St. Paul Dithers While Other Cities Move On


Proposed bike lanes for Cleveland Avenue.

I woke to a very sad tweet this morning from Nate Hood that the Ramsey County Commissioners voted to stop waiting on St. Paul’s dithering and will move forward with re-doing Cleveland Avenue without any bicycle facilities.

I’m sad about this on many levels.

Level 1: Missed Potential

First is that St. Paul has the potential to be such a great place and in my opinion a much greater place than Minneapolis. Interestingly it was likely dithering on the part of St. Paul that provided this opportunity. While others were busy tearing down great architecture and building noisy multi-lane roads, St. Paul didn’t make so many of those mistakes.

It won’t be such a great place with a gob of cars though. While cities across the U.S. and around the globe are working to reduce the numbers of cars on their streets because of the noise, pollution, danger, and just plain discomfort and unpleasantness that come with them, St. Paul appears to be doubling down.

This is kind of like watching someone who has great talent ruin their life with drugs or alcohol. They always say they’ll get their act together tomorrow though.

The St. Paul Bicycle Plan is, in my opinion, already quite weak. Even if fully implemented I think it will leave us far behind other cities across the U.S. It was a start, though. Weak as it is, the plan may have even been ambitious given how far behind St. Paul already is.

But St. Paul can’t even follow through on this weak plan.

[More: St Paul Bicycle Plan: Good Enough? and St Paul Bicycle Plan: Completing The Local Mile.]

Level 2: Dashed Hopes

Finally, I’m sad for the people who live in St. Paul and who thought St. Paul might begin to turn the corner. St. Paul is full of people like Elizabeth Saathoff who posted a great commentary on Cleveland Avenue a few weeks ago. Lots of people want to be able to safely and comfortably live in St. Paul, walking and riding bicycles for local trips, rather than driving and take up parking spaces.

What is St. Paul doing for people like Dana DeMaster who along with her 6-year-old son was recently hit (again) by a car in downtown St. Paul?

Bikes Are A Key To The Future

People don’t often move themselves or their business to a city because it has a great convention center, ballparks, or multi-lane high speed roads. What people increasingly want are places that are comfortable and appealing. People want places where they feel safe walking, riding bicycles, or even using mobility scooters to reach local places.

We had our auto age and it was exciting. It’s the age that people like me and Anne White and Tony Desnick grew up in. Motor vehicles were the future and they were sexy and we embraced them and built our lives around them (quite literally, the suburbs were a radical departure from how cities had been built for thousands of years and were designed exclusively around auto travel).

But then there was too much of a good thing—increasing congestion and noise and pollution and costs from our cars took the shine off. Today we are over twice as likely to be killed by someone driving a car as by murder. And this doesn’t include early deaths due to our poor health and obesity that is partially the result of our no longer walking or bicycling for local transportation. Cars are become a stone around our necks (but one that we don’t want to part with).

Today St. Paul is still a relatively comfortable and welcoming city that people want to live and work in. This won’t last long though. At some point people like Elizabeth and Dana and Tony who love St. Paul and contribute to their communities and neighborhoods will determine that, relative to other places that have become more liveable and human-friendly, St. Paul no longer compares very well.

And that won’t be good for St. Paul no matter how much parking it has.


Saint Paul’s proposed bicycle projects in the Southwest quadrant.

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

16 thoughts on “St. Paul Dithers While Other Cities Move On

  1. Jim

    The August 12th city council meeting contains an agenda item, RES 15-1455, to continue work on the Cleveland Ave bike lane plans. It details a number of planned meetings and a Dec 1st deadline with its recommendation to the council.

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

      There has been ample process. Now more process to go with the other process on top of the Bike Plan’s original process. The county will now push for additional process moving forward with future projects.

      If only process could protect while I ride my bike, Saint Paul would be the safest place in the entire world by a mile.

  2. tony desnick

    Many have heard me say that when I leave work in Minneapolis and ride over the Lake St bridge I have to turn my watch back 25 years. It was kind of a joke but increasingly becoming a reality.

