After years of lagging behind its neighbors, Saint Paul has finally come up with a bike plan. I’ve written many times about why this is important. For example, see these two pieces on the Nice Ride disparity between the downtowns, or this one on the great Saint Paul bike boulevard backlash, or this one on the angst-inducing state of many of the city’s main streets. But now, after years of starts and stops, Saint Paul has finally released its official draft “bikeways plan” for public review.
(Q: What’s a bikeway? A: About twenty-five pounds.)
Years ago, the new Saint Paul Comprehensive Plan laid out ambitious goals for increasing transit, walking, and bicycling throughout the city. For bikes, in particular, they called for a fine network of bike routes and choices in all parts of the city. Here’s the call to arms:
Generally, bikeways should be no more than a half-mile apart, and arterial striped bike lanes and/or off-street trails should be no more than one mile apart.
It is the desired goal of the City to increase the bicycle mode share from 2% in 2000 to 5% in fifteen years and increase the mode share of bicycling commuters from 0.6% to 2.5% during the same period. Saint Paul will become a world-class bicycling city that accommodates cyclists of varying skill levels riding bicycles for both transportation and recreation and encourages bicycle use as a part of everyday life (see Figure T-D).
Now many years and Joe Soucheray columns later, Saint Paul has finally followed through on its promise. And, particularly for a first attempt, the resulting map is ambitious and thorough. For example, the plan fills in lots of the gaps widespread throughout the city. The plan offers major and minor routes, and includes both short-term connections and long-term pipe dreams.
The Downtown Loop
The highlight of the city’s plan is the downtown area. I’ve written a few times now about how isolated downtown is from the surrounding neighborhoods, particularly via foot or bicycle. This plan is explicit about trying to make those connections, completing the missing bike lanes at Wabasha, Kellogg, and Jackson (though the details remain hazy).
And perhaps the most unique part of the plan is the proposed “downtown loop” (BTW this needs a name: “the Pig’s Eye”?). The Saint Paul plan proposes a pedestrian friendly raised cycletrack that would connect the four corners of the downtown. The loop plan is modeled after a similar downtown trail in Indianapolis that runs through their older downtown and is designed for people of all ages to use bicycles safely.
The most important thing about the downtown loop is that is represents a shift in the theory of bike planning for the city. For many decades, bike plans and bike advocacy adopted an approach called vehicular cycling, which focused on educating bicyclists to ride highly visibly in the street, “driving their bikes” as if they were cars. While there’s certainly a great deal of credence to this theory of bicycle safety, this approach also had the consequence of encouraging a condescending attitude toward anyone who did not ride their bikes in this way.
For example, one of the early advocates for this model, John Forester, became famous for disparaging anyone who didn’t adopt his mantra. Here’s an example from his ubiquitious book, Effective Cycling:
Suggesting that bike-specific laws treat people like children – “the motorist-dominated institutions wrote laws that treated cyclists as children, and then designed and built bikeways designed for childish operation” (Forester xviii)
Basically, Forester argues that anyone who doesn’t ride a bike like he does is being unsafe, neurotic, and childish. And for a long time throughout the US, many bike plans reflected this vision.
An 8-to-80 Bike Loop
That’s one reason why the Saint Paul bikeways plan is so refreshing. I have complete faith that Forester would hate the proposed downtown loop, and would write it off as yet another of the “pitiful attempts of American non-cycling adult society to teach toy bicycling to its children” (Forester 661).
However, today Forester’s attitude is outdated. Many cities are no longer assuming that everyone on a bicycle is highly trained, well-equipped, and “professional” when riding a bicycle. Instead,we have cities filled with easily accessible bike share “cruisers”, traffic calmed complete streets, and what are called “8 to 80” cities that are safe and comfortable for both the young and the elderly.
(Q: What is an 8 to 80 city? A: It’s this idea from Gil Penalosa, an urban designer from Colombia who argues that “if you create a city that’s good for an 8 year old and good for an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for everyone.”)
The new downtown bike loop which would connect together the city’s disparate trail network (e.g. the Sam Morgan and river trails, the Gateway trail, and the Summit Avenue bike lanes) so that someone cruising through the city would never have to get off the trail and “drive their bike” in traffic. Picture if you will, actual families with children riding bikes on this trail from the Children’s Museum to the Science Museum, or down to the Farmer’s Market from the Cathedral on a sunday. I personally know a 70-year old woman who lives in downtown Saint Paul and would like to ride a bike around, if only she could do it safely. Imagine such a world!
