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.”
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:
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.