7th St Proposal and AADT

7th Street Bikeway in Downtown St. Paul

Recently, Bill Lindeke pointed out how the downtown portion of the Saint Paul Bike Plan is lacking. He gave ideas about how to implement the Capital City Bikeway, which is and of itself a really good plan. However, once completed the CCB would still not cover downtown adequately.

Specifically, the plan lacks an “east-west” route between Kellogg and 9th/10th.

Stp Ccb Interim

Capital City Bikeway Plan


Back in January I proposed making one-way paired bikeways on 5th and 6th streets. At the time I was not committed to these particular streets or the arrangement on them.  One of the big issues to deal with was major bus traffic, as these two streets are the spine of downtown St. Paul bus routes.

7th Street

Downtown St. Paul Bike Plan

St. Paul Bike Plan – Downtown


On the St. Paul Bike Plan above you likely notice the dashed pink/black line that is absent on the CCB plan. It is on 7th Street, and it indicates that the street should be studied for a potential bikeway. Advantages to putting a bikeway on 7th over 5th/6th is that there is no bus traffic and there is a lot of extra space. Additionally, traffic volumes are lower than you might think. 7th Street is also the major route through the middle of downtown and has exits on both ends of downtown.

7th St Proposal and AADT

7th St Proposal and AADT


Would this be possible? Yes. Most of 7th Street has four lanes for car traffic in addition to turn lanes. Recent experience on Maryland Avenue shows that higher traffic volumes (up to 20,000 AADT) can function adequately with only three lanes. Some blocks only have four lanes and would need a 4-3 conversion, while other blocks that already have turn lanes could simply convert outside traffic lanes to buffered bike lanes (5-3 conversions).

Additionally, installing buffered bikeways would not just add immensely to our bicycle network, it would also make downtown safer for pedestrians and drivers. Fewer points of conflict with cars means fewer crashes, and this point must be repeatedly emphasized.

What would it look like?

Here are a couple of examples of what the street looks like today vs adding buffered bike lanes:

7th And Wabasha, Looking East

7th and Wabasha, looking east

7th And Wabasha Revised, Looking East

7th and Wabasha Revised, looking east


7th And Cedar, Looking West

7th and Cedar, looking west

7th And Cedar Revised, Looking West

7th and Cedar Revised, looking west


While it appears in some cases there would be enough space to add bike lanes without removing traffic lanes, the lane widths are not consistent from block to block or even within a single block – these two images are different ends of the same block between Wabasha and Cedar.

In both of the examples above the other lanes have been left at their current widths and the buffered bike lanes take up the exact space of the traffic lane they would replace. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the layout, but it minimizes the need to grind out and repaint existing lines, thus reducing overall cost of implementation.

Protected or Buffered

Should they be protected bikeways? Yes, but probably not yet. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Protected bikeways would be better, but due to some on-street parking bookended by bumpouts this would require a more expensive rebuild. Buffered bikeways can be implemented with a simple repainting. Even without a rebuild, blocks without on-street parking could get protective elements if funds were available. Again, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – we can protect portions of the bikeway even if certain blocks need to remain unprotected for now.

State Control

7th Street is also known as Minnesota State Highway 5 and is controlled by MnDOT, the state’s highway agency. If the city was bold enough to make a design for 7th Street it would need to be approved by the state and then funded by the city and/or the state. 7th Street is not in the city’s 5-year plan for any upcoming projects, but the cost of a simple paint job for 1.2 miles of roadway pales in comparison to other controversial projects, such as Ayd Mill Rd or the RiverCentre Parking Ramp. We’re talking thousands, not millions.

So how do we make this happen? We tell Public Works, we tell our City Council reps, our County Commissioners, our mayor, and we hope they all see the opportunity right in front of them. Completing the Capital City Bikeway is not enough, and we should not hesitate to add safe bikeways within downtown rather than just surrounding it.

Eric Saathoff

About Eric Saathoff

Eric Saathoff is a public school teacher living in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul. He is a regular walker, cyclist, transit user, and driver with his wife and three young children. Eric serves on the Payne-Phalen Community Council and the St Paul Transportation Committee.

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37 thoughts on “7th Street Bikeway in Downtown St. Paul

  1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    A connection like this would be an enormous, and much needed, improvement. Getting through downtown by bike is ridiculously difficult, and doesn’t need to be. There’s tons of street space. Install bike lanes!

  2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    7th St may be a “state highway” but maintenance and infrastructure are done by the city. It’s also worth noting that MnDOT considers 7th St a turnback candidate, in that their long-term goal is to transfer it to the city and/or county.