      1. Nick voss

        I bet he’d enjoy it more if everyone in Saint Paul knew what a Bike Lane was for, which is bicycles. In Saint Paul, bicyclists are not always promised full use of the bike lane. You see misuse by cars on marshall and Jefferson. You see misuse by pedestrians -joggers- on Sunmit. I enjoy a bike lane when its design and use results in safe travel and harmony amongst all travelers on the road.

  3. AJ

    Not enough organizing has been done to give political coverage to elected officials to make hard decisions. Saint Paul is old school and the city council makes decisions via consensus, much differently than Mpls. I want more bike lanes but am a political realist.

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

      There was overwhelming support at the adoption of the bike plan. We packed the room. Cleveland was DOA before the process even started per the Ward 3 CM saying “I will not support parking removal” at day one.

      Also, said CM is running unopposed. How much more political coverage do you need? Where is the DFL on this? The mayor continues to talk about how much the bike plan means to him and the city, but there wasn’t a peep out of his office when this was all going down. Now the Bike Plan is on the brink of being completely worthless. Eg Commissioner Rettman pointed to Cleveland as the reason to punt on Front. This will have a domino effect on every project here on out. Any time even the slightest pressure is applied from parking enthusiasts, the city or county will fold. We need real leaders to stand up.

      1. Joe

        THERE’S STILL A DAY! MIKE SONN FOR WARD 3!!! Starting with realistic problem solving instead of blaming St. Thomas for everything! Advocating for more transportation than CARZ!!! MIKE SONN, MIKE SONN, MIKE SONN!

        Or, a write-in campaign…

  4. Nick Voss

    I’m saddened because, as a father-to-be and a cyclist, what’s just slightly more worrisome than getting hit by a car is that there is no other recourse than to own a car because of the demands the current car-centric infrastructure places on citizens. I can’t afford a car right now. Owning a car on top of crippling student loan dept, healthcare, and all other expenditures associated with being a human being in this day and age, is like throwing money away – especially when it has a negative impact on health, the environment, and causes more damage to roads (which costs taxpayers) than a bicycle could do in 100 years. And even if I could afford a car I’d rather work a little harder, suffer just a tad bit more(i.e. ride a bike), and do my part and help remedy this dependence on something that is doing us and the environment more and more harm.

  5. Keith Morris

    If parking is such a big deal, why don’t they do angled parking to squeeze in more parking spots? Narrow the travel lanes to calm traffic a bit and toss some sharrows on them: better than nothing. Oh well, it’s no wonder why I call St Paul “The Cincinnati of Minnesota”.

  6. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino

    Good post. I’ve been thinking for a minute now about a semi-joking semi-very serious “St. Paul….Is Everything Okay?” post but it’s really hard to do an East Metro critique without having it lumped in with the “St. Paul—–that’s a suburb LMAO” type arguments.

    What’s going on over there? Mike posted the voter turnout study above, but that can’t be all of it–Minneapolis may have lots of sexy 20 somethings in new apartments but I doubt all that many of them are voting, at least at numbers high enough to sway a municipal (!) election. Is it just that much crochetier? How is Union Depot doing? Why isn’t there more development along the Green Line? There are some conversions going on downtown but I’m really surprised there hasn’t been more market rate development, especially right over the border.

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang

      Tell me about it, Nick. I’m starting to believe that your crotchety idea is what’s happening.

      It’s a strong effort (by a minority of people who talk real loud) to preserve what they see as perfection (car parking!) in a Citizen Kane snowball world forever.

  7. Miah

    It’s interesting, predictable and a bit sad to see people who were once so gung ho on a place and its “potential” slowly awaken to the awful truth of the place, years after others warned them! I and many others have been saying it for years about St Paul and the East Metro in general. Honestly, more power to those still banging their heads on the wall, fighting the good fight, but for most everyone else that “gets it”, time runs out eventually and it is simply best to vote with your feet and dollars and leave. I can assure you life is much better elsewhere, even right across the river.

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