Another bonus of the downtown loop is that the proposal is focused on the whole streetscape, not simply the painting of a bike lane on the pavement. This kind of treatment would dramatically improve the pedestrian environment and walkability through the downtown, especially through the Modernist dead zone (slash-“Urban Rewnewal Historic District”?!) in the middle of the city. As Jeff Speck says in his excellent urbanism primer, focusing on making key corridors contiguous and interesting is the secret of a walkable city. Whether you’re on a bike or not, this plan is a big step toward making downtown Saint Paul more walkable (particularly along Kellogg and Jackson). The proposed loop seems like a plan that fits well with the intimate, museum-laden, and historic nature of downtown Saint Paul.
The one big grey area about the Saint Paul bikeways plan is its implementation. There’s basically nothing in the plan about how the city might pay for it, how long it might take, or which streets and routes to prioritize. The annals of urban planning are filled with great documents gathering dust, visions that never saw the light of day. Without a firm commitment from the Mayor’s office and the city funding process (e.g. the CIB committee), I could literally be dead by the time this map begins to take shape. (Likely squashed by an SUV coming down the hill to the Marshall Avenue bridge.)
The first open houses for the bike plan is this week, and it’d be great if Saint Paul can turn the page on its previous knock-down, drag-out, nobody-wins fights over bicycling.
Upcoming Open Houses
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, 6:00-8:00 PM
El Rio Vista Recreation Center/Wellstone Community Center
179 Robie St E
Saint Paul, MN 55107
Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 6:00-8:00 PM
Weyerhaueser Ballroom in Weyerhaueser Hall
(building is on the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Macalester Street)
Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 6:00-8:00 PM
Duluth & Case Recreation Center
1020 Duluth St
Saint Paul, MN 55106
Thursday, Feb 20, 2014, 6:00-8:00 PM
CapitolRiver Council Office (Adjacent Conference Room)
US Bank Center Building
101 East 5th Street
Saint Paul, MN 55101
It’s a great albeit expensive plan for recreational weekend riders. It’s a terrible atrocious plan for daily cyclists who ride everywhere all the time. What happens when you need to go somewhere other than the trail? Like the grocery store or back to your house etc.? This is why you have to integrate cycling into the fabric of the city via bike lanes and sharrows, so it is a viable means of transport throughout the city not just recreational in nature. It is also wildy less expensive than a massive trail system, which given St Paul’s history will not be maintained well at all and certainly not in the winter. I guess all us “real cyclists” will just have to keep riding on the road and be condescended to by supporters of a strange Utopian 8-80 social engineering project.
There are much fewer miles of off street bike paths than on street lanes and boulevards in the St Paul bike plan. I am curious to know if you have taken a good, long look at the proposal.
You’re absolutely right that you “real cyclists” will have to stay on the road. No one likes a pathlete going 24mph on a sidepath. I also am a cyclist and have no problem riding in the road and taking the lane when necessary. What type of plan would be good enough for you? Ride on the trails if you feel like cruising along, and take the lane when you feel like getting somewhere fast.
If they just build these trails as extra, fantastic. If they take the place of effort put into integrating bikes via bike lanes, I agree that would be a bummer. In the long run I’d love to see bikes simply take over the streets rather than be relegated to special tracks.
I think this plan looks great and as I think I’ve said, as something of a “vehicular cyclist” myself, or at least one that thinks bike lanes are plenty good enough, I’m enthusiastic about any plan that will actually increase bike mode share.
But I do want to point out one thing I’ve been noticing lately, which is that bikes have an unfair burden to cars. Consider that nobody just gets into a car and starts driving: you learn when you’re 16, it’s difficult at first, and you’re sharing the road with 20-ton trucks driving 70mph. It takes time for it to become comfortable with it and get good at it, but eventually it becomes second nature.
We expect bicycle commuting to be available to any child, or to anyone who has hardly touched a bicycle. Hence, considerably more ambitious infrastructure becomes necessary to lure these potential riders.
At this point, I’m all about throwing everything against the wall because bicycling is just that important. But I really wish we could at least simultaneously think about what can be gained by attitude shifts and training of new cyclists by experienced ones. It would be nice to increase that mode share without having to wait however long it takes to install protected bikeways every half mile throughout the cities.
Your point is a good one; but it only shines a light on what a dangerous car-centric system we have built to this point in our cities. This cannot be avoided on the highways, but our city streets should be a safe place for everyone. We can reduce lanes and speed and make driving a car a much less scary thing, let alone a bicycle. I’m not saying toddlers should be making loose-asphalt castles in the middle of the traffic lane, but your comment should call us to make our streets safer rather than train everyone to survive the unchangeable reality.
