Three Saint Paul Bike Projects that Should be Under Construction Right Now but Aren’t

Biking into the sunset from Saint Paul over the Marshall Avenue bridge.

It’s peak construction season, pretty much, and here are some things that I wish were happening with bicycling in Saint Paul.

Warning: This post is a little bit depressing!

There are a few good things happening in Saint Paul too, including the completion of the Jackson Street leg of the Capital City Bikeway, more construction of the excellent-looking Grand Round along Wheelock Parkway, (hopefully, depending on a contractor nuance) a protected two-way bike lane along Pelham, and a new bike lane on Wabasha Street (near my house) that will fill a key gap in the system.


So the background here is that Saint Paul finally passed a bike plan about two years ago, which held great promise despite the lack of great funding. The idea is that, with the plan in place, the City would be able to create bike infrastructure in a flexible, tactical way, using crafty grant-writing and opportunistic low-cost investments to eventually get a meaningful network in place.

Well that’s harder than it seems, especially when the city is really struggling with its basic budget. (See also the $32 million hole in the budget thanks to a street maintenance fight.)

Anyway, here are a few things that could have happened this summer but are not happening. I’m sad to report on these specific projects, but if you aren’t going to read this on, then were are you going to read it?


1. Closing the Marshall Avenue bridge gap

Bike lane goes here.

What it is: As I wrote about before on this site, the Marshall Avenue bike lane, one of the busiest in the city, stops short. Just two blocks before you reach the bridge to Minneapolis, the lane disappears at Cretin Avenue. Like many terminated bike lanes, that’s just when you need it, as drivers tend to speed down this hill and the bridge intersection is a bit tricky.

What it could be: The county is re-paving this stretch of Marshall, and it would be a perfect time to fill in the key gap at zero cost to anyone.

East Lake Street and this part of Marshall have traffic counts in the 17-20K range where 4-lanes are not necessarily needed, depending on intersection complexity. It is my sense of this stretch of road, using only personal observation, that traffic bunches up at the intersection, before proceeding easily and quickly and without congestion over the bridge. This is just my opinion, but extending the bike lane to the River Road would not be a big deal from a traffic operations perspective. I don’t think it would change the intersection LOS or stacking very much at all! And it would fill one of Saint Paul’s smallest, most intense gaps in the bike network.

Why it’s not happening: At a recent meeting, I asked County engineers about this, and it seemed to me that the thought had not crossed their minds.

The very short Marshall Avenue bike gap.


2. The 4th Street “Market District” bike/ped street

A rendering of 4th Street; this is the kind of drawing that makes you want to move to Indianapolis.

What it is: The light rail along 4th Street in downtown Saint Paul created an opportunity for an very-low-cost bike/ped project. Currently, a key part of 4th Street through downtown is a slow-moving one-lane one-way, from the Union Depot all the way over to Minnesota Street/Central Station. As a result, it has very little traffic.

What it could be: Since the opening of the Green Line, there was some interest and talk about turning this stretch of street into a unique bike/ped connection that would have placemaking, market stalls, and be open to two-way bike traffic. You could do this very cheaply, perhaps only with signage, a few bollards, or some other trickery. The end result would look like a combination of the Washington Avenue transit mall on the University of Minnesota and one-lane stretch of 5th Street through downtown Minneapolis. It would be a bit like Europe.

The benefits would be two-fold. First, bikes would have a protected, convenient connection through downtown, especially going eastbound (where people currently use the sidewalk most of the time). Second, it would help create a vibrant pedestrian connection through the downtown “dead zone,” would could sure use it!

Why it’s not happening: There was a study but now nobody will talk about what happened and why the project was killed. I have attached the report as a .pdf here (4th street feasability study). There are a few parking lots, and it might have been difficult to accommodate emergency vehicles.  My best guess is that some of the influential downtown property owners really did not like the idea, and that engineers were very skittish about anything resembling shared space. And without their support, the City was unwilling to go ahead with the project.

A bus on 4th Street (mostly).


3. Kellogg Boulevard Segment of the Capital City Bikeway (partial)

Great bike connection goes here.

