Why I Support the 9th and 10th Street Bikeways in Downtown St. Paul

The St. Paul City Council recently approved the 9th and 10th Street portions of the Capital City Bikeway (CCB), and those are expected to be installed this summer during the city’s Pavement & Sidewalk Improvement Project. Those opposed to this project have gotten coverage from various local media outlets (Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, WCCO, City Pages). The most vocal criticisms have come from businesses along 10th Street between Robert and Jackson streets. Business owners are concerned primarily about the loss of on-street parking. I frequent several of these businesses, so I was bummed to see their opposition (one was a frequent takeout spot for me during the stay-at-home order).

Parking in downtown St. Paul can be difficult in some spots, but downtown overall has a surplus of parking (and did even before the current pandemic). The surplus is tied to off-street parking lots and ramps, since some aren’t used much outside of regular weekdays before 5 p.m. and for events. On-street parking tends to be the cheapest and most convenient option for short-term trips, which is one reason why those businesses were concerned with the loss of on-street parking spaces. Given the overall surplus of parking, I believe we could create a compromise between cyclists and small-business owners in the area by encouraging more usage of the off-street parking lots and ramps.

Here’s a statement from the opposing business owners: Being in an active downtown also means making sure there are a variety of transportation options for residents and our customers. We support a robust transit system and have watched and supported the planning for future projects and transportation investment. The challenge is making sure all of this work is done in coordination to create the best plan and take fully into account how these projects will impact all stakeholders.

Though I differ with their stance, they have a right to be concerned. This project adds more uncertainty about their future, though the Rossmor building’s survey showed that most of their patrons parked on Robert or 9th Street. Robert Street isn’t losing parking due to the CCB, and 9th Street is not losing parking west of Jackson (where the Rossmor is located). The impacts from the Rush Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) are years away, and I question whether that project will actually get funded (that’s another story). While acknowledging their concerns, I still support the 9th and 10th street bikeways.

Biking Downtown Can Be Dangerous and Uncomfortable

I’ve biked in downtown St. Paul only a few times, mainly because it feels unsafe to do so on most streets. It’s awkward, and leaves many to bike on sidewalks (which technically is illegal) that are often narrow and laden with obstacles such as light poles, signs and benches. Bicyclists are supposed to stay on the street, which angers drivers and puts cyclists at risk of harassment (drivers have honked at me on Wabasha) and injury or death. When I did bike once to Kelly’s Depot (R.I.P.) for lunch from the Capitol area, I enjoyed biking on the Jackson Street bikeway.

Extending the CCB will be a good first step toward a proper west-east bikeway within downtown. The bikeway on 10th Street would make it easier to access Marshall and Summit avenues (despite the odd route through the History Center parking lot). The 9th Street bike lanes will make accessing Lafayette Park easier and safer from downtown.

Downtown Is More Than a Small Town

People often describe St. Paul as having a “small-town” feel, which I admire. I don’t mind that the city feels like a sleepy town and is less busy than Minneapolis, though St. Paul is not a small town (especially downtown). People claim that no one will walk two or three blocks to park, but people often do so without realizing it.

Even small towns have parking issues at times. When I have visited relatives in Hibbing, I have had to park a couple of blocks away from my destination when I’ve gone to downtown. The same goes for White Bear Lake. Even when I park in suburban shopping centers, I often walk a greater distance than I originally expected. At Rosedale and other shopping malls, it’s easy to walk the equivalent of a few downtown blocks or more round trip between your parked car and the stores you visit.

2020 05 15 ViewfromDTSTPBalcony

Many office workers might be teleworking for months even as the stay-at-home order expires (my job informed me to expect to telework for the rest of the year). Downtown has been rather quiet the past two months. | Imagery Source: Myself, May 15, 2020

A major difference is that you usually have to pay to park downtown. This is less of a problem now that customers are doing curbside pickup; those traveling by car aren’t occupying parking spaces for long, and likely aren’t paying to do so. The city may need to designate more parking spaces to make curbside pickup more convenient. Curbside pickup isn’t just for drivers, though. If it’s convenient enough to bike to their businesses, people may bike to pick up their food. Since I live downtown, I sometimes walk to pick up food.

For people who do dine-in/shop inside, most parking lots and ramps have discounted rates on nights and weekends (usually $4 to $5 at the surface parking lots) and are less time-restrictive than on-street parking meters (which usually have a two-hour limit until 10 p.m., except on Sundays). The area around 10th Street has multiple parking lots that will likely see reduced demand throughout the year, which might mean even cheaper rates. Many office workers will keep teleworking, and big events have been canceled for the next few months. A few years from now, we might see more parking ramps after the surface parking lots in this area get developed, but for the time being these lots could be available options for inexpensive parking.

2020-03-17_ViewFromDTSTPBalcony

The parking lots and ramps that I can see from my home’s balcony started to get emptier by mid-March, matching the general trends with reduced travel. I am curious about how they will look this summer. | Imagery Source: Myself, March 17, 2020

Public Rights of Way Downtown Cater to Vehicles

2009vs2019_Jackson10th_GoogleStreetView

Jackson Street and 10th Street intersection: 2013 (top image); 2019 (bottom image) | Imagery Sources: Google Street View

The streets within downtown St. Paul cater to cars, leaving narrow room for sidewalks and bike infrastructure. Jackson Street appears to be an exception, given that two lanes of car traffic per direction were  retained even with an off-street bikeway. Whenever we reallocate spaces for walking and biking throughout the city, it usually improves the appearance of the overall area. I prefer driving and walking on Jackson Street now than when it was an excessively wide roadway. Biking on it is very nice, though the specialized signal system for the CCB seems odd (I’d rather be able to rely on the pedestrian signal).

