Pennsylvania Avenue Revisited

With the news that the City of St. Paul will dedicate half of Ayd Mill Road as a dedicated bicycle / pedestrian path, it is time to revisit Pennsylvania Avenue, which is located just north of the Capitol campus and Regions Hospital. 

These two roads are similar in several ways

40mph Speed Sign 45mph speed limit sign

Speed Limit:

  • Ayd Mill speed limit is 45 mph
  • Pennsylvania speed limit is 40mph

Traffic Volumes:

  • Ayd Mill Road traffic ranges between 15-24K ADT. 
  • Pennsylvania traffic ranges between 14-15K ADT.

Traffic Lanes:

  • Ayd Mill typically has four 13’ lanes (plus a shoulder on the west side)
  • Pennsylvania typically has four 13’ lanes

Length:

  • Ayd Mill is about 1.5 miles
  • Pennsylvania is just under 1 mile

Limited Access:

  • Both roads have very little access, few intersections/ramps

Commercial Connections:

  • Ayd Mill connects with major commercial corridors, such as Grand and Selby
  • Pennsylvania connects with major commercial corridors, such as Rice Street and Payne Ave (as an extension of Phalen Blvd), as well as industrial/employment centers

Connections to distantly possible future bikeways:

Ayd Mill, Bike Plan

On the St. Paul Bicycle Plan Ayd Mill Road was planned as an off-street path that would connect in the distant future to a Greenway extension over the Mississippi River.

Pennsylvania, Bike Plan

Likewise, Pennsylvania Boulevard was planned as an off-street path that would connect with a non-existent road to Piece Butler.

There are a couple of differences

Bicycle Connections

  • Pennsylvania would provide key connectivity between existing bikeways on Phalen Blvd, Jackson Street, Park Street, and nearby Como Ave. It would also connect directly with the Gateway Trail.

Pennsylvania Bike Connections

  • Ayd Mill, on the other hand is close but doesn’t quite make it to Summit or Marshall. I hope it will connect directly with Jefferson

Ayd Mill Bike Connections

Different Jurisdictions:

  • Ayd Mill Road is a St. Paul “street”
  • Pennsylvania is a Ramsey County Highway (CSAH 33)

Where to put bikes on Pennsylvania?

In a previous streets.mn article I proposed taking one lane from either direction of Pennsylvania to create bikeways. The downside to this proposal is that in both directions there would be some hazardous stretches where cars are entering or exiting Pennsylvania onto Jackson Street.

Two alternatives present themselves:

  • Using the southern two lanes for bicycles and pedestrians just like Ayd Mill Road
  • Using only the southernmost car lane for bicycles

Using the south side of the roadway makes the most sense because it avoids the access points to the Railroad Museum and the Empire Drive business area. The only access points that are of concern would then be the Jackson Street ramps.

If we reduced car lanes to the northernmost lanes we could avoid the Jackson Street ramp conflicts altogether, and the existing ramps on the south side would be excellent and safe access points for bicyclists and pedestrians. What we would need to do is reshape the existing Jackson Street ramps on the north. The most functional way to do this would be to create a perpendicular intersection with an east-bound left turn lane on Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania and Jackson Intersection Before

Pennsylvania and Jackson Intersection Before

Pennsylvania Jackson Intersection After

Pennsylvania and Jackson Intersection After

The ramp would probably need to be widened a bit. The other ramp (marked with a red X) could be removed for efficiency or retained because we love having more pavement to maintain. Between the two ramps this design could be tweaked any number of ways, but it’s shown as one possible solution.

Where are the best bikeways being built?

It is in some ways an accident of geography and various historical factors that leads us to having wide, uninterrupted roadways next to railroad tracks or having abandoned railroad tracks ready to be repurposed. We can’t create these opportunities in just any neighborhood of the city. However, to continue the comparison between Ayd Mill Road and Pennsylvania Boulevard, let’s look at the parts of the city where these opportunities do exist.

