The Lack of “Rethinking the Status Quo” on Summit Avenue

In May of 2016, I wrote about Rethinking the Status Quo on Summit Avenue. I made some quick back-of-the-napkin sketches based on rough Google Map widths (e.g. I assume street curb-to-curb is 30′, it is actually 28′). It was meant as an overall test around the city’s vision for the future of our premier bike route.

Predictably, I’m here to report that the city completely failed that test. In my piece, I put forward three layouts ranging from quickest and easiest fix (a painted buffer that won’t provide much improvement) to the biggest ask, short of rebuilding the street (parking-protected lanes).

This project was supposed to be completed in early summer 2019, but was delayed due to a staffing shortage (per unofficial public works source). One would hope that this delay would allow the city to make a push for doing better than the bare minimum. A street rarely gets touched outside of a Mill & Overlay, so Summit may not see another investment like this again in my lifetime.

I’m also very aware of advocates’ concerns that our very limited bike funding ($500k for the entire city) is being used on an already somewhat-decent and well-used route in affluent neighborhoods. The Villager is reporting that this project will cost $365,000, or nearly 75%, of the annual bike funding.

Anyway, here we are in 2020 with a plan to “improve” Summit Ave. The bridge over Ayd Mill Road will not have protected lanes and neither will the rest of the stretch. According to The Villager:

 “[t]he roadway currently has an 8-foot parking lane, 5-foot bike lane and 15-foot traffic lane in each direction. Plans call for retaining the parking lanes and widening the bike lanes to 6 feet. A 3-foot buffer will be painted to separate bicyclists from motorists, leaving 11-foot traffic lanes.”

Summit Current Layout. 8-foot parking lane, 5-foot bike lane and 15-foot traffic lane

Summit’s current layout showing 8-foot parking lane, 5-foot bike lane and 15-foot traffic lane.

Summit's Proposed Layout. 8-foot parking lane, 6-foot bike lane, 3 foot buffer and 11-foot traffic lane

Summit’s Proposed Layout. 8-foot parking lane, 6-foot bike lane, 3 foot buffer and 11-foot traffic lane.

This matches up with my post’s “easy and quick” fix. It doesn’t do much, except narrow the extremely wide 15′ car travel lane (which currently induces speeding). It also allows some buffer for people on bicycles from those speeding drivers – who often crowd the bike lane to keep their car away from the left-side curb.

Now, allow me to show you how these two scenarios (current and proposed) play out in the real world, taking into account car doors and weather:

Summit current layout showing impediments of 3 foot door zone and 5 foot plow zone

Summit’s current layout showing impediments of 3 foot door zone (red) and 5 foot plow zone (white).

Summit's current layout showing impediments of 3 foot door zone and 5 foot plow zone.

Summit’s proposed layout showing impediments of 3 foot door zone (red) and 5 foot plow zone (white).

As you can clearly see, in both cases the bike lane is rendered completely inaccessible by snow, and nearly inaccessible by the door zone. To illustrate what this looks like, here is my commute on Tuesday January 14th around 4:45PM. While this video highlights Summit Ave east of Lexington Ave, and this project is for west of Lexington, it is common for the entire length of Summit’s bike lanes to remain unplowed after any measurable snow.

I’ve been pushing the city to implement one-night-per-week parking limits to properly plow Summit to the curb, as they do on other main streets throughout the city. I have heard feed back that this is currently in the works. I believe the city is doing parking counts, and navigating the political waters, but it sounds like we will not see this much-needed solution this winter.

I also received some push back on Twitter as to my unease about 11′ car travel lanes. In the coming months, St Paul should be completing a city-wide speed study, in order to reduce city streets to 25 mph. Summit Ave should easily be a candidate for this speed reduction, and honestly it is mind-boggling that we currently have a 30 mph speed limit on a de facto parkway. City staff are saying the 11′ car travel lane is really a 10′ travel lane and a 1′ curb reaction zone. But for all intents and purposes, this will act like an 11′ lane on a 25 mph bike way with no bus or truck traffic. It is disappointing to see speed-inducing lane widths being implemented in 2020.

All that being said, this will be better than the status quo. Sadly, the status quo isn’t a very high bar to leap over. Below is a jaded, but very much justified, vision of what the winter of 2020-2021 will look like on Summit Ave after this “quick and easy” paint job is completed.

Summit Proposed layout with snow obstructing the parking lane and drive lane squeezing the cyclists out.

How I sadly imagine the proposed Summit layout will actually be in the winter months. Door zone shown in red.

