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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.