Richard Guzzo calls the street outside his auto repair shop the “Arcade Fast Lane” after decades of watching cars drive too fast down Arcade Street.
A few years ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) began the Project to Redesign and Rebuild portions of E. 7th Street and Arcade Street, hoping to improve safety and accessibility in this area. But some business owners worry about the impact of the construction and redesign on their customers and their bottom line.
The streets run through the Payne-Phalen and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods, where more than 60% of residents are people of color and nearly 30% are immigrants, according to MNCompass.
The project budget is $5 million.
“If you really look, the curves are crumbling. There are big holes in the gutters. The panels don’t match. The lighting doesn’t match,” said Payne-Phalen Community Council executive director Jack Byers. He adds that the width of the street is inconsistent and “it’s a little confusing where the parking lot is and where it isn’t.”
The deadline for the design plan was the end of this month, with construction starting in the spring of 2024. But MnDOT communications specialist Mai Xiong said the deadline was extended to allow more time for community engagement. .
The timeline will most likely be “extended by weeks, not necessarily months,” Xiong said.
Tired of seeing motorists get away with speeding and other traffic laws, Guzzo warns that any improvements to Arcade should come with greater enforcement.
“Change the road. Spend all the tax dollars. Change the intersections. Put more red lights on, whatever,” Guzzo said. But “if you don’t force people to obey the law, they won’t.”
What the changes might look like
MnDOT planners want to make streets safer and reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. Ideas include adding bike lanes, parking lots, and pedestrian and bus crossings.
Currently, Arcade Street and E. 7th Street are four lanes, with speed limits below 25 miles per hour. In 2020, Ramsey County released a research report with findings on the safety benefits of lane reduction.
At least one of the design alternatives includes reducing Arcade Street, between Geranium Avenue and Wheelock Parkway, from four lanes to three lanes, to slow traffic.
A community suggestion is to add audio at crosswalk intersections in four different languages: Hmong, Karen, Somali, and Spanish.
“Knowing how diverse this region is, just ethnically, socio-economically, we wanted to make sure we were talking to the biggest organizations,” Xiong said. “But we also wanted to make sure that we had people who didn’t speak English, who might not know these processes were happening, before they came in and started digging the ground.”
The GW Carver Cultural Center for Innovation on E. 7th Street was hosting a pop-up food event last year when one of the chefs saw a hit-and-run. A pedestrian was hit by a vehicle which then fled.
“Someone hit her and went on,” said Carl Johnson, the center’s executive director. They immediately called for help, but she did not survive.
The neighborhood surrounding E. 7th and Arcade streets is very dense, so many people walk to restaurants and shops. Certain design elements can make them safer by slowing down vehicles and making pedestrians more visible at intersections.
Last week, the Carver Cultural Center hosted a meeting with MnDOT and local business leaders to talk about the project. Johnson raised concerns about safety.
“It’s heavy traffic, people are going over 25 miles an hour, almost 40,” he said.
One of the proposals, reducing traffic to three lanes, with the center one used for cornering, has not convinced anyone who has seen it in place on Maryland Avenue. That center turn lane becomes a racing lane, Guzzo said.
“If you’re driving slow…then the people behind you want to go faster, they’ll pass you anyway. They can go into third lane and pass you anyway in Maryland. Yeah, I see that happens a lot,” said said Chang Vang, manager of Arcade Wine & Spirits.
The wary traders
It is unclear how long construction would take. This and other uncertainties such as the road will be closed or traffic diverted or even whether parking will be limited have some business owners worried about the impact of the works on them.
Vang expects the construction to hurt businesses that rely on street parking.
“Construction will probably be the only thing we’re worried about, I would say, because of the traffic and how people are getting here,” said Maly Kong, owner of family-run Kong’s Kitchen. Their restaurant relies on nearby street parking and the back alley.
MnDOT’s Xiong said construction will be done in sections, so business owners have time to communicate with MnDOT and plan how to protect customer access to their stores.
The Payne-Phalen Community Council is hosting a community meeting June 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Hills Community Center to vote and decide on recommendations for the project’s design plan.