Bike Routes to Get In and Out of Downtown St. Paul

Bill Lindeke recently posted a definitive ranked list of the Best Bike Lanes from Downtown Saint Paul to the West. The list was empty, and it was a good joke, because it’s true.

Having bike commuted in and out of Downtown Saint Paul for the last 2.5 years, I’ve also got opinions about which routes are the best. In short, there are very few, and they’re almost all bad.

Here are my rankings, based on my experience riding a road bike with narrow tires. You’ll be better off with wider tires, if possible.

  1. Marshall to Dayton + the History Center Shortcut: Marshall is far and away the best east-west route in and out of Downtown Saint Paul, because it was recently repaved and the bike lanes are clearly painted for part of the route. You’ll want to cut over to/from Dayton after you hit Syndicate or Lexington, as that’s where conditions get bad. You’ll also want to take the History Center Shortcut to get in and out of downtown, as that’s easily the best way to get between the cathedral and downtown proper. (You’ll also have to navigate the beauty that is Carbucks, but there’s usually a police-person directing traffic at that intersection). Best uses: East or West, both are good.
    1a. Marshall Dayton Eastbound

    Marshall-Dayton Eastbound

    1b. History Center Shortcut

    History Center Shortcut close-up, Westbound. The trick is to ride around the outside of the parking lot. The gate arms have even been cut short so bikers can roll through without stopping.

  2. Como: Hear me out. Como is actually a pretty nice, relaxed ride into downtown, without much car traffic. The road conditions as a whole aren’t great, but they’re way better than Summit. Be warned: avoid this route during the State Fair, as they cross out the bike lane markers and car traffic, of course, gets really bad. Best uses: East only. Big hill going west.
    2. Como Eastbound
  3. Charles: One of the few north-of-94 bike routes into the city, Charles is a sleepy “bike boulevard”, that, unfortunately, has a shit-ton of 2 and 4-way stop signs along the way. You have to at least slow down a little bit at every intersection to check for cars speeding down the cross streets. South of 94, Dayton feels like a much better unofficial “bike boulevard”, but if you’re north, it’s a decent option. Also you’ll have to actually get to Charles, which starts just east of Menard’s, and is awkward to get to because of the train tracks. Pro-tip, stay on the sidewalk on the north side of University instead of biking in the street. Best uses: East.
    3. Charles Eastbound
  4. Lilydale: This is the most beautiful, safe, and comfortable route to get into Saint Paul, but it’s 1) frequently flooded, and 2) pretty long. It’s about the same distance as riding along River Road, but it’s way nicer. Best uses: West
    4. Lilydale Westbound
  5. Summit: I love the idea of Summit, but it’s a goddamn death trap with terrible road conditions. Too many people have died biking on this street in the last few years. Repaving and adding infrastructure to make biking more safe feels like such an easy no-brainer for the City of Saint Paul, it’s crazy to me that it hasn’t happened yet. Best uses: East or West, both are similar.
    5. Summit Westbound
  6. River Road: It’s a looooooong ride, with a dedicated bike path almost the whole way, but it’s Very Saint Paul™️. You’ll notice when you cross into Minneapolis, by Marshall, because the pavement all of a sudden gets really smooth. Best uses: Unclear
    6. River Road Westbound

What do you think? What are your favorite bike routes in and out of Downtown Saint Paul?

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31 thoughts on “Bike Routes to Get In and Out of Downtown St. Paul

  1. Bob Roscoe

    On a related note, the exit lane at the Victory Parking Ramp on Wabasha one had a paper taped to the ticket device that gave written descriptions on how to get back to Minneapolis.

    1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

      I bike to downtown on Charles, and it’s really not optimal, but so far I’ve survived.

      I don’t wanna ruin all my secrets, but if you are bicyclist in St Paul the trick is to just not live in one of the Western Bluffs like Summit. The northern western bluffs are better as they have will soon have the complete Grand Round to connect Jackson. Charles is a blvd, but it only sucks around Rice St, and that would be pretty low hanging fruit to fix as long as the Rice Street Forever ‘92 folks don’t lose their minds.

      Payne Phalen has a super dope route in that they plow in the winter and the alternate route over the 9th St bridge is bumpy but people generally avoid it because it’s by the police station and they don’t want to get pulled over. The only sketchy spot is the highway onramp where all the folks speed up to get to White Bear Lake by 6 so they can watch old episodes of Mash or whatever it is the kids do for fun in White Bear Lake.

