Saint Paul By Bike: I Didn’t Get Arrested!

April 5, 2020

12 miles

Macalester-Groveland, Merriam Park, Summit-University, Summit Hill

The 2020 Saint Paul By Bike riding season began today. The expedition was suitably unnatural first and foremost because the shroud of the coronavirus and COVID-19 hung everywhere. In the midst of Governor Walz’s stay at home order, streets were lightly traveled by vehicles, but busy with walkers and bike riders.

I intentionally biked on side streets as much as possible and still encountered more people than usual, but not enough to affect the ability of us all to properly “socially distance” ourselves.

The pile of twigs on the boulevard at Exeter Place and Dayton Avenue.
The pile of twigs on the boulevard at Exeter Place and Dayton Avenue.

A pile of twigs leaning against a tree stump on a boulevard prompted the first pause of the afternoon. I initially passed by thinking the twigs were part of the homeowner’s spring yard cleanup, but doubled back after catching a sliver of color.

A child’s fantasy world lived within the twig shelter.
A child’s fantasy world lived within the twig shelter.

A child, or children, created a world featuring a shelter, garden, pergola and decorations for dolls.

One doll soaks up the sun next to a cabin.
One doll soaks up the sun next to a cabin.
The tomatoes and squash aren’t up yet but the colorful mushrooms were going gangbusters!
The tomatoes and squash aren’t up yet but the colorful mushrooms were going gangbusters!
A couple of friends hang out near the pergola.
A couple of friends hang out near the pergola.

Back on the bike, I headed north (via residential streets) to where Cretin Avenue crosses over I-94. I paused on the bridge over 94 for a picture of the eerily empty freeway below.

Only three vehicles zoomed along westbound 94, while the eastbound lanes were empty because of a weekend closure for construction.
Only three vehicles zoomed along westbound 94, while the eastbound lanes were empty because of a weekend closure for construction.

My next stop was only a couple dozen feet south, where Cretin Avenue and the eastbound I-94 on-ramp meet. Traffic on Cretin was heavier than anywhere else on this ride.

Traffic northbound on Cretin Avenue. The photo was taken from the top of the closed on-ramp to I-94 east.
Traffic northbound on Cretin Avenue. The photo was taken from the top of the closed on-ramp to I-94 east.
Gazing east along the on-ramp, I-94 remained lightly traveled.
Gazing east along the on-ramp, I-94 remained lightly traveled.

Confession time: Besides enjoying a gorgeous early April day, the primary reason I jumped on the bike was to take advantage of the weekend closure of about three miles of east I-94 in Saint Paul. My half-arsed carefully formulated plan was to coast down the Cretin Avenue on-ramp and onto deserted eastbound I-94. I’d cruise along the interstate for about two miles, past the Snelling Avenue exit, through the heart of the Midway, and onward to Lexington Parkway, where I’d leave the below grade highway and return to city streets.

What could go wrong with my plan? I mean other than being spotted a police officer, state trooper, or a member of the construction crew? Just because the sign on the Cretin on-ramp and at nearly every one says it’s illegal for bikes to be on the interstate.

Clearly, I was not supposed to ride a bike on Interstate 94.
Clearly, I was not supposed to ride a bike on Interstate 94.

The potential for a fine or arrest was there, but to me it was worth the risk. Sue, my wife, didn’t agree and proclaimed in no uncertain terms that she would not bail me out should that be necessary.

After carefully checking in all directions for authority figures, and seeing none, I rode down the on-ramp and merged onto 94.

On Interstate 94. Just me. And my bike.
On Interstate 94. Just me. And my bike.

As soon as I got on east I-94 I stopped to take a picture. I wanted at least one shot documenting just in case I got picked up.

Less than a mile into my freeway ride I was dismayed to see a Saint Paul Police cruiser drive down the Snelling Avenue ramp and enter westbound 94. I watched as the black and white Ford Explorer decorated with standard Saint Paul Police graphics continued west until my view was blocked by a bridge. I couldn’t tell whether the officer saw me so I hastily decided to get off I-94 at the Snelling exit.

The right lane marker stripe heads east. Exit 238 is Snelling Avenue.
The right lane marker stripe heads east. Exit 238 is Snelling Avenue.

I hung out on the Snelling Avenue overpass looking for the police vehicle and snapping pictures.

Looking west from the Snelling Avenue bridge, I-94 was completely empty.
Looking west from the Snelling Avenue bridge, I-94 was completely empty.

After several minutes with nary a police siting on the surface streets or on 94 I felt confident that I hadn’t been spotted on the interstate, so I was ready to get back on.