What it is: Currently, Kellogg Boulevard is the #1 barrier keeping Saint Paul from having more bicycles downtown. The Summit Avenue lanes, and connection points to the west like Marshall Avenue, all stop short right when they reach deadly Kellogg Boulevard, which functions like an on-ramp for cars speeding in between two freeways.

But this fall, the city is re-paving a big chunk of Kellogg Boulevard. And happily enough, the recently-adopted-by-the-City-Council Capital City Bikeway is planned for Kellogg. The plan calls for an off-street bike trail running along the northeast side of the road by the History Center and down to the Xcel Energy Center.

What it could be: The City could take the opportunity to add part of the off-street bikeway trail while the street is under construction. Any sort of link from the Cathedral into downtown along Kellogg would be a huge boost for bicycling in Saint Paul. I heard that city staff looked at taking the opportunity to make a link from Kellogg/John Ireland over to the History Center parking lot, where there’s a shortcut down to 10th Street, another leg of the Capital City Bikeway.

Why it’s not happening: The City cost estimate for the one-block leg amounted to a lot of money, something like half a million dollars. (Correct me if I’m wrong?) This one is particularly tragic, because the will is there, especially after Shelby Kokesch’s death at Kellogg and Mulberry. But apparently there’s no money, and it’s really a missed chance.

Concept diagrams for the Kellogg section.


4. BONUS Stillwater Avenue Bike lanes

What it is: Stillwater Avenue is a low-traffic street on the East Side. The city is repaving the street and could add bike lanes at very low cost.

What it could be: It’s on the bike plan, and Public Works proposed adding bike lanes to a segment of Stillwater, alongside a school and a park. It seemed fairly uncontroversial to me.

Why it’s not happening: It might. We’ll see. The City Council vote tied 3-3, with CMs Bostrom, Prince and Tolbert voting not to go ahead with the bike lane plans.


Final note: My takeaway about it all

A new slightly tighter curb under construction at the corner of Kellogg and Mulberry, a very dangerous intersection.

Given Saint Paul’s budget woes, we need to seize opportunities to create bike infrastructure while it’s cheap. Chances like these won’t come again for a long time.

The other thing to note is that something like the crucial Kellogg Boulevard segment of the downtown Bikeway will be very expensive, many millions of dollars. But it’s also the one thing that will connect Saint Paul’s bike lanes together at long last. It’d be great instead of raising money from East Metro business types for a quickly-melting ice castle, we’d invest in something that would last many lifetimes.

42 thoughts on “Three Saint Paul Bike Projects that Should be Under Construction Right Now but Aren’t

      1. Bob Roscoe

        Leaving Kopplins this AM and driving west downward on Marshall close to the bridge, I drove past a bike guy pedaling at 30 mph.

  1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

    Bill: thank you for writing this. Marshall Ave also has a “gap” on the east, from Lexington to John Ireland. Are there any plans for upgraded mill-and-overlay and bike lanes from the Cathedral to Lexington on Marshall? So many houses, schools and churches for lots of biking potential from riders inside and outside the neighborhood…

  2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

    I have seen plans for a contra-flow bike lane on this stretch, similar to the 5th Avenue SE bike lane in Minneapolis. But I also heard a rumor that the project was nixed by either public works or neighbor parking concerns.

  3. Bob Roscoe

    Great thoughts here! A few comments _ Should the Marshall Av bike lane continue across the Marshall -Lake bridge? The recent reconstruction of the Franklin Av bridge in Minneapolis narrowed vehicle lanes to one each direction with generous walking/running lanes flanking vehicle lanes for a 21st Century solution. Marshall/ Lake is in the same century,
    When I bike in front of Excel center to travel
    Down West Seventh Street, I am in the most dangerous intersections in Minnesota for bikes and anyone who dares to walk.

  4. Bob Roscoe

    Great thoughts here! A few comments _ Should the Marshall Av bike lane continue across the Marshall -Lake bridge? The recent reconstruction of the Franklin Av bridge in Minneapolis narrowed vehicle lanes to one each direction with generous walking/running lanes flanking vehicle lanes for a 21st Century solution. Marshall/ Lake is in the same century,
    When I bike in front of Excel center to travel
    Down West Seventh Street, I am in the most dangerous intersections in Minnesota for bikes and anyone who dares to walk.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      IMO Hennepin County should have one a 4-3 conversion on East Lake back when they reconstructed it.

