Little Canada’s “Other” Transportation Infrastructure: Bicycling

This is part of a series of posts about a study on Little Canada’s transportation infrastructure for people who take transit, walk, and/or bike.

Transit: Parts One and Two, and Walking addressed Little Canada’s buses and sidewalks. This part has an analysis of Little Canada’s biking infrastructure.

What Exists Now And What Is Planned For Biking

Biking can be rather difficult in Little Canada, depending on where you are. We have one route with bike lanes, which is Edgerton Street near Lake Gervais. Other routes have “bike area” lanes or “bikeable shoulders”, such as Rice Street and Little Canada Road. The few trails that currently exist in Little Canada tend to be disjointed. Trails often become sidewalks after a certain point, such as when County Road C intersects with Rice Street or Little Canada Road. Despite the city lacking a coherent trail network, residents do take advantage of our current trails to walk and bike around town. There are goals to expand the trail network, both by the city (2030 Comprehensive Plan) and county’s long-term plans.

Often roads and streets have shoulders where people end up walking or biking, such as on Demont Ave (east of Rice St). The speed limit is 30 mph, though its common to see people drive down Demont at 40+ mph. Biking here is fine, though can be dangerous since drivers drift into the shoulder at times. Source: Self-taken (June 2017)

 

A planned northern extension of the Trout Brook Trail would connect Little Canada to trail networks with our urban (Saint Paul) and suburban (Shoreview, Vadnais Heights) neighbors.  I attended a meeting about the trail extension this past March, and the homeowners that attended were not fond of the trail extension. They had concerns over the potential for increased crime, invasion of privacy, right of way acquisition, and property values. The existing city-owned trail along Jackson Street was associated with crime by some neighbors. Residents have a right to be concerned, though a trail would likely benefit them more than hurt them. Various studies have been done about trails and crime; in most if not all cases, trails don’t increase crime rates and property values tend to increase. Existing regional trails in the Twin Cities that connect suburban and urban communities such as the Luce Line have not appeared to cause issues for nearby homeowners. Trails can be valuable assets to a community, even though they may be initially perceived as liabilities.

Conceptual Alignments of the northern extension of the Trout Brook Regional Trail. Source: Ramsey County – Parks & Recreation

 

County Road C and Rice Street have also been looked at for bikeway improvements that would connect us better with our neighbors. Roseville’s Pathway Plan envisioned County Road C between Lexington and Rice with a on-street bikeway. If this requires that road to be widened, this seems unlikely to happen due to right-of-way conflicts with above-ground power lines (moving them underground is costly). Unless if the road gets a 4-3 conversion (road diet), this road would not gain a striped shoulder for a bikeway. Homeowners along the road also would likely resist both options. An alternative option could be rebuilding the narrow sidewalk along the south side of Country Road C as a trail to decrease potential conflicts. This would create a consistent trail route along County Road C between Cleveland Avenue and Little Canada Road, which could then be expanded further west to join with the Northeast Diagonal Trail into Minneapolis.

Bike lanes on Rice Street north of County Road B2 have been proposed to the new interchange with Interstate 694. Considering what happened with Rice’s reconstruction south of County Road B2 a few years ago, an on-street bike lane next to a road marked for 40 mph (that people often drive at 45-50 mph) does not seem wise. Most will likely stick to the sidewalk or not bike on it at all due to the perceived safety risks. Lexington Avenue in Roseville and Shoreview might be a better example to follow, as it has a paved trail for most of the way. Shoreview residents gathered together back in the 1970-80s, which led to the creation of its well-used and extensive trail network. They ended up going against a county proposal for 3-foot wide “bike area” lanes along Lexington. I do see a few people biking on Rice while I wait for the bus, many whom look like they are commuting to work or school. They would have been better off with actual bike lanes (6 feet minimum) or a trail, since the current layout does not meet State Aid standards. Rice’s “bike area” lanes seem to be a result of a compromise that ultimately led to unsafe biking conditions. Were “bike area” lanes used to bypass State Aid standards the since they aren’t officially called or striped as “bike lanes”?

Bike Lanes or Trails?

Bike lanes versus trails is a common debate when biking improvements get proposed. In suburban areas, trails seem to get more support by the public than a bike lane would. Trail users may be seen differently than bike lane users (often stereotyped as Lycra-clad aggressive men). Most suburbs are family-oriented, and people seem more likely to bring their kids out on their bikes on a segregated pathway. This contrasts with bike lanes, which are often separated from fast cars just by a line of paint. That doesn’t mean trails don’t get opposition, as seen with Trout Brook and in other proposed trails in nearby suburbs. Bike lanes seem to work better in urban than suburban areas, because of slower speed limits and narrower roadways. That doesn’t mean bike lanes in suburban areas are a bad idea though. There are scenarios where segregating walkers and bikers is wise due to a high volume of both. A bike lane and a sidewalk may be a good approach in that scenario. If a shoulder already exists, it can be a good short-term solution to mark it as a bike lane, but ultimately trails seem to be a better long-term goal for suburbs. Edgerton would have fared better with a trail than wider bike lanes, as it would have been a safer connection to Lake Gervais for both people walking and biking. Despite trails tending to be a better choice for suburbs, safety risks due to people driving not paying attention when turning is still common on trails.