ACP50s, Pennsylvania, AMR

This map shows the parts of St. Paul defined as ACP50s by the Metropolitan Council. In short, these areas have at least 40% of household incomes at or below 185% of the poverty level AND where 50% or more of the residents are people of color.
(Zoom in to the photo above or click the link for more details)

Clearly, Pennsylvania exists in an ACP50 area and AMR does not. The only point I’d like to make here is that if we as a city are willing to invest in and develop such a great bicycle / pedestrian path in a wealthier, whiter part of town, shouldn’t we capitalize on a similar opportunity in a part of town that looks different and has been historically underserved?

What do you think?

  • Do you think there are clear reasons why this is a good idea for AMR but not for Pennsylvania Ave?
  • Would it be better to take both south lanes for bikes/peds, only the southmost lane or instead one lane from the north and one from the south like the earlier proposal?
  • Where else in St. Paul should we be looking at this treatment?

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31 Responses to Pennsylvania Avenue Revisited

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 27, 2019 at 12:15 pm #

    That’s a critical link that everyone ignores. The current design is criminal and unneeded for any traffic purposes.

    If it connected the bike lanes through the 35E / Rice Street area, it would be a major link for the city. Thanks for bringing this up again.

  2. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn August 27, 2019 at 12:39 pm #

    Great points and this definitely deserves exploration and activism. Let me know how I can help.

  3. karen Nelson August 27, 2019 at 12:58 pm #

    Really like this, seems not that hard to do.

  4. karen Nelson August 27, 2019 at 1:00 pm #

    Also, 13′ wide lanes for Pennsylvania and AMR, wow – if not parking and no bike lanes right next to car lanes – then 13′ wide lanes plenty to do two opposite direction car lanes with median?

  5. karen Nelson August 27, 2019 at 1:03 pm #

    this makes a great bike path because very few driveways would intersect it – unlike say Capital City Bikeway.

  6. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker August 27, 2019 at 1:05 pm #

    Hell yes, absolutely.

  7. J August 27, 2019 at 1:29 pm #

    I’m totally in favor of this as well. Great connection and bike infrastructure in ACPs is great. Bikes pencil out so much better than cars for those who need to make a dollar go further and widespread bike adoption won’t happen without safe infrastructure.

  8. James Frese August 27, 2019 at 2:01 pm #

    That would be a fantastic connection to the Bruce Vento Trail and Phalen trail, and would go a long way toward connecting the East Side with the North End & westward. Biking between Rice & the Phalen Trail currently requires carefully navigating through multiple side streets, or risking death riding on Pennsylvania, itself (once was enough for me, thanks).

  9. len August 27, 2019 at 2:02 pm #

    I have give mayor Carter credit to improve AMR .The city keep building hwys and cut off neighborhoods
    Build parking ramps above AMR @Grand with retailers street level on Grand Ave and develop the parking lots along Grand and other major street esp Kowalski huge parking lot Maybe micro apts above AMR without parking for tenants .
    Pahlen Blvd ,Warner ,P Road all are build like a highway.

    • Brian August 28, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

      You say the city keeps building highways. When was the last time the city of St. Paul built a new highway? What is the next highway St. Paul plans to build since they keep building highways in your words?

      When was the last time an all new highway was built by any government agency in St. Paul? MNDOT is doing constant maintenance and upgrades on state highways in St Paul, but they haven’t built an all new highway in St. Paul for probably three decades.

      • Eric Saathoff
        Eric Saathoff August 28, 2019 at 3:27 pm #

        Phalen Boulevard is a county highway and it was opened in 2005. It is planned to connect directly with Pierce Butler to the west, which would require the construction of a new highway.

      • Eric Saathoff
        Eric Saathoff August 28, 2019 at 3:30 pm #

        Also, there is question of whether expanding highway lanes could be characterized as MnDOT doing “maintenance” vs constructing new highway miles.

        • Brian September 3, 2019 at 7:56 am #

          MNDOT is not the city of St. Paul. Many freeway lane additions in recent years have been MNPass and the entire freeway was rebuilt as part of the project.

          • Eric Saathoff
            Eric Saathoff September 4, 2019 at 9:12 am #

            I answered your question. There has been a new highway in recent years and there is another one planned inside the City of St. Paul. new MNPass lanes should have just converted old lanes rather than construct new ones. It is asinine to implement a project meant to lower the number of single-occupancy vehicles meanwhile increasing the capacity on the roadway.