Sure, in the long run yes. I don’t want to be an advocate for danger. I just think it’s unfair for building up ridership that biking has to be 100% safe and easy while driving can be somewhat dangerous and require skill. Maybe we need to change our expectations a little. Nothing is perfectly safe or trivially easy.
Great overall point, but I disagree. Bicycle commuting or errand-running or going to school SHOULD be available to any child or anyone who has hardly touched a bicycle.
The ‘ambitious infrastructure’ is simply providing for people riding bicycles the same infrastructure as we provide people driving cars, only much less since bicycles take up less space and require fewer controlled intersections.
You can attitude shift and train people all you want but most people do not want to ride bicycles with fast cars no matter how much training they’ve had. They don’t trust drivers, and for good reason (we can’t keep drivers from killing people in other cars, how can we keep them from killing people riding bicycles?). They are not comfortable having cars whizzing by them. They are not comfortable having their 8-year-old ride on a road to school with people driving cars. They do not believe, for good reason, that paint provides any protection from a distracted or drunk driver.
I log several thousand miles per year as a vehicular cyclist and I don’t ride my city bike on roads with cars.
But the interesting question is why. Why are people comfortable in a car next to huge trucks that could demolish them just as easily as a car could run over a biker? Why are people fine with that but not on bikes? I’m just not clear on the cause and effect here: if we treated bikes as a serious method of transportation from the start, with a serious training regimen and an understanding that on-road riding was not for 8-year-olds, would be be in a situation where most people were comfortable on-road riders and most drivers respected that? And eventually would we see city streets become places where cars traveled 25mph in single lanes with space for bikes? Because at that point it really seems like the protected paths become less and less necessary, and that’s usually the urbanist vision anyway: streets that are shared space.
I’m suggesting that there are two ways to skin this cat. I don’t know which is the best and so if there’s funding for one way, sure, do it. But I still don’t agree that the notion of streets that are comfortable for most riders without protected paths is crazy, and I do not want to see that vision abandoned or weakened by the cycle path crowd. I’m enthusiastic about doing both if both can be done, but even as I’ve become more amenable to the cycle paths, I still have this nagging feeling they let car culture off the hook by allowing it to not be inconvenienced or slowed.
A car can drive at the same speed as a truck or quickly speed up if necessary—they are doing the same thing which is more comfortable.
Drive down 35W at 30mph and your perspective will change though. BTW, this has a bit to do with why I’m much more comfortable as a vehicular cyclist on my road bike than on my city bike that is not as fast or maneuverable.
We feel (and actually are) much more exposed on a bicycle than in a car. The likelihood of being killed in a car by a truck hitting us seems much less than being killed on a bicycle if a car hits us.
In Minnesota, about 30,000 people in cars are injured by people driving other cars each year. Imagine if these 30,000 were all on bicycles instead of in cars.
If I’m riding my bicycle along a busy road I’ll be passed by a car about every 7 seconds. Each one of these is 40 times heavier than I, traveling over twice as fast as I, and sometimes passing quite close. I am quite small and somewhat easily blend in to the scenery, particularly to a driver on a cell phone. In a car I will very rarely ever be passed by any vehicle, when they do they completely move to the other lane and give a wide berth on all sides. Nine passes per minute vs one pass per month?
Even on a highway most people in cars are not passed very often by large trucks. Everyone is traveling about the same speed and there are what, maybe 1/10 as many trucks as cars? If you are in a car you can also be fairly certain that the trucks see you—you’re nearly a full lane width wide. Imagine if the highways were 40 trucks for every car, trucks could drive 80mph but cars only 20mph, and you’re in a Fiat 500.
Streets can be made safe and comfortable for most riders to share with cars. I’ve ridden on numerous. They are called woonerfs, have a speed limit of less than 20 mph, are somewhat primarily for bicyclists with cars as guests, are not thru-streets for cars but local only, and include chicanes, neckdowns, and other elements that make anything faster than about 15mph quite difficult.
Once you have cars driving faster than this and you have very many cars, most people have a strong preference for physical segregation. Especially if they’re sending their 8-year-old off to school by themselves.
Now they need this concept to be done for connecting Downtown Minneapolis with the West Bank (starting at Mondale Law Center) via Washington Ave. Then students can have the option to live in the North Loop or the Mill District (probably grad students) and have an easier bike ride to campus.
Al, the city will be building a trail to connect the West Bank to Downtown via the I35w tunnel. This is expected to happen this year.