Possible wayfinding ideas for a county-wide bike and pedestrian network. Source: Self-created (December 2016)

 

Whether we decide on bike lanes or trails, improving wayfinding would be great on both. Even in areas with extensive trail networks, it can be difficult to know which direction you’re going. Sometimes the trail ends randomly or requires you to cross a street. Bike lanes also end randomly and often don’t warn cyclists and drivers (other than a standard “Bike Lane Ends” sign). Signage might help people walking or biking to know where they are going, as well as warning them of dead ends. Since some roads use concrete sidewalks and asphalt-paved trails interchangeably, it would be nice to indicate if it’s still technically a multi-use trail.

Personal Experiences When Biking

Last year for a few weeks (August-November), I tried biking to work from my home in western Little Canada down to the Capitol area in Saint Paul. I bought a cheap bike off Craigslist. It took me anywhere between 30-40 minutes to get to work, which is comparable to my commute by bus (including walking to/from my stops). I usually was averaging around a speed of 10-12 mph.

Last November, I crashed due to hitting a curb on Rice when transferring from the bike lane (that ends there) to the trail. Strava said I was going about 17 mph at the time of my crash, which seems accurate since I was going downhill. I usually transfer onto the trail through a curb cut, but I accidentally hit the normal part of the curb due to turning my front wheel prematurely. I went sideways onto the trail’s pavement, and blacked out for a few seconds. Luckily, I regained consciousness and immediately knew what occurred. A woman who was on the sidewalk asked if I needed an ambulance, which I declined but I did seek medical attention since I knew that I could have been experiencing a lucid interval. I was left with a bad road rash on my face and a few scrapes and bruises from landing on the trail. I never ended up biking to work again though. I have been taking the bus to get to work most of the time. I didn’t mind biking to work, but I never liked biking on Rice. One of the main reasons why I went to the meeting to support the Trout Creek Trail extension is because of my experiences biking on Rice.

Parking signs make great parking spots. Source: Self-taken (May 2017)

I have still been biking around my neighborhood. I occasionally bike on Rice, though not near Highway 36. Biking to the city hall wasn’t bad, though I stayed on the sidewalks when the County Road C trail ended. I’ve stuck to trails or sidewalks lately, avoiding the roads until I get back on a residential street. When I’m in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, I do notice that I’m more willing to ride in the road with traffic. It might be because I’m less willing to drive in those environments as I am when I’m near my home. I also might be assuming that the drivers are more aware of bikers on the street there (which is not always the case, especially in downtown Saint Paul).

Closing Thoughts

I have decided to move out of Little Canada, and I will address that in my closing article with my last thoughts about the city’s transportation infrastructure.

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7 Responses to Little Canada’s “Other” Transportation Infrastructure: Bicycling

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 16, 2017 at 11:09 am #

    And the great saga of Al-in-Little-Canada is drawing to a close.

    • Al Davison
      Al Davison August 16, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

      I’m looking forward to living on my own. Little Canada is great, but it was time for a new chapter in my story. I might be back there in a few years once I start looking at owning
      a home.

  2. Dave Calrosn August 16, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    The best scenario is not bike lanes OR bike trails, but designing and constructing accommodations for BOTH on-road bike lanes for the faster and more serious bikers AND trails for the slower recreational riders and families. As Al pointed out, mixing high speed bikers with all other potential multi-use trail users (walkers, runners, inline skaters, people walking dogs and pushing strollers, slower bikers) can create conflicts, plus there is the often-awkward intersection and driveway crossings. Many bikers prefer biking on the roadway if there is allocated space as they are better seen by motorists and can travel more efficiently. In Al’s case, if the bike lane had continued, he would have avoided the dangerous transition from roadway to trail. Bicyclists are allowed on almost all roadways (except interstates) so it makes sense to provide safe space for them, especially on the main arterials and through-streets.

    • Al Davison
      Al Davison August 16, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

      Since many routes already have shoulders, many of them could be marked as bike lanes instead if they are wide enough. Demont Ave comes to mind where that could occur if a sidewalk or trail was ever built. In a worst case scenario, even if shoulders are unmarked for biking, faster bikers still could use the shoulder. A theoretical example could be if County Rd C was converted from 4 to 3 lanes, and also gained a trail between Victoria and Rice in Roseville. Then you could choose between the trail and likely average 8-12 mph, or be able to bike even faster than on the new shoulder.

