Updating the Bruce Vento Trail

I have previously written about what a fantastic urban bikeway the Bruce Vento Trail is. My family and I continue to use it frequently, including my now 5 year old daughter on her own two-wheeler.

However, there are some major safety issues.

At intersections we would like the travel of the bicycle to remain parallel to the travel of the car lanes as indicated.

Bicycle Travel on the Bruce Vento

Intuitive path of bicycle travel on the Bruce Vento Trail (at Neid Lane)

 

However, there are ADA ped ramps that direct the trail traffic in a different direction:

Screenshot 2019 07 07 At 13.37.56

Northeast corner of Neid Lane and the Bruce Vento Trail

Northwest corner of Neid Lane and the Bruce Vento Trail

Northwest corner of Neid Lane and the Bruce Vento Trail

 

Why they were designed this way makes no sense to me:

Trail ramps at an angle

Ramps direct trail users at an angle

Ped ramps direction

Ped ramps directing people to cross to train tracks?

 

This becomes a serious issue, however, for less skilled trail users. When my youngest daughter is on her bicycle this ramp orientation effectively directs her into the car traffic lane:

bicycle travel and car travel are too close

Intuitive path of travel for bicycle is too close to car travel lane

 

As a father it is very scary for me every time. My older children can handle these intersections better, but these ramps are also excessively narrow so that two cannot pass each other at the same time.

At Payne Avenue there are other sidewalks to be directed to, but here it is the city’s traffic light pole that makes an enormous obstruction at the northeast ramp:

Screenshot 2019 07 07 At 15.24.24

NE corner of Payne and Phalen intersection. Ramp for bike trail is obstructed by light pole. This portion of trail is city-owned.

Better Options?

Obviously, there are a lot of improvements that can be made here. Fortunately, some great examples can be found elsewhere on the Bruce Vento Trail.

Here is a ped ramp at the intersection of Cayuga and the bike trail:

Trail ramp at Cayuga and the Bruce Vento Trail

Trail ramp at Cayuga and the Bruce Vento Trail

 

Even better, here is a tabled crossing of the bike trail at a driveway entrance for the new Health Partners Neuroscience Center at the Olive Street:

Tabled intersection at Bruce Vento Trail and Olive Street

Tabled intersection at Bruce Vento Trail and Olive Street

 

Engineers will tell us that we can’t have a tabled crossing at big streets like Neid Lane or Payne Avenue, but we can at least have perpendicular curb ramps without obstructions. Additionally, there are several intersections with the same dangerous design along the Bruce Vento Trail that are much smaller. Currently some of these intersections don’t even have a stop bar for cars or a sign indicating bicycles have the right of way. These streets could have a tabled crossing, just as we see on portions of the Grand Round:

Tabled crossing on the Grand Round (Wheelock Parkway)

Tabled crossing on the Grand Round (Wheelock Parkway)

 

A Protective Barrier

A separate issue that could also be addressed is the Phalen bridge that goes over the county trail into Swede Hollow. On this portion of the trail the grass median is lost and precarious riders could plop right over the edge into the car lanes.

bridge without grass

On this bridge the grass median disappears

Phalen Blvd Bridge loses the grass median

Bridge loses the grass median

 

A simple solution to this would be to erect a small fence to keep skateboarding or bicycling children from toppling over the trail’s edge and into the roadway. Elsewhere the grass does a good job of keeping them on the path or slowing them down when they stray. This portion of the trail is city-owned and not part of the county’s ROW.

The Rush Line

I’ve had these concerns for a few years but hoped they would be resolved when the path is rebuilt as part of the Rush Line construction. However, I now feel like we should not wait. The Rush Line website says they expect construction to begin 2024 and to complete in 2026. I now believe those are optimistic dates, and ultimately it is unknown whether the project will be funded at all.

