The Bike Loop Makes Economic Sense for Downtown Saint Paul


[This post first appeared on the Saint Paul Smart-Trips blog.]

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffett

Over the last several years, the city of Saint Paul has made great strides to improve the bicycle infrastructure within our city.  One of the most exciting things I have anticipated recently is City Council voting to create a protected cycle path in downtown Saint Paul.  As a homeowner, cyclist and business owner, I applaud this use of my property tax in order to invest in the city I call home.

Recently, some people in the downtown community have been making the case that this investment does not make economic sense because of the automotive parking spots it will take from downtown.

Although I respect their desire to improve Saint Paul, I feel many studies prove this idea to be misguided.  Bicycle Infrastructure has been shown to be a boon to local economies, as bicyclists spend money at local businesses at a much higher rate than motorists, especially in downtown areas.  I personally shop 3-5 times weekly in downtown Saint Paul at locations where there is easy bike parking such as LundsThe Amsterdam or Eclipse Records.

Some residents worry that putting in a protected bike lane, like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, will reduce parking revenue.  They neglect to note that currently Indianapolis shows both increases in cyclists and record meter revenue.  Indianapolis is seeing an increase in revenue across the board because they chose to invest in their city, modernizing both their meter system and their pedestrian infrastructure.

Although there has been noted resistance from older residents, the city of Indianapolis has been widely praised for entering into a parking system that increases revenue from existing meters using revenue sharing privatization while freeing money to allow cities to do what they do best: build and maintain public infrastructure such as bike lanes.

I believe making a good economy and a diverse civic portfolio requires spending money, albeit wisely.  But I know, based on the evidence that I have read repeatedly: bicycle infrastructure is a good investment for Saint Paul.  But don’t just read my opinions, read the research yourself.

Read studies based in similarly cold climates such as Toronto that show bicycle infrastructure shows significantly better return on investment than on-street parking.  Read how cutting back on subsidizing car usage downtown can show tremendous economic benefit to cities.  Look at Portland where residents have invested $800 million into their local economy by not driving.

You can’t grow a tree without planting a seed.  And likewise, you can’t build a city without investing in it.  Trust the research and invest.  You won’t regret it when years from now your investments grow into a prosperous local economy that you call home.

I applaud the mayor for his vision and look forward to when the wise actions of investing in pedestrian infrastructure reap a healthy civic reward.

Daniel Choma

About Daniel Choma

Daniel Choma is a community advocate, a jazz musician, and a former bible salesman. He rides bikes, plays drums, and tells jokes. He can consume a bag of jelly beans faster than almost anyone.

15 thoughts on “The Bike Loop Makes Economic Sense for Downtown Saint Paul

  1. Jim

    As a downtown resident and bicyclist I too welcome this loop. I think it could be a really strong catalyst for development and businesses. There’s quite a swath of surface parking along Jackson Street that could see some redevelopment once the bike loop is built.

    My only gripe is that it may be too short. Under two miles is a pretty quick trip. Also if they use 10th Street I’m not sure how smoothly the path would be with the LRT stop there. 11th would be better. I’m also pro St. Peter Street instead of Wabasha. Wabasha should have a bike lane however. But I’d rather St. Peter and 11th Street used, if only to make the loop longer.

    A pedestrian/bike only 4th Street intrigues me too.

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang


      I don’t think the point of the protected bikeway loop is to get people exercise with a longer trip. The idea is to provide an inviting environment for cycling that connects origins and destinations. That’s why a lot of people (myself included) prefer an alignment along 10th Street, Wabasha, and 4th Street rather than 11th, St. Peter, and Kellogg–that’s where most of the origins and destinations are located.

      Now, if only the owner of the Key’s café on Robert Street could understand that.

  2. Keith Morris

    I’m only commenting because I just rode my bike around St Paul and the, “Saint Paul has made great strides to improve the bicycle infrastructure” popped in my head a few times. As I rode my bike in slowed traffic from Charles changing lanes to the left turn lane on Snelling even though cars in front were moving slow he still felt the need to roll down his window and say something after I got into “his” travel lane and over to the turn lane, but by the time he said something I was already in the turn lane waiting for the light and looking back to see who was yelling some unintelligible nonsense with the word “bike” in there somewhere. Snelling shows no strides whatsoever: not even a lowly miserable sharrow anywhere.

