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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.