Pennsylvania Ave, St. Paul

Opportunities to Extend Bruce Vento Trail Westward

I’d like to talk about the most fun part of my morning commute: biking along Pennsylvania Ave between Rice St and Lafayette. And by fun I mean exhilarating. And by exhilarating I mean terrifying.

When I moved away from the East Side, I did so knowing that getting to work was going to be quite a bit trickier, but I didn’t anticipate just how few quality connections there were. As Noted East Side Bicyclist™ Eric Saathoff has written several times, once I get to the Bruce Vento Trail it’s pretty smooth sailing. But how should I get to it from Frogtown? Let’s consult Google Maps!

Screen Shot 2019 08 22 At 7.59.06 Pm

Screenshot of Google Maps directions, carefully cropped so I don’t doxx myself.

Okay, that works alright. But why do I have to detour so far north? Bruce Vento Trail goes all the way to Lafayette! Why can’t I just continue westward along Pennsylvania? How bad could it be?

Pennsylvania Ave from the east.

Pennsylvania as seen from the east. So, not great. Photo: author.

Now, you can see a sidewalk over there on the north side of Pennsylvania… but unfortunately it ends abruptly (and rather violently) at the Transportation Museum. There is also a nice trail on the south side of the street, but that too ends suddenly.

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This is peak St Paul. Photo: author.

So I have no choice but to bike on the street. It’s awful, but usually I’m commuting at non-peak hours, so I don’t have to deal with too many cars buzzing me.

40mph road without shoulder or sidewalk

Something tells me I don’t belong here. Photo: author.

So, what can we do about this? As Eric wrote recently (why is Eric always beating me to these articles?) Pennsylvania is marked on the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan as a future off-street bike trail, which will be fantastic! I bet that would take a long time to put together, since I haven’t heard any city staff talking about this corridor. I wonder if there is a way to get an interim solution in the meantime.

What’s in the works, Ramsey County?

Since this is a County Road, we have to ask our friends at Ramsey County Public Works what’s coming up for Pennsylvania. The most publicized project is the Rush Line BRT. One of the maps of the bus line’s future route intrigued me: it is set to have a dedicated guideway when traveling on Pennsylvania (except for the ramps to Jackson St.


The Rush Line’s proposed route along Pennsylvania Ave.

So that could be an interim solution; similar to the University Transitway, bicyclists could share a right-of-way with buses. Unfortunately, the Rush Line isn’t expected until the late 2020’s.

There are a couple of other county projects on roads near Pennsylvania that might affect it: Rice St might get a 4-3 road diet (depending on the community engagement process and what ends up happening with the old Sears location); and the Jackson St bridge over the train tracks will be worked on soon, which might involve redoing the ramps to Pennsylvania. But doing work on Pennsylvania itself is not a planned project right now, though the road is not in the best shape. I have been assured by county Public Works that when the project does come up, bike and pedestrian improvements will be part of the project (probably by reducing to two car lanes, since traffic counts are at 15k ADT).

So what’s our path forward?

Since there aren’t any existing projects in the next few years on Pennsylvania, the only way we could get this done soon is if we move it up their priority list. So as my friend Ethan is always encouraging me, “you should email your county commissioner about that!” I sure will be emailing mine, and I would be thrilled if you would do so as well.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"

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