    Then I biked around Downtown which was the best of the bunch: so empty even just before 5PM and I had big lanes all to myself: no motorists freaked out probably because they have so many other lanes to choose from. Again, no sharrows anywhere, no strides anywhere. Then after taking the bus west I had to bike *around* Randolph west of Hamline because with the parked cars there’s not enough room for bikes and cars because the city made no strides to stop prioritizing the few motorists that ever park on Randolph to install a buffered or protected bike lane in their place instead.

    The loop is a dumb idea, sorry. Just imagine if that was proposed for cars: they only get a loop and if they want to drive anywhere else, tough luck. How readily accepted, let alone welcome, would such a proposal be? Of course, the latter actually makes a lot more sense so that St Paul’s small human-scaled downtown is turned over to, well, humans. Better than nothing is what seems to make St Paul content.

    I swear, St Paul is an Ohio city that got lost in Minnesota and didn’t bother to find its way back. It thinks it’s a liberal city but really isn’t because it doesn’t get outside of its bubble to get a much needed reality check. Speaking of which, in over a week I’ll be in Downtown Columbus, which until recently was ranked the 2nd largest downtown without any bike lanes. They now have significantly more bike lanes than Downtown St Paul. Crummy ones which turn into sharrowed parking lanes right in the door zone, but even that is much more than St Paul has, which is about as many as Cincinnati has (virtually none).

      1. Keith Morris

        Everything’s on Randolph: I was able to bike for a while where no cars were parked, but with a line of traffic approaching and parked cars dotting the next block or so I took the closest side street just north of there and saw nothing to guide me to any nearby bikeway which runs parallel.

        And who knew John Forester had a change of heart and supported separated bikeways?

        1. Matty LangMatty Lang


          I guess my response to your original comment was a bit trite, but the following words you wrote are right out of the John Forester playbook and appear to say that the loop is a dumb idea:

          “The loop is a dumb idea, sorry. Just imagine if that was proposed for cars: they only get a loop and if they want to drive anywhere else, tough luck. How readily accepted, let alone welcome, would such a proposal be?”

          Perhaps, I’m just misunderstanding what you wrote and you really think the loop is a fine idea?

          1. Keith Morris

            It’s limited to too narrow of an area Downtown: put protected bikeways that crisscross all of it and connects to neighborhoods bordering it. But that would mean needing to the tackle streets like W 7th and motorists would likely need to lose a parking lane to fit a bikeway in.

            Seems like they’re trying to avoid more inevitable conflicts with a rather insular loop with only a couple options to enter and exit Downtown.

            1. Matty LangMatty Lang

              The loop is a starting point, and the plan does include connections from it to existing trails and neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Nobody that I know thinks the loop is all that is needed–a minimum network of protected bikeways on all city streets with auto speeds above 20mph is the goal. Of course, that means reducing neighborhood street speeds to 20mph maximum through both speed limit reduction and design speed reduction.

              It’s fair to criticize the bike plan as not going far enough for a long term plan–I am critical of it for that shortcoming. The plan is really outlining what should be in place right now at a minimum even though it’s being proposed as a long-term document. I’m not going to be content and sit on my hands after this plan is adopted, but I do see it’s adoption as being very helpful.

        2. Mike SonnMike Sonn


          I agree that everything is on Randolph. Adding salt to the wound, Ramsey County will be redoing Randolph the next two years and not adding any cycling infra.

          Way-finding needs to be MUCH MUCH better in Saint Paul, especially since main drags (Snelling/Grand/Randolph) don’t have any cycling infra.

          But for thru-travel, Jefferson is the way to go.

  3. ben

    I hate to agree but keith is right. the loop is a bad idea that treats bikes like almost a novelty. St. Paul has well over its fair share of three and four lane one ways and other low traffic streets so that really every street in downtown should have cycle tracks and lanes. St. Paul is so ahead of the game on the downtown plazas/parks angle but can’t seem to figure it out with its streets.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric S

      You guys need to look more closely at the bike plan. Nearly every downtown street is marked for some sort of bicycle facility. The loop is there for the 8-80 crowd – for when I want to ride around downtown with my five year old. It is a way to help people get into downtown from around the city who would never feel comfortable in the street, even if it is as deserted as St. Paul’s downtown.
      Please don’t come away from this thinking the loop would be the only marked downtown routes.

  4. Eric SaathoffEric S

    “offering solutions to remedy the situation and in terms of St Paul many times the truth hurts and the solutions demand bold action, like moving away.”

    Saying “move away” is the opposite of offering a “solution to remedy the situation.” This is basically telling others to give up and stop trying, which is derailing the conversation for constructive solutions. It is absolutely counterproductive to say we should not try to change our cities for the better.

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