Until recently, whenever I heard the term “grand round” scenic bikeway, I automatically thought about the Minneapolis trail system that goes by a very similar name. I probably heard the term “Saint Paul Grand Round” before I realized it was related to the trail system in Saint Paul that connects Shepard Road, the Mississippi River Blvd, Pelham/Raymond, Como Ave, Wheelock Parkway, and Johnson Parkway.
I admit some guilt in not being able to keep up with all of the bike infrastructure improvements in Saint Paul, having lived in downtown Saint Paul for 10 years and focused on my small footprint in a very large city (hey, I grew up on a dirt road 40 miles northwest of St Paul). Since moving to the East Side earlier this year and being a first-time homeowner, my awareness of the Saint Paul’s trail system as a whole has dramatically expanded. So has my advocacy for bike infrastructure on the East Side.
When bike advocates asked me, “Have you heard about the developments for Margaret Street?”, I’d give them a blank look. “Yeah, it’s an official bikeway east of downtown, north of 94. It’s a street that will potentially close on either side of Johnson Parkway, and it will give access from downtown and 7th Street to the not-yet-fully-developed Grand Rounds trail system.” I perked up, knowing that the East Side sorely needs bike infrastructure, but also because I’ve been biking on Johnson Parkway quite a bit over the past few months. Road traffic is fairly predictable, the bike lane is decently wide, and the road/bike lane surface (at least north of 94) is smooth. It’s not very hilly and there isn’t a lot of turning traffic, meaning I can bike 15-20 miles an hour in between traffic signals, ideal for bike commuting. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about the Margaret Street project in a short period of time.
What I didn’t know is that the Margaret Street Bikeway pavement markings and signage were installed in 2014. I started riding on them for the first time in 2017, and remarked to myself, “this is pretty nice. Why haven’t I noticed this street before?” I also didn’t know (until recently) that traffic calming circles are being installed along Margaret Street, to slow down traffic and let pedestrians and bicyclists get through intersections more safely.
Earlier in October, Margaret Street temporarily closed on either side of Johnson Parkway for a test closure. According to the city of Saint Paul’s website, “to enhance the future trail along Johnson Parkway, one option being considered is to close some of the gaps in the median, including the gap at Margaret, so that cars can no longer cross Johnson Parkway at Margaret….If the test is successful, the closure will be made permanent in 2018.”
I love the reasons the city provides these benefits if the closure is permanent on their website:
- Improve safety for all by reducing conflicts between pedestrians or bikers and vehicles turning at the intersection
- Creating a longer more continuous green space in the median
- Reduce stormwater runoff
- Beautify the neighborhood
- Reduce the number of roadway crossings for the planned trail
My city council member, CM Jane Prince, recently contacted me and a few other bike advocates/interested riders and asked us if we wanted to join her for a group ride on Margaret Street. We could ride through the test closure area together and bike along Margaret Street. Many of us agreed, and about 8 of us met with Jane and her husband David Murphy. We met on an overcast afternoon on October 14. With 10 of total on the ride, (including two of us on an electric-assist bicycle, and a very quiet but inquisitive mini-rider), we headed east particularly to note where the future traffic calming circles would be installed. We rode to McKnight Road and we heard updates from staff member Reuben Collins about future developments for McKnight Road. I am especially pleased that longer-term future projects include my direct neighborhood on McKnight south of Lower Afton Road. Finally, the East Side (specifically the southeast portion) is getting some desperately needed bike amenities!
Heading back west on Margaret Street, we were eying the sky, knowing that a downpour was looming. I admittedly bailed on the rest of the ride when we got back to Johnson Parkway, but the remaining brave riders continued west for some time as heavy raindrops began to fall. Bicyclists waved and thanked me for joining them on the ride. I thanked Jane and others for the opportunity to meet and discuss these developments and to hear about any major complaints so far. As of the ride on October 14, there had been none. For once, I happily biked home in the cold rain.
There’s a public meeting on November 9 from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at Our Savior Lutheran Church (674 Johnson Parkway) for people to hear additional updates and provide feedback about the test closure. You can provide feedback now by phone or email. On the signs and on the website, the city welcomes comments, compliments and complaints. “We would like to hear your feedback on the median extensions. You can provide feedback by calling: 651-266-6059 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I have yet to contact the city about my positive feedback about the Margaret Street test closure. I happily road with my city council member on a “test” ride and wrote this article instead. Okay, that’s probably not a fully valid excuse. Reuben, I’ll email you soon.