            Frankly, I don’t know why you are arguing this point in the first place. Is it germane to the article?

            • Monte Castleman September 4, 2019 at 2:05 pm #

              MnPass lanes aren’t to punish people for wanting convenience and privacy but to add more capacity than would be possible than by adding general purpose lanes, and originally to make use of underutilized HOV lanes. From that point of view lane additions make sense.

              Plus I guarantee you that any lane conversions would be met with so much outcry that they would be reversed and any politician that advocated them would be voted out of office.

              • Eric Saathoff
                Eric Saathoff September 6, 2019 at 10:02 am #

                If MnPass and HOV lanes weren’t built to discourage single occupancy vehicle travel then they should have been. We need to have a goal to decrease overall VMT.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke September 4, 2019 at 11:14 am #

          Reminds me of Andy’s critique of the 35E expansion project: https://streets.mn/2014/05/12/the-i-35e-freeway-apocalypse/

  10. Daughter Number Three August 27, 2019 at 2:37 pm #

    Excellent ideas, and aside from the political fact that it’s a county road vs. city street, seems easier to implement from an engineering standpoint than AMR.

    Another area where a bike connection is missing and could be made along rail lines is between Pierce Butler and the U of M Transitway (near Capp Road, by Bang and Urban Growler). Also inthe Bike Plan. No reusable existing streets in this case, though.

  11. ianrbuck August 27, 2019 at 8:56 pm #

    Pennsylvania is part of my daily commute, and easily the most harrowing. I desperately want a bike connection like you describe here, and I have an idea on how we can push for it to happen sooner rather than later. Look for a full post about that soon!

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff August 27, 2019 at 9:34 pm #

      You are much braver than me. I’ve ridden it once or twice and was very, very uncomfortable.

      • Eric Saathoff
        Eric Saathoff August 27, 2019 at 9:40 pm #

        Is crossing Phalen at Atlantic #2? I really dislike that intersection.

        • ianrbuck August 28, 2019 at 8:46 am #

          It’s either that or taking a left turn from Thomas onto Marion. Crossing Phalen has the advantage that if traffic is especially bad, I can easily dismount and walk across, forcing motorists to stop for me.

        • Julie Kosbab August 28, 2019 at 12:37 pm #

          Most crossings involving Atlantic can be a bit dicey. (Used to live at the corner of one of the crossings of Atlantic.) People also seem to go way too fast on Atlantic even with stop signs.

          • Eric Saathoff
            Eric Saathoff August 28, 2019 at 1:31 pm #

            at least there’s a traffic circle at Atlantic and Margaret

            • ianrbuck August 29, 2019 at 8:49 pm #

              And some genius already managed to hit it and jump their car into somebody’s front yard.

        • isaac September 3, 2019 at 1:06 pm #

          I do that twice a day. I might skip it once the grand rounds are installed on Johnson.

  12. Pete Barrett August 29, 2019 at 9:03 pm #

    A couple years back I used Phelan Blvd. – Pennsylvania to bike to work in the area of Uni & Lex. It usually wasn’t too bad in the morning. The afternoon commute was dicier. or is that more dicey?

    But done properly, it would be a badly needed bike route between the East Side and the areas west of 35E.

    I’m not much of a civil engineer. My approach would be more along the lines of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. When Henry Kissinger met the Rev, Kissinger said “If you’re so smart, you figure out a way to end the (Vietnam) war.” The Rev replied, “My job is to say “Let justice flow like a mighty river.’ Your job is to put the plumbing in place.”

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff August 29, 2019 at 10:04 pm #

      Yeah, I’m not an engineer, either. If they can figure a better way to get it done let them do it. But I want to throw out at least one idea to say – “this seems obviously do-able to me.”

  13. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke September 4, 2019 at 11:18 am #

    Prediction: It will take a bold leader in Ward 6 to change this street.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff September 4, 2019 at 6:11 pm #

      but it’s not in Ward 6!
      100% Ward 1. Maybe Dai Thao could see it as any easy win with the bike community without significant push back from homeowners (there are no homeowners).

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