      Trails can be admittedly not the best compromise in all scenarios, due to their admitted drawbacks. I do see faster bikers out on the roads in Shoreview due to people walking on the trails. Most of the time I see people sticking to the trails though. I do see drivers blocking the trail at times, and I have almost been hit when someone is turning their car. That’s why I support improving the design of trails such as what is seen on the recently reconstructed portions of Wheelock Pkwy where many of the intersections have raised crossings. Wheelock does separate the people that are biking or walking, though for other routes it depends if there is the space to do that.

      In Little Canada, I think trails would work out for most major routes such as on the arterials. In busier areas, separating cyclists and people walking is a very good idea if it gain the city’s support. I do like what is being done with Washington Avenue in Minneapolis because of the cycletrack, so people don’t need to bike next to cars or to bike slower on the sidewalk.

  3. Steve Gjerdingen August 16, 2017 at 10:48 pm #

    As a former Roseville resident, I have a pretty good amount of experience riding my bike through Little Canada. Most of my riding was evening/weekend riding to visit friends and most of it has been on major roads (County Road C, Rice Street, Edgerton, Centerville, etc).

    I think that the Trout Brook Trail concept makes sense in theory but I’m concerned about the cost of building the proper infrastructure to make it as direct as possible. I think that to build it correctly, they need to consider bridging highways like 36 and 694. That said, I’m concerned the trail doesn’t hit enough density along the route and it also doesn’t approximate Rice Street very closely (half mile). I’d much rather see better bike/pedestrian facilities built along Rice street. I know that the city and county have been talking about this. Rice Street and Highway 36 was a missed opportunity to provide high quality bike infrastructure through the interchange (they certainly ‘tried’ but the bike accommodations are very skimpy). Hopefully, the Rice street rebuild project and 694 project will improve the situation for cyclists. For a road like Rice Street, 5-6 ft bike lanes make sense. For pedestrians, Rice Street has already been made better in some sections with the additional sidewalks in recent years. Hopefully, this trend will continue.

    Regarding County Road C, I believe this is an important corridor and necessitates a 4/3 conversation from 35e to Victoria to provide good bike facilities. The sidewalk on the east side in Roseville could not be easily converted to a bike path due to space limitations. As it stands, it’s 6 ft wide with only a 2 ft buffer. In some places between Dale and Western there are significant elevation dropoffs on the south side and erosion that is happening. The city already shortened the width of the trail corridor in response to this by attaching the sidewalk to the curb in one segment. Unless the city of Roseville has much funding available for a large retaining wall on the south side of County Road C where it is higher than the adjacent land, I don’t see that option being feasible.

    • Al Davison
      Al Davison August 17, 2017 at 8:41 am #

      I think the Trout Brook trail extension alignment is likely going to change if they do manage to fund it. There will be a quite a few compromises, especially along Jackson St within Little Canada. At the meeting I attended for it, I asked about Rice since I said that new bridges for the trail wouldn’t have been necessary if Rice was built to the proper State Aid Standards for bike infrastructure. It seemed like the county’s goal is to focus on the trail rather than applying any changes to Rice near 36. With the trails between Larpenteur and B, it would have made more sense extending those trails northward. I would have been fine with the Trout Creek Trail being along Rice. One of the main reasons why I support the northern extension is because Rice is currently really bad for biking. Crossing 36 via Rice by biking in that narrow lane during rush hour gets to be very nerve-racking.

      I think since Rice and 694’s interchange will be rebuilt soon, they would be fine with assigning that as the crossing to get to Vadnais Heights instead of a new bridge over 694. I remember seeing a 10-foot trail, in addition to 5-foot bike lanes on Rice in the last design layout I saw. It also works well since there’s already that trail along N Owasso and Country Dr that already connects Shoreview and Little Canada.

      Regarding County C, I did forget about the retaining walls so realistically it does look like C would have to be reconstructed and narrowed in other to place in a trail. Whenever they reconstruct C, a layout like Portland Ave in Richfield between 67th and 77th Streets could be great. Portland appeared to have a wider right-of-way than C, but it could still be done with at least a trail or sidewalk on one side of the road. I assume a full reconstruction of C is years away though. Last time I talked with the county, they were planning a mill-and-overlay west of Rice in a couple years. In the meantime, a 3-lane layout with bike lanes does seem like the best option for C.

      • Al Davison
        Al Davison August 17, 2017 at 8:44 am #

        would have to be reconstructed and narrowed in order to place in a trail.*

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