It was sunny and not quite 60 degrees when I unfolded my camp chair at the northwest corner of Energy Park Drive and the U of M Transitway on the edge of Saint Paul to count people walking or bicycling on a Thursday afternoon in September.
I placed the chair right next to the beg button for the Transitway crossing and pushed the button for bikers as they approached the intersection, as if they were, for once, heavy enough to trigger the light change the way the buses do. Once it came on, the walk sign and green light stayed on for about 30 seconds. I noticed the amount of time it took for the light to turn could be as little as one or two seconds — the shortest interval I think I’ve ever seen. (It was almost too short sometimes, because I was trying to time it based on the bikers’ distance from the light.) At other times, if the light had just recently been green, it took longer to turn again. Over all, it was the most button-responsive light I’ve ever seen in Saint Paul.
Not surprisingly, Energy Park bikers —who were far less numerous (34 total) than Transitway bikers — were also way more likely to be on the sidewalk vs. the street. EPD is basically a car sewer, especially during rush hour, since it has no bike lane or path.
Almost all of the EPD bikers turned left onto the Transitway (heading toward Minneapolis). To make this left, they used several different strategies:
- Ride in the street to make a typical left turn from the left-most traffic lane of EPD (these bikers were taking the lane in the street)
- Ride (against traffic) on the sidewalk on the south side of EPD, then turn onto the Transitway’s roadway, so they didn’t have to cross the EPD intersection. I would say almost as many bikers used this strategy as the first method. I couldn’t see how they had gotten to the EPD sidewalk, however. They had come from the Raymond and EPD intersection somehow.
- Ride on EPD in the street or on the north sidewalk to reach the north sidewalk corner by the traffic light where I was sitting, then wait for the green light to cross in the crosswalk. This method was the least used. I saw one rider do this in reverse as well; he crossed the intersection on the Transitway, then turned onto the north-side EPD sidewalk.
Transitway bikers, on the other hand, were almost exclusively in the street, even though there is a very nice multi-use path with low pedestrian traffic on the Minneapolis-bound Transitway. Even the bikers who were less obviously “regular” commuters on the Transitway were riding in the street. In the count that day, only two Transitway bikers out of 157 used the MUP. This is because the Transitway is such a great place to ride a bike, as described by Dan Marshall back in March 2020.
The interactions of bikers and inter-campus bus drivers on the Transitway were almost completely unremarkable during my time of observation. The only notable conflict came at one point when I saw a slow and seemingly less-experienced biker go east up the hill toward the Saint Paul campus, riding in the street. A Lycra warrior came up behind her and started to pull out to pass, riding in the middle of the right lane, just as an inter-campus bus was also coming from behind in the same direction. The faster biker pulled over behind the slower one and the bus swept past in the middle of the road. But I wondered why the faster biker had pulled out in the first place — had he not heard the loud bus approaching sooner? Maybe he had headphones in his ears.
I did witness the bad behavior of a few motorized single-occupancy drivers on EPD who had to wait for the west-bound red light while bikers were crossing on the Transitway. One was in a white Cadillac Escalade with a small Trump flag and the other was a loud, full-sized pickup truck. The Escalade driver wanted to pull around the other cars that were stopped for the light, as if he could go right on red, although there was no right turn to make, only straight ahead. He stopped halfway onto the shoulder and waited for the light to change. The truck driver was even more impatient: he passed the stack of four or five cars ahead of him on the shoulder as the light started to change in order to beat them all into the four-lane part of EPD and Kasota that lies to the west.
One piece of good news on the motorized vehicle front: I saw no illegal use of the Transitway. There were only bikes, buses, a couple of police cars, two ambulances, and one U of M transit manager.
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