      Point is: the east side (and Ill include frogtown and northend, just because I live there and Im commenting on the internet so I make the rules) is the future of Saint Paul. Food, bike lines, culture, and a lot of cool organizing happening. Plus: most of the city’s population.

      Saint Paul will define itself by how well it empowers and takes care of its own, not by building routes through Summit to Minneapolis.

      A retirement wave of public sector jobs is coming in St Paul. The city would be wise anticipate this and facilitate bike lanes to neighborhoods close to downtown in order to encourage public sector jobs to be filled by people who live in their community and dont drive in from Wisconsin or Minneapolis.

      1. Melissa Anne Wenzel

        Hear, hear!! I’m on the SE side of Saint Paul with the most greenspace/least populated part of the city, but yeah, all of the cool cats/things are going to happen on the east side. We have the Hillcrest Golf Course that will likely be housing. We have Totem Town that will be something (county staff want housing) and a little further east, we have a Ramsey County golf course shutting down in Maplewood (Ponds at Battle Creek). I don’t know WHAT will happen there, but there’s potential.

        We continue to need EVERY voice on the east side to be loud, speak up, especially for so many people who need what we advocate for but don’t have the time or the voice to speak up.

        Fellow East Siders, it’s our time.

  2. Brian Fanelli

    Minor note on route 1: Because the pavement on Marshall gets so bad immediately east of Lexington, I’ve found cutting over to Dayton immediately before that intersection—on Griggs or Dunlap, both good—is a LOT better.

    It means you have to cross Lexington without a traffic signal, but the zebra-crosswalk-plus-median combo works surprisingly well. Generally speaking, traffic either doesn’t exist in a meaningful way or stops to let me cross in less time than it takes to wait for the light. PLUS, the hill grade on Dayton is less steep.

    This minor change is essential and yes this is a hill I’m willing to die on.

    1. Matt L

      Absolutely agree with this. When I realized I should cut up (I’m usually on this route going WB) at Griggs instead of Lexington it was life changing.

    2. Matt Decuir Post author

      +1 Great point, Brian. It’s hard to see in the screenshot, but I normally cut over from Marshall to Dayton (and vice versa) at Syndicate, which is the first possible street to turn after Hamline (or last if you’re going west). Griggs and Dunlap are the other two sweets between Syndicate and Lexington, and all of them are WAY better than trying to ride on Lexington.

  3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Your number 6 would be shortened some, maybe, by connecting to the Sneaky Trail ( along 35E, which is my usual choice for occasional recreational trips to downtown St. Paul from South Minneapolis.

    Downsides are that it can be hard to find and stay on and the riding surfaces aren’t in the greatest shape. Upside is few cars as it’s mostly separated trail and/or low-traffic streets and alleys. Further downside is it just ends on the outskirts of downtown and doesn’t connect to any bike facilities.

  4. Ben

    Strong disagree on Summit vs Marshall. Marshall’s surface is a shattered lunar hellscape that’s barely fit to be called a road. Summit is mostly pleasant in the morning (no one is on it in the AM), tolerable in the afternoon.

    After my normal bike route through Lilydale got cut off by MNDoT’s unwillingness to clear snow off the Mendota Bridge I was forced to choose a St Paul route and Summit was hands-down the winner.

    Another further point in Summit’s favor is Marshall is basically impassable in the winter due to poor plowing as a result of parked cars. Summit mostly gets plowed to the curb, and much more quickly too.

    Ultimately though, the problem with St Paul cycling is Kellogg. There’s no safe way to traverse downtown itself.

    1. Ben

      And I should say, Lilydale is by far the best route generally. There is absolutely nothing more relaxing than riding in the quiet next to the river. Absolutely worth the extra miles.

  5. Frank Phelan

    Como Ave from Lake Como to/from Downtown is pretty good. As it runs at a diagonal, it’s a pretty quick trip.

    And could we tone down the marine barracks profanity?

    1. Matt Decuir Post author

      Sorry for all the swearing, but at the same time, if a swear here or there gets people to pay attention to the fact that bicyclists have died while riding on Summit, I think it’s worth the little discomfort.

      1. Melissa Anne Wenzel

        I don’t normally like profanity, and don’t approve of it in writing normally, but I thought it was appropriate. I’ve recently been to 2 vigils/ghost bike rides for those killed on Summit and Grand/7th Street. Anger + determination = action.