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16 thoughts on “The Lack of “Rethinking the Status Quo” on Summit Avenue

  1. Scott

    I’ve often thought about a crazy and probably unrealistic idea for Summit, west of Lexington. Convert one of the one-way’s into a two-way road for cars, and make the other one-way into bike and multi-use paths. I’m sure there a a million reasons why this wouldn’t work, one of which being driveways. Question: Why do so many of the properties along Summit, west of Lexington, have driveway curb cuts? As far as I can see, they all have alley access. East of Lexington seems to be much more hit and miss as far as alley access goes. Kudos to Mpls for strict rules regarding parkway curb cuts.

  2. Christa MChrista Moseng

    It feels deeply like SPPW just makes up concepts to justify doing the thing they want to do. Curb reaction zone? Why do cars get a reaction zone for immobile concrete infrastructure, and bikes get no reaction zone for car doors?

    As always, the priorities reveal themselves in the infrastructure.

  3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Hello, bike infrastructure from 2005. Nice to see your not-exactly-timely arrival in St. Paul.

    And yeah, that’s how winter biking works on the (smaller) buffered parts of Park and Portland. Cars and snow take up the parking and bike lanes and you’re lucky if you have a cleared buffer you can ride in, hoping that cars will not crowd you too much. Most will at least move over in their lane, but there’s always a few that don’t.

    And yet that’s better than having no buffer…

      1. Mike SonnMike Sonn Post author

        I may not have been clear. This is not a mill & overlay. I’m not sure when Summit west of Victoria will be M&O’d next (it definitely needs it!). I was saying that non-M&O investment in bike infra is very rare so we should do better if we’re going to go out of our way to something like this.

        Sorry for any confusion.

  4. Paul Nelson

    Thank you Mike for writing this. I really think there should be no resistance from PW to do a test. West of Lexington, or wherever. If the buffer for a parking protected bike lane would be three feet wide, that should be perfectly OK for a Test. Let, try it and see how it works. I am almost inclined to purchase some orange cones from Menards and do a test myself. Of course I might get in some trouble doing that and I should not do it alone. 🙂 Thank you, again, Mike.

  5. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Great Article Mike. You nailed it for the reality of Summit in winter.

    My big thought from this is… Why is there a budget for bicycling? Do we really need a budget for bicycling?

    What if there was no separate budget for bicycling? Nor walking? What if there was just a budget for surface transport and every road was made safe for all people?

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

      It’s the big question in my mind: does a specific budget for bike infrastructure mean only that much? If so, uh-oh.

      It appears not, but then it’s just confusing.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        Yes, that is my understanding. It seems that occasionally something may get added outside of that budget but not often. Hannah, Bill or Rueben might be able to provide better info on this.

        What we are effectively saying is:

        We will invest whatever is necessary in roads to move people in cars around but will limit our investment in safety for people walking, bicycling, or who have a disability. Moving people around without delay is priority, safety and people’s lives is only important if there is budget left over.

        What should happen is that every time a road gets a mill & overlay or anything beyond that then it is made safe for ALL users. Safety is not a question of budget but a given. On most county & state roads that will mean a walkway on each side, a protected bikeway on each side and protected junctions. Some city streets may require this same level of protection though many can be made in to bicycle streets.

        That may mean that only 50 miles of roads can be done per year instead of 60 but that will be 50 miles of roads that are safer and more comfortable for all users, including drivers.


  6. Paul Nelson

    “City staff are saying the 11′ car travel lane is really a 10′ travel lane and a 1′ curb reaction zone.” – I do not think that explanation is accurately correct. It really sounds weird. The 11 foot travel lane is directly next to the 8 foot parking space; there is no curb there. Consider Marshall Avenue with the 11 foot car lanes next to a five foot wide bike lane and a seven foot parking lane. Where is the reaction space? I think we and the City should just plan and build protected bike lanes with paint and bollards the entire length of Summit west of Lexington. After a year or two if it does not work well, it will be easy to change. We can crunch some numbers a little. A seven and a half foot park lane, a 10.5 travel lane, a five or 5.5 foot wide bike lane and 3.5 or four foot buffer. We did that on Marshall and bent the standards a little. We can do that on Summit without bending the rules and standards as much as we did on Marshall. Let,s work on this.

  7. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    Thank you for writing this (and for your previous post). It’s good that the city is doing something here, but as with all safety & sustainability projects: we need to keep context in mind, and we need to push for better.

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