Barrels and barricades prevent motor vehicles from entering 94 east from Concordia Avenue just east of Snelling Avenue.
Barrels and barricades prevented motor vehicles from entering 94 east from Concordia Avenue just east of Snelling Avenue.
Looking west at the Snelling Avenue ramp to 94 east. The Hamline Avenue overpass is at the top of the photo and Just below is the Pascal Street bridge. The distortion on the lower left of the photo is a heat mirage.
Looking west at the Snelling Avenue ramp to 94 east. The Hamline Avenue overpass is at the top of the photo and Just below is the Pascal Street bridge. The distortion on the lower left of the photo is a heat mirage.
The 300 millimeter lens used compressed the objects in this photo, making many appear much closer than they really were. The bridge near the bottom is Lexington Parkway. Dale Street, bracketed by the cranes, is the fourth bridge and the tall building near the top right of the picture is 3M headquarters in Maplewood, about seven miles to the east.
The 300 millimeter lens used compressed the objects in this photo, making many appear much closer than they really were. The bridge near the bottom is Lexington Parkway. Dale Street, bracketed by the cranes, is the fourth bridge and the tall building near the top right of the picture is 3M headquarters in Maplewood, about seven miles to the east.
The cue for me to exit the freeway once and for all.
The cue for me to exit the freeway once and for all.

After leaving I-94 at Lexington Parkway, I continued east on the frontage road – Concordia Avenue – to Dale Street to explore the bridge construction that closed the highway and made my illicit ride possible.

Workers arrange concrete barriers to allow bridge construction to continue safely when the freeway reopened to traffic. Although hard to see, the edge of bridge had been removed by as the first part of the replacement.
Workers arrange concrete barriers to allow bridge construction to continue safely when the freeway reopened to traffic. Although hard to see, the edge of bridge had been removed by as the first part of the replacement.
A crane, an excavator and other heavy equipment sit on Concordia Avenue ready to dig into the bridge replacement.
Two cranes reach for the sky!
Two cranes reach for the sky!
The temporary walkway on the east side of the Dale Street overpass.
The temporary walkway on the east side of the Dale Street overpass.

According to Ramsey County’s website, the new bridge should be open to traffic by the end of November 2020. However, the associated reconstruction of nearby sections of Dale Street will extend until the summer of 2021. Everything you’d want to know about the project can be found here.

The trip back home traversed city streets and only city streets, but was significant in that it captured three serious and timely issues.

First, in Summit-University, two memorials to young African-American men who were tragically shot to death within feet of each other in separate incidents. The first memorial honors Raytrell Benjamin who was murdered while sitting in a van on February 21, 2019. To this day no arrest has been made in the killing of Raytrell, who was also known as King RB.

The memorial for Raytrell Benjamin, also known as King RB, who was shot to death the evening of February 21, 2019, near this spot on Carroll Avenue between Grotto and Avon Streets.
The memorial for Raytrell Benjamin, also known as King RB, who was shot to death the evening of February 21, 2019, near this spot on Carroll Avenue between Grotto and Avon Streets.

The other memorial, to Wilbert E’lee Harris-McCalister, was on display just around the corner on Avon Street. Wilbert was 19 years old when he was shot while during a marijuana deal on September 7, 2018. He died a short time later on the street. Both of the people charged with Wilbert’s shooting are in prison.

The memorial to Wilbert E’lee Harris-McCalister, on Avon Street, a few steps south of Carroll Avenue. Wilbert was gunned down on September 7, 2018.
The memorial to Wilbert E’lee Harris-McCalister, on Avon Street, a few steps south of Carroll Avenue. Wilbert was gunned down on September 7, 2018.

The next issue, while not important compared to gun violence, was still discouraging. I’m talking about the poor condition of many of Saint Paul’s streets. Potholes of various sizes, shapes and depths are more plentiful than dandelions in May. To vehicle owners, the rough pavement on many roads can be a nuisance, but some could lead to tire replacement and damage to the suspension and steering.

This pothole at Avon and Carroll measured more than four feet wide and greater than six inches deep in spots, dangerous to cars, bikes and people.
This pothole at Avon and Carroll measured more than four feet wide and greater than six inches deep in spots, dangerous to cars, bikes and people.
This series of potholes likely wouldn’t cause problems for most cars but it would shake the fillings out of any biker’s mouth.
This series of potholes likely wouldn’t cause problems for most cars but it would shake the fillings out of any biker’s mouth.

For bike riders the stakes are greater. Plenty of streets are an obstacle course where one mistimed glance away from the road or an errant turn of the handlebars could lead to a broken bike and broken bones. No doubt the Department of Public Works staff is under great stress from social distancing restrictions, illness and work levels, but city leaders need to increase funding and staffing to improve the condition of our streets.

Finally, back to reactions to COVID-19. People were outside in every neighborhood, working and playing. From what I saw, wherever more than a single person gathered, folks kept at least six feet apart.

