This coming Wednesday, June 17, at 5:30pm, the Saint Paul City Council faces its first test for implementing the city’s Bikeways Plan. The plan calls for bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue. The question is: Will they vote to implement the plan, or will they listen to claims of bike lane opponents and scrap a major part of the plan before its implementation even begins?
Because there is little money for the Bikeways Plan, the idea was that much of it would be implemented over a couple decades as part of street repaving projects. When paving and paint crews are on a given street to repave it, painting a couple of extra bike lanes can basically be done for free. Ramsey County is repaving part of Cleveland this summer and is proposing to stripe bike lanes from Highland Parkway up to Summit Avenue. So Cleveland has become the first major opportunity to implement part of the Bikeways Plan. From Highland Parkway, north to Randolph, Cleveland is wide enough that bike lanes can be striped on it without taking away any parking. North of Randolph however, Cleveland narrows. So, finding the necessary 5-6 feet of space for two bike lanes will require removing much of the on-street parking between Randolph and Grand Avenue.
As with all parking removals, this has created a lot of controversy. Various business and property owners claim that removing this parking will drive them out of business. Some local conservative pundits like Joe Soucheray have also weighed in, opposing the bike lanes. Many of these folks showed up at two public meetings to criticize city and county engineers and many have voiced their opinions in newspapers and on various social media forums. Let’s evaluate some of their claims.
Why not Finn Street?
First off, opponents question the choice of Cleveland Avenue as a bikeway. They say the city should put bikes on Finn street, one block west of Cleveland, because Finn is safer and more pleasant to ride on. But Cleveland Avenue is one of the only north-south streets at the west end of the city that travels, uninterrupted, from the southern end of Highland Park, through Highland Center, and all the way to Pierce Butler Avenue. There are even plans to connect it north of Pierce Butler across the Union Pacific and BNSF rail lines. By contrast, Finn Street only travels between I-94 on the north end and Ford Parkway at the south end. During this short stretch, Finn is interrupted by the University of Saint Thomas campus, and by a two block gap between Niles and Hartford Streets. These interruptions and the street’s short length often require cyclists cut over to Cleveland to continue their journeys. For all these reasons, Finn was deemed inadequate and Cleveland was designated for on-street bike lanes in the city’s Bikeways plan.
No one will use them.
Opponents of the bike lanes say, “no one will use them” and cite the fact that few cyclists are using the street now. But these same claims were made about Fairview Avenue and now, even with sub-standard-width “bikeable shoulders” it gets 30 cyclists per hour at morning and evening weekday commute times. Like Fairview before its four-lane-to-three-lane conversion, cyclists currently avoid Cleveland because there’s no space for them. Once space is made, there is evidence from past projects that use will grow. There are also two major college campuses on Cleveland that have high levels of student bicycle use—the University of Saint Thomas and Saint Catherine University. Both are part of the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities or “ACTC” system that allows students to take courses on each other’s campuses and share library resources. Cleveland is the most direct connection between the two campuses and provides students and neighborhood residents with access to many stores, bars, restaurants and other businesses from Grand Avenue to Highland Center.
Not Enough Parking?
The main claim of bike lane opponents is that the loss of on-street parking on Cleveland will hurt various businesses and force them to move or close. To examine this claim, it’s important to understand the current and proposed parking situation on Cleveland between Randolph and Grand Avenues. The city studied this stretch, block by block, to see where and when on-street parking is currently used. They found that only a couple blocks at the north end near Grand and the last block at the south end between Randolph and James Avenues, see high use. In addition, the spaces in front of the Kehilat Sar Shalom Synagogue (near Sargent Avenue) get used on Saturdays and when there are services.
As you can see from the city study, parking is only allowed on one side of Cleveland. At major businesses nodes like Saint Clair Avenue, there are parking bays that will remain even if bike lanes are striped. Many businesses also have their own parking lots and there is significant amounts of under-utilized parking on side streets. I live on Berkeley Avenue, a half block from Cleveland and my block’s on-street parking is never entirely used. Randolph Avenue has alternate-side street-sweeping restrictions on Monday and Tuesday nights and, at the north end of Cleveland, several side streets near the University of Saint Thomas campus have permit-only parking, designed to deter college students who drive to campus and don’t want to pay for on-campus parking. I made a detailed map showing all the parking bays, lots and parking restrictions.
