Preferred Redesign for Saint Paul’s High Bridge Includes Protected Sidewalks, Calmer Traffic

stp wabasha bridge

A design concept for the High Bridge includes a protected sidewalk, similar to this one on the Wabasha bridge.

If current plans move forward, the new High Bridge will feature calmer car traffic, bike lanes, and a separated sidewalk after reconstruction in 2018.

Members of the MnDOT community advisory committee for the project were presented with two concepts at a recent meeting with project manager Tara McBride. One concept keeps basically the existing design but with wider sidewalks; the other has a barrier-protected sidewalk similar to the Wabasha bridge. The group unanimously endorsed the latter.

The current bridge has 12-foot-wide car lanes, an 8-foot shoulder used as a bike lane but not officially designated as such, and a 6-foot sidewalk. The new design would feature car lanes that are 10-11 feet, bike lanes that are 5.5-6.5 feet, and an 8-foot-wide sidewalk.

For context, 12 feet is a fairly standard lane width, including on freeways. The narrower lane widths are not uncommon on city streets, and even some sections of I-94 have 11-foot lanes. Plans call for lowering the speed limit to 30 mph, which will have a negligible impact on driving times as the bridge is only 1/2-mile long and has traffic signals near both ends, McBride noted.

It’s important to note that the design is not final and still has a further review and approval process within MnDOT.

MnDOT engineers considered more than 20 different design concepts based on feedback from community workshops, but all but the final 2 had been rejected as not technically feasible or prohibitively expensive.

Some community members had suggested an asymmetrical layout, with car traffic on one side and a wider pedestrian boulevard on the other, but structurally the bridge couldn’t handle that type of load shift without millions of dollars in modifications. Other suggested features, such as bump-out viewing areas, would also add considerable cost.

Another important consideration was whether booms on inspection trucks could still extend over the side and underneath the bridge. That limits the position and height of barriers, however, the proposed concepts shouldn’t present an issue, McBride said.

A local suicide prevention group has pushed for railings to be made higher to prevent people from jumping off the bridge, that portion of the design is still in early stages but railings will likely be higher and more difficult to climb. Other issues such as lighting and design elements will depend largely on how much the city of St. Paul contributes to the project.

The design concept that’s moving forward represents a more balanced approach to serving the needs of everyone who uses the bridge, while keeping in mind cost and technical limitations. The MnDOT team has been very responsive to community feedback.

Meetings with the Community Advisory Committee will continue as the engineers tackle Smith Avenue and Dodd Road south of the bridge.

The current layout of the High Bridge

The current layout of the High Bridge

Editor’s note: Ken Paulman is a member of the MnDOT Community Advisory Committee for this project. This post originally appeared on stubbornlylocal.com.


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7 Responses to Preferred Redesign for Saint Paul’s High Bridge Includes Protected Sidewalks, Calmer Traffic

  1. Eric Saathoff
    Eric Saathoff August 24, 2016 at 8:40 pm #

    Why not put the protection from cars between car and bike/ped instead of between car/bike and ped?

    In other words, make this a protected bike lane with raised sidewalk for pedestrians. Is this too cost prohibitive?

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman August 25, 2016 at 9:48 am #

      “Some community members had suggested an asymmetrical layout, with car traffic on one side and a wider pedestrian boulevard on the other, but structurally the bridge couldn’t handle that type of load shift without millions of dollars in modifications.”

      I’m assuming this would have but the bike path on one side too, so yes, it would have been cost prohibitive.

      Are bicyclists that won’t use non-protected infrastructure going to be allowed on the sidewalk (it’s not in a business district and I’m not familiar with any local ordinances)? 8 foot is still at the low end of what’s considered acceptable for a MUP.

    • Stuart August 25, 2016 at 10:25 am #

      I was wondering the same thing and thought of two possible reasons.

      1. The “inspection trucks” mentioned would not be able to reach over both the sidewalk and bike lane so instead they will travel in the bike lane to do the inspection. This means the bike lane needs to be on the car side of the barrier.

      2. Moving the barrier to between the cars and bikes would remove the legally required “curb reaction distance”. Instead, it is considered acceptable for the cars to drive over bicyclists while they “react”.

      Whatever the reason, the current width (12*2 +8*2+6*2 = 52 ft) is less than the proposed width (11*2 + 5.5*2 + 8*2 = 49 ft) by 3 feet. That means 1.5 feet is left on each side. That could just be for the sidewalk barrier width, but some might be used to buffer the bike lanes from the cars. I would prefer concrete instead of paint or plastic bollards, but any additional breathing room would be nice.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman August 25, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

        Suppose we call it a “shoulder” instead of “reaction distance”. The other point is so disabled motorists can pull over rather than completely blocking the only traffic lane until a tow truck can be dispatched.

  2. robsk August 25, 2016 at 10:41 pm #

    Do traffic “calming” measures always calm traffic? Or do they occasionally congest the roads and frustrate drivers?

    Wisconsin’s city speed limits are lower than Minnesota’s (25 mph in the city and 45 or less at all traffic lights), yet Wisconsin has a higher pedestrian kill rate.

    Does anyone have knowledge of whether there are fewer accidents on narrower roads?

  3. Bill Dooley September 1, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    Would love to see bollards between the bike lanes and car travel lanes and please, no bump outs.