For Oak St. reconstruction, 30-foot street width and trees adjacent to curb were fine. Why not for N. Plum St.?

Oak Street between 2nd and 3rd Tree adjacent to curb on Oak Street between 2nd and 3rd Oak Street between 2nd and 3rd Trees adjacent to curb on Oak Street between 2nd and 3rd 
While riding my bike over to the Upper Arb tonight, I noticed that two trees on Oak St. between 2nd and 3rd were very close to the curb, one especially. I’m not sure when the reconstruction of the street occurred but it looks relatively recent, eg, in the last 5-7 years.

I dug around the City’s website and found that the street was reconstructed at a width of 30 feet. The issue came up when the Council was considering street reconstruction issues in 2007 for the 5th Street Reconstruction Project, including the width of Oak St. between 4th and 5th. See pages 28-29 of the Feb. 2007 Council meeting packet (italics mine):

Staff identified advantages to a narrower street including less expense for construction and ongoing future maintenance, more ability to protect existing mature trees, less impervious pavement, and potential traffic calming effects. Parking and problems and possible safety issues with varying street widths in the area were discussed…

One objection to proceeding was the proposed width of Oak Street. Oak Street between 5th and 4th Street is currently 29.5 feet, the two blocks of Oak Street north of this area between 4th and 2nd Street were reconstructed at a street width of 30 feet. The recommended width for Oak Street at this time is the minimal 32 feet for a residential street per current City ordinance.

To summarize:

  • Despite the city ordinance, Oak Street between 2nd and 3rd was reconstructed at 30 ft, which is what the N. Plum St. residents were asking for
  • At least two trees on Oak St. were not cut down despite being very close to the curb. N. Plum St. residents were asking for this for many of their non-Ash trees.
  • City rationale for cutting down trees close to the curb on N. Plum St. is that the trees are not likely to survive. Yet the Oak St. trees look very healthy years (5? 7?) later.
  • Staff in 2007 (which included Katy Gehler, then assistant city engineer) noted the advantages of narrower streets including "more ability to protect existing mature trees."

There are some differences between this portion of Oak St. and N. Plum St: 1) Oak St. between 2nd and 3rd has a sidewalk on one side only;  2) there are no power poles/electrical wires to be seen. 

To an average citizen (me), this is perplexing and seems unfair. Or am I missing something?


  1. Griff:
    The pictures you’ve taken are of S Oak St near the intersection of E 2nd St — not of the portion that was reconstructed in 2007. This portion is referenced in the 2007 memo, but it was almost certainly constructed before the current transportation plan — probably late 1990s or early 2000s. This street also does not have above-ground powerlines to contend with, and it’s a bit substandard, missing sidewalks on the east side.

    I’m suspecting staff were defending the “narrower” 32-foot street — that is, not a 36- or 40-foot street. If staff were supportive of a 30-foot street, they probably would have submitted a 30-foot resolution for approval by the council, not a 32-footer. But I will certainly agree that the same arguments apply to narrower-than-32-feet. Nearly every minor street in Minneapolis is 30 feet or less, and that ultimately means less cost to the city and its taxpayers, less runoff, and lower vehicular speed. And yet the city has managed to not burn to the ground — presumably fire trucks and other emergency vehicles are able to get through just fine.

    June 6, 2011
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Sean, yes, but I only cited the 2007 packet because that’s where there’s the verification of the 30-ft width of Oak between 2nd and 4th… as well as the rationale for narrower, 30-ft streets.

    As for why no sidewalks on both sides, I don’t know. Maybe Laura Baker School had an issue with a sidewalk on their side?

    June 7, 2011
  3. Ray Cox said:

    Despite a ‘firm’ policy on sidewalks, the policy changes quite often. On the First Street reconstruction there is a section that does not have sidewalks on both sides of the street. I was told this was because of a house very close to the street on one corner. But I’ll have to admit it seems pretty goofy to stop a string of sidewalk because of a house location close to the street.

    As for street widths, I think this is often driven by the feelings of the city engineer that oversees the work. Until some years ago Northfield didn’t have ‘narrow neck’ intersections—but now they are fairly common and a good way to slow down traffic.

    On Plum Street the utility wires really raise havoc with the trees. Some of the trees were so butchered by trimming that one would be hard pressed to call them trees any longer. Hopefully a new street with new properly placed and sized trees will work for folks.

    June 8, 2011

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