Revising the St. Paul Bicycle Plan

The City of St Paul has begun the process of revising its Bicycle Plan! This document, first adopted in 2015, lays out the city’s goals and priorities for making our community a safer and more pleasant place to bike.

The most significant impact has been the map of the Planned Bicycle Network, which labels streets and trails that the city will prioritize as bike routes. From a transportation advocate’s perspective, this has effectively shifted the conversation from “the cycling community wants bike lanes on this street, now we have to fight like hell to get them implemented,” to “the bike plan says this street will get bike lanes; what exactly do we want that to look like on this street?” Of course, to stretch the city’s limited budget, most of these streets get their planned bike facilities installed only when the street is scheduled for other maintenance; so it’s a slow but steady rollout.

Since the Bicycle Plan is such an impactful document, any chance to have a say in revising it is an important opportunity for the cycling community. So, what will this revision process look like?

The rough schedule for public engagement during the revision process.

We are currently in the first phase of public outreach. The Department of Public Works has published an online survey about what would encourage you to bike more in St. Paul and where there are missing bike connections. That survey closes October 31. Public works staff also have been gathering survey responses in person at community events like Safe Summer Nights and the Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour. A virtual presentation happened September 15.

More opportunities to engage will be available. I will be publishing them on the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition (SPBC) newsletter, so I recommend you sign up to receive that.

The city’s priorities

The city has declared two major objectives for this revision process:

  • “Update the planned network to include more separated bike lanes and paths.” We now better understand the safety benefits of various types of bike infrastructure, and the city recognizes that we need fully separated bike facilities in more places.
  • “Identify where and how the City should prioritize resources to expand the bike network and get more people riding bikes.” Currently the city is prioritizing the Capital City Bikeway (CCB) downtown and the Grand Round, and city officials want to know where their next priorities should be.

SPBC’s priorities

The city’s priorities are good. I am glad we won’t have to fight to convince them that separated lanes are more effective than painted bike lanes. But since this document will shape the city’s priorities for the next decade, we can’t just settle for the priorities that the city currently has. The time to push the envelope is now.

Below I will discuss some of the thoughts and ideas I have heard from people who regularly attend SPBC events. I also want to hear from you about what will make bicycling in St. Paul more appealing! Whether that is specific routes you want added to the planned network or other barriers that keep you from saddling up, leave your thoughts in the comments section at the end of this article.

Separated bike lanes

Wheelock Parkway’s separated lanes are part of the revamped Grand Round.

Currently the bulk of St. Paul’s bike network — including Summit Avenue — consists of in-street painted bike lanes, which do not provide safety improvements for cyclists. Most of these streets should be updated to separated bike lanes. At the end of the Rethinking Summit Ave article, I presented a hypothetical rollout for separated bike lanes west of downtown: divide the area into quadrants, then 16ths, etc. to fill the city with separated bike lanes. This approach can be applied in other parts of the city as well. I am less familiar with the North End or West Side, and would love to hear ideas from folks who spend time in those parts of town!

The current bike plan has several corridors marked as “areas of study,” such as east 7th Street. We want to be sure those areas are included in this revision of the bike plan.

Bicycle boulevards

Bicycle boulevards are appropriate for all ages and abilities: low-traffic streets with traffic-calming treatments such as traffic circles and medians when crossing major roadways. Charles Avenue in Frogtown/Midway and Margaret Street on the East Side are the best examples of bicycle boulevards in St. Paul (though funding still needs to be secured to implement all of the traffic circles that were approved for Charles). Many more bicycle boulevards are included on the planned bike network, and I would like to see the city place a higher priority on implementing them.

I would also like the city to adopt diverters as one of its go-to traffic-calming elements for bicycle boulevards. These force drivers to turn in one direction, while allowing pedestrians and cyclists to travel through. To my knowledge, St Paul only recently has begun testing diverters; but an example we can look to is a small cluster of diverters in Minneapolis, just southwest of Lake Harriet. In all the times I have biked through that area, I have felt safe and experienced practically no through traffic.

