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Fight Rolls On for Bike Infrastructure on South Cleveland

Remember the Great Fight Over the Cleveland Bike Lanes in 2016? It isn’t over. This time the battle has moved south.

Cleveland Avenue South is scheduled for a desperately needed mill and overlay this fall. Perfect opportunity to throw down some paint for a bike lane on a 40- to 44-foot wide, almost entirely residential road just south of the largest redevelopment (“21st Century Community”) in any city in the entire country, right?

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Sharrows are not bike infrastructure.

Apparently not, according to Public Works Director Kathy Lantry and Ward 3 City Council Member Chris Tolbert. Citing the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan (2015) at a gathering of about 20 of my neighbors, Lantry and Tolbert both pointed out that Cleveland south of Ford Parkway is identified as needing only “sharrows” (which are not actually bicycle infrastructure).

Now, in order for bicyclists to find actual bike infrastructure, they would have to head east to St. Paul Avenue (which has only one access point off of Return Court in this particular area) or use the scenic but roundabout leisure bike trails along Mississippi River Boulevard before connecting to Ford Parkway and then climbing half a mile uphill in traffic — without even sharrows — to reach the Cleveland bike lane north of Ford.

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Example of a pedestrian-friendly “bump-out”

Included in the city’s plans for South Cleveland (as of about a month ago) are “bump-outs” as well. Now, bump-outs are not bad. They create more pedestrian safety — but in this case, Director Lantry tells us, they eliminate the ability to add a bike lane down our street now or in the future.

Public Works has developed a hierarchy of priorities: 1) pedestrians, 2) bikes, 3) public transit and 4) cars.

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South Cleveland, currently a black hole for bike infrastructure

By including bump-outs, however, bikes somehow got bumped down to number 4. The city’s other argument is that bike lanes require public engagement, which Public Works officials have explicitly stated they would like to avoid, citing this passage of the Bike Plan:

“In some cases, bikeways may be implemented quickly and easily without changing the operational characteristics of a roadway. . . . [W]here impacts to the corridor may be more significant (e.g. parking restrictions or lane removals), a public involvement process will be necessary to discuss design alternatives, engage nearby residents, and confirm the recommendations in this plan before implementation.”

Data drive the issue

Prior to the meeting with Director Lantry and Council Member Tolbert, Highland neighbor Nate Hood and I decided to investigate the merits of maintaining on-street parking on both sides of a two-lane, 40- to 44-foot wide road (curb to curb). Turns out, according to our parking study, peak parking usage for 0.7 miles maxes out at 11 cars.

Based on our preliminary findings, we concluded that eliminating parking on one side produced no “significant” impact to parking availability on this section of Cleveland. When asked what constitutes a “significant impact to parking,” Director Lantry said this:

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Significant impact on parking = 1

Since residents of my street will pay 50 percent of the mill and overlay cost, I figured we could suggest an alternative solution to the city’s plan:

  1. A striped commuter bike lane from Mississippi River Boulevard to Magoffin to provide a much-needed safe north/south route to connect to the Cleveland bike lane north of Ford Parkway while still;
  2. Maintaining parking on one side of the street while also;
  3. Including “bump-outs” on the side of the street that still has parking.

This would account for pedestrian safety, bike safety and on-street parking. It would also help lower the project cost.

Multiple neighbor requests advocating this solution, plus advocacy from the Saint Paul Bike Coalition and the group Sustain Ward 3, apparently did not sway Director Lantry. “At this time our intent is to proceed as planned,” she said.

We also learned that the only marked crosswalk within the project area (at Sheridan) would likely be removed, thereby diluting Public Works’ top priority of pedestrian safety. “It does not appear to meet our current standards for marking crosswalks,” the city said.

Translation: “We can’t justify painted crosswalks that cost hardly anything but we can justify bump-outs which can add $10,000 to $20,000 to the cost of reconstructing each corner.

Speak out!

Council Member Tolbert has been avoiding journalists’ requests for comments. He’s also been pitting pedestrians against cyclists and neighbors against neighbors by suggesting that a bike lane would delay a much-needed mill and overlay. Let’s remember that bike lanes are just paint on the pavement — something that could be added after a mill and overlay is completed and after the city has conducted an engagement process with neighbors.

Let’s revisit the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan:

“This process is not intended to be rigid or to discourage neighborhoods or staff from employing unique or new strategies of public involvement or planning. It is understood that each neighborhood will require a unique planning approach and that unanticipated opportunities for implementation may present themselves that should be seized.”

Not only is the city failing to follow the spirit of its own Bike Plan to ensure that we are truly a bikable city, but officials are actively avoiding community engagement and using the Bike Plan as a justification not to build a bike lane! That directly contradicts this portion of said Bike Plan: “This plan should not be interpreted as a recommendation against providing bicycle facilities on any corridors.”

My neighbors and I will continue to advocate for a bike lane down our street. What’s discouraging, however, is how much work it has taken to advocate for something the city claims to want.

If you agree with our proposed plan, please contact our city officials and elected representatives:

  • Council Member Chris Tolbert: 651-266-8630 or ward3@ci.stpaul.mn.us
  • Director of Public Works Kathy Lantry: 651-266-6100 or kathy.lantry@ci.stpaul.mn.us

Council Member Tolbert and Director Lantry need to hear from bike advocates as soon as possible. Bump-out construction is slated for June (this month!). Whatever they may tell you, this is not a done deal.

Brandon Long

About Brandon Long

Brandon moved to the Highland neighborhood with his wife in 2012 to begin his Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy at St. Kate’s. He began work at the Minnesota Autism Center as an occupational therapist in 2015. Brandon served as an elected At-Large board member of the Highland District Council on their engagement committee and helped found the neighborhood non-profit Sustain Ward 3. He currently works for the Union Park District Council.

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