Rethinking the Status Quo on Summit Avenue

Perpetuating the status quo is sadly the way things are done in Saint Paul. The inertia of what has always been carries a lot of weight here. The latest example can be found on Summit Avenue in the form of the annual repainting of the door zone lane. Below is the current Summit lane sizing:


Summit, Lexington to Snelling

Current Summit configuration: 9′ parking lane, 5′ bike lane, 16′ driving lane.

There are also several oddities that are actually quite unsafe. Below is a picture of Summit at Griggs which directs cyclists into the back of a parked car. Unfortunately, this was repainted just days ago.

EB Summit at Griggs

The bike lane ends into the back of a parked car while maintaining wide a driving lane on Summit at Griggs.

The city has access to approximately $400,000 in 8-80 funds for bike lane striping (I’m sure that number is less after several projects have been completed, including lanes on Western Avenue’s bridge over 94 and Como Avenue from Lake Como to Dale Street). These funds are for “low hanging fruit” projects that don’t require the removal of a car lane – parking or travel – and the associated public process.

The Macalester-Groveland Community Council Transportation Committee, for which I am a member, has discussed with the city our desire to see the Summit Avenue bike lanes West of Lexington buffered with additional paint. The driving lane on Summit is 16′ wide. It is not a bus or truck route, and is our premiere bike facility on the city’s showcase street. Because the driving lane is so wide, there is at least 5-6′ of available space to use for buffering the bike lane while leaving ample room for car movements and parking. Below is a 5′ buffer the city could easily paint tomorrow without having to blast any of the new paint off the road.

ideal half summit lex-snell easy

Easy updated Summit configuration: 9′ parking lane, 5′ bike lane, 5′ buffer, 11′ driving lane.

However, I’d argue this isn’t ideal in that it maintains the bike lane in the door zone of all the parked cars. On the other hand, this portion of Summit sees low parking turnover, so opening doors are rarely an issue, unlike the stretch in front of Mitchell-Hamline School of Law between Victoria and Milton.

The ideal design (with parking maintained on the curb) would buffer both sides of the bike lane to move cyclists out of the door zone and also give space between moving vehicles. But this would require removing existing paint, increasing costs.

ideal half summit lex-snell 2

Bettered buffered Summit configuration: 8′ parking lane, 2′ buffer, 6′ bike lane, 3′ buffer, 11′ driving lane.

Finally, the ideal design would be parking protected buffered lanes with at least soft hit posts. This design has been done all around the United States, most recently in Oakland.

ideal half summit lex-snell parking protected

Best and safest Summit configuration: 6′ bike lane, 5′ buffer with bollards, 8′ parking lane, 11′ driving lane.

At the end of the day, Summit is Saint Paul’s icon street. I often see people loading or unloading bikes from their cars to ride Summit specifically, along with all the runners and events that happen along the Avenue. These changes, specifically narrowing the current 16′ driving lane to at least 11′, would be safety improvements for all road users. Since the road was recently painted, the added buffer would be easy and quick to add. It could spur a conversation about an even safer Summit Avenue using some of the ideas I’ve laid out above.

Finally, I’d love to see some leadership and imagination at Public Works. In Minneapolis, I would put good money that buffering would just happen.

In Saint Paul, we’ll get there some day, and I do feel we are headed in the right direction. But every time the status quo is repainted, I hang my head a little in disappointment.

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17 thoughts on “Rethinking the Status Quo on Summit Avenue

  1. Kate

    I’m all for your first two suggestions for buffered bike lanes, but I am not a fan of parking protected buffered lanes. With that arrangement it’s hard for drivers to see cyclists and then drivers don’t think or remember to look for cyclists at intersections (right hooks all day…and problems with left turning cars too).

    1. jeffk

      Agreed. These are awful, and make it impossible to pass. They’re more dangerous at intersections where collisions almost always occur, and so they trade actual safety for perceived safety.

      1. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

        They’d be 6′ wide, plenty of room to pass.

        Also, parking would be removed from intersections to day light them and provide a cross over for right turning vehicles. Please look at the Oakland example or google other examples.

        1. Rosa

          would that be enforced? There’s no enforcement of the distance-to-corner parking rules in Minneapolis and it makes visibility at intersections really terrible. I’m convinced it’s half the reason Minnesotans so rarely stop until they’re all the way into or past the crosswalk. Either they come from places with no sidewalks or places where cars are parked right up to the stop signs.

          1. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

            Is anything really enforced? I just saw a driver run a red light in downtown (that isn’t rare, sadly), but this time it was right in front of a SPPD. Nothing happened.

            Yeah, some drivers might park closer to the intersection than they should, but the cumulative of all the changes will slow drivers down so that if there is a conflict, it would be at a much lower rate of speed allowing all parties to hopefully avoid it.

  2. Paul Nelson

    Thank you, Mike Sonn:

    I will corroborate the measurements; I measured 5 feet bike lane, 8 feet park lane, and 15 feet traffic lane a few blocks west of Prior. This is one street where a parking protected bike way is feasible without moving curb cuts.