      1. Monte Castleman

        If St. Paul (or Ramsey County) said “give us the road, we want it”, MnDOT would be beyond overjoyed and give it to them immediately. But if St. Paul wants to follow the usual process and get a bribe for taking the road it’ll be years yet considering all available turnback funds are already delegated to projects for several years.

        1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

          I don’t see why we need a “turnback” to change the layout of the street. The county is open to changes proposed by the city, and I believe MnDOT should be, too.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Maybe if St. Paul comes up with the funds MnDOT would let them. Good luck getting them to help pay for a project to just restripe the road unless it also needs a mill and overlay or reconstruction.

            I’d also be leery about just assuming that a 3 lane conversion would work here just because it did at similar volumes on Maryland Ave. Maybe it would or maybe it wouldn’t but the higher the traffic volumes get the more situational (depending on number of traffic signals, stop signs, and proportion of turning traffic) it becomes.

  3. karen Nelson

    Yes, this would be sweet and doesn’t seem hard to do.

    Could we get that state to agree to do this, if city will allow them to turn it back after its done.

    And will give AMR to MN DOT for free as a bonus

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I agree and disagree. We indeed cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good but we also need to weigh the issues and be careful that we don’t let the good or barely acceptable become the enemy of the better.

    This is realistically a 2-3% solution based on the experience of Portland and other cities. IOW, about 2-3% of people will ride on it. Many of those won’t be comfortable on it, particularly the turn lane mixing, but they’ll ride on it.

    There will be a perception/messaging issue with shouts of ‘where are the bicycle riders that we built this for?’ There will be photos of cars backed up and an empty bikeway. And this is different than twenty cars taking up 200′ of roadway with twenty bicycle riders taking up 15′ of roadway that can be easily explained.

    And then that 2-3% will be only about half the year because bikeways like this are largely unusable by most people during winter (vs protected bikeways that can be useable throughout the year).

    Infrastructure like this also lets traffic engineers and cities off the hook. ‘See, we built a bunch of the bike infrastructure you asked for, what more do you want?’. Of course followed by ‘and nobody uses it’. Followed by ‘why should we build any more when nobody uses what we already built for you?’

    I’ve struggled with this because on the one hand I completely agree that sometimes lessor is better than nothing – a painted bikeway with turn lane mixing is, on the surface, better than no bikeway at all. But long term will it do more harm than good?

    Will this bit of infrastructure get enough people riding that it will help push through other and hopefully better infrastructure or will it result in animosity from LOS focused traffic engineers, the politicians who listen to them and the motorists who think that the empty bikeway is causing them to be late to work every day?

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Also, how many ‘enthused and confident’ or ‘interested but concerned’ bicycle riders will try this new infrastructure, have a few scares or close calls, and get turned off to ‘bicycle infrastructure’?

      A lot, and likely most, people have difficulty imagining things. They can’t perceive the difference in a painted bikeway with turn lane mixing and a protected bikeway with proper protection through junctions (https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/junction-design-in-the-netherlands/). It’s all just ‘bike lanes’. You and I and Jenny and Bill and Hannah and others on here can grasp the difference but I think a majority of the general public cannot.

    2. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

      I think your argument goes against pretty much any painted bikeway, so if we only go for fully protected bikeways these days that means we’re going to get very few improvements in St. Paul. Painted bike lanes are a foot in the door, and I subscribe to incrementalism in this town and political climate. I don’t believe we’re painting sharrows anymore.

      In the above image there are very generous buffers that I think would make people feel more comfortable than most other painted bikeways in the city. These would have much more space than a Summit bike lane, for instance. And those bike lanes get used by a variety of people.

      I think winter clearing here could be as good as it already is, which in my mind means these could be some of the best cleared lanes in the city. I could be wrong about that.

      If we have this bikeway gap in the downtown CCB plan, what do you think is a better yet realistic plan? I’m all ears (or eyes, rather).

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        There are places with lower traffic volumes and speeds where paint can work so I’m not totally against paint. That said, engineers is much of Europe are moving away from anything paint due to the same problems we’ve seen. For them paint has been kind of a middle option between a bicycle street (18 MPH, cars may not pass bicycles) and a road w/ a protected bikeway. People in the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Spain, France and elsewhere constantly complain that streets with painted bikeways are the most uncomfortable and least welcomed.

        If W 7th is the route then I think I’d push for protected or nothing. With the volume and speed of traffic along there those mixing zones would likely be treacherous. Drivers just do not look for bicycle riders. I’d think particularly approaching Cedar due to the curve.

