformed into a 40-block urban village housing up to 8,500 new residents and 1,000 new workers in thousands of new homes, offices and retail space. While much neighborhood discussion — and anxiety — has focused on how a bunch of additional cars will snarl the surrounding neighborhood, planners are simultaneously designing the site to cater to the thousands of people who will reach and traverse it each day by transit, on foot or by bicycle as well.
Nearly 10,000 trips into and out of the site are expected each weekday by walkers, bicyclists and transit riders, according to planning documents. That compares with the nearly 22,000 automobile trips expected by 2040.
“Obviously, the more people who choose transit and other modes of transportation, the less we’ll have to worry about traffic and parking,” said City Council Member Chris Tolbert, who represents the area. “This will be one of the few neighborhoods in St. Paul built with complete streets to accommodate cyclists, walkers, cars and transit. Streets elsewhere weren’t really meant to be multimodal.”
Kevin Gallatin, a member of the Highland District Council who sits on the transportation committee of the St. Paul Planning Commission, said getting people to, from and around the Ford site in ways other than cars is a planning priority.
“There is a strong desire in the community to ensure it happens,” he said, noting that while recent transit studies acknowledge that most people will drive to and from the site, transit will be a major component of its future. “There is talk of adjusting routes in the future, extending routes through the site as needed. And while there’s not much talk of adding routes now, that’s a possibility.”
Howie Padilla, a Metro Transit spokesman, said the Ford site already receives frequent transit service, with several bus routes running nearby and the A Line Bus Rapid Transit rolling down Ford Parkway every 10 minutes. But Padilla confirmed that the agency, which makes service adjustments every three months based on ridership trends, is willing to make changes as the site develops over time.
“This isn’t a development that is all of a sudden going to appear,” he said. “It will be on us to keep an eye on it.”
From the time that the Ford assembly plant was built near the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in 1925 to now, the site has been a barrier to people and traffic moving through the area. Thoroughfares like Cretin and Montreal avenues dead-end there. Under the city’s 2017 master plan and the plans put forward by developer Ryan Cos., the site will feature a new street grid with Cretin, Montreal, Mount Curve Boulevard and Bohland extending through it.
There will be a handful of pedestrian-only zones.
The city’s master plan for the site not only extends Cretin but anticipates using it for enhanced transit service, including possible dedicated lanes. The master plan also contemplates using the existing Canadian Pacific Railway spur as a transit connector to a proposed modern streetcar line that might someday roll down W. 7th Street.
As part of the planning process for the Ford site development, the city in October released what is called an Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR) of the site and areas nearby. The review looked at a number of potential impacts a developed Ford site may have on the area and environment, including traffic, and it examined ways to mitigate that impact. Overall, the AUAR anticipates the area’s transportation network will be able to accommodate the increased traffic volume as the Ford site develops over the next 10 to 15 years.
All the study and discussion so far — including the many millions the city is expected to invest in infrastructure — has officials feeling confident that the Ford site will be designed to accommodate all those new residents, workers and customers. That’s true no matter how they get there, said City Council Member Rebecca Noecker. “Ryan is building it with the idea of not being dependent on cars,” said Noecker, who represents the ward east of the Ford site. “And as cars become less convenient, more people are going to be thinking about even more alternatives.”