I went for a bike ride today in the glorious June weather. I decided to check out the River-to-River Greenway trail in my own West St. Paul neighborhood.
Well, I biked the sections of nice trail, OK trail, crappy sidewalks and really bad connections that make-up what could eventually become the River-to-River Greenway trail through West St. Paul. It’s not officially designated as such just yet, mainly because West St. Paul is dragging its feet and turning its nose at about $3 million of county, state and federal money. More on that in a minute.
Here’s the path the River-to-River Greenway currently takes:
Again, most of this is sidewalks connecting green space. It’s not much of a regional trail. When you leave Marthaler Park and head east on Wentworth Avenue, you’re following sidewalk pretty much until you get to Thompson Park. It’s there, but it’s not a great bike riding experience.
To the far west (and off the map) is where the trail runs through Dodge Nature Center and the brand new section. It’s wide, smooth and beautiful. That’s what the entire trail will someday become. Hopefully.
Current Greenway Condition
Right now, the trail has a few places where it needs help:
- The Garlough and Marthaler Park sections are a quiet, secluded respite from the noise of the city, but they’re also in rough shape. Thankfully there’s a plan to repave, widen and even realign the path.
- There needs to be a better crossing at Wentworth. I was fine on my own, but this could be sketchy at busy times and especially with kids. Thankfully this will be addressed in future improvements to Wentworth Avenue.
- Crossing Robert Street is pretty ugly. There are a bunch of driveways on both sides of Robert Street to watch out for, and then crossing six lanes of the busy street itself (two lanes in each direction, plus right and left turn lanes on the southbound side), while keeping an eye out on drivers turning right on red who don’t watch for bikes. The intersection is much improved with the Robert Street construction, but you definitely need to be wary with kids. The best solution here is, of course, a tunnel, that pulls the trail away from busy roads, improving the safety and overall experience. Critics claim this section and the crossing are just fine for a regional trail—I think it’s clear they’ve never used it.
- There’s about a mile or so along Wentworth and then Oakdale that’s basically just sidewalk next to busy road. Not the greatest trail experience, and it’s in rough shape. We need improvements here, and some of that can be helped with the tunnel and some with a potential realignment through the Thompson Oaks golf course.
The heart of the trail—crossing Robert Street—is really the worst part. Following busy roads on a sidewalk for more than a mile is not a good trail experience. You can get away with that kind of thing when there’s clearly no other option. And for short distances, people will put up with it, especially if there’s a worthy destination. But it’s not something that anyone will want to walk or bike with their family.
It’s just not a good place to route a regional trail. It’s noisy and stressful.
Future Greenway Improvements
Thankfully there’s a solution, one I’ve been pushing pretty hard for: The Robert Street tunnel.
By routing the trail north of Wentworth Avenue and crossing Robert Street at Crawford Drive with a tunnel, the trail is able to minimize some of the noise and a lot of the stress. It’s still an urban trail for sure, but it becomes a much safer trail and overall a better experience.
There’s also potential for that future realignment through the golf course that would lessen this ‘sidewalk on a busy road’ experience and route the trail through more green space. That’s down the road, but ideally it could go hand-in-hand with other developments.
As is the trail really lacks a center. Both ends are pretty great (Dodge, Garlough, Marthaler on one end, Thompson Park into Kaposia toward the Mississippi on the other), but the connection is no picnic.
We have a real opportunity with the River-to-River Greenway trail to add a tunnel and make it safer, create some kind of a parking lot/trail head that would give the trail a focal point. It would be a moment to pause on the trail, have some historic signage touting West St. Paul (much like the trailhead at Simon’s Ravine talks about South St. Paul and earlier history). That pause would give opportunity to point to the numerous nearby attractions—the library, the Dome, the YMCA, city hall, etc.
As the trail currently exists, sticking to a sidewalk along Wentworth Avenue, you’re tempted to just put your head down and pedal fast to get through the boring urban stretch and back to relaxing green space (which of course would be dangerous—way too many driveways and intersections for you to put your head down).
And that’s just biking. Never mind walking. Nobody is going to enjoy a relaxing stroll for a mile along Wentworth and Oakdale. But if we could push the trail away from the roads, toward green space and cross Robert Street with a tunnel, well, then we might have something.
Thankfully there’s a plan for that tunnel, including funding that completely covers the cost without adding to West St. Paul’s budget. The River-to-River Greenway trail would be a major attraction to West St. Paul, and the tunnel is already paid for. Yet still our elected officials balk and drag their feet.
Support the Greenway
If you think the trails in West St. Paul can be better, please join me in supporting the tunnel. Here are two simple things you can do:
Thanks! Every voice matters in this.
More on the River-to-River Greenway:
- Visit Dakota County’s River-to-River Greenway page for project reports, factsheets, and more.
- Like the WSP Greenway Project page on Facebook for more details and updates.
- Read my post, How to Make West St. Paul Awesome, for a detailed account of the benefits of the trail.
- Read my post, 7 Misconceptions About the Robert Street Tunnel, for more questions and critiques.
- Read my post, River-to-River Greenway Questions, for more answers about the project.
- Ready my post, Why I Won’t Shut Up About a Trail, for my thoughts on legacy.