    One critical advantage of the parking protected bike-way is winter maintenance. When the bike space is between the sidewalk/boulevard and parked car, that space is not crossed by the heavy weight motor vehicle during or after snowfall, and is *much* easier to maintain and clear. Placing the bike lane between the MV traffic lane and the parked car lane is not good because the parked cars are continually crossing the bike lanes in winter creating packed snow ice and rutting throughout the winter. In fact it is easier and more sustainable economically and environmentally to maintain the protected bike-way than the process and labor to maintain any motor vehicle traffic lane space. Because of the lightweight of the human being on a bicycle compared to the motor vehicle, a lot less road salt is needed, and ice is much less of an issue. Thank you.

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

      I didn’t even think about plowing. Yes, this. Also, when plows go down Summit, if a car is parked in the parking lane, the plow stays 3-5′ away from it – which just happens to be the width of the bike lane. So guess what, the bike lane doesn’t get plowed.

      1. Paul Nelson

        I talked briefly with Paul St Martin at the Hamline public meeting on Thursday about parking protected bike lanes on Summit. There is a cost/labor issue because the bike lane space would have to be plowed or brushed separately. Paul related that a parking protected bike lane would change the arrangement at the intersection for ped crosswalk, but I described one way that the crosswalks could be made more safe. Anyway, there is enough cross section space for a parking protected bike lane on Summit without moving curb cuts (west of lexington).

        1. Eric SaathoffEric S

          Does this make complete sense? It’s the same amount of road space just located differently. When clearing the street in its current arrangement can the plow do the entire side of the street in one pass? If it takes two passes it would seem like it would just take some time to switch vehicles. I imagine the narrower vehicle for the protected lane would go more slowly, however.

        2. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

          Paul, that response is exactly why I wrote this piece. It is a shame but it is the public works we’re dealing with. Somehow Minneapolis is putting forward a protected bikeways plan. It must not snow over there.

          1. Paul Nelson

            Thank you, Mike The conversation I had with Paul St Martin was a brief, standing up talk. It was considerate, thoughtful and respectful. He bikes himself, and was with us some years ago with Russ Stark (before Russ Stark was a council member) and we were scoping the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis to consider extending the Greenway in to St Paul.

            Yes, there has been a history of a culture with Public Works in this city, but it includes decades of procedures and equipment invested. This is especially true with winter maintenance.We can move a lot of snow fast with very large trucks, but do less with the “in-between stuff”. Over the years I have noticed that Minneapolis has a greater variety of equipment for snow and ice removal, and they do some things different, use less road salt and do more “in between” plowing.

            Minneapolis has more main streets that are wider with more space in the ROW, and can implement protected bike lane designs easier. Here in St Paul on Ford Parkway, Marshall, and Minnehaha in Hamline, it would be necessary to move curb cuts to implement parking protected bike lanes.

            Last winter was not extreme, but I noticed where I work that Minneapolis cleared the plastic bollard/buffered bike lane on 28th street separately. It is necessary to clear that bike lane separately.

            The main reasons I would emphasize consideration are:
            1) There is more space on Summit Ave that would not require moving curb cuts for a parking protected bike lane.
            2) The parking protected bike lane is much easier to maintain in the winter because the motor vehicles are not crossing it during or after snow falls and packing the snow in to ice ruts on the bike lane. Placing the bike lane space between the park lane and the MV traffic lane makes it far more difficult to maintain the bike lane space in winter.
            4) The parking protected bike lane is perceived to be much more safe than a regular bike lane between the traffic lane and parked cars.

            It snows in Minneapolis too :=)

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I have only taken my parents on a bike ride around Saint Paul once. They live a block off Summit, and we rode down the Summit bike lane. It turns out, it was a terrifying experience for them! I’m used to these lane widths, but they were not. We took side streets on the way back.

    Point is that, to an untrained eye it might seem like the Summit lanes are fine and we shouldn’t change anything. But if you think about more vulnerable people, like older folks, anything you can do to improve the safety and comfort of the bike lanes would be a great change. Plus there’s no defensible reason, other than laziness or inertia, to keep a 16′ driving lane. Summit Avenue should not have wider lands than Interstate 94.

    1. Daniel Phillips

      I totally agree, Bill. Summit is deceptive, it appears pleasant and safe but every one drives too fast and ruins the ride.

      The last option would be best; no door zone, no speeding cars, decreased chance of a right hook. Maybe next year.

  4. Faith Krogstad

    One other danger in Summit: I used to crisscriss Minneapolis and Saint Paul daily by bike. The two near-misses with cars I had were both on Summit, the street that had the best bike facilities of all my routes at the time. Both times I was nearly broadsided at night. I had lights, but the left-turning cars going through yield signs couldn’t see my lights as they started their turn from the other side of the wide median. Has there been talk of converting the yield signs to stop signs?

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