A Case for Stillwater Avenue

Recently, St Paul city council members received an update on a bike infrastructure improvement proposal for Stillwater Ave, a residential road on the city of St Paul’s east side. They voted 3 for and 3 against (1 absent), which halts support for moving forward on putting bike lanes on Stillwater Ave. The stretch is located 5 miles northeast of downtown St Paul, and was proposed as an addition to an upcoming mill-and-overlay project from Hazel Street to McKnight Road, if approved. This stretch, eight-tenths of a mile long, is in horrible shape and no doubt needing a mill-and-overlay upgrade. That upgrade will still move forward, but bike lanes painted on Stillwater Ave, approved in the 2015 city council vote on the city-wide Bike Plan, is on hold.

I biked on this road recently. This spring I moved to the (south) east side of St Paul and had been meaning to get to know this part of the city better. I noted that the street is wide, traffic was predictable and easy to bike with. Avoiding the potholes was my biggest challenge; I winced with every pothole I hit. With 3M to the east and downtown to the west, Beaver Lake nearby, and churches, a school, and lots of homes and small businesses on this road, it’s no surprise that bicyclists want to bike on Stillwater Ave. We need more safe east/west bike lanes on the east side. Hearing no major opposition to this lane ahead of time, bicyclists and bike advocates had no reason to think this proposal wouldn’t be supported. In fact, 7-8 people testified in favor of this proposal; no one spoke against it during the August 16 city council meeting.

However, that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees that putting bike lanes on Stillwater Ave is a good idea. When reaching out to my council member Jane Prince in frustration of the split vote, she let me know nearby businesses expressed concern, especially over some removal of parking. Also, bicyclists had contacted her in support of her vote and not all bicyclists agree with this aspect of the St Paul bike plan.

I’m personally not surprised by that, to be honest. I actually have a slight preference for bike lanes over separated bike paths because I can bike faster and feel that I’m more visible, more predictable, when I’m physically on the road. Council Member Prince let me know many other bicyclists prefer sharrows (green arrows painted on the road; bikes and cars share the same lane), which I personally detest. Many auto drivers on roads with sharrows do not give the same amount of space (or respect) to those on bicycles. That all being said, I will always support separated bike lanes, as many people do not feel safe biking in the road (which I can’t blame them). We may not agree on what sort of treatment we want on specific roads, but I think everyone can agree that bike infrastructure is sorely lacking on the east side. Not only that, but safe biking options needs to be considered a benefit community-wide. People on a bike are often like a person in a car; they’re travelling through an area to get to a destination, whether it’s work, the grocery store, a local park, etc. People north and east of Phalen deserve safe biking options as the residents of Como, Highland and Macalester neighborhoods, areas with more plentiful safe biking options. Because there’s a lack of a true bike system on the east side, that alone should motivate residents (bike and auto drivers) to support bike infrastructure on the east side.

I urge people who support Stillwater Ave and other upcoming bike infrastructure especially on the east side to please contact city council members before there’s a vote on bike infrastructure improvements. Let them know why you would support the bike amenity and especially mention if you or someone you know would benefit from it. The way overused adage, one I’ll use anyway, of the “squeaky (bike) wheel gets the grease” is certainly true here. We cannot take for granted that our elected officials will support something just because we haven’t heard about any direct opposition for it. Council members are naturally busy people and hearing from those of us who would use these amenities, or having us provide good examples of people who would benefit from these improvements are going to be helpful.

We know it gets tiring to have to speak up for something that we ALREADY spoke up for. But we have to assume that people who live or work along a proposed bike route slated for improvements have contacted their elected officials to complain about it. They’ll complain that the amenity is not necessary or no one bikes on that road, or it’s too dangerous to bike, or there will be a loss in parking and thus a loss of customers. Whether or not any of that is true (because after all, paid city planners and engineers have worked very hard to maximize benefit and minimize impact), just know that for every bike improvement we want, we will have new opposition for that bike amenity.
Let’s use our voice, our pictures, our stories, our examples, and tell our elected officials know how beneficial a proposed bike amenity will be. For us, for our entire community.

I learned a pretty valuable lesson myself. In order to make progress with bike amenities in St Paul, I need to get involved and contact city council members to let them know of my support of the proposed amenity. I recognize that I have a pretty strong, powerful story to tell, as a resident and bicyclist on St Paul’s east side. But I will maintain a level of respect try to work with advocates and elected officials alike to help us achieve our shared outcomes: safe, equitable transit options for everyone.

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13 Responses to A Case for Stillwater Avenue

  1. TPeG August 25, 2017 at 9:21 am #

    The outcome is even more surprising, given that 3M has been seeking to make stronger bike connections to the campus.