        Currently ‘bicyclists’ in the U.S. are pushing a very confusing message; ‘Bicycle riders should ride and act as cars and ride in the traffic lane’, ‘we want painted bike lanes between travel lanes and parked cars’, ‘we want painted bike lanes between parked cars and sidewalks’, ‘we want protected bikeways’.

        Which is it? And how do we explain the ‘we’ve changed our mind and I know we said we wanted painted bikeways but now we want protected bikeways so that more than 2% of people can ride’?

        At what point do we say that minimally less safe (a sliver of a bone) than our current extremely dangerous and most deadly road system in the developed world isn’t good enough? At what point do we say that the deaths on our roads, particularly of people walking and riding bicycles, is too much and must stop, not simply be minimally (and so far imperceptibly) reduced? At what point do we push for road designs that are as safe and healthy and economical as those in Europe and elsewhere? At what point do we draw a line in the sand and start pushing for that line instead of continuously accepting slivers of bones – really dangerous poor designs that are incrementally better?

        Another option is to look at reducing the amount of through traffic so that a painted bike lane or bicycle street might be possible;


        This has worked quite well in many European and Asian cities.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

          It’s a tough issue. In accepting a tiny sliver of bone are we foregoing a good size chunk of bone? Or even the entire bone? If we all come together and make a consistent push for a safe environment might we actually get it?

          Or is anything more than a tiny sliver of bone definitely out of reach for the next 40 years anyway so accept the sliver, people killed or seriously injured, and move on with life?

          I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that if we don’t try for more we’ll not get it and we’ll never know if we could have.

        2. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

          In the Netherlands did they go straight from car-clogged streets to protected bikeways or were there evolving treatments such as painted bike lanes along the way?

          I’m on board for your end goal, but I don’t think it is financially or politically realistic to jump there now.

          As stated in the post, I would prefer a rebuild with protected bikeways, but nobody is going to pay for that. We can’t even get the CCB paid for, which is approaching the design you want. If it were clear that approved plans were being paid for and implemented and it was even a possibility that this street could be rebuilt before schedule I’d ask for that instead.

          Getting painted lanes with a very generous buffer (up to 9′ in the above image!) is not beyond the realm of possibility and quick implementation. Once we get a solid base of users (probably still below 5%) we can build political support for more expensive treatments.

          1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

            The Netherlands had a mixture but overwhelmingly protected bikeways on busy streets. The ‘Stop The Child Murder’ campaign’s push in 1972/3 was specifically for protected infrastructure. From what I’ve seen (and maybe I can do a post one day) based on photos and articles, streets like W 7th went from multi-lane car only roads directly to protected. From there incremental improvements have been made.



            As I understand it the work on this began in 1969 with a small organization (one person involved described the group as doctors, lawyers, moms and a hippie) and clear vision for what they wanted. They slowly began educating people about it and garnering support. They did a documentary in 1971 and then the major protest in 1973.

            They would not have achieved what they have with painted bike lanes that only a tiny few people would ride on.

            Another example is a group of people in Shoreview who likewise wouldn’t accept painted bike lanes from Ramsey County:


            They won and I ride on these protected bikeways to get my morning coffee, groceries and dinner every day all year.

  5. Ian R Buck

    7th St could be a fantastic east-west route through downtown, but it’s also important to consider what it connects to at either end: both W 7th and E 7th are super bike unfriendly, so what should I do when I get to the end of the downtown portion of 7th, and the buffered bike lane disappears? I’m not saying this is a reason not to pursue a downtown bike lane project, but it would feel hollow without also creating a connection up to the East Side.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

      The way I drew the bikeway it ends at Kellogg on the west, which is on the St. Paul Bike Plan and is supposed to connect to John Ireland, Smith, Eagle Parkway.

      On the East I had it connect with Lafayette, which is supposed to get bike lanes. This gets you into Payne-Phalen but not Dayton’s Bluff.

      I’m all for lanes that extend up and down West and East 7th Streets, but I wanted to narrow the scope of this proposal to downtown. I want there to be more ways to get around safely within downtown because I find the CCB to be an incomplete plan.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      There is value in having bikeway just through the downtown portion to connect the north-south bike bits as well as the east and west ends of town. Every bit of extension is good though.

  6. Karen Nelson

    We really need to have a citywide discussion about how to get to protected bike lanes. They are ultimately the only thing that will get lots more people biking and they work hand-in-glove with narrowing lanes for car/truck traffic calming, making out streets so much safer for everyone.

    Painted bike lanes can actually make roads appear wider by sometimes removing street parking and so encourage faster driving.

    I think painted lanes are better than nothing IF they are widening open area at car lane level.

