Suggestions for a safer Jefferson Bicycle Boulevard

Here is my open letter to Saint Paul Public Works and Mayor Coleman.

As a new resident to Saint Paul, I wasn’t present for the leg work and public meetings that went into creating the bicycle boulevards. I have, however, been using them extensively over the last 9 months since moving here. I’m a daily bicycle commuter on Jefferson Avenue, and we chose our house partially due to its close proximity to this bike infrastructure.

As a Portland State Bicycle Boulevard Planning and Design Guidebook states:

Bicycle boulevards [create] an attractive, convenient, and comfortable cycling environment that is welcoming to cyclists of all ages and skill levels. [Bicycle boulevards] allow through movements for cyclists while discouraging similar through trips by nonlocal motorized traffic.

However, the Jefferson Avenue bicycle boulevard leaves very much to be desired. I am routinely harassed, buzzed, yelled at, swerved at, stopped short in front of, etc. while biking on Jefferson by drivers. I’m an experienced bicyclist and assert myself into the lane when necessary and ride as far to the right as practicable.

I believe this constant harassment is because, east of Snelling, east-bound Jefferson functions essentially as an on-ramp for 35E. Randolph Heights elementary is located here and excessive speeding through a school zone is problematic and unsafe. Drivers can easily access 35E from either St Clair or Randolph and the city should fully prioritize Jefferson for safety over driver convenience. I’ve attached Jefferson’s ADT to show the marked drop-off in traffic east of Victoria/35E on-ramp.

Jefferson ADT

Jefferson’s ADT drops significantly to the east of Victoria and the 35E on-ramp.

Again, I realize that Jefferson has a long history and that most city officials and employees want to raise design issues again. But I believe that with a few low cost improvements, we could see non-local traffic discouraged from Jefferson allowing it to serve as a calm safe road for all users, from 8-80 years old.

First example,here is a picture of a more extreme traffic diversion in Berkeley, CA near a busy transit station in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood. This actual bike boulevard has bollards to divert thru-traffic, along with huge painted sharrows that clearly mark the street as bike priority (along with great way-finding signage).

Berkeley Example

Bollards allow cyclists and pedestrians to continue through while diverting private automobile traffic.

 While I know this may not sit well with emergency services, it will be the most effective way of diverting traffic off of Jefferson. I’d suggest using Brimhall, Saratoga, or Warwick because the block configuration won’t allow drivers to simply go to the next east/west street and quickly get back to Jefferson. Also, I acknowledge that residents on whichever street is chosen will most likely object to the increase in traffic. I’d argue, however, that once this diversion is known, drivers will adjust by using St Clair or Randolph, as they already should be doing.

The second example is turning block-long stretches into one-ways, which would be much easier to implement, requiring only a few signs. It is also a very local example seen all over the Summit Hill neighborhood. This would leave the roadway clear for emergency vehicles but also accomplish the goal of reducing thru-traffic. As for cycling, it would remain two-way using a contra-flow design similar to 5th Street SE in Minneapolis, that would allow cyclists to continue safely in the opposite direction from traffic. Since the biggest issue, in my opinion, is eastbound AM traffic headed to 35E, the one-way could only allow west-bound traffic and could be placed on any block between Brimhall and Pascal. The one-way signs could include language “except bikes, buses, emergency vehicles”.

Milton_Linwood

Linwood at Milton in Saint Paul’s Summit Hill neighborhood.

5thAveSE

Local contra-flow example on 5th Ave SE in Minneapolis.

Contra-flow Example

Contra-flow signage example seen in Bloomington, IN.

My third example of a design solution for Jefferson would be to reduce the speed on Jefferson. 30 mph is completely unacceptable for a bike boulebard. In a AAA study, the risk of severe injury decreases from nearly 50% at 30 mph to below 25% at 20 mph.
Speed vs Injury

Reducing speeds greatly reduces risk of severe injury or death.

I understand this may be a state law, but urban areas need to lead the push to change residential streets from 30 mph down to a much more palatable 20 mph. In the meantime, the city should apply for an exception from MNDOT. We could also add speed bumps, as is common in the Union Park area.

Fourth, another area of concern is the stretch where Jefferson becomes Edgcumbe Rd for a block. The planted median is beautiful and adds a lot of character, but keeping the parking along this same stretch greatly limits the space available. I often need to take the full lane in order to not be buzzed or pushed into the parked cars by drivers looking to pass me unsafely. The light at Lexington is extremely long, but drivers still feel the need to speed up this stretch to get into the queue. (This is more of an issue eastbound because there is a slight uphill. Westbound is slightly downhill so I can usually get up to a reasonable speed and merge into traffic around the parked cars. However, when traveling westbound, there is a pinch point where the curb narrows just west of Edgcumbe’s southbound lane.) I have to assert myself into the lane to not get pinched into the curb. Bicycle boulevards, designed for riders of all ages and experience levels, should not require bicyclists to have to assert their rights to the road.

Finally, with $400,000 available for bike lane painting and re-striping from the 8-80 funds, I’d like to see the stretch on Jefferson as it passes over Ayd Mill and under 35E re-striped. There is a large “median” painted and that ROW space could be dedicated to a buffer zone for the bike lanes on both sides. On that note, I’d like to express my gratitude for the green paint on the lanes as they cross the Ayd Mill onramps. If I could, I’d really like to see green paint where the southbound Ayd Mill off-ramp intersects with Jefferson. Drivers often don’t fully stop at that stop sign and roll out into the bike lane.

Jefferson under 35E

ROW space that should be used to buffer the bike lanes.

I think the idea of Jefferson is great, we did buy our home very near to it for a reason. But I also think we are so close to making it a true bicycle boulevard, and we should finish what we started. I fully understand that this has been a long hard process, let’s not let it be in vain.

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4 Responses to Suggestions for a safer Jefferson Bicycle Boulevard

  1. Rebecca Airmet
    Rebecca Airmet November 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    As a cyclist in Summit-University who uses the Jefferson bike boulevard, I’d like to second and support everything that Mike Sonn has to say in this letter. Bicycles should be better protected on a bike boulevard. He has good suggestions for improving the situation. Especially considering the presence of a school.

    And yes, please consider reducing residential area speed limits to 20 mph. This is a crucial step toward making our neighborhoods safe and liveable.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell November 19, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

      20 mph would help considerably and with shorter distances shouldn’t inconvenience anyone.

  2. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman November 19, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Assuming St. Clair can handle the traffic (it appears to be a two lane road without turn lanes), what about removing the ramps at Victoria and to Ayd Mill and for good adding ramps to and from the south at St. Clair to make it easier to access the neighborhood?

    • Mike Sonn
      Mike Sonn November 19, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

      Current access:
      From St Clair: NB & SB Ayd Mill
      From NB Ayd Mill: St Clair
      From SB Ayd Mill: St Clair, Jefferson***, SB 35E

      From SB 35E: St Clair, Victoria***
      From NB 35E: Ayd Mill

      From St Clair: NB 35E
      From Victoria: NB 35E***

      From/To Randolph: NB/SB 35E

      *** impacted movement due to Jefferson thru-traffic restrictions

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