In the meantime we have trail ramps that are inadequate for this bike/ped facility and its immediate context. Most of this trail is a Ramsey County facility, so I would expect the county to update this trail as needed for the safety of its users. I now believe it’s in need of that update and should not wait between 7-10 years for a rebuild.

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17 Responses to Updating the Bruce Vento Trail

  1. Ethan Osten
    Ethan Osten July 18, 2019 at 11:16 am #

    The Bruce Vento trail within Saint Paul is maintained by the city. Ramsey County has a Joint Powers Agreement with city Parks & Recreation for the trail south of Larpenteur. Unfortunately, replacing these ramps would also fall under the city’s purview rather than the county’s.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff July 18, 2019 at 2:24 pm #

      I don’t really mind if it’s the city or the county paying to fix these issues. However, I don’t see why the county couldn’t pitch in on a regional trail that is in their ROW (at least portions of it).

  2. Monte Castleman July 18, 2019 at 11:27 am #

    I’m not sure there is a solution at Payne and Phalen. They could move the big pole back, but then they’d have to put a little pole where the big pole was to hold the APS station, Putting the trail next to the street would result in the same kind of issue as on the bridge where bicyclists could tip over into the traffic lane.

    As far as the bridge, normally you put a solid concrete jersey barrier there, and it does look like there’s enough room for one. Something like a metal fence would prevent an errant bicyclist from entering a traffic lane good enough, but an errant motorist could easily take down a whole section of fence and drive it into anyone on the trail.

    With the issue of bicyclists so close to traffic, I’m really not a fan of the Washington Ave cycletracks for the same reason. Unlike the ones on 66th Street they’re right next to the traffic lane, although separated by a real concrete curb instead of plastic flim-flam sticks. Maybe they only expect experienced bicyclists to use them, but with downtown becoming increasingly residential there’s going to be more and more families with kids and inexperienced adults in the area rather than just hardcore commuters.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff July 18, 2019 at 2:29 pm #

      Jersey barrier sounds great. The section without grass median is about 226 ft, according to google maps. A jersey barrier is about 8 ft long? So about 29 concrete barriers to erect a solid wall.

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary July 18, 2019 at 11:47 am #

    You could realign the trail slightly farther away from the street as it approaches. Likely cheaper to buy an easement to use some of Ace’s red mulched area than relocate the big signal post, wiring, etc.

    If that weren’t an option, you can also have the APS push buttons closer to the curb line than existing pole is. Our engineering practice is just generally… not to, because it’s more apt to be hit by reckless drivers, who we rarely hold financially responsible when they vandalize public property. Thus, it’s cheaper to just make the urban environment compatible with hopping curbs.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff July 18, 2019 at 2:27 pm #

      Ace Hardware erected a wooden fence on that corner, and it has been smashed by cars at least twice, once also striking the building. Now there is a huge iron boat anchor in the middle to punish any driver who jumps the curb. I’d think they might invite the city to take over that small corner parcel if it somehow provided them more security from rogue drivers.

  4. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary July 18, 2019 at 11:51 am #

    That tabled-crossing — or “driveway apron” crossing — should just be the standard for all trails crossing stop-controlled streets. Might screw up drainage to do as a retrofit, but I see no reason why we can’t do this for any reconstruct.

    Could do it with sidewalks too, but seems especially important for trails and cycletracks.

  5. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD July 18, 2019 at 2:38 pm #

    Those ramps are also so narrow! If you are pulling a trailer the wheels are wider than the ramp.

  6. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke July 18, 2019 at 3:10 pm #

    Those are some great examples of design details that nobody paid much attention to, certainly nobody who had ever been on a bicycle before.

  7. Karen Nelson July 19, 2019 at 7:39 am #

    Thanks, this is great overview of the small details that make all the difference. So much more safety could be had at so little extra cost. Also, these are the small things that add up to biking being way more appealing and comfortable to everyone, not just the most skilled, most daring.

