3 Days Left to Comment on the Draft Saint Paul Bikeways Plan

For those of you who live or work in Saint Paul, there are three days left to submit comments on the Draft Saint Paul Bikeways Plan. After Wednesday, April 30, no more comments will be recorded and city staff will begin the process of creating the final plan.

If you haven’t read or looked at the plan yet, you can download the plan and its maps and figures at the city’s bike plan web page– http://www.stpaul.gov/bikeplan  The plan simply depicts corridors where city staff and the Public Works Department think there should be bikeways and suggests a general type of treatment for each street or corridor. They are color-coded: Green for off-street pathways; Red for on-street lanes; Purple for bike boulevard treatments; And, lastly, blue for “enhanced shared lanes,” which is just a fancy way of saying “sharrows.” The plan doesn’t go into any detail as to how these treatments should be implemented but just indicates which streets they should be on. If you look at nothing else, look at the “Figures and Maps” PDF and Figure 4, which shows all existing and proposed routes …and look at the Draft Summary, which describes the downtown, off-street loop and its spur connections to existing facilities outside of downtown.

When this plan was presented, my expectations were at rock bottom. This came from ten years of watching the city say “no” to most bike related improvements and watching it frequently spend what little money it had on projects of marginal usefulness rather than tackling important gaps in the system. These include getting into and out of downtown, Wabasha between Plato and Filmore, McKnight under I-94, and many other arterial or downtown streets where bicycle and pedestrian needs were in direct conflict with cars. In every instance, rather than do 4-lane to 3-lane conversions or major but necessary road modifications, the city and Public Works Department just said “no” and ignored bikes. As a result, I’ve come to adopt KFAN sports jock Dan Cole’s principle of “B.A.L.E.”– Big Aspirations, Low Expectations.

With my expectations at rock bottom, I was pleasantly surprised by the plan. It tackles the downtown issue with an off-street cycle-track loop on Kellogg, Jackson, 10th and St. Peter’s street, with spurs connecting this loop to John Ireland and Summit Avenues via Kellogg and St. Peter, and a spur to the Gateway Trail via Jackson. This off-street trail will be modeled on Indianapolis’s “Cultural Trail.” The plan also adopts part of MnDOT’s Snelling Avenue Multi-Modal Plan with protected bike lanes on Snelling from Hewitt to Como, which will enable cyclists to safely get across these rail yards somewhere besides Raymond and Lexington …and it envisions a few other important north-south routes.

That said, there are a lot of areas where the plan could be improved. You can send in your suggestions not only for improvements but which routes and projects you think should be prioritized. You can do this by either e-mailing the City’s project manager Reuben Collins at reuben.collins(at)ci.stpaul.mn.us and cc-ing your remarks to the relevant city council members  …OR by posting your comments on two different questions on the Open Saint Paul Forum: How should the plan be changed or improved?  …and What routes and projects should be prioritized?

I e-mailed in my own obsessive-compulsive comments but I also posted a PDF version on the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition website. Highlights include the need to extend bikeways away from the ends of bridges to make them more accessible to cyclists. These include extending the Smith Avenue Bridge bike lanes one block south to George Street, the Third/Kellogg Bridge multi-use path one block east to Maria Avenue, and (at minimum) an up-hill climbing lane on Ford Parkway from the bridge at least as far as Cretin. I urged the city to prioritize downtown and its connections and to create a more flexible street design manual with its own public process that would allow Saint Paul to implement treatments used in other cities like HAWK signals, bike-activated signal detection, “super-sharrows” and Lead Pedestrian Interval walk signals. I also posted excellent comments of fellow Bike Coalition member Steve Yetter who commutes by bike to 3M on the East Side. If you go to read comments or leave your own on the Open Saint Paul Forum, you’ll see a lot more great and valid suggestions including the need for bike lanes on more arterial or commercial streets like East 7th or University.

My biggest criticism of the plan, however, is that many of the lines on it are long-range fantasies. These include an enormous bridge on the north end of Prior over a rail yard, parts of Wabash Avenue (which don’t exist) or the “Fuller/Shields/Aurora” route parallel to University. The latter street is interrupted in many places by massive hospital buildings, parking lots for various malls, actual mall buildings and other obstacles. It’s fine to include it on the map because some day, fifty years from now, the hospitals might get torn down and the street grid might get restored …but the chances of that happening in our life time is smaller than the chance of any of us winning the lottery or getting devoured in a sharknado. (Well maybe higher than the sharknado, but you get the point). Because many of the lines on this map are fantasies or will face massive political opposition, there needs to be more redundancy built into the plan and, at some locations, bikeways at intervals more frequent than every half mile. For example, why not put “enhanced shared lanes” on Finn and Prior Avenues from Summit to Randolph and a short stretch of on-street bike lanes on Randolph to connect them back to Cleveland …just in case the proposal to eliminate two miles of parking on Cleveland north of Randolph runs into overwhelming community opposition?!?

Regardless of what changes (if any) get adopted to this plan, the city needs to spend some serious money up front to implement its recommendations. The Bike Coalition and other groups are suggesting $18-20 Million Dollars in the first year. This is the estimated cost of the downtown loop and the same amount of money the city is currently putting into the new Saint Paul Saints stadium. And we’re suggesting an on-going percentage of the Saint Paul Public Works Department budget equal to the city’s bicycle mode-share, which (depending who you talk to) currently stands somewhere between 1.5% and 3%.

So get your comments in and then help to hold the city accountable for implementing the final plan. I’d sure as heck like to use some of this stuff before I’m too old to ride.

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Andy Singer

About Andy Singer

Andy Singer served as volunteer co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition off and on for 13 years. He works as a professional cartoonist and illustrator and has authored four books including his last, "Why We Drive," which examines environmental, land use and political issues in transportation. You can see more of his cartoons at AndySinger.com.