I’m a bit confused, do you mean a West Bank connection to downtown via the Hiawatha Bike Trail, which has a bridge over 35W?
I know there is a cycletrack on Washington planned between Hennepin and 35W, but I was talking about an entire path/cycletrack directly from Mondale Law (with an improved bikeway w/o any stairways between there to the Washington Avenue bridge) all the way past Hennepin towards the North Loop as a commuter bikeway.
Al, when the 35w bridge was being rebuilt several years ago the city paid for a tunnel under the bridge between the West Bank and Downtown. That tunnel was then bricked over because there wasn’t yet any way to connect it to any travel infrastructure (roads and paths). In the meanwhile the city and park board have worked to created the needed connections and to get funding. That work appears to be done and work on the connection will be done, probably this year, possibly next.
Here’s a link to the spot. Zoom out to see more context.
Ah, thanks for the info, I had no idea about that area.
My problem with this plan is that it largely does not connect cyclists to destinations or to the current mass transit system. If the nearest bus stop is over that 1/4 mile maximum that people are willing to walk, then they would bike instead if the infrastructure is there to connect the two. This plan won’t do that. If a destination/business is likewise deemed unwalkable for being just out of reach then a dedicated bikeway that likewise seamlessly connects the two together will be used. Once again, this plan doesn’t offer that. What it does offer is a minor uptick in cycling and one that certainly won’t result in a large number of St Paulites clamoring for more like they would if they made it utilitarian.
Saint Paul Public Works employee & Bikeways Plan project manger joining the discussion here.
I’d like to understand more about your concern. Can you provide specific examples of destinations or mass transit that is not effectively connected by the plan? When we created the draft plan, we thought we had done a pretty good job covering all parts of the city and major destinations, and making sure that all parts of the city were within 1/4 mile of a proposed bikeway. If there is something we missed, I’d like to hear about it. Feel free to respond here, or send me an email at email@example.com
Hi Reuben, looking over the plan there is not a single amenity for the West Side, no bike lanes, no sharrows, no trails, NOTHING. As a daily cyclist year round the West Side I am appalled. Riding in St Paul in general and the West Side in specific is bad enough with few to no amenities already, no sharrows, one short and very sketchy bike lane coming off the Wabasha Bridge (it ends abruptly creating a death trap for cyclists really) snow and debris not cleared from the shoulders for yet another winter but this plan is the kicker. It’s just really sad to see the entire West Side neighborhood be forgotten and neglected yet again. It’s shameful really.
As a fellow West Sider, I think plans for the flats are a big step forward and shouldn’t be dismissed.
I believe they didn’t make recommendations for either Robert or 7th Streets because of the county/city studies going on there right now. I’d like that to be fixed, personally, but I understand the sensibility behind it.
Smith Avenue is tricky. (Here’s a post on it: http://stubbornlylocal.com/) Ohio, Annapolis, and Baker should be bikeways. But yeah, no bike lanes at all up on my side of the West Side. It’s too bad they couldn’t figure out how to put bike lanes on George Street!
Is a 1/4 mile close enough? Will parents be comfortable allowing their 8-year-old to ride to school if it’s one mile on a safe path but still a 1/4 mile on each end of dodging cars (or hoping the cars and trucks dodge them)? Will an 80-year-old be comfortable dodging cars for a 1/4 mile riding to Whole Foods?
Thanks for poping in to solicit some thoughts here on streets.mn (I forgot the meeting closest to me was today). I see the 1/4 mile gap issue has already been taken up, so the only other thing I’d add is that bikes like cars serve as personal mobility to get directly from point A to point B. Just as far fewer people would drive a car if it meant having to routinely stop, park and walk the remaining 1/4 mile to their destination, so too are would-be cyclists unwilling to do the same. w/o bike infrastructure connecting them directly to their destinations.
Take the treatment in Downtown, for example. Sharrows are expected to connect cyclists to destinations inside of the bikeway loop, but it appears St Paul didn’t get the memo that with sharrows they very little tot add new cyclists on those streets: you’re essentially spending money to attract an insignificant amount of new cyclists since basically only the vehicular cyclists who used to ride there will ever ride there. The people who had to wait for St Paul to install separated paths Downtown are not the ones who are going to ride in 35 MPH traffic because a sharrow was painted on the lane. Once you take out the largely useless blue lines from the map you’re left with a very disjointed bikeways network.
