The Snelling Corridor and its Districts: Developing and Enhancing A Transit-Oriented Lattice Connective Structure
Lance M Neckar, Mary Vogel
Report no. CTS 01-04
Streets have a dual role in cities: they provide the spatial armature, or framework, that defines and gives form to the public realm, and they serve as the primary circulatory system of cities accommodating a variety of modes of transportation. Historically, major corridor streets in a city have connected important locations and defined districts around critical intersections and provided employment and commercial services. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, fixed rail and bus transit had a large impact on the order and scale of cities in the western world because transit became a primary means of transportation for the public. Identifiable, densely used streets that worked well with transit became important civic arteries that facilitated movement, generated development, and gave form and identity to the districts of the city. The accessibility provided by the physical structure of the street and its transportation systems became a basis for civic connectivity, and often good transit promoted a sense of vitality and shared community resources. Today, however, the automobile has recast these relationships. In many cities, fundamental civic planning and design decisions have been driven by single-purpose criteria that support the movement and storage of cars. Private transportation has eroded the quality of city streets, especially those corridors that have become arterial streets with large volumes of traffic. In light of these changes, the researchers asked, "Can transit-oriented development build community values? Can older values that used physical connectivity to reinforce social cohesion shape the future? How would new (and old) locational values underpin a transit-oriented reinvestment in the existing city? What design and planning models might suggest how the Twin Cities could foster this kind of change?" With the restructuring of transit authority in recent years, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council now has the opportunity to operate as a transit authority and to coordinate planning and design with transit service provisions. The researchers began this project with an intense field investigation of and discussions with Met Council and Metro Transit staff about the possibilities for study of a metropolitan corridor that could improve ridership, and at the same time, enhance the livability of the districts that were served. Among the metropolitan corridors considered was the Snelling Avenue Corridor, which stretches from one first-ring suburban edge to another. This route cuts a cross-section as it traverses across the entire fabric of the metropolitan area. It serves neighborhoods that reflect the growth tensions of the city of St. Paul, where investment is being pulled southwest and northeast, leapfrogging existing urban infrastructure. The route links some major origins and destinations (such as education, shopping, service, and job land uses) and along it, there may be opportunities for mixed-use development that would incorporate high-density residential. The researchers concluded that the Snelling Avenue Corridor and the Route No. 4 bus service provided a significant opportunity to accomplish some immediate goals of Metro Transit and the city of St. Paul while also exposing the greatest variety of other issues that are accessible or solvable by corridor analysis and a transit-based urban design strategy. The Snelling Avenue Corridor offers an important opportunity to use transit to revitalize neighborhoods and to restructure the city and the metropolitan area. Fundamental land use and urban design decisions must be coordinated with transit planning and operation on this corridor. The unique locational advantage of this corridor means that an enhanced Snelling Avenue has the potential to alter the relationship between the core and the first ring of suburban growth on the north side of the city, since transit can cross and unite municipal jurisdictions. Critical to this opportunity is a mix of land uses that create jobs on or near the transit line. The aim of this study was to suggest a pattern of transit-oriented redevelopment that will reinforce Snelling Avenue's role as an important north-south metropolitan armature and improve the connectivity of the Snelling Corridor with critical east west transit corridors and their related districts. This strategy depends on public policy that emphasizes the central role transit plays in connecting the various centers that already exist on the corridor and that promotes improvements of the transit environment as a catalyst for private reinvestment. This study recommends changing Snelling Avenue incrementally over time from a car-dominated environment to an armature that accommodates the needs of transit users while still serving as an important artery for cars and trucks. The transformation of the Snelling Corridor into a multi-modal street could be designed by: - identifying compatible redevelopment opportunities, - recommending transit-friendly adaptations of circulation, - encouraging building patterns that support the Snelling Corridor as an identifiable civic street, - providing enhancement to the public armature through design. The central design strategies must operate across the scales of the immediate site, the district, the city, and the metropolitan area.