Mr Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall

Re-posted from

I have been thinking about the headline quote since I go the note that today marks the last day for public comment on the St. Paul Bike Plan.

You can read about the plan and make a last minute comment here.

Having reviewed, commented, supported, and lamented the speed with which things will happen, I’m glad, as a St. Paulite, that Reuben Collins (St. Paul bike/ped planner) and his team made this plan.

As part of a committee connected to the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, I help draft language in support of the plan. Part of our comments addressed the Downtown loop intended to be an off-street bikeway that will circle (square?) downtown such that anywhere on the loop, cyclists will be within a couple blocks of their destination. We recommended the legs of the loop be moved from St. Peter to Wabasha and from Kellogg Parkway to 4th Street. In both cases, cyclists will have greater and closer access to retail businesses who will benefit from the traffic.

Why do we need this plan? Whenever I ride to a downtown destination, I take either Summit Ave (dangerous for other reasons I won’t address here) or the path along the 35E parkway. In both cases, I end up on the Thompson Avenue bike path behind United Hospital. At the end of a couple of blocks, I’m always met with this sign:

Bike Route ENDS

Bike Route ENDS

The sign should really say, “Biking Ends HERE”.

I’ve always wanted to take a photograph of this sign with hundreds of bikes piled into/against it as though there was nowhere to go. Truth is, it doesn’t feel safe to continue from here. First one is met with the 7th Street, Kellogg interchange and then immediately after the 7th Street, I94 interchange. Neither feel safe to walk much less ride across. This is only one way into Downtown but similar troubles abound with others. The plan attempts to link the loop downtown with each of these ways in.

While one can argue about the way in which this will be done, the hope is, it will be done. God indeed is in the details but not going forward is a worse fate for cyclists and businesses than completing this plan, even as it’s currently designed. If we don’t build it, St. Paul will again be relegated to a poor second cousin to our neighbor to the west. This will include the city’s ability to attract residents, companies, and employees.

I attended a couple of the meetings for public comment and found the audience to be friendly and supportive of the plan with the exception of a few business owners and friends who protested the loss of on street parking spaces near their stores. I wish they could fully understand the implication of the loop and the experiences that businesses in Portland, OR felt when the first on-street bike corrals appeared. Retailers at those places were angry and afraid their business would fall off. Once the bikes could park in from of their stores, they quickly understood the phenomenon of cyclists spending more than motorists at local center-city establishments that the anger quickly faded. Now, over 150 spaces removed later, Portland business are lining up for these corrals.

So why the allusion to Mr. Gorbochev? I kept thinking of this because I simply want to say to Mayor Coleman:


And build it quickly.

Tony Desnick

About Tony Desnick

Tony Desnick is an architect, urban designer, and bicycle activist. He has worked in the bike share industry since 2013. He has ridden a bike for the last 56 years and commutes year 'round by bike today. He serves several local and int'l non-profit boards of directors. In May 2016, he presented a TEDx talk about how bicycles can change us and our communities. It can be found here:

6 thoughts on “Mr Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall

  1. Mike Sonnmikesonn


    I’ll have to pick your brain on why you don’t like Summit. I’ve enjoyed using it for my commute for the most part. The 12th to St Peter part leaves much to be desired on the other hand.

    But yes, BUILD THIS PLAN!

  2. Tony DesnickTony Desnick Post author

    My biggest objection to the Summit Avenue bike lane is how narrow it gets – if often disappears – in winter. In the warmer months, the path is narrow leaving cyclists vulnerable to opening doors and cars turning out into traffic. When I ride Summit, I have a laser focus on what’s happening both on my right and the cars coming to my left. In the end, I judge the effective of any infra based on how I “feel” to ride it. Safe or unsafe?

    I’m lucky in that my commute is over 90% on park trails and the Greenway.

    1. brad

      I guess I try to pretty much always bike (and drive for that matter) with a laser focus. That said, I am almost always biking on the streets. Compared to biking on streets without a marked bike lane, I really appreciate having one!

    2. David

      I agree that Summit becomes worse than useless in the Winter. Have you tried Selby?

      I find a combo of Selby and Marshall to be perfectly workable year-round.

  3. Andy SingerAndy Singer

    Nice piece. I totally agree. My question is they only indicate sharrows on Smith and 7th, so when you get to this dead end at Chestnut, are they planning to “Tear down that fence” (or at least a portion of it) so cyclists can actually GET to the Kellogg spur? …or are we gonna have to bike on the Smith Street sidewalk (technically illegal in downtown)?

  4. Tony DesnickTony Desnick Post author

    Thanks editors for correcting spelling of Mikael’s last name.

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