An image from my rear bike camera showing how a bike lane has narrowed

Safety and the Power of Public Works

Sometimes I bike commute to work. It’s a 10 mile ride. Part of it on the greenway, which is like a dream (when it is open).

But the bulk of my ride is on the streets of St. Paul. I’m not really up for that five days a week; I just don’t need my safety threatened that often. (I ride with cameras now because of other safety compromises that the City of St. Paul has made.)

On my ride this year, I have been experiencing a golden example of how St. Paul’s Public Works department has the power to create or destroy my feeling of safety on the city’s streets all on their own. It’s right there for everyone to see. And every time I see it, it frustrates me again.

So here’s a video of the segment of the trip I’m talking about:

This is Mississippi River Boulevard just south of Marshall, as it curves east to eventually meet with Cretin.

As the video plays, you can see that the bike lane has been repainted, and you can see the old paint lines. Let me highlight for you what happened this year.

River Road Curve 1

see the old paint peek out?

As this car approaches, I am heading into the curve. The curve is fairly narrow, and the car has to be going well below the speed limit to make a safe turn with me there. In the above image you can start to see where the new coat of paint has ceded more of the road to the automobile and less to me.

Keep watching that line.

River Road Curve 2


The car is just out of the frame of this next still, but look how much narrower my lane has gotten! The paint has shoved me well into the gutter, when in previous years that wasn’t necessary. Here, let me make it really clear:

River Road Curve 3

don’t need to be a calculus expert to understand this math

Where did my share of the road surface go!? The distance from the old paint line to the new paint line is exactly how much more unsafe this curve makes me feel when I ride on it. That car wants to crawl up my butt, and St. Paul Public Works seems to be giving them the green light with this paint job. The wider lane for drivers encourages them to take the curve at a higher speed, exactly as I am crammed into a crumbling, uneven seam between the asphalt and curb. Also, notice: this driver is able to safely take the curve outside of the OLD paint line.

Now I know, this was almost certainly not a deliberate or malicious choice on the part of whoever painted the road this year. But it is negligent, and from this road user’s perspective, inexcusable. They had the old line staring them in the face to work off of! It’s very tangible reminder of a culture that doesn’t adequately consider the safety and comfort of cyclists, even when maintaining the facilities specifically intended for their use. And based on my experience on many other streets in St. Paul, this is demonstrated over and over again in ways large and small.

I didn’t get flattened by the driver that day, but they were uncomfortably close, as I was uncomfortably close to being pinned into the gutter and falling into the car’s path. My safety was diminished for no apparent reason besides—if I’m being charitable—sloppiness. That driver took the curve at a responsible speed and distance. The next one might not.

My point is that the people that go out to maintain the roads every year aren’t just guided by policy that the City Council votes on; they are delegated substantial independent responsibility to make decisions and choices that don’t rise to the level of getting addressed by elected officials. They have the power to make all sorts of places in the city more or less safe for sustainable transportation with their implementation decisions. And at least in this one place, this year, my commute is less safe because of one of those decisions.

Christa M

About Christa M

Attorney. I do law stuff, ride bikes, and paint murals. Member of Hourcar & Nice Ride, and customer of Freewheel Bike and The Hub Bike Co-op.

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