    Each morning, the most dangerous part of my ride is at Minnehaha and Ruth, where motorists consistently run the red light.

    • Melissa Wenzel
      Melissa Wenzel August 25, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      I have concerns if people are saying “no one bikes on this road.” No one wants to given the sorely needed mill and overlay that’s planned. I’m guessing more bicyclists will be happy to bike on new asphalt, even without bike lanes. I will. 3M commuters likely will, others who live in the area will.

  2. Jenny W
    Jenny W August 25, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    Thanks for writing this up, Melissa. I’ll contact the councilmembers with my support (again!).

    • Melissa Wenzel
      Melissa Wenzel August 25, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

      You are welcome. I didn’t provide any detail to the alternative suggestions made at the meeting, partly because city staff provided valid and thoughtful reasons why they wouldn’t work as well. That being said, I’m pleased this stretch is getting positive, respectful attention.

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 25, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    Sigh. Vehicular cycling has been debunked and discarded by cities for at least a decade. I wrote a whole chapter of my dissertation on this topic.

    Just google “sharrows safety”: https://www.google.com/search?q=sharrows+safety&oq=sharrows+safety&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.2442j0j1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

  4. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn August 25, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

    Welcome back home, CM Stark. Cleanup on aisle Stillwater.

  5. Kevin Tetu August 25, 2017 at 3:14 pm #

    I understand your concerns and frustration with working on getting improvements and changes.

    I have been requesting pot holes to be filled on Minnehaha and 6th streets this summer and months go by with them still there.

    For over two years now,
    I have been pushing for safe passage sidewalks for students walking on Margaret street between Johnson Parkway and White Bear Avenue along a painted bike way.

    I wanted to make that section safer for people walking, bicyclists and vehicles.

    Working with Sargent Jeremy Ellison making intersections and crossings safer for all to use.
    Vehicles pulling out in front of bicyclists and other vehicles on Kennard at Margaret Street for example.

    When you are asking fior support for one section, could you keep in mind that other areas in Ward 7 are hurting also for repairs and safe passage.

    Thank you and
    Good luck!

    • Melissa Wenzel
      Melissa Wenzel August 25, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

      Hi Kevin, thank you for this comment. I agree that other parts of Ward 7 are hurting. As someone who bikes from home to work, for buying groceries, to the doctor (in Ward 2 and Ward 3) and occasionally bikes for recreation, I’m getting to know this Ward by bike. But I don’t think it has to be this OR that; we can advocate that many parts of this Ward deserve safe biking infrastructure. For example, I held a meeting (on personal time) with city and state leaders afternoon to discuss the past developments and future fixes of the Trout Hatchery Trail. I’ll write about all of that soon, here. We can speak up for both at the same time, and support other bike amenities in this Ward at the same time. I need to get up to speed on Margaret, but I know that our city leaders are supporting developments on that too.

      We need to speak up and support as many bike improvements as possible, because we are sorely lacking in bike infrastructure in Ward 6 and 7, compared to Wards 1-5. That’s my take, anyway.

  6. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller August 28, 2017 at 10:32 am #

    Are there actually people who bike who prefer sharrows? I guess I can think of one alleged person on the internet that made that argument.

    I don’t know this area really at all, but a spin through this stretch on Google Streetview shows exactly 10 cars parked outside the first block at Stillwater and Hazel. What’s the objection for that part?

    And even at Stillwater and Hazel it kinda looks like some of the cars parked on the street are from the body shop. I certainly hope they didn’t kill a bike lane so a business can keep using it as overflow parking.

    Regardless, sure seems like they could find some sort of compromise for this one block.

  7. Melissa Wenzel August 30, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    Adam: You are spot on, on all your comments. I fully agree with all of them.

  8. Michael Green September 5, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    I’ve lived in this area for over 30 years and I’m on that stretch just about every day driving or biking. Are there alternative streets with a lower traffic volume and slower speeds that would work and without impeding traffic or creating unnecessary risk?

    Case Ave perhaps?

    I frequently bike around Beaver Lake and use the…existing paved bike path. 3-5 times per week I bike to Snap Fitness on Century and Stillwater and use the…existing paved bike path.

    • Melissa Wenzel September 5, 2017 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Michael-thanks for this reply. We are hearing from several people who bike on this street, live in this area, or commute via bicycle through this neighborhood. We’re encouraging people to contact city council members to show support for this proposed bike amenity.

      The question of a different street came up at the city council meeting. As you probably know, Case Avenue is not a thru street; Beaver Lake interrupts it. The roads aren’t wide enough and the loss of parking on a residential street would be more impacting than on Stillwater. I titled this article subtly but deliberately to this point.

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