Improvements for Cyclists on Ford Parkway and Montreal Avenue

Newly painted (and completely reconstructed) Montreal Avenue and Ford Parkway are now open. Both roads incorporate ways to keep the roads more safe, and inviting, especially to our neighbors who are outside of a car. There were a few improvements to be desired, but I must commend the City of Saint Paul and Ramsey County on improving what was there, and at least moving in the right direction.

Middle of the Road

Ford Parkway used to be all bituminous asphalt from curb to curb, but now there is a small median separating traffic lanes.* This is good because it reduces the amount of roadway drivers see in front of them and because the center lane before was entirely unused. The median and especially the ongoing landscaping and trees add left-hand “obstructions” to drivers, a visual cue on the left-hand side as well as the right. The median itself will prevent head-on collisions, but will also (hopefully) slow traffic a little and provide a safe refuge for mid-block crossings.

Bike Lanes

Both of these projects added bike lanes to their streets. Both seemed rather spacious and welcoming. Ford Parkway’s bike lanes are already getting good use, as the warmth stuck with us until November, and on this ride I had several passing bicyclists going up and down Ford, or connecting to Fairview Avenue to access the rest of Saint Paul’s bicycling network. Montreal Avenue had a few bikers in its lane, but I assume this will get more use when school lets out, as it is directly next to three schools. One area where the streets differed was in how they handled right hand turns with the bike lanes. Ford Parkway is seen below.

A bike lane is shown, halfway up the photo, the bike lane's solid markings change. The marking on the left side of the bike lane becomes skip striped, and the line closer to the curb disappears altogether. A sign asks drivers to yield to bikes in the right turn lane.

Bike lane just becomes a right-turn lane with a sign saying “Yield to Bicyclists.”

Ford Parkway uses the entire bike lane and parking lane as a right turn lane at the intersection. Volumes probably warrant it, but it seems awkward for neighbors in cars who might want to turn right on red if they’re queued behind a neighbor on a bike going straight.

A bike lane is shown in the foreground, as it ends the lines which define it are removed. The right line (towards the curb) is entirely gone, the left line (towards traffic) is maintained as a skip-striping pattern.

Montreal at Davern has a similar paint-scheme, but there is not enough space for a fully fledged right turn lane and is not marked as such. (Montreal at Fairview Avenue has similar markings, but the photo was pretty blurry from that intersection.)

All in all, the bike lanes are a good improvement, as they are connecting destinations like the Highland Village, day cares, other businesses, parks, and schools to Fairview Avenue and the existing bike route network.

Lots of “Catwalks”

Ford has many day cares and preschools along its length, but one had a really cool idea. Instead of having kids walk over snowbanks, or shoveling dirt, or having everyone pull up to the one sidewalk to load and unload small children, they had several catwalks connecting the sidewalk to the street.


Looking west, on the south side of the street, there exists several extra sidewalk panels connecting the sidewalk to the curb. The stairs for the preschool are seen in the far left, in line with the first "catwalk".

The catwalks along the left side of the photo, connecting the sidewalk to the street at several points.

This same thing can be seen on Montreal Avenue, by the Highland Park Middle (and High School, GO SCOTS!) but the catwalks are spread much further apart as this is a school bus loading zone instead of one for parents’ cars.

From across Montreal Avenue, three catwalks are spaced far enough apart to load school buses directly at each one, hopefully this reduces the amount of snow and muck tracked into the buildings.

The catwalks here are much further apart, but you can see three in this picture.

Midblock Crosswalks

Intersections on both streets got great bumpouts and the crosswalks look great highlighted in the new paint, but there is one glaring difference in how the midblock crossings were treated. First let’s look at Ford Parkway.

The photo shows a continental style crosswalk from one side of the road to a median. A sign in the foreground reads "No Parking Begins" beyond that sign is a crosswalk pedestrian sign, a firehydrant and finally a sign which reads "No Parking Ends", but is illegible at this distance with this camera.