A woman raked her back yard along the 200 block of north Victoria Street.
A woman raked her back yard along the 200 block of north Victoria Street.
Two neighbors chat – from a distance – at 1043 Dayton, while a solitary jogger passes by across the street.
Two neighbors chat – from a distance – at 1043 Dayton, while a solitary jogger passes by across the street.
Bikers and walkers kept their distance at Laurel and Dunlap in the Summit-University neighborhood.
Bikers and walkers kept their distance at Laurel and Dunlap in the Summit-University neighborhood.
Relaxing on a hammock hung on the Summit Avenue boulevard.
Relaxing on a hammock hung on the Summit Avenue boulevard.

Then there were signs of encouragement in yards and on windows.

In front of 1050 Dayton Avenue.
In front of 1050 Dayton Avenue.
Also on Dayton.
Also on Dayton.
A first-rate effort by the folks at Keller Williams at 1460 Grand Avenue!
A first-rate effort by the folks at Keller Williams at 1460 Grand Avenue!

That concluded the first trip of 2020. Regular readers know I like to have at least one personal story with an interview for each ride but with social distancing that isn’t going to happen. When – or if – I have another blog ride this year remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here’s the map of today’s trip.

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8 Responses to Saint Paul By Bike: I Didn’t Get Arrested!

  1. Elizabeth Larey April 20, 2020 at 11:52 am #

    Thanks Wofie! How come the city isn’t filling the potholes now? Perfect time to do it. A header for sure if you were on a bike!

    • Pete Barrett April 20, 2020 at 5:35 pm #

      There are two huge contributing factors on why we have so many potholes, and ovid has nothing to do with either.

      One is that state local government aid (LGa) is insufficient. St. Paul is something like 360th in state aid per capita. (It might have improved slightly last year.) Some outstate cities get over 25% of their budget from the state. We are not getting our share.

      Further, there is a myth that it’s outstate tax receipts that flow to the metro. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s anoka, Ramsey, Hennipin, & Dakota counties that contribute the bulk of the revenues that make up the state treasury. Yellow Medicine County can not afford to pave it’s roads without state aid.

      The other issue is that the courts ruled unconstitutional the collection of street maintenance & lighting fees from non-profits, such as churches and large wealthy institutions like Macalester, Hamline, & United Hospital. Fourth Street Baptist Church doesn’t have two nickels to rub together, but some of these outfits have plenty. We proved street maintenance, snow plowing, & police & fire emergency services to these institutions.

      Last, we’ve spent hundreds of billions blowing up infrastructure & killing people on the other side of the globe while being told “we can’t afford” to fix our own infrastructure.

      People more wonkish than I can put dollar figures to these.

  2. Sheldon Gitis April 20, 2020 at 1:43 pm #

    Great pics Steve. Congrats on your successful trip down 94.

    Interesting that Ramsey County is spending a lot less time and money doing the Dale Street Bridge over 94 than what their spending on the Rice Street Bridge over 694. The looney roundabout mess, supposedly costing $23M, is now going into it’s 2nd year of construction. It’s supposedly supposed to be complete sometime before Christmas. At present, the good news is that they have STOP signs at the ends of 2 freeway ramps coming off of 694. The bad news it that when the looney disaster is finally completed, the 80 mph traffic pouring off the 8-lane Interstate onto Rice Street won’t have any stops signs. Once the project is completed, all the traffic feeding onto and off the Interstate at Rice Street will pass through a single roundabout. For those not familiar with the Roseville-Shoreview-Little Canada-Vadnais Heights area, imagine using a single roundabout to move all the traffic traveling between 494 and Minnetonka Boulevard. Absolutely nut-so.
    http://www.sehinc.com/sites/default/files/project/docs/694_vis_03.jpg

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke April 21, 2020 at 1:14 pm #

      I hate that 694 project. It claims to be about economic improvements…

  3. Pete Barrett April 20, 2020 at 5:44 pm #

    Hmm. Guerilla biking on the interstate.

    I’ve had a few similar experiences.

    The first was about 1987, when East Maryland ave was completely re-built. One Friday evening, I sat in the middle of it, just because I could do it without getting killed.

    Next, about 1988 when the I-94 curve was being straightened out under the 3rd Street Bridge. (People who are not East Siders sometimes erroneously refer to this as the Kellogg Bridge.) I think there was a temporary bridge that was erected, and the west bound portion was closed to vehicles, but open to me on foot.

    Finally, when I-35E was finally being completed between Shepard Rd. & downtown, one Sunday before it opened, I climbed down near United Hospital to just walk around.

  4. Dank April 21, 2020 at 8:47 am #

    If u get arrested on a bike you too slow

  5. Lou Miranda April 21, 2020 at 2:43 pm #

    I love the people-oriented nature of this post: the neighbors chatting, the kids’ fantasy land made out of sticks.

    What’s also notable is seeing I-94 from the perspective of a bike. And seeing what a massive use (waste?) of land it is from that perspective.

    Thanks.

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