    But PBLs are our only hope to vastly increase biking and slowing peak speeds do drivers. We need to have serious plan for how to make them happen, fund them.

    Step one: all full rebuilds required to include protected/separated bike lanes at sidewalk level (this is no big extra cost to build, actually less if it reduce pavement needed for cars/trucks)

    Step two: funding source for PBL and their maintenance for roads not being rebuilt

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Karen, I think I agree completely. One note – I think PBL is most often used to refer to a Painted Bike Lane. At least that’s my experience. I think you meant Protected Bikeway?

    2. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

      I support this, as well, and updating the bike plan came up at a St. Paul Transportation Committee meeting in discussing the draft Climate Action Plan. I don’t really see evidence that the city is ready to go whole hog, however (PBLs everywhere). The city is trying to implement the existing bike plan, which does have a set of protected bikeways in downtown, but they can’t yet figure out which street the western leg will be on and they definitely aren’t funded for the rebuilds they would need.

      Having a bikeway on 7th that is protected would be excellent next time it’s scheduled for a rebuild. I say we reduce car capacity now and allow bikes space now. I disagree that people wouldn’t use this because it’s not protected. Throw some Jersey barriers out there in the buffers or some huge planters, maybe. St. Paul hasn’t figured out how to plow something like that, though. With painted buffers I would imagine this getting plowed as well as it currently does, and bicyclists could use it easily all year.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        My concern is that if a painted bike lane with turn lane mixing is done now and is not well used or perceived as well used then it could be more difficult to get a protected bikeway when the street is reconstructed than if there had been no painted bike lane.

        If the painted bike lane is well used all year and perceived as such or the ‘fill rate difference’ due to size can be easily explained then getting a protected bikeway should be easier.

        Minneapolis already had many more people riding bicycles than St Paul and there are constant gripes about the Hennepin Ave bike lanes being empty and taking up valuable space. Based on my experience the Hennepin bike lanes are much more comfortable from a safety standpoint than something similar along W 7th.

        The new bikeway along Washington is better than a painted bike lane (though still far below CROW standards and it doesn’t feel nearly as safe as CROW bikeways) and is more heavily used. But it still appears very empty and often there are no more than perhaps a half dozen people on it. Hopefully it’s just a time thing as it’s still quite new but if it doesn’t start to get a lot more people using it then it may hurt future efforts more than help.

        Perhaps what you want along W 7th would get used enough to help sell protected infra in the future. That would be great. Based on what I’ve seen here, and in Portland and NYC and elsewhere I’m skeptical.

      2. Monte Castleman

        I’m with Walker on this one. I think that the “Strong and Fearless” and “Enthused and Confident” types of cyclists are likely the majority on this site, so we forget that they’re only 7% of the general population. Or since we’re not “Interested but Concerned” we’re don’t have a good view as to what that type would actually use. I consider myself that type and there’s absolutely no way I’d ever ride my bicycle down 7th Street short of having something concrete between myself and cars.

        In Bloomington a lot of the roads with “bicycle lanes” (I use scare quotes because aside from Portland and Nicollet done by the county they’re not signed as such for political reasons) have only a couple of thousand cars a day. But the vast majority of bicyclists, both kids and adults, continue to use the sidewalks because they don’t feel safe in a painted lane.

        If you put down Jersey barriers or potted plants (or something more substantial than plastic flim-flam sticks and more permanent than parked cars) then that’s great, but you’re no longer arguing that we should build unprotected lanes.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

          I agree with both you guys about Jersey Barriers in place of the painted buffer. Even something just 6″-12″ high (or shorter if it’s vertical and perceived by drivers as tire/rim damaging) would likely do the trick both for safety and keeping debris and splush off the bikeway.

          That still leaves the problem of turn lane mixing zones (and bicycle riders ending up sandwiched between motor vehicle lanes and then having to ride through a junction along with motor vehicles) which feels dangerous and uncomfortable and have proven so in reality. The protection needs to be carried through the junctions.

          I think if there were already a network of good protected bikeways and this was a temporary final link (that would allow/encourage a lot more people to ride) then I think this would be a good option. People would see heavier use on the protected bikeways and so future protected bikeways (including converting this to protected) would be an easier sell.

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

              I said network though. Like numerous safe and comfortable routes throughout St Paul. So someone can comfortably get to a lot of places without having to be fearful of traffic. So this would be a short link to temporarily bolster that network, not be itself a major element of the network.

              Also keep in mind that the CCB is quite poor from a safety and comfort standpoint compared to CROW. Primarily, Europe and other places would not allow a two-way bikeway with so many motor vehicle crossings because drivers crossing it only look in the direction that motor vehicles (that are a threat to them) are coming from. Many/most do not look in the other direction for bicycle riders.

