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Saint Paul Better Block

Toole Design Group is leading the authoring of a new Street Design Manual for the City of Saint Paul, MN. After successfully partnering with Team Better Block in Wichita, KS and Dallas, TX on similar efforts, they asked us to work with a community in Saint Paul to test concepts in the draft manual and gauge business and resident responses to street changes.


East 7th as it looks from Google Earth today

We are only as good as our partners, so we look for blocks that have good buildings, streets that could be improved and people that are wanting to make it happen. We felt right at home in East Saint Paul in the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council Area. This group lead by Deanna Foster and Tabitha DeRango had already made plans for calming the adjacent State Highway, won a grant to improve fascades and done events aimed at connecting residents and business owners.

kids sp

Saint Paul Bicycle CoalitionSmart Trips and Transit for Livable Communities to build the better block. Over fifty volunteers came together over three days to complete the project.


This Better Block sought to address the following four areas to improve the already successful economics and quality of life in Dayton’s Bluff and how the Saint Paul Street Design Manual could be used to improve:

  1. Safety

  2. Shared Access

  3. Stay Power

  4. 8-80 Amenities

Safety (Real and Perceived) – First and foremost, if an area feels unsafe then everything breaks down. Whether it be businesses, schools, or neighborhood revitalization, the key to changing a place is addressing its perceived safety. When approaching blocks, we ask the questions:


Volunteers installed a crosswalk and narrowed the crossing with bulbouts to improve safety at a midblock crossing.

  1. Does it feel safe to cross the street?

  2. Does it feel safe to stand on the sidewalk?

  3. Does it feel safe to linger in the area?

  4. Does the area have hidden corners or large obstacles that reduce open sightlines?

Shared Access – The next goal we focus on is looking at ways to bring more people into the area by various modes of transportation. We ask the questions:

  1. Do pedestrians have easy and clear access to the area?


A two way cycle track made bicycle access to the block safe for all age groups and skill levels.

  1. Do bicycles feel welcome in the area?

  2. Is the area easily accessible from neighborhoods?

  3. Are there way finding signs that direct people into and out of the area?

  4. Are there amenities that allow people to linger in the space (seating, tables, etc.)?


Cut through street converted into a Market with a cafe.

Stay Power – How can we encourage people to visit the area and have them linger, and invite their friends?

  1. Are there food options on the block?

  2. Are there places to eat outdoors?

  3. Are there maps, bulletin boards, games, or other amenities that encourage people to linger?

  4. Is the identity of the area prominent (arts district, cultural district, historic area)?


A cut-trough street was converted into a plaza with street chess and other play in close proximity to market.

8 – 80 – Lastly, we look at amenities that create invitations for children and seniors on a block. These groups tend to be indicators of a healthy environment that feels welcoming and attracts other people.

The Saint Paul Better Block sought to illustrate that complete streets combined with community revitalization can create positive economic, safety and quality of life gains. The following metrics demonstrate how a block can be transformed with complete streets. The major finding is that at 25 MPH all modes can mix safely, economics increase and community can grow.


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Councilmember Lantry wrote about The Better Block today on the new city blog

Bill Lindeke at Street MN covered the better block with this podcast.


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