Map of traffic diverters circled in red.

Updating route alignments

I see few places where infeasible planned routes will have to be removed from the bike plan and replaced with nearby alternatives. Here’s one example, however, that is on my radar:

The planned east-west bike route on Fuller and Shields avenues.

This east-west route squeezed between University Avenue and I-94 looks good on paper, but it likely will never be connected between Lexington and Snelling. It cuts through an upcoming apartment building, the new Midway Peace Park, and the malls containing Target, Cub and several other big stores. Instead, I would like to see University added to the bike plan as a separated bike lane, since it is the only street that travels uninterrupted from Minneapolis to the East Side of St. Paul. I have a grand vision for what University ideally would look like, but that will have to go in its own article!

Also, a number of existing bike routes are not available year-round, such as Positively 4th Street, which is flooded during the spring of most years. Those routes need to be reworked or moved to be consistently available.

Barrier crossings

One of the seldom-discussed maps in the bike plan is Figure 5: Planned Bicycle Network Barrier Crossings. It shows current and future places where bike routes cross rivers, freeways and railroads. This is a crucial piece of making our bike routes feel like a cohesive network, and it requires a lot of local knowledge to do well. Many locations that currently have desire paths across train tracks (e.g., Chatsworth north of Pierce Butler Route and Ayd Mill Trail to Hague) should be upgraded to official crossings. Can you think of any barriers in your area that need a bike crossing?

We are particularly interested in making the few river crossings between St. Paul and Minneapolis safe and enjoyable. Separated bike facilities on the Marshall/Lake and Ford Parkway bridges would have huge impacts.

Snow clearance

St. Paul and Ramsey County are getting more serious about winter maintenance of bike facilities, but this is still a barrier to many people considering bicycling a viable year-round transportation option. The bike plan currently has a few mentions of snow removal; it needs to be updated with strong policy language about the city prioritizing the clearance of bicycle facilities.

Detours

SPBC co-chair Andy Singer (left) and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter open the new Ayd Mill trail.

In order for the evolving bike network to be consistently available, we have to consider what happens when a bike facility has to be temporarily closed. Currently there is no cohesive policy regarding detours. Sometimes the city creates new facilities to usher cyclists around detours, such as the temporary separated bike lanes on Grand while the Summit Avenue bridge was being replaced; other times there is no detour to speak of, like when Como Avenue between Hamline and Raymond was under reconstruction. We need an explicit policy that anytime a bike facility needs to be closed, a detour of equal or greater safety will be provided.

Bike parking

The city has established guidance for bike parking and has some assistance programs for private businesses that want to install bike racks on public boulevards. Since the original bike plan was written, ebikes have taken off as a popular mobility solution, making cycling popular with a wider range of people. The city should update its guidance to encourage that outlets be installed next to bike racks for ebike charging.

It is also important to note that bike rack requirements for new developments are currently tied to the number of car parking spaces. Now that we have eliminated parking minimums in St. Paul, we should explore whether to establish bike rack requirements that are not tied to car parking spaces.

Preventing bike theft

As detailed in this video, cities can take measures to reduce bike theft and ensure that stolen bikes can be recovered and returned to their owners. Facets of this include a voluntary bike registry (likely partnering with an existing online registry), working with bike shops to register bikes automatically when they are sold, and setting up programs at businesses to have bike locks that customers or employees can borrow.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Although the St. Paul Bicycle Plan isn’t the end-all, be-all of city bicycle policy, it provides a framework to point to when advocating for specific bike programs. Let’s ensure it reflects our goals and priorities for the future of cycling in St. Paul!

About Ian R Buck

Co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, podcaster, and teacher. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation. "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"

Articles near this location

17 thoughts on “Revising the St. Paul Bicycle Plan

  1. Shari

    Thanks for writing this and posting this. I am a frustrated St. Paul bike rider, and it is hard to respond to this type of survey which is like “Here read this 100-page document. Got any thoughts?” Your summary and suggestions are helpful.

