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.

Mike Sonn

About Mike Sonn

Mike lives in Saint Paul.

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