Last week Saint Paul completed a very short, but very important bicycle and pedestrian improvement. The one-third mile off-street path connects West 7th Street to Shepard Road and the Minnesota River Trail (MRT) Bikeway.
While it does not have everything I would have asked for if Saint Paul Public Works used the “What Dana Wants” metric to judge all bicycle projects, it is a great improvement.
Previously I wrote about this area in Option #1: Shepard Road of my “Lesser of Three Evils for my Saint Paul Bike Commute.” This is what Otto Avenue looked like then:
West of Stewart Avenue there was no sidewalk on the north side. The sidewalk on the south side stopped at Butternut Avenue. To cross Shepard Road, a sign near Butternut Avenue directed pedestrians to the sidewalk on the north side of Otto Avenue. There was no marked crosswalk.
As I described previously,
Getting from Otto Avenue to Shepard Road is a bit trickier. There are two pork chop islands. The one with the red circle has a beg button and the one with the red x does not. The stop light cannot sense bicyclists and does not automatically change. Turning left from the turn lane and treating it like a stop sign would be an option if not for the speed of traffic on Shepard Road which is essentially a freeway. Currently, to access the red circled beg button an eastbound cyclist has to go the wrong way into the right turn lane on the north side of the pork chop for a curb cut.
Although this was the closest access point to Shepard Road to my house and my son’s school, I rarely used Otto Avenue before. It was too tricky to safely cross Otto Avenue to get to the beg button needed to cross Shepard Road.
Better Options: The New Trail
The new path runs the north side of Otto Avenue and is sort of a wide sidewalk. I am a little concerned that trails like this are seen as sidewalks, which encourages riding on the sidewalk by bicyclists, and beliefs that bicyclists belong on the sidewalk by car drivers.
Yet, there is not a lot of bicycle and pedestrian traffic here, so combining bicycles and pedestrians should work fine in this instance. It has wide, panned ramps which are great when riding side-by-side with my seven-year old son. The City also lowered the speed limit from 35 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour. The combination of the lowered posted speed limit and narrower travel lanes will hopefully result in lower vehicle speeds.
The new approach to Shepard Road is much improved. With the path there is no need to cross Otto Avenue at Butternut Avenue. There is no need to go the wrong way down the right turn lane on Shepard Road. The path turns right to cross Butternut Avenue and provides a well-marked crosswalk in the right turn lane on Shepard Road.
My son just learned to ride his bike. Before the new path and approach to Shepard Road I would not have let him ride this with me. We used this last Saturday and any stress was due to my own mother protectiveness, not due to the road design. He was able to safely access Shepard Road and ride 17 miles – nearly all on paths! We still had to cross Shepard Road, with traffic going up to 60 miles per hour, but at least there is a safe way to get there and a way to signal a walk light.
If I Could Have One More Thing
There is one issue that I would like to see addressed. It’s one we see a lot of in Saint Paul. There is some great bicycle infrastructure, but it just ends. Like other trails and paths in Saint Paul, this one just ends at West Seventh Street with no clear direction on how to rejoin the rest of traffic. For myself, when headed west it just means rejoining the main traffic lane a little before the trail ends and, when headed east, signaling a left turn and turning onto the trail.
It is a bit trickier with a seven-year old. We have been crossing as pedestrians in the crosswalk, riding the sidewalk when heading east and taking the short sidewalk on Otto Avenue and joining the traffic lane on Milton Street (green line in map). Currently, there is no crosswalk on the south side of the intersection. The intersection is complicated due to the diagonal alignment of West Seventh Street, cars exiting the Super America parking lot on Otto Avenue, and the nearby junction of Milton Street.
When this intersection is re-done in 2017 the trail markings could be extended through the intersection or perhaps a bicycle/pedestrian specific light sequence added. Removing the exit from Super America onto Otto Avenue would also be a nice touch. Plans do include a pedestrian crossing on the south side of the intersection. There is a bus stop at the southwest corner and many people cross without the crosswalk.
A City for 8 – 80
Although short, this trail segment means a lot. This trail means my son can safely access Shepard Road and the MRT, which opens up a ton of possibilities for us. We can now safely ride to downtown, although we would likely park our bicycles and walk from Sibley Street. We can safely ride to Highland Park via the East River Road, although, again, we would have to walk our bicycles once we got to Ford Parkway. Without this trail he would not have a safe way to leave our neighborhood under his own power.
We are excited about all the new access it gives us to other trails and a wider range of destinations. Thank you, Saint Paul Public Works!