The crosswalk across Ford Parkway, no parking is allowed by the crosswalk, but the curb remains straight.

This crosswalk is just outside of the daycare shown earlier with its catwalks. There is no parking allowed by the crosswalk or even behind it. This stands in contrast to Montreal Avenue.

In the foreground a "No Parking Begins" sign is in front of a driveway, immediately after the driveway the curb juts out into the street about 5-6 feet, meets a crosswalk, and returns to its original line at the next driveway.

Parking is banned on this portion of the street, so the curb extends out to shorten crossing distances, makes it impossible to park in a non-travel lane, and doesn’t even lessen the parking provided because cars couldn’t park there anyway.

These curb extensions provide traffic calming, reduce pedestrian exposure to vehicle traffic, and don’t allow for drivers to stand or park in the areas where it would block driver’s sight-lines to pedestrians. Adding these extensions to more reconstruction projects would be an easy improvement to add traffic calming and enhance safety with few to no negative effects for drivers.


These reconstruction projects were definitely an improvement for Ford Parkway and Montreal Avenue, and for the fact that I didn’t really engage in the public process beforehand…I can’t really complain that one piece of low hanging fruit (politically) was missed. But these types of improvements, while somewhat boring, are good steps for Saint Paul to take to slow some traffic on high traffic roadways and provide some good bicycling connections.

*The median is not complete, as trees and other landscaping is still taking place, so I neglected documentation and taking pictures.

Joseph Totten

About Joseph Totten

Joe is a graduate of Civil Engineering-Transportation and Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota, and has a masters degree from Portland State University. Born and raised in Saint Paul, Joe has worked with nonprofits and public agencies in MSP and Portland.

24 thoughts on “Improvements for Cyclists on Ford Parkway and Montreal Avenue

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

      You’re 100% correct. I but I don’t think this had much of an effect on the design, due to the similar calming strategies on both. One thing that is notable is that Ford has bike symbols in the bike lane facing AWAY from the travel lane, which is reversed on Montreal.

  1. sheldon

    I was wondering about the term ‘catwalk.’ I had not heard the concrete walks between the sidewalk and street called that. I checked wikipedia and it does not include that use for catwalk. The term I’ve always seen used for that short section of concrete is carriage walk. The way to get from the sidewalk to the carriage.

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

        It’s not a common usage (especially compared to raised walks, modeling, etc.) but talk to your city engineer or a concrete worker and these are referred to as either a catwalk or outwalk. I could not find vernacular support for either, so went with what it’s been called in cities I’ve worked with.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I’ve always known it as a “carriage walk”, only because that was the lingo the city engineer in Northfield used at the time. The portion of the front walk extending into the boulevard.

  2. Monte Castleman

    Notice the mast with no streetlight on it on Montreal. Xcel and St. Paul have a unique arrangement where Xcel owns the mast and supplies the electricity, and St Paul supplies and maintains the luminaire. Xcel has put up the mast but St. Paul hasn’t put up their luminaire yet. That’s why St Paul luminaires look different than other cities- they use a NEMA head with and “open bucket” refractor rather than cobraheads like Xcel supplies.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

      … Monte, this knowledge is AWESOME! Thank you, I always thought St. Paul just had super old lights.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Even though NEMA dates from the days of incandescent streetlights, it’s nice because if say GE refractor gets smashed, you can just pop a new one on from any manufacturer rather than replace the entire fixture or carry a stock of ones from each difference manufacturer. You could also pop on any number of different styles of refractors depending on the size of your bulb and what light distribution you wanted, though in practice all the ones made for perhaps the last 50 years have been the “open bucket” variety. Xcel still uses NEMA for private area lights, even though they use cobraheads for the streetlights they own and maintain.

        Then of course you have the Walmart “yardblasters” that look like NEMA lights but are actually one piece, often with sketchy ballasts.