      And yes, West 7th Street is very dangerous! Status quo is not OK and we need to do something…

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        > “IMO Hennepin County should have one a 4-3 conversion on East Lake back when they reconstructed it.”

        This. It’s crazy that it’s still a four-lane death road east of Minnehaha, where traffic doesn’t begin to require it.

        Personally, I don’t mind the Bicycle May Use Full Lane signage on WB Marshall between Cretin and the River. Given the hill, even a very slow-riding bicyclist can go at a good clip. If they were to add a bike lane here, I would prefer it be a bike lane buffered from both curb and remaining travel lane, rather than shoe-horning in another door-zone bike lane. I assume there is little demand for parking given the golf course use.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Recognizing that I’m only over there on the weekends, when I am, there is certainly no reason why the entire right lane can’t be given over to a protected bike lane.

  5. Heidi SchallbergHeidi

    Marshall is on the city’s bike plan: as well as identified as a major county-wide corridor in the county’s own plan.

    There is no excuse for not thinking of it. This makes me so angry. Time to contact county commissioners. So much for whatever that resolution was the county recently adopted about peds and bikes and transit blah blah blah.

      1. Heidi SchallbergHeidi

        “So let’s just dump bicyclists into it.” Asked for a copy of their “All-Abilities Transportation Network” project evaluation checklist and the one completed for this project, fwiw.

        1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

          I used to bike down the Marshall hill daily. I’d always take the lane, of course, and cars would whiz past me on the left and it was never very comfortable, BUT I never had cars stack up behind me. My observation is that the right lane there is very lightly used. There’s really no excuse for not putting a dedicated bicycle lane there.

          1. Jeff

            Yes, I think partly because it’s such a steep downhill, so that as Bob said above, cyclists get up to 25-30 mph and most drivers either don’t mind waiting behind a cyclist going that fast or there’s so few cars that they can usually easily use the left lane to get around. That bridge needs to be two lanes, since drivers fly over it. That’s probably the scariest part of my commute (EB over the bridge on the southern shoulder)

  6. Serafina ScheelSerafina

    The Marshall Ave. lack of a lane is really an issue for me. My family bikes that almost daily and it’s always a dilemma whether it’s safer to make the kid ride on the sidewalk or ride in a pack down the middle of the lane. I also hate the awkward sidewalk connections at the east end of the bridge that make it difficult to bike on the protected sidewalk.

    In my extensive experience, auto traffic in the area never really backs up westbound, but eastbound is frequently at a standstill in the evening rush hour under poor weather conditions.

      1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

        Heidi: is it okay to contact Toni for the downtown-side of Marshall Ave? Or just the Lake Street side? I know we’re talking about a collective transit system, but I also understand if there are real political dividers/barriers at play.

    1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

      Great, thank you for checking. I’ll contact her and speak about my concerns about lack of true bike infrastructure connectivity for both ends of Marshall Ave.

  7. Andy SingerAndy Singer

    Everything you said Bill. That stretch of Marshall is a disaster. Kellogg should have been the first leg of the Capitol City Bikeway because it would have seen immediate use by high volumes of riders …and 4th street is so easy to solve/implement. I’m banging my forehead against the pavement. Maybe we could build some some bikeways with our foreheads? YES, email Toni Carter and engineers at the County!

    1. Bob Roscoe

      As a resident of Minneapolis and a seven AM customer of Kopplins Coffee on Marshall Av a few doors east of Cleveland, I drive that strip of Marshall westbound connecting with E River Pkwy northbound back home on E. River Pkwy near Franklin.
      A bike lane should be studied and especially linking with the Marshall/ Lake bridge.
      This should be a Ramsey and Hennepin Counties issue.

  8. Mark

    “At a recent meeting, I asked County engineers about this, and it seemed to me that the thought had not crossed their minds.”

    I’ve found the biggest impediment to implementing bike lanes is not financial (they’re relatively cheap) but political. Politicians may not fully realize their benefits and traffic engineers are often biased against them.