At the south end, putting in bike lanes would necessitate the removal of nine of the more heavily used parking spaces between Randolph and James. But one major bike-lane opponent, Luci and Luci Ancora, has its own 12-space parking lot and currently, many of its patrons park on James, Randolph or Cleveland (south of Randolph) and walk to their restaurants. A friend of mine lives on the corner of James and Cleveland and parks on James, year-round without any difficulty. Across the street, Accolades spa has a 15-space parking lot.
Even if you believe that the nine on-street parking spaces are critical for business survival, there are ways to mitigate or replace them. Currently there are some “30-Minute only” restricted spaces designed to encourage frequent turnover for businesses. Other spaces on Randolph could be designated as “30-minute” or even “2-Hour” restricted parking (in the evenings) for restaurant-goers.
Next to the gates of Saint Catherine University is room for two spaces in what is currently a “no-parking” area. This would replace two of the nine removed spaces on Cleveland.
Across from Sportsmen’s Barbershop and Luci, there’s a defunct driveway that would provide space for two cars. Cars occasionally use it for that purpose but it could be officially signed and would replace two more of the nine removed spaces.
Finally, in front of Sportsmen’s and Luci, the sidewalk is very wide. A five-space parking bay could easily be put in as part of the street repaving project. This would replace the remaining five of the nine removed parking spaces. If a parking bay can’t be put in immediately, this last block from Randolph to James could be temporarily marked as a shared bike/driving lane, pending construction of a parking bay at some designated future date.
The five spaces in front of Kehilat Sar Shalom Synagogue on Cleveland could be replaced by creating a couple “10-minute loading-zone” spaces on Sargent in front of the synagogue and perhaps creating some additional “Synagogue-only” restricted parking spaces on Sargent. The city could then provide the synagogue with permits it could distribute to some of its older or disabled patrons.
At the north end, Davanni’s/Coffee-Bene is another opponent of bike lanes. But they have their own 23-space parking lot on Grand, a 5-space parking bay on Cleveland and use of a 32-space parking lot across the street, at the University of Saint Thomas, on weekends and after 5pm on weekdays. On top of this, a lot of their customers consist of UST students and staff who get to their store on foot or by bicycle. The owner claims that his customers and staff use up to ten of the spaces on Cleveland that would be removed but he has no evidence for this. Many of these spaces are used by UST students who drive to campus but don’t want to pay for on-campus parking and can’t get side-street parking permits. These particular students are not necessarily Davanni’s customers.
If you still believe additional parking is necessary for Davanni’s survival, permit parking rules could be adjusted to provide them with a few side-street permits for employees. The city has also proposed to make some of the nearby permit parking into “2-hours (or by permit)” to accommodate Davanni’s customers. At some future date, the city could even create an additional two or three-space parking bay, on Cleveland across from the store’s existing five-space bay.
When you look at it objectively, many of the claims about the impacts of parking loss on Cleveland are grossly overstated. In the few places where they have any legitimacy, there are ways to mitigate or even replace the lost spaces.
Many people in Saint Paul feel that publicly-subsidized car storage or “Rock Star” parking in front of their doors is essential for their survival. In the coming years, however, Saint Paul is going to get denser and increase in population. Major new housing developments are going in at the old Ford Plant, on Cleveland Avenue, on University Avenue and many other places in the city. We’re not going to be able to move all these people through our city in cars. There’s simply not enough space. So we’ll need to expand transit, bikeways and automobile alternatives. For businesses, developing a customer base within walking or biking distance rather than relying on car drivers and parking space is good for business. There are many local businesses that don’t have their own parking lots or dedicated parking in front of their doors. They succeed because neighborhood people actually enjoy walking or biking to them, even in winter. The 128 Café, Izzy’s Ice Cream, and Kopplins Coffee all sell great products and mange to get a lot of walk-in business.
After years of public meetings, studies, hearings and planning sessions, the city of Saint Paul adopted a comprehensive Bikeways Plan. But plans are just words on paper. The world and the Twin Cities are full of city plans that were thrown out or never implemented. Now the city faces its first test for implementing the Bikeways Plan. The plan calls for bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue. The question is: Will they really do it? …or will they listen to hysterical claims of bike lane opponents? Come to the public hearing at city hall on Wednesday evening and find out.