    2. Julie Kosbab

      Officially, ed policy doesn’t ban profanity. It’s a safe for work standard.

      I… may sometimes not be the best person to use such a standard, given the places I have worked and my professional field. Uh.

  6. scott

    This article should really be titled; “How to get in and out of downtown if you live on the western side of the city” or something along those lines. Perhaps someone should write a follow up for the east side, south (aka west) and north side.

    1. Julie Kosbab

      I can help with the East Side. Like everything else that includes that phrase, every route out of downtown up the Bluff is weird, an afterthought, or a death trap.

      1. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

        Biking from downtown to the East Side has some fantastic routes. Jackson->University->L’Orient->Phalen is trails the whole way. Same with Jackson->Warner->Mounds, 4th->Swede Hollow->Phalen is gorgeous if circuitous. 4th->Commercial->Mounds is steep but quiet. Most cities would celebrate having such great routes.

    2. Matt Decuir Post author

      Perhaps you should write that story! I had never even considered writing something for until the editor encouraged me to 🙂

  7. Pine SalicaPine Salica

    Personal recs: put your bike on the 21 or 53 to jackson, or green line to robert street station to jackson. Imo through the west there is no such thing as a safe bike route. Summit and Marshall both leave me exhausted from stress and near misses.
    Taking the long way is fine, but you’re not going through the west then… you’re done for if you wanted to make a stop anywhere along the way, those routes put you so far away from anything resembling a business district!

    1. Matt Decuir Post author

      I strongly agree with you that there’s no such thing as a safe bike route through the west (or anything remotely as comfortable as the greenway).

      Also, I love the idea of putting your bike on the 53 or 21, but the limited rack space on each bus (only 2 per bus!) make it really hard to get a spot during rush hour. I’ve done it a few times, and I almost always had to leave work way early to ensure I could get a spot 😕

  8. David A Marquette

    Lived in Lowertown for years until recently. Best route thru downtown was along the LRT Green Line 4th Street. I rose to Grand Av taking the ped 35E overpass behind the children’s hospital then grand avenue, not too steep, and wide enough on the hill to be comfortable.

    I agree with you the west bank river trail thru Mendota Hts is the best, then cross on the Mendota Bridge toward Ft. Snelling. Yes, the long path to the Greenway, but pleasant ride.

  9. Aaron Berger

    Thanks! I just started commuting between Longfellow and the capitol and I really didn’t know how I was going to do it at first. Marshall is pretty OK between the river and Lexington – other than the section near Cretin Ave it is fairly low traffic, and the bike lanes are usually wide enough. However, car drivers seem to have made a game of parking on the white line separating the parking area from the bike lane. The comments about Marshall being an unbikeable nightmarescape east of Lexington are 100% true. I found that cutting over to Selby at Griggs Ave, a few blocks west of Lexington, is the best way for me to get where I’m going. Selby does not have bike lanes but so far it doesn’t seem frightening to me to hold my place in the middle-right side of the lane. The advantage of Selby is that it isn’t plagued with stop signs and the pavement is very smooth.

    1. Matt Decuir Post author

      You should try Dayton instead of Selby sometime. There’s so little car traffic that it feels like an unofficial bike boulevard 🙂

  10. Melissa Anne Wenzel

    Yeah, the east side sucks but the in/out options aren’t bad. I do Bruce Vento via 4th Street frequently. Now that the Fish Hatchery Trail is finally open again (YAYAYAY!!!), I’ve been biking through the exterior area of the Union Depot to get from Shepherd Road to Lowertown (I work NE of downtown Saint Paul). That’s one of my favorite parts of my commute! I got to see that awesome train who’s name I’m forgetting last month. I got to see the Amtrak train pull in yesterday morning. And there are neat park-like areas on and around Union Depot that no one seems to know about yet.

    1. Julie Kosbab

      I’m a fan of Fish Hatchery. My major issue with a lot of the routes in and out of the East Side are the limiters on crossing highways, and that they get waterlogged.

  11. Michael DaighMichael Daigh

    I’m not the only cyclist who has noticed that every viable bike route in St. Paul goes around Highland Park.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      It’s hilly, but I’ve taken Montreal to Lexington to the Sneaky Trail (link above). The trick is getting to Montreal. On the weekend, I consider taking the lane on Ford Parkway up to Cleveland/St. Paul Ave, but might opt for the sidewalk up the hill instead.

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