University Avenue in St. Paul could get yet another makeover — this time, as a two-lane street.
Four months before the first light rail train is scheduled to roll down the thoroughfare, some city officials are now pondering an idea to restore some of the street parking that was eliminated to make way for the transit system.
To do that, they would reduce the travel lanes from four to two — or one lane in each direction — on certain sections of the street.
The City Council next week is expected to sign off on a $40,000 study that would examine traffic patterns and gauge community sentiment on the idea.
Under the plan, there would still be room for turn lanes in some areas, said Nancy Homans, policy director for Mayor Chris Coleman. The city is also open to the idea of keeping it a four-lane street during rush hour to ease congestion. And, she said, things would likely remain the same on the western end of the avenue, where trucks need the extra space for wide turns.
"It's not going down to kind of a country road," Homans said of the suggested changes. "We're not going to be able to put parking on the whole street. But are there places where parking is needed?"
Homans said the potential solutions are wide open, and officials want to engage business owners, bicyclists, commuters, and others about what they would value most with the limited space left on University Avenue.
Some people believe on-street parking provides a buffer that helps maintain the pedestrian experience on sidewalks. And reducing the number of lanes could carve out a space for bicyclists in some areas. Bike riders pushed for dedicated lanes in 2010, but project planners said then there just wasn't room on the avenue for everything.
The idea of a two-lane University Avenue emerged early in the planning process for the Green Line. Council member Russ Stark proposed such an idea in 2008, but backed off once he realized that it could have killed the light rail project due to federal funding criteria that were in place at the time.
One concern years ago is that cutting the travel lanes in half would back up traffic at major intersections. But recent traffic figures show that the volume of vehicles on the avenue has tapered off, Homans said.
"This is not one or the other. It's not shutting down a lane of traffic for the whole area," she said. "It's trying to figure out how to make maximum use of these four lanes of asphalt. What's the best way to use this street, and how does it best serve the people, the businesses, the pedestrians, neighborhood residents? How do all of those concerns get balanced?"