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      In this case, it was not a political problem. I was at one of the original meetings about the design of this stretch of Marshall. It was a meeting between representatives of Transit for Livable Communities (who were administrating a federal 20+ Million Dollar Pilot Project grant) and transportation engineers who were unwilling to reduce Marshall (or Lake Street) to three lanes. TLC reps proposed this but the engineers were unwilling to reduce “Level of Service” for cars.

        1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

          Yeah, it was in the last decade (2008-9?). I can’t remember everyone at the meeting but Steve Clark, Alice Tibbets and either Paul St. Martin or John Maczko. I remember them or some engineer explaining that they needed the second lane downhill based on (guess what) AADT counts of vehicles turning off of Cretin towards Minneapolis. They wouldn’t budge on it. Getting the climbing lane on the eastbound side was like pulling teeth. Subsequent to that, Steve told me they’d pushed Minneapolis to do a 4-3 conversion on Lake Street because they were going to redo the street (which they did) but Minneapolis wouldn’t budge on Lake Street either. The Marshall bike lanes, medians and street redesign was paid for out of the Federal Pilot Program grant. That and Jefferson were the only projects that Saint Paul was able to get because they “connected to Minneapolis” (who was the actual grant recipient). Originally they wanted Highland Ave with a special connection to the Ford Bridge (which is how it qualified as “connecting to Minneapolis”) …but when neighbors waged political war against it, the project got moved to Jefferson. I’m not sure if city or county attitudes towards Marshall have changed. I nagged the #%!!! out of Russ, Reuben and anyone else who would listen to at least put “Super-Sharrows” or a “Green Lane” on that outside, downhill lane on the grounds that one stupid little sign wasn’t cutting it and drivers would honk or do dangerous stuff in part because they’re unaware that bikes have a right to be there. No one would listen or do anything. I was also unsuccessful at getting “Super-Sharrows” or “Green lanes” included as an option in the city street design manual. I wrote an old post (on the Street Design Manual) for streetsmn that got into this. See the comments about “page 94-95” of the manual, with photographs (the city ignored them)– …I will say that narrowing up Marshall east of Cretin (which happened subsequent to the above mentioned meeting) might have reduced traffic counts. I haven’t seen the latest numbers. If it did, the city or county might be more pliable. Even if it didn’t, the old counts (2008) of 17,500 AADT make it well within federal guidelines for a 4-to-3.

  9. Paul Nelson

    Thank you Andy for your recall and knowledge of the history re TLC and Steve Clark. I was going to email Steve and ask for what he remembered. When I talked to Steve some years ago about the Marshall segment between Cretin and the River, and I expressed what I thought should be done, like a median protected bike lane, Steve replied “They won’t do it!!” It had something to do with average speeds of the cars and such.

    I think something should be done to that stretch soon and not later. I am up and down that hill six days out of two weeks. Some motorists are very dangerous. One day going down the hill with a car adjacent to me in the left lane, another car sped (circa 45mph) between me and the car on my left and honked as he passed. That is completely unnecessary and dangerous..

    I think perhaps we should call a large meeting of everyone concerned, traffic engineers, county commissioners, and all of us with the intent to fix this problem.

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      I like Paul’s idea Bill (and anyone else who’s interested). We should organize a meeting with staff and Russ about that stretch of Marshall. I think everyone in the group has had a scary motorist encounter on that stretch. In addition, I I noticed from city bike/ped crash data map that there were a few crashes there last year, but I don’t know the details of each crash or whether it was related to this issue.

      1. Daniel ChomaDan Choma

        I want in on the fun, fam! If all goes well, Marshall will be my new commute, so it would be personally great for me if it had a bike lane. I’m gonna try and take some video of it in the next few days to send to Council Members and Commissioners. I would love to be in on some meetings when they happen.

        1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

          I just wrote to CM’s Thao and Stark and cc’ed County Commissioner Carter. I mentioned safe bicycling infrastructure needs on both ends of Marshall but emphasized the downtown side, which I use more than the river side. We’ll see what they have to say. I let them know people are interested in a meeting/listening session on this important safety topic.

