Dangerous precedent on Grand
I have just about had it with zoning variances being handed out by the city of Saint Paul, as if the rules that were sensibly set up by retired City Council member Dave Thune and other concerned residents mean absolutely nothing (“Plans for mixed-use building resurfaces at Dixie’s on Grand,” Villager, March 17). The property owner at 695 Grand Ave. tried to get the neighborhood to agree once before to a new five-story building on a site zoned for a maximum of three stories. It is so shortsighted to keep weighing on the side of business when the city also has obligations to precedent and to the residents who live here.
I was so disappointed to hear that the owners of Emmett’s, Saji-Ya and Dixie’s are once again trying to push their interests above the established maximum of three stories. If they get their variance, nothing will stop others from requesting a variance for five stories. Grand Avenue is unique in its character, and we don’t want the tone to change as it did in the Uptown area. The result has ruined that business district in Minneapolis, and the same will happen here.
The city has an obligation to uphold the character of Grand Avenue and not to hand out variances just because they are requested by opportunistic businesses. There have been far too many granted in recent years. Restrictions should mean something, and it is up to the City Council to be responsible to the neighborhood’s taxpaying residents. It’s so easy to ruin a one-of-a-kind street.
Please don’t allow this five-story structure to be built. Consider the future and what this detrimental change would mean going forward.
Expand path along river road
I have lived on Mississippi River Boulevard near the Marshall Avenue-Lake Street Bridge for more than 10 years. During that time I have walked, run and bicycled on its path hundreds of times. As city leaders consider reducing river road from a two-way to a one-way street in order to accommodate a larger pedestrian and bicycle path, I have two words: Please do.
The current path configuration is dangerously complicated and small. There are several situations that require the most caution: grandparents, parents, young children and dogs going for a walk; parents with young children on bicycles; two friends walking and talking in the middle of the path; spandex-clad men on expensive bicycles going too fast.
As a slow runner and a medium-speed bicyclist, I have had near misses with all the above. We should not be discouraging these groups from coming to river road. We want to see more families, children, seniors, people in wheelchairs, dogs and, yes, spandex-clad bicyclists. And we can do it safely. A bigger path and less car traffic are the answers.
Giving bicyclists a bad name
My wife and I attempted to cross Mississippi River Boulevard at Randolph Avenue on Sunday, March 21. This intersection has all-way stop signs. As we stepped out onto river road, we were nearly run over twice. Two different groups of bicyclists heading north—with plenty of advanced warning of our crossing—could not be bothered to slow down much less stop for their stop sign. When we pointed out the sign, we were told to “mind your own business.”
Bicyclists wonder why they are held in disregard by some pedestrians.
Ease up on river road rhetoric
Several correspondents in the March 3 Villager Inbox are in high dudgeon over “speeding bicyclists” along Mississippi River Boulevard. One claims that bicyclists try to go 30 mph and recommends lowering the speed limit to 8 mph on the combined path. Bicycles generally don’t come equipped with speedometers. I know I don’t exceed 10 mph on my bike, or I could make the trip to work (about 5 miles) in under half an hour, but 8 mph would prohibit me from making it in under 40 minutes.
Another correspondent complains of cyclists neglecting to announce their passing. What often happens when a cyclist audibly signals is that the pedestrians splay out, maybe fling out their arms and hop about like startled rabbits. Quite reasonably, if there’s enough room to pass, a cyclist might avoid prompting such a self-endangering reaction. An underlying problem seems to be that bicycles somehow freak some people out. Many a driver or pedestrian reacts as if the cyclist’s very presence violates the norms of society, if not the laws of nature.
The recent outpouring of anti-bicyclist fervor has been provoked by an overweening proposal to close the southbound lane of river road to vehicular traffic, turning it into a bike lane. For local homeowners, that must seem tantamount to a taking of private property. Better that we share the road than harm the interests of our fellows. As a cyclist, I need no more than the existing bike lanes and the rules of the road that govern us all. Only let the snow and ice be cleared and the roads fixed so that it’s safe to ride, run or walk.
Incidentally, in some stretches along the river, the path is divided, allotting two lanes (one each way) to cyclists and one to pedestrians. This arrangement could satisfy those who wish to regiment others, and it could even work, provided pedestrians (and their dogs) stay in their lane. They don’t, naturally, but as long as people are alert, that’s fine.
Eva von Dassow
Protect U.S. from catastrophe
As an emergency management professional, I have dedicated my career to protecting the safety of people across our state. However, every year we are seeing increasingly severe weather and flooding. Unless we build our communities for future risk, we will see more of our friends and neighbors suffer from natural disasters. One area we must focus on is transportation infrastructure. After years of underfunding, the nation’s transportation infrastructure is in dire need of major repairs and upgrades. This has to be a priority. Failing to do so puts people’s lives at risk and threatens our economy.
If roads are flooded by record rainfall, trucks cannot deliver food. If air traffic is grounded for days by snow or ice, it slows package delivery and business. If a bridge or culvert has been washed out, emergency medical crews cannot help those in need. The list goes on.
That is why Congress should pass a transportation infrastructure bill that prioritizes resilience. This means projects should incorporate protective features to reduce the risk of recurring damage. Additionally, communities will need funding to do resilience planning so they know where to spend public dollars effectively. Lastly, states should be allowed to use funds from existing programs to support resilience measures.
This is the kind of forward-thinking planning, investing and building we must do to keep our communities safe in the years to come.
Editor’s note: The writer is the former director of Emergency Management for the city of Saint Paul and past president of the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers.
