by Diane Gerth
As we know, the idea of a transit corridor along West 7th Street has been kicked around since the mid-1990s, and the latest iteration, the Riverview Corridor “modern streetcar” has moved into its newest phase, one where engineering and environmental questions will attempt to be answered. In the first meeting of the project’s Policy Advisory Committee (PAC), City Councilmember Rebecca Noecker expressed the desire that the public engagement process “be better this time around.” The frustration of residents and business owners with the lack of information about the project was a common theme in the initial phase.
In that phase, the community representative on the PAC was Laurel Severson, who has chosen to not continue in this role. As she made her decision public, she stated that she “didn’t think that the businesses and those living on our skinny street are the number one consideration” of those planning the project. After spending four years working on having her voice heard, she opted to step aside.
Taking her place is Tyler Blackmon. Blackmon cut his teeth on West 7th transit planning as a member of the joint task force set up by the West 7th Federation and the West 7th Business Association to work through principles that it was hoped could guide the neighborhood voice moving forward. I had the opportunity to speak with Blackmon about his new role on the PAC.
Asked why he wanted to jump into the mess that is a transit infrastructure project in St. Paul’s West End, Blackmon explained that he has lived along West 7th, and knows of the need for improvement along the corridor. He is pushing not only for long-term improved transit, but recognizes that there are immediate needs that can’t wait for the building of a big project.
I asked Blackmon how he will be connecting and hearing from businesses and residents at a time when meetings aren’t always possible. He acknowledged the difficulty, but thought that one-on-one conversations and small group meetings can often lead to more in-depth conversations about the details of the project. He is seeking feedback at a dedicated email address: RiverviewFeedback@gmail.com.
And details about the project are the name of the game this time around. I told him of the frustrations of neighbors about the project during the last phase when design details were scarce, and concerns about impacts were pushed aside by decision makers. Concerns about construction disruptions, street closures, parking lot cutoffs, sidewalk narrowing and a host of other worries were swept aside as being “too soon to consider” and “part of the next stage of the process.”
That next stage is now, and it is our job to inform Blackmon of the concerns of the neighborhood residents and businesses and make certain that these are not lost on the PAC. With a lead policy committee that appears to be little more than a booster club for dedicated light rail down our skinny little street, we must make sure our questions are answered and our voices heard.