    1. Ian R Buck Post author

      Thankfully, this particular survey is general enough and doesn’t ask you to read the whole dang Bike Plan document first.

      Of course, I read it anyway. 😅

  2. Matt

    Thank you for the summarizing these ideas put forth by biking advocates in St. Paul, Ian. In the response to your request for “other barriers that keep you from saddling up”, I want to nominate “maintenance of existing cycling infrastructure” as another critical and unmet need for cycling in St. Paul.

    Though the current bicycle plan states the city will maintain the infrastructure, every St Paul cyclist I know has a mental map of areas to avoid if they don’t want to risk a crash or flat due to third world quality streets. Numerous examples of deficient trails and lanes spring to mind, but Mississippi River Blvd south of Randolph (especially the moonscape in front of the Sunny Hollow Montessori) or Summit Avenue in its entirety practically require a full suspension mountain bike. When planning a nice long ride for pleasure, my initial step is almost always to ask, “what’s the shortest way out of St Paul”? Why can’t I can enjoy a nice pleasurable ride on Summit?

    If forced to choose, I’d have the city devote resources to truly maintaining existing bike infrastructure than adding additional infrastructure. To stick with the Summit example, new separated bike lanes Ian previously suggested would be wonderful, but if public works resources are limited can’t we at least get a properly paved Summit bike lane instead? Surely removing the need to swerve into the automobile lane to avoid potholes and cracks counts as a cycling safety measure too?

    I guess the city should be commended for not playing favorites, since automobile drivers are just as tortured as cyclists when trying to get around St Paul. Perhaps demanding the city start properly maintaining transportation infrastructure is an area where motorists and cyclists can find common cause at last?

    1. Stef

      I second these comments. While I feel lucky to live in a place with so many trails, maintenance is sadly lacking in many places. I would add that the bike lane on Mississippi River Blvd also north of Randolph has many fissures and ruts. Also, the area of MRB that runs under the Ford Parkway Bridge is not family friendly with how the bike path ends in a narrow sidewalk with a high curb, as I recall. I haven’t taken my kids that way again. Finally, I have to admit that I was mystified when the hilly portion of the bike path just south of Shadow Falls was repaved last month and not others when it didn’t appear to be in disrepair but…thank you??

      1. Chani Elkin

        I’m too short to really have a driver’s license (I do have a permit) and my uncle recently gifted me with a new bike so I’m looking forward to this. (I’ll probably go for a motorcycle/moped for longer distances – like Kino’s Journey or SuperCub animes).

        I had my high school graduation trip in Denver, Colorado and one of the things was us biking around the city, so large amounts of bike trails can be integrated well into a city landscape. It will be interesting to see how well they can do that here.

        Construction schedules and timing are pretty weak points for the Twin Cities so trying to do it with maintenance/construction may actually work against them. My family has a joke that if you see marked off streets (disregarding COVID-19 b/c that gives leniency) – but usually, it means it should have been finished last fall, they actually started this late summer and hopefully it will be finished by January or by the end of next spring.

        But yes – I hope it goes well.

  3. Lorianna Singh

    Hi! I’m new to the area and have been biking as much as I can, in part to be less dependent on my car, but also because I really enjoy it as a way to explore the area. I moved to St. Paul from a part of the country that is wonderfully bike-friendly. Part of what made it so were separated bike lanes, which I found extremely helpful, especially when we rode with our children. Secondly, there was a great and expansive tree canopy over most streets. I found this not only encouraged us to want to ride more, but also made the experience more pleasurable – providing shade for visibly and lowering the temperature in the summer months. While it may not seem like the most vital aspect to focus on, it really makes a difference for riders. I find the overall quality of environment one bikes in greatly influences how often they’re willing to use their bikes. It’s all connected. I bring this up because many Twin Cities residents have noticed the removal of trees in recent years!

  4. