Capital City Bikeway: Making St. Paul Great Again


City Council members Russ Stark, Rebecca Noecker. Mayor Chris Coleman. Chair of St. Paul Community Advisory Committe Cynthia Whiteford. Bike advocates and supporters. Photo credit: Stephanie Weir

On Thursday afternoon, October 6, people gathered at the corner of Kellogg and Jackson to see a glimpse of the first dedicated off-street bike path in downtown St. Paul. Bike advocates, city officials, and even two Twin Cities Marathon runners originally from Florida just passing by joined in the fun and excitement. They saw the Nice Ride station and bicyclists that were starting to gather and had to check out what all of the positive energy was about. They eagerly accepted the offer to use a Nice Ride bike and joined dozens of people for the inaugural ride of the Capital City Bikeway loop. Currently just two blocks long, the loop will connect core streets of downtown to each other and finally, to arterial bike routes leading into downtown St. Paul.

People were not only smiling at Thursday’s inaugural ride on the newly unveiled “Capital City Bikeway” (formerly dubbed “the downtown loop”) because it’s the first portion of the dedicated, elevated bike loop, but also because it symbolizes St. Paul’s commitment and future of dedicated biking infrastructure. Some people viewing photos on Twitter were surprised this was in St. Paul and not Minneapolis. I’m a St. Paul Women on Bikes spokeswoman; we’re used to that. Minneapolis deserves a lot of credit for the variety of biking improvements made throughout the years. They too have protected bike lanes downtown Minneapolis and around the city, fun events like “Bites by Bike,” a wonderful bike-led event to eat and drink your way through parts of Minneapolis. According to KSTP, the number of bike commuters in Minneapolis is at an all-time high, with 5% of Minneapolis residents biking to work. The city has an ambitious goal of 15% of residents biking to work by 2025, and based on their current commitment to bike infrastructure, that goal seems achievable. St. Paul is behind in bike-focused city infrastructure.

Back to St. Paul. Rewind to March 28, 2015, when dozens of bicyclists and concerned citizens packed city hall to to speak in favor or to bring up concerns against a system-wide bike plan that would benefit many parts of the city. The plan was adopted to the amazement and happiness of many bicyclists. We pledged to support thoughtful discourse of the plan as it developed, aware that not everyone felt as exuberant about the developments as we did. Genuine concerns about loss of parking, access to businesses where bike lanes would be installed were common themes. Some bike lanes became controversial in parts of the city, like Cleveland and Upper Afton. The concerns and criticism were helpful, a necessary part of the process to learn what residents feared, and provided an opportunity to educate. Like the Capital City Bikeway, other dedicated bike lanes aren’t just used by nearby college students, but by commuters, families, seniors, everyone.

In downtown St. Paul, the rate of individuals that are car-free is naturally higher than the rest of St Paul. Having a dedicated bike loop, separated from traffic, separated from pedestrian-used sidewalks makes sense in an area of high population and worker desnity, and is trending in cities across the nation. According to Philly Voice, Philadelphia was the largest US city without protected bike lanes. Until 2016. They too installed a mile-long, two-way lane in a population-dense portion of their downtown. Like our inaugural event, their mayor and city officials unveiled the opening of their new dedicated bike lane.


St Paul Women on bikes spokeswomen. Photo credit: Stephanie Weir

Our own Capital City Bikeways unveiling was met with cheers from downtown St. Paul residents and workers, Mayor Chris Coleman, City Council Members Russ Stark and Rebecca Noecker, and Cynthia Whiteford, Chair of the St. Paul Community Advisory Committee. She sums up the project nicely by saying, “The Capital City Bikeways project is an example of the amazing things that can be done when it’s done collaboratively….we ensured that residents, businesses and advocates had a voice at the table and that voice was heard during the entire process…. I’m convinced this project will make our city more aesthetically pleasing, easier to get around in, healthier, and more vibrant.”

Not everyone shares Cynthia’s perspective. A fellow state employee, Ted Sitz, bikes a minimum of 15 miles a day every work day into downtown St. Paul and he emailed me his concerns: “Are you following the bike lane construction on Jackson St? St. Paul will be running a bike lane up Jackson, with bikes heading north against traffic, on a one-way street. It does not matter if it is a protected bike lane; traffic turning right onto Jackson from parking ramps and cross streets is conditioned to look north on the one-way street, not south. Did anyone consider this hazard?” I let him know that I think a lot of his concerns are valid, as we watched cars exiting one of the parking ramps in front of this path watch us with an amused smile on their face while on our inaugural ride. Will everyone be watching for bicyclists and pedestrians? Not at first, not all the time. That happens throughout all of downtown, all of the city, and this is a separate issue that DOES need to be addressed. But as more pedestrians and bicyclists take to the sidewalk, bike paths, and bike on the road as bicyclists always have been legally allowed to do, we will get noticed. Downtown drivers will have no choice but to be aware of pedestrians and bicyclists, they will hopefully drive more cautiously anywhere they see people walking and bicycling, which will be a good thing no matter what transit option people are using.

