We kicked off bike to work week with a visit from our city council representative. Apart from the expected conversation about what the city is doing for/to bicyclists we chatted about our corner: Robert Street North and 9th Street East. Where are the street trees? Where are the trash cans and recycling receptacles? Where is the bike parking? Where is the pedestrian scale lighting? Where are the benches for the bus stop? Everywhere I look from my corner I see places for cars but very few places for people. Don’t we deserve nice things — just like the people who shop, dine and work on Grand Avenue?
One block up is a different story because in St. Paul the city relies on property redevelopment to make improvements to the sidewalks. Our neighbors across the street have sidewalk cafes, bike parking, and street trees. St. Paul is not atypical in this approach; most cities use the development approval process to leverage improvements that benefit the public. The problem with that approach is the properties that don’t turnover — like ours.
Depending on the private sector for improvements to public spaces is a form of divestment. And the results are predictable: storefronts will remain vacant and the unwelcoming sidewalk will attract undesirable uses.
We will keep sweeping and shoveling our sidewalk. We put out flowers and tables and chairs for when the weather is nice. Our awning is going to stay up because there’s no shelter at the bus stop. We will gladly surrender the parking space outside our door for use as a bike corral. But we’re not going to empty the trash can on the corner — that’s up to the City and it needs to do that more than once a week.