          1. Brendan Murphy

            Count me in too. I always gun it on my bike down the hill heading west on Marshall to try and match or exceed the speeds of autos, to reduce the risk of them blowing past me / buzzing me. One pitiful little sign at the top of the hill does not cut it.

            Heading eastbound up the hill is obnoxiously uncomfortable. Parking, a significant hill, and speeding or backed-up traffic? Yikes.

  10. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

    Meeting: GREAT idea and count me in.

    Can the east side of the Marshall road be in scope? It’s somewhat okay if people say no. But we know that the entire stretch of Marshall, with different issues on each end, are part of a direct transit system.

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      It could be. Certainly I’d like to know more about each of the crashes that happened between Fairview and the bridge (on Marshall) because I noticed there were a bunch of them …but (personally) I’d like to see a focus on this stretch from Cretin to the bridge because it’s beyond horrible.

  11. Paul Nelson

    Thank you. You all are getting me to think about all kinds street problems and issues everywhere. I agree that the Cretin to the bridge section is significant/bad, and something needs to be done. It might be very reasonable to expand the discussion a little if it is about Marshall overall.

    For a long time I have been thinking about what it would take to rebuild most of Marshall with median and parking protected bike lanes. For example, between Snelling and Cretin the parking space is 7 feet wide, so if the parking space were flipped with the bike lane, more space would need to be subtracted and moved from the boulevard to maintain unloading space on each side of the motor vehicle and maintain the 5 foot bike lane width. This might be worthwhile to talk about in context with a preliminary engineering viewpoint of what would actually be doable. The reality would be that this concept would cost some money and there might be some political pinching.

    Anyway, lets attempt to start the discussion to solve the problems.

  12. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

    Regarding Marshal Ave, I contacted both CM’s that represent the east and west connection (Lake Street Bridge, Cathedral/Capitol). The message was forwarded by one CM’s aide to Reuben Collins. His thoughtful reply:

    “Hello, Melissa, I appreciate the nudge to continue working on both of these gaps. Marshall west of Cretin is a County roadway, and due to the width of the roadway, implementing a westbound bike lane there would most likely require removing one of the westbound travel lanes, though removing parking or medians, or widening the street may also be on the table as options. All of these would require a substantive public engagement process and more engineering analysis, as well as coordination with the County.

    The section east of Lexington is technically much simpler to implement, but we simply haven’t yet found the right combination of funding, opportunity, and community support to move it forward. One particular challenge is that the pavement quality is quite poor from Lexington to Western, and I hesitate to stripe new bike lanes on such poor pavement. At the same time, however, this part of Marshall carries low enough traffic volumes, that it is a lower priority to resurface than other streets with higher volumes. It’s not on Public Works 5 year plan to resurface this segment. As a result, we haven’t prioritized implementation of this segment yet. Reuben”

    Okay, we are not short on community support. Can the SPBC organize something? WOB? TLC? It’s absolutely true that the pavement on the east side of this road is horrible, and thus bicyclists won’t currently use it (similar argument for Stillwater Ave, I might add).

    We need to make sure we speak up for priority roads. For driving a car, for riding a bike. For all of us.

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      I am 90% certain that the public process for Marshall east of Lexington already happened. I was at Toole Design open houses with various public works engineers in 2011-12-ish where they showed proposed plan sets. Some of it was getting sharrows but also traffic calming stuff like bump-outs and circles, and some of it was getting bike lanes, including a contra-flow bike lane east of Western (to John Ireland). So I think the plan is in place and it’s just waiting for funding. This was before Reuben’s time but David Kuebler and some other public works staff were there. West of Cretin is a different story. Someone told me the county is resurfacing it soon. I’ll contact Joe Lux at the county on Monday and see what I can find out.

      1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

        Thanks so much Andy. Yes, I was told that the west end is a county road so our attention needs to shift to the county level, it seems. We knew this before me writing it, but the issues on each end of Marshall are different, so it’d be okay if we just focused on one part of it, the Cretin side, because that’s where most of the comments and interest are coming from (and I welcome the sort of change people want to see there). I don’t know what the next steps are or by whom, but I see impatience for change and an interest to get involved, both helpful (or necessary) to make something happen here.

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