I was in Philadelphia for a work conference a year ago. Their streets are narrow, their pedestrian and bicycle use is high. Cars simply couldn’t drive without looking everywhere they go within their populated city, and now they too have a dedicated, separated bike lane. I want that here; I want every auto driver to actively look at their surroundings at all time and consciously allow pedestrians to cross at a green light, to allow bicyclists to safely bike on roads with traffic, and I want bicyclists young and old, families and commuters, to feel safe bicycling in, out of and around downtown St. Paul. Our city, just like Philadelphia, is changing – and definitely for the better.




New Capital City Bikeway logo on permeable pavement. Photo credit: Stephanie Weir

Melissa Wenzel

About Melissa Wenzel

Car-free bicycle advocate, passionate state employee, union leader. MN's "Industrial Stormwater Sherpa." Human being first, government employee second.

10 thoughts on “Capital City Bikeway: Making St. Paul Great Again

  1. Josh

    Old Minneapolis resident doing their Masters in Architecture at Ohio State and while I understand and appreciate the quoted man’s concern for the bi-directional bike lane on a one way street, the newly implemented bike lanes we have here actually are working quite well.

    You can see a picture at if you look at Columbus. It might be a little different than the Jackson street design but it has two directions of bike travel and one direction of vehicle travel.

    Hope for the best!

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    Watching from afar, this is a really exciting project for Saint Paul. I was thrilled to see all the photos and videos.

    That being said, as a current Philadelphia resident, your description of Philly does not sound familiar to me. I’m not sure what you’re referring to as an elevated, protected lane in center city Philadelphia. Perhaps the Schuylkill River Trail?

    But beyond the SRT, Philly is far behind its peers in promoting bicycling. The narrow streets are the city’s only advantage. Otherwise, the infrastructure is gravely lacking, and political leadership is inconsistent and parochial. There’s progress being made, but in most respects, Philly falls behind even Saint Paul in promoting bicycling.

    1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel Post author

      Hi Alex, thank you for your comments. According to the article I cited: “The mile-long, two-way lane is located on Ryan Avenue between Rowland and Lexington Avenues in the city’s Mayfair section. The lanes run along Abraham Lincoln High School, Austin Meehan Middle School and Pennypack Park.” It looks like it’s only the beginning, too: Also, the number of people who commute via bike, walk or mass transit is commendable! 10.6%, according to this article: Way to go!

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Yes. Several of us have been discussing this over the past few days. Dutch engineers said that they’d not have done this and given my knowledge of Denmark I don’t think they would either. NL did install a few similar things in the 80’s but discontinued them and nobody I know is aware of any that haven’t been rebuilt with one-way’s on each side.

      OTOH, I think it is better than nothing assuming nobody gets killed by a driver not expecting anyone coming from their right. If the traffic lights provide full protection at each junction and prevent right and left turning vehicles from ever crossing the bikeway while it has ROW then it may work fairly well. Dutch only have about 1/10 as many traffic signals as we do so that might have been an issue there.

      I watched the Jackson St ramp for a bit yesterday and cars were pulling out of there fairly fast. Whether they’ll look to their left for northbound bikeway traffic is a concern.

  3. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    My office window (well, cubeland window that is shared) overlooks Kellogg and Jackson so I’ve been watching and pondering traffic for a while now. I really like that the slip lane and pork chop for cars turning west onto Kellogg from Jackson has been eliminated. Hurrah! That was horrible and drivers went through it way too fast. I share concern about how intersections will be handled or are handled presently.

    My main complaint is based on watching pedestrian traffic. This corner is super busy as many of the people coming to visit my building come via transit. There is no separate crosswalk for pedestrians. At corners the bikeway extends into a crosswalk, but the sidewalk just ends with the gutter pan aligned with the bikeway. Pedestrians walk (mostly) on the sidewalk, avoiding the bikeway, but at the intersection cross in the bikeway crosswalk and continue their walk in the bikeway on the other side. Erg. Hopefully the City can add separate crosswalks for pedestrians. Also, drivers stop in the crosswalk, blocking the bikeway.

    Overall, I’m a fan. Hopefully the problems can be worked out as we learn from each segment.

  4. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    Oh! Also, I’ve been hit by motor vehicles three times while on my bike. All three spots were intersections that will someday be on the bikeway.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Sadly, yes. A lot of focus gets put on the bit between junctions (and nearly half of all fatalities of bicycle riders are their being hit from behind while riding between junctions) but junctions are critical. We have really good paths in Shoreview but junctions are problematic and have seemingly become much more dangerous just this year.

      Someone once told me that the CROW manual spends 4 times as much space on junctions as the bits between. The new MassDOT bikeway design manual does a fairly good job with junction design and what I’ve seen of the new AASHTO guide will take that one step closer to CROW. I fear the new MNDOT guide falls far short of all of these.

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