Rep. Pinto has failed us
When the children of our district needed him most, state Representative Dave Pinto (DFL-District 64B) was nowhere to be found. Instead of fighting to provide a quality education for the children who need it most, Pinto has been siding with the teachers’ unions and working to keep students out of the classroom.
School closures have had a devastating effect on our children. Depression and suicide rates have gone up, while engagement and grades have gone down. That is not even considering the parents who have not been able to go to work because they need to stay home and watch their children attend school on Zoom.
Representative Pinto needs to side with the families in his district and vote to repeal Governor Walz’s disastrous emergency powers that have kept children out of the classroom. This is not a partisan issue, as the Minnesota State Senate passed a resolution on March 18 to revoke Walz’s overreaching powers with bipartisan support (38-29). Four DFL senators crossed party lines to support the repeal.
The Legislature must go further than a simple repeal of Walz’s powers. They must send a message to the governor that shutting out our legislators by executive order is not acceptable. Representative Pinto must sign on to HR-2—the articles of impeachment against Governor Walz.
Arguing for ash tree removal
There have been several recent letters to the editor complaining about the removal of ash trees in Saint Paul. I would counter that we need more rapid action in removing all ash trees on public property and encouraging the same on private property. One needs to consider protecting the ash trees in natural settings.
The emerald ash borer is a threat to all three native ash tree species in Minnesota—white ash, black ash and green ash. Black ash is the most critical of the three to protect. Black ash is the dominant tree species in several of the native wet forest communities found throughout the two forested ecological provinces in our state. These intact plant communities cover a considerable amount of acreage in Minnesota, and the rapid infestation of the emerald ash borer will have dire consequences. The metro area is a hot spot for the emerald ash borer, and we need to slow the spread where it matters most. If you want to know what inaction on the issue looks like, consider Michigan. The ash tree population in that state has been decimated; entire forest systems have been destroyed.
We need to proceed with diverse tree plantings throughout Saint Paul, preferably with a variety of native species. The tree species appropriate for this region of the state include sugar maple, red maple, paper birch, bitternut hickory, white oak, northern pin oak, bur oak, northern red oak and American basswood.
Editor’s note: Scott Milburn is a professional botanist and president of the Minnesota Native Plant Society.
City needs a capable leader
I’m wondering if there’s anyone in Saint Paul willing to stand in this fall’s election as a candidate against Mayor Melvin Carter. I’ll grant you, the mayor looks like someone who was sent by central casting: handsome, great smile, good at glad-handing, does alright with what-the-folks-want-to-hear speeches. But in matters of consequence, he seems to be in way over his head. And I think dissatisfaction with the way in which matters are run is showing up in the ever more put-out people taking time to write letters to this newspaper.
From the git-go, Mayor Carter hired a six-figures-per-year chief resilience officer whose job none of us could describe. Then he got himself a PR person and hired three intermediaries between himself and the seven-member City Council. Total cost in unnecessary salaries: about $500,000, at a time when our city’s public infrastructure is falling apart. Healthy ash trees are being felled to “save” them, with no plan to replace the trees until maybe eight years out. Beautiful 90-plus-year-old housing is being razed in order to increase the tax base by erecting yet more market-rate, shoebox-with-balconies, high-rise apartments.
It’s time for us to elect a mayor with a lot of business savvy and an ability to take in the big picture with forward-thinking ideas. Think how different things might’ve been if we had elected Tom Goldstein with his business and legal backgrounds. Maybe he’d be willing to run again before yet more taxpayers vote with their feet and move out of town.
This city needs a capable leader.
Preserve the Ponds
I am looking forward to the upcoming golf season. One of the best courses in Ramsey County is the Ponds at Battle Creek in Maplewood. I understand that the course was set to close for the development of “affordable housing,” but the citizens of Maplewood pushed back and have delayed the closure. In addition to providing much-needed green space and a healthy outdoor activity, the Ponds promotes participation by minorities and local youths through its First Tee program.
Golf may be frustrating at times, but it is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. So I was surprised to learn that Ramsey County commissioner Jim McDonough is upset over the delay in closing the Ponds. Mr. McDonough apparently feels the only way to build affordable housing is by destroying much- needed green space. He went so far as to accuse those upset by the closure as being motivated by “white privilege.”
The Ponds is both reasonably priced and close to Saint Paul. We need more green space for our community, not less.
A riot, or a revolt against racism
Regarding “Businesses struggle to rebuild in the wake of last summer’s riots (Villager, March 17): Aside from the obvious framing of last summer’s uprising as a riot, there was not one mention in the article of the absolutely senseless murder of George Floyd by an out-of-control cop. Instead, it framed the uprising—a true taxpayers’ revolt against systemic racism and police brutality—as some sort of senseless act by out-of-control black people. The article is a perfect example of what truly ails this city—racism.
Black lives matter. Stop with the charade that property damage is equivalent to violence against unarmed people of color.
D. Joseph Rathke
Editor’s note: The article to which our correspondent refers mentions the death of George Floyd and the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the first sentence. Chauvin is being tried for murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd. The article does not lay the blame for last summer’s riots on any particular persons or race.
Superb patient-centered clinic
This winter I went to the Allina Highland Clinic for a COVID-19 test, which was required before I could report for surgery. I received superb care. The receptionists, nurses and clinic manager all lent a hand to make certain my experience was as good as it could be under fraught circumstances.
Because I have had medical trauma, I let the receptionist know that to avoid passing out, I would need to have someone hold my hands and talk to me during the test. That is exactly what happened. My appointment was late in the day, and fatigue was apparent in all the staff I encountered. However, the nurse who administered the test found that extra person to help, who happened to be the clinic manager.
We are so lucky to have the superb, patient-centered care this clinic provides, right here in the neighborhood.
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