I’m from Columbus where the main drag of High St has about 4 miles with dense business districts: beyond what can be found anywhere in St Paul. This street has had sharrows for quite some time, but it has not seen a huge surge in cyclists years after being implemented.Before sharrows It was the busiest cycling street in the city and still remains the busiest street for cyclists simply because by default it did and still has the vast majority of dense walkable districts in the city one right after the other. The Short North is one of the densest with lots of slow moving traffic and a higher number of cyclists than other parts because here they are more comfortable riding in traffic because of how slow it is: really this is the only context where sharrows make any sense. It looks like the closest scenario would be along the short business-rich stretch of Grand Ave, but ironically this best candidate for sharrows was totally omitted from the plan. Columbus, for all its sharrows, has fallen off the map for bike-friendliness: those sharrows didn’t put them back on and they’ve been on some streets for years and yet the city is still going this route despite proven failure. St Paul can go this route and just further reinforce the fact that were no Mpls existing that St Paul would have been as far off my radar as Omaha or Des Moines were/are for a viable relocation.
Take St Clair from Hamline to W 7th which is only one lane in each direction. Sharrows planned on this looooong stretch are *supposed* to tell motorists cyclists belong on the street, but doesn’t communicate *where* on the street, which also defeats the purpose because we don’t have vague open-to-interpretation stencils for cars, so why do that for bikes? I can tell you no motorist wants to sit behind a cyclist that entire length and cyclists are that much more averse to wanting to be in front of them and have several waves of fast moving motor-vehicles behind them playing chicken with oncoming traffic to pass. Such a sharrowed route is actually asking cyclists to put themselves in danger because it places them in such a scenario several times and sooner or later a car/truck will cut off the cyclist too closely. And then along I-35, who are the bikeways planners who want to share this lane with a semi? I’ve been riding for several years and I wouldn’t touch that sharrows or no sharrows.
Just look at this cyclist hugging the curb on the bridge over Ayd Mill Rd: would you be willing to ride in the middle of the lane because a couple of sharrows are painted on the bridge? I think we all know a sharrow wouldn’t change this cyclist’s positioning one bit.
And then there’s Ford Pkwy from the river to Howell where for numerous blocks you’re going uphill and of course the hill slows you down a good deal. Sure, there are two lanes in each direction which is much better, but how long is a motorist in the right lane going to humor sitting behind a cyclist struggling to even ride at 10 MPH? Are sharrows going to resonate Buddha-like patience onto all motorists within range? We know all the answer is a resounding, “No!”, but if you think otherwise I am completely willing and 100% serious in offering to bike with you along this particular stretch to prove this point and I say this as someone who has ridden this and is more comfortable riding with 50MPH traffic in the right of the two lanes of County Rd C east of New Brighton Blvd to Roseville and back (that is, before I learned there was a trail that continues from the Diagonal Trail all the way to County Rd B).
I am highly skeptical of St Paul ever being a great cycling city. there are too many negative factors, bad demographics, bumbling clueless bureaucracy at City Hall and negative attitudes by most St Paulities being the foremost. The best cities I have ever ridden in were places where, by the nature of the city itself people had to ride bikes. It wasn’t a choice, there is simply no room for cars, no place to park them traffic was too bad or owning a car was too expensive, time consuming or more of a pain in general than riding a bike is. Thus cycling in these cities (as well as pedestrian right of ways and mass transit) grew organically from the ground up, not as a top down government sponsored initiative. In these great cycling cities the people rode and then the government accommodated them. In St Paul I NEVER see people cycling. EVER. Why is that? Just a few miles over in Minneapolis the roads are filled with cyclists. I hope I am wrong. I hope the St Paul plan works and it drives more people to get out and ride but I highly highly doubt it. Check back in a few years after all the work is done and see if there are more cyclists in St Paul. I am guessing given the ease od driving and parking in the city, the unfavorable demographics and the negative “Soucheray” type attitudes as well as general cycling ignorance that prevail I think nothing will change or maybe it will get worse and there will be a backlash even against all the “money wasted” on cycling. Sadly that is more likely in St Paul I think. I feel it is a noble attempt by St Paul, many many years too late and also profoundly disconnected from the reality of what the vast majority of people in St Paul want, and that sadly is not a cycling friendly community.
I see lots of bikers along Summit Avenue, Mississippi Blvd and the trails along Shepherd/Warner Rd. I would say most of the cycling in St. Paul is for recreational purposes though and not for commuting.
One more thing abut sharrows having to be in dense, slow traffic zones: these are the best since they essentially act as a suggested bike lane and remove all ambiguity for cyclists and motorists as to where the bike should be positioned in the lane. One look and it’s clear where: right in the middle.
Again, these won’t work on high-speed stretches, especially if lengthy.
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