    I think the long-term value to our transportation system of trails like BVT are way under-rated, they are great! They are like bike super-higways, making convenient, pleasant routes across town. Also, I think trails are gateway drugs to getting hooked on biking as a general transportation mode.

    So these trails should get extra special attention on safety and comfort.

    Since city is constantly doing updated ADA compliant curb cuts, getting decent price on fixing those seems easy and we are talking thousands, not hundreds fo thousands dollars, very doable.

    The overpass should be a concrete barrier with beefy metal railing on top as is done over freeways but seems just bolting are regular ordinary pedestrian fall protection type metal railing to the existing concrete, as we see on top of drop offs everywhere would be far better than nothing. It wouldn’t stop a the worst run away vehicle but would contain bikers and peds. As a temp measure til big project done, metal railing seems easy and trivially cheap in scheme of road costs.

    Please note any retaining wall, stair landing etc taller than 30 inches, according to most local codes, requires a 42″ railing as fall protection, seems the edge between a bikeway and fast moving car/truck traffic should have same standard – instead of fall protection – it would be swerve protection, but same standard/goal: keep people contained from dangerous edges, either by height of railing or width/distance from edge with some slower surface (grass)

    Wonder if we can make a list of immediately needed improvements, likely costs and get some vision for some funding for this.

    • Brian July 19, 2019 at 10:44 am #

      Just moving that stop light alone is probably a $100,000+ project. A whole new signal assembly would need to be purchased along with all the work to move the underground cables. It may seem cheap to redo a curb ramp, but it would likely be $10,000+ per corner. Construction costs are sky high these days.

      I’m sure the curb ramps were placed in the center to avoid doing a ramp for each direction. The engineers were thinking more about saving money than using common sense.

  8. Scott July 21, 2019 at 11:03 pm #

    To add to your list of areas that need improvement; near the top of my list would be the ped ramp near the entrance to Vertical Endeavors. (Mendota circle) the curb jets out half way across the trail. If someone is not paying close attention they could easily hit the curb.

    I also dislike the intersection with Earl. Vehicles are constantly blocking the crosswalk while waiting to turn onto Phalen. I’ve made this turn many times in a vehicle, and I can’t really blame the drivers. Visibility is pretty poor here and you are pretty much forced into the crosswalk in order to get a good view of traffic. Drivers turning onto Earl also seem to take the turn very quickly. Especially the eastbound drivers trying to beat an oncoming car. I’m not sure what the solution for this intersection would be, but I’d like to see something done.

    • Frank Phelan July 22, 2019 at 8:37 pm #

      I think you are referring to Frank Street, and not Earl, which is the bridge over Phalen Blvd and the trail.

      But you are correct, it is a bad design for both trail users and drivers. I almost wonder if right turns should be banned there, at least until it can be engineered better.

      All of those intersections between Frank and Payne (inclusive) are a hot mess.

      Another area of concern is the east end of the bridge on Phalen just east of the Ace Hardware. As one approaches the bridge, if one is not careful, or distracted, etc, there is a steep drop off just to the right of the bridge. An errant cyclist could get serious injuries tumbling down the hill.

      • Eric Saathoff
        Eric Saathoff July 22, 2019 at 8:55 pm #

        I forgot to mention that. On the west side the Hardware store installed their own fence, thank goodness. But the east side is wide open for a head first dive off the bridge.

      • scott July 25, 2019 at 10:28 pm #

        Thank you, yes I was referring to Frank.

  9. ianrbuck July 26, 2019 at 9:59 pm #

    100% those are all changes that should be implemented! That section of Bruce Vento is part of my daily commute, and I often have cars rolling into the trail crossings not realizing that I have the right-of-way. I believe that tabled crossings and straight curb cuts are part of the Rush Line design, but like you said, that’s a long time to wait.
    And while we’re at it, let’s use the Rush Line as an opportunity to extend the Bruce Vento Trail westward along Pennsylvania to connect to Como!

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff July 28, 2019 at 12:26 am #

      yes, please!

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