              The tiny bit of CCB that’s installed is good but it’s still only comfortable for perhaps the most adventurous 25% so that’s 75% of the population who’d not ride on it regularly. Not to mention the lack of additional connections.

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

                FWIW, I’d love to have your plan done for myself. But if we are going to get good well-designed bikeways then we need more like 20-40%, not just 2-3%, of people using the bikeways somewhat regularly in order to get enough priority. And there’s the simple bit that we really should be fighting for bikeways for the bulk of the general population (8-80), not just the most adventurous 3%.

                1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

                  Really it begs the question of the chicken and the egg. You’re arguing that we need to have great protected bikeways to get more than 3% of the population riding, but then you just wrote “if we are going to get good well-designed bikeways then we need more like 20-40%, not just 2-3%.”

                  I won’t disagree that there could be better bikeways than the Jackson Street CCB, but if your standard for building anything has to be above that you are way out of reality for St. Paul. If you say that a buffered bike lane that takes up an entire (bloated) car lane is only acceptable if we already have a wide network of better-than-Jackson Street paths… I think you are asking more than we can get given the financial and political situation in St. Paul.

                  This post is proposing a reasonable, short-term bikeway that would improve cycling in downtown. It is expressly designed to be low-cost.

                  It is also not a perfect idea, and I hope it will get people who are smarter than me talking and planning for what will work in the short term, as well as what would be best in the long term.

                  Low ridership numbers in St. Paul have not so far kept the city from expanding its bike network.

                  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

                    Let’s consider two options:

                    1) We build a lot of 3% infrastructure like you’re proposing. First, this doesn’t serve 97% of the population nor does it serve people with disabilities. It is also quite lopsided towards men as men are more willing to risk riding on it. Those are issues.

                    The biggest issue though is that with so few people using the bikeways they will look or be empty much of the time creating a lot of screaming about all of the space and money devoted to less than 1% of the population (the likely actual modal share of people per day crossing any one place). This will be worse in winter because painted bikeways do not work well in winter as they get filled with slush and ice from cars.

                    With this plan there is really no point in time at which it makes sense to begin fighting for proper and safe infrastructure because the argument is always to accept the 3% solution.

                    2) A minimal stake in the ground protected infrastructure. This will be a tougher fight and will be slower to get built. However, it will serve perhaps 60% of the population including many people with disabilities and will more equally serve women and men. This is what people began fighting for in The Netherlands in 1972 and in Copenhagen a few years later.

                    Protected bikeways are also useable all year. I ride throughout the year on the protected bikeways in Shoreview as well as in Europe.

                    Most importantly though is that it will be more popular on two levels. First is that people who ride it will feel safer and more comfortable. Once they experience it they will be more likely to be vocal supporters for more similar infrastructure. Second is that it should have many more people riding on it and so not be able to be argued against on the basis of being empty or serving so few people.

                    3) Protected infrastructure built to CROW standards that will serve close to 100% of the population including nearly all people with disabilities.

                    I think it’s time we stop giving traffic engineers a pass on designing dangerous infrastructure that doesn’t serve all people equally. We have great examples in Europe and Asia of massively safer infrastructure that serves men, women, children, elderly and people with disabilities more equally (in The Netherlands and Copenhagen women slightly outnumber men on bikeways).

                    Options 2 & 3 will take longer to get started but I think will very quickly overtake option 1 in both the number of people using the bikeways/walkways, in the number of miles of any kind of infrastructure and massively faster in implementation of protected infrastructure.

  7. Rosa

    what kind of buffer are you thinking? I’ve come to really appreciate bollards now that I’ve ridden 26th-28th more – they feel like the right mix of being able to get out of the bike lane to turn or pass a barrier like a car pulling out of an alley or an ambulance in the bike lane – and protection from cars.

    One problem with the car-lane-width bike lane is that if you don’t have good enough barriers, cars just drive in them – a bike lane that was that wide and just paint would be worse than useless.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff Post author

      I’m open to anything, but I particularly like the idea of big concrete planters.

  8. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    Depending on where it ended on the west, West 7th and Kellogg is just a short hop to Thompson Street and the start of the Sneaky Trail/Little Bohemia Trail. Using Smith at Kellogg would be a great start. Eagle Street or Chestnut connects easily to Shepard Road/MRT.

  9. Pine SalicaNicole Salica

    In the spirit of “something is better than nothing”, this is a good first step. Removing car lanes one at a time is a good plan.
    Let’s see this implemented by winter! It’s just paint, put it down let’s go.

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