        Interesting too that most of the St Paul “lanterns” were incandescent into the 1990s.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Ford Parkway uses the entire bike lane and parking lane as a right turn lane at the intersection. Volumes probably warrant it, but it seems awkward for neighbors in cars who might want to turn right on red if they’re queued behind a neighbor on a bike going straight.

    Nice use of language! One issue with these right-turn lanes on Ford Pkwy is the improper use of R3-7R (Right Line Must Turn Right) signs, with no exceptions for bikes or buses. So, legally, a bike should exit the bike lane and merge into the travel lane before proceeding through the intersection. A bike proceeding in the bike lane is in violation of the posted signage.

    This seems like an easy thing to resolve.

      1. Hokan

        That’s one way.

        Another way is to eliminate the “right turn only” markings … making the bike lane extra wide at the intersection so as to encourage motorists to change lanes into the bike lane to prepare for their turn. Legal and probably safer.

      2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Hokan’s approach is my preferred option. I don’t think the presence of the sign makes much difference for motorists. By making it just a wide unmarked shoulder area it makes it seem more like the turning motorist is a guest in the bike’s space — not vice versa.

        Notably, at least one MnDOT installation has this setup — TH 14/12th St SE in Rochester.

        But yeah, adding a plaque would be even easier.

        1. GlowBoy

          A bike lane between the right turn lane and the through general lane would be idea. But the “EXCEPT BICYCLES” plaque would be the way to handle the lane striping, and is the accepted treatment in Oregon.

  4. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    Thanks for writing this! These changes aren’t glamorous, but they’re crucially important, and need to happen in bulk to make a difference.

  5. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

    Some dashed green paint (which MInneapolis has started using more heavily) would go a long way to making those mixing zones at the right turn lanes more intuitive and obvious.

    1. brad

      This was my thought. I like the bike lanes, but when I thought about how to bike all the way from Snelling to the Ford Bridge at rush hour, I chose another route.

  6. Monte Castleman

    How is a motorist making a right turn supposed to behave if a bicycle lane continues all the way to the intersection without the stripe ending or changing to dashes? Do they yield to bicycles and pull into it to make the turn, or make the turn without leaving the motorized vehicle lane? I was driving down Bloomington Ave with a car behind me and no bicycle in sight and realized I had no clue what to do. A better option would be to have a sign “right turn yield to bikes” or a double white line to separate the lane, depending to make it clearer. There’s no specific meaning for a single white line but it’s normally used to discourage but not prohibit crossing (see the Lowry Hill Tunnel).

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

      I don’t know if it’s been added to the drivers manual/had PSAs yet, but it is considered a travel lane at intersections, and right turning vehicles must enter a bike lane Once they have signaled, and are slowing for their turn.

      Drivers Ed. ~9 years back.

  7. GlowBoy

    This drives me crazy that Minnesota requires right turning motor vehicles to enter the bike lane. Which then causes cyclists to be blocked if the light turns green and the turning vehicle has to wait for pedestrians to cross.

    I much prefer the Oregon/Washington system, wherein cars turn from car lanes. They may *cross* bike lanes, but may not drive *in* them. In Portland we had a name for drivers who pulled into the bike lane to turn: “Californians” (CA’s law is the same as MN’s). To me the MN/CA law is analagous to allowing drivers to drift over into the oncoming lane before making a turn.

  8. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    I biked from the West Seventh neighborhood to the Highland Theater on Saturday night and was pleasantly surprised to find the lanes on both Lexington Parkway and Montreal. I knew they were planned, but didn’t know they had been implemented. Being a quiet night with little traffic it was a very enjoyable ride. My only complaint is that on Lexington Parkway car traffic ignored the lanes completely and still treated the stretch from West Seventh to Scheffer as if there were two lanes in each direction rather than a single lane and a bike lane. I suppose that comes with any change, though, people need to get used to it (or they are idiots and can’t see new lane markings but I will be charitable).

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