10th Street is fairly wide, but not as wide as Jackson Street, where it was easier to make compromises in the layout. Still, traffic engineers retained on-street parking spots on some blocks by making 10th Street a one-way layout between Cedar and Jackson streets. After years of extensive planning and outreach, I look forward to biking on safer downtown streets later this year.

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9 Responses to Why I Support the 9th and 10th Street Bikeways in Downtown St. Paul

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke May 22, 2020 at 10:46 am #

    Thanks for writing this, Al.

  2. GlowBoy May 22, 2020 at 12:02 pm #

    Thanks! Would the business owners rather we took out lanes on 7th? We need to have an east-west route downtown, and we don’t.

    • Al Davison
      Al Davison May 23, 2020 at 12:45 pm #

      Usually when any sort of thing is opposed, a common argument is that it could happen elsewhere (which is textbook NIMBYism). I think 10th and 9th St are really the only safe options for a northern loop of the CCB. Putting any bike lanes on 11th and 12th would be bad since they are basically collector-distributor lanes for 35E and 94, and any bike facilities on 7th St doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

      I get disappointed when there is a heavy focus on customers driving without much regard for others traveling differently, especially in an area more people would consider walking or biking there if it was safer to do so. There is often discord and a strong fixation towards parking impacts, but people walking or biking are often expected to just deal with various roadblocks (narrow sidewalks, drivers speeding, unsafe crossings, etc.). I think one positive thing to the CCB is it can help walkers and runners socially distance from others downtown (even though normally I’m not a fan of people walking or running on bikeways, since it can be unsafe when its on Summit’s bike lanes).

      Even for lunch, most Capitol workers don’t head downtown even though it’s a lot closer than people may think, but I think the freeways make it feel like it’s far away. The freeways isolate downtown from the surrounding neighborhoods, and we need to improve the crossings between those areas. I think more people would walk or bike between the two places. By the time you drive somewhere for lunch, you often could have just walked or biked in that same timeframe downtown for many scenarios. Unfortunately taking the train or bus downtown for short trips can be tricky if you don’t time the schedules right (missing a train or bus can be bad if you have a meeting right after lunch).

      • Al Davison
        Al Davison May 23, 2020 at 12:53 pm #

        I know a lot of businesses concerns were tied to the Rush Line BRT, but I don’t think that’s happening for years (the Gold Line had funding delays, so this likely will as well). Even if the Rush Line gets built, I think it would be fine if they just closed off parking in the right lane of Robert St for bus access just during rush hours.

  3. Andy Singer
    Andy@andysinger.com May 22, 2020 at 2:20 pm #

    Thanks for writing this!

  4. roy May 23, 2020 at 8:20 am #

    People just love to whine ,the parking in ST Paul is cheaper than bus fares .Parking is abuse with numerous handicapped stickers it seems like 30% of the people are handicapped especially near DMV office for 2 blocks and near Ordway/Rice Park .

    Living downtown the top photo is the view of my apartment what an unsightly view ,most of the parking garages are rarely full the two ramps top floors are empty for most of the day even when there are big events.

    • Al Davison
      Al Davison May 23, 2020 at 11:55 am #

      I think the parking ramps around this area get less utilized outside of weekdays before 5-6 pm due to their distance from Lowertown and the area near the Xcel and Ordway. I’m hoping in the next few years that the parking lots get redeveloped into residential mid-rise buildings so there’s more residents in downtown to reduce the overall need for parking.

      With respect to the businesses along 10th, a large portion of their clientele does reside outside of downtown (and drive there), though at least for the next couple years there will be multiple places to park cheaply within 1-2 blocks. In the long-term, they may need to partner with nearby ramps to possibly provide incentives to customers if those lots get redeveloped. Even if the Capital City Bikeway was never built, this likely would happen at some point in the future. Downtown is pretty quiet, so it needs more residential development to occur in order to have an active downtown that stays active even when the office workers commute home. This will lead towards the parking supply being more utilized, and that I think that would lead to a better downtown overall.

      The lot right across from my balcony is only $4 after 4 pm on weekdays and $3 for the entire day on weekends, which can be cheaper than parking on the street. I’ve seen it at capacity during a normal weekday (before the pandemic), but it seems pretty quiet once the office workers go home. For the past two months it’s been nearly empty, even as things started reopening this week. This might be a good opportunity for the businesses along Robert St and 9th St to add patio seating (parklets) along the on-street parking spaces since the customers who drive there can use the parking lots nearby. People can also order takeout through curbside pickup and then eat it at Pedro Park or the Capitol Mall (which is very spacious and parking is easy).

      Regarding the handicap parking placards, that reminds me of Bill’s article from 2014 regarding that: https://streets.mn/2014/07/22/the-one-where-i-pick-on-the-handicapped/

  5. Pete Barrett May 25, 2020 at 6:46 pm #

    Meh. I’d prefer either 7th, or 5th/6th. When I’m going east/west downtown, those are the streets I take. I doubt I’d go out of my way for 9th or 10th.

    Your mileage may vary.

  6. Katie Emory May 26, 2020 at 2:04 pm #

    Thanks for writing this article! Hopefully these bike lanes will encourage restaurant patrons to bike to their destinations. Having a bike basket is a great way to pick up take-out!

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