Side note, according to the city of Saint Paul website, the concept of the Saint Paul Grand Round was “envisioned in the late 1800’s.” When we Saint Paulites complain about the lack of bike infrastructure development or how L-O-N-G it takes to have improvements become a realty, we truly do have something to complain about.
I have seen some people get really upset about closing entrance to Margaret from Johnson. Having lived right there for years (a block over, at Beech and Atlantic), I really think this is overdramatic.
You can get over via 6th or Beech or Atlantic from 7th. 6th is basically better for this than Beech, but Beech can handle it.
Frankly, as a former resident, I salute ANYTHING that might slow down the Atlantic raceway between 3rd and 7th. People used to drag race at 11PM, and simply gun up the street all day long. Traffic circle? Yay!
Yeah. It’s not a huge deal to go a block up to the corner.
As a new resident of Margaret St – but a long time resident of the east side – it’s exciting to see some investments being made over here. We were a bit concerned when they initially blocked off our street, but once we saw the full proposa we were totally on board.
Thank you, Julie and Christa, for your comments and these positive comments. Be sure to contact Reuben and let him know your thoughts! I still haven’t done that myself and have it added to my ever-growing “to-do” list.
Think about Summit Ave where you can’t enter that street from every single block, but have to go down the “frontage road” of Summit Ave (also called Summit Ave??) between Hamline and Fairview. Just like you can’t enter every freeway from every side street. I know these aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples but the reasons for these decisions are similar.
Nice piece! Thanks for doing this.
You are welcome-my pleasure! It’s an important, timely topic and this was fun to write.
Way too many pictures of that guy in the hoodie, though.
He became my constant reminder that I haven’t contacted him with my official comments yet.
Great post Melissa.
A key design element that traffic engineers in Europe use quite successfully to make streets safer is blocking through routes like St Paul are proposing. They want drivers to take the shortest route possible and at slow speed to main roads where they then can driver faster and where protected bikeways and walkways are provided.
So in other words exactly what the developers of suburbia with all the cul-de-sacs and through traffic limited to major roads are doing?
Sort of, yes. However in Europe a cul-de-sac would allow people walking or riding bicycles to continue through. Some burb’s do this now but not many.
Most of our suburban streets are quite wide vs much narrower in Europe with 4.5 meters, about 15′, fairly common. Their’s also often have chicanes, typically by allowing parking on one side for a bit and then switching sides which causes a bit of jog in the travel lanes. Actual speeds on residential streets there are often 12-18 MPH vs 35 here. They make sure to not have any rat-run through streets with residences on them.
They build around a central retail area so that no home is more than about 1.5 to 2 miles away. The retail area will have a grocery, pharmacy, several cafés, doctor, and other amenities. It is almost always mixed use with ground level retail and 2 to 4 levels of residences above. The grammar school will also be within about 3 miles of all homes and other schools within 4 to 5 miles.
Here’s a common residential street with a chicane:
Thank you, everyone. I do appreciate that city leaders are leading the charge on this topic, although I know one of the drivers is federal funding. Every day I see auto drivers break the law and do so that puts other auto drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, people waiting for the (school or Metro Transit) bus and I know we have to work with our government leaders to draw attention to these safety concerns. This is going in the right decision,
Nice article. Thanks for the info.
Margaret Street is a critical part of my bicycle commute to 3M every day.
I like this proposal. I do wish that the eastern connection to McKnight would get some attention. There is a bike path on the other side of McKnight. How hard would it be to paint some lines and add a couple bike-crossing signs? It often feels like I am playing a game of human frogger, especially in the morning when traffic is heavy.
I am appreciative that a couple of people from 3M spoke up. Great points raised about community, jobs, attracting workers, etc. I agree with you about bike amenities on the east side of McKnight. Where I live (south of Lower Afton) there’s a small bike trail on the east side, so that only makes sense to me (though it’s so narrow especially with peds and dog walkers and not the most even of asphalt).
So many people who don’t want the Johnson/Margaret closure spoke up. I think a lot of it is just that it’s so new, and the traffic “flow” hasn’t happened yet.
A lot of people for and against Margaret Street closure did speak up in favor of a safer neighborhood. If we all use that as a starting point, we might be able to have real conversations with people against this closure. Who’s against safer streets for all??