St. Paul city leaders, business owners and community members are trying to find ways to pay for streetscape improvements when construction starts on the Central Corridor light rail transit line next year. It will cost more than $20 million to bring new street lights, street trees and other amenities they say are needed along University Avenue and in locations in downtown St. Paul. However, one person’s amenity could be another person’s obstacle. Members of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee (TAAC) want to meet with St. Paul Public Works officials soon to discuss streetscape improvements sought by the city. TAAC members are concerned that some of the ideas under consideration could create problems. The streetscape concerns were discussed April 1.
St. Paul officials were unhappy to learn that the $914 million light rail project budget doesn’t cover the improvements that long have been promised to businesses along the light rail route. The city is trying to raise funds through tax increment financing, requests to the Minnesota Legislature and the city’s Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) process.
City officials would like lantern-style lighting, new street trees, benches, public art and other amenities. They’d also like to make the sidewalks more visually appealing.
Decorative pavers or concrete scored and shaped to look like cobblestones may be considered attractive. But for someone in a wheelchair, the uneven surfaces provide a painful, spine-rattling experience. In a worst-case scenario, someone can sustain injuries talking over such rough surfaces. Guiding a wheeled walker over the surfaces can also be problematic. People who are visually impaired and use canes jab themselves or lose their canes when the tips get caught in surface cracks and they must stop short.
TAAC Member Rozanne Severence has been active in community advisory committee discussions of Central Corridor. She is also monitoring the discussions of public art at each transit station. At some of the Hiawatha Corridor light rail stations, there were complaints that public art installations were in fact obstacles to station access.
“We need to reinforce what our expectations are for accessibility,” said Severance, a wheelchair user.
Recently the TAAC prepared a letter stating what its expectations are for light rail accessibility and user-friendliness along Central Corridor. But TAAC members believe more must be done to emphasize disability community concerns to city and Metropolitan Council officials involved with light rail design.
“It’s like people aren’t communicating,” said TAAC Chairman Ron Biss.
However, the discussion raises another problem. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis have made cuts and changes in staff members that work with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. Margot Imdieke Cross of the Minnesota State Council on Disability also serves on the TAAC. She said “finding compliance staff is difficult in light of the cuts and changes.”
No date has been set for the TAAC to meet with St. Paul officials. Find out about upcoming meetings at www.metcouncil.org