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St. Paul's Arcade Street may be due for makeover

25 June 2022

Richard Guzzo calls the street in front of his auto-repair shop the “Arcade speedway” after decades of watching cars drive too fast down Arcade Street.

A few years ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) began the project to redesign and reconstruct portions of both E. 7th Street and Arcade Street, hoping to improve safety and accessibility in that area. But some business owners are worried about how the construction and new design will affect their customers and profits.

The streets run through the Payne-Phalen and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods, where more than 60% of residents are people of color and almost 30% are immigrants, according to MNCompass.

The project’s budget is $5 million.

“If you really look, the curves are crumbling. There’s big holes in the gutters. The signs are mismatched. The lighting is mismatched,” said Jack Byers, executive director of the Payne-Phalen Community Council. He adds that the width of the street is inconsistent, and “it’s kind of confusing about where the parking is and where it isn’t.”

The design plan deadline was the end of this month, with construction beginning spring 2024. But Mai Xiong, MnDOT communications specialist, said the deadline has been extended to provide more time for community engagement.

The timeline will most likely “be extended by weeks, not necessarily months,” Xiong said.

Tired of watching motorists get away with speeding and other traffic laws, Guzzo warns that any improvements to Arcade should come with more enforcement.

“Change the road. Spend all the taxpayers’ money. Change the intersections. Put in some more stoplights, whatever,” Guzzo said. But “if you don’t force people to obey the law, they’re not going to.”

What changes may look like

MnDOT planners want to make the streets safer and reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. Ideas include adding bike lanes, parking and pedestrian and bus bump-outs.

Currently, Arcade Street and E. 7th Street are four lanes, with speed limits of under 25 miles per hour. In 2020, Ramsey County released a research report with findings of the safety benefits from reducing lanes.

At least one of the design alternatives includes reducing Arcade Street, between Geranium Avenue and Wheelock Parkway, from four lanes to three lanes, to slow traffic.

One suggestion from the community is to add audio to the crosswalk intersections in four different languages: Hmong, Karen, Somali and Spanish.

“Knowing how diverse this area is, just ethnically, socio-economically, we wanted to make sure that we’re talking to the larger organizations,” Xiong said. “But we also wanted to make sure that we got people who didn’t speak English, and maybe aren’t aware that these processes happen, before we come in and start digging up the ground.”

Safety concerns

The G.W. Carver Cultural Center for Innovation on E. 7th Street was hosting a food pop-up event last year when one of the chefs saw a hit-and-run. A female pedestrian was hit by a vehicle that then fled.

“Somebody hit her and just kept going,” said Carl Johnson, the center’s executive director. They immediately called for help, but she did not survive.

The neighborhood surrounding E. 7th and Arcade streets is very dense, so many people walk to the restaurants and stores. There are design elements that can make them more safe by slowing down vehicles and making pedestrians more visible at intersections.

Last week, the Carver Cultural Center held a meeting with MnDOT and local business leaders to talk about the project. Johnson raised concerns about safety.

“It’s heavy traffic, people are going over 25 miles an hour, almost 40,” he said.

One of the proposals, cutting traffic to three lanes, with the center one used for turns, hasn’t won over everyone who has seen it already in place on Maryland Avenue. That center turn lane becomes a racing lane, Guzzo said.

“If you drive slowly … then people behind you want to go faster, they will still pass you anyway. They can go onto the third lane and pass you anyway on Maryland. Yeah, I see that happen a lot,” said Chang Vang, manager of Arcade Wine & Spirits.

Business owners wary

It is not clear how long the construction would take. That and other uncertainties such as whether the road will be closed or traffic detoured or even if parking will be limited have some business owners worried about how the work will impact them.

Vang expects construction to hurt businesses that rely on street parking.

“Construction will probably be the only thing we’re worried about, I would say, because of the traffic and how people will get here,” said Maly Kong, owner of Kong’s Kitchen, a family business. Their restaurant relies on nearby street parking and the back alley.

MnDOT’s Xiong said the construction will be done in sections, so business owners have time to communicate with MnDOT and plan how to protect customer access to their stores.

The Payne-Phalen Community Council is hosting a community meeting on June 28, at 6:30 p.m., at the Arlington Hills Community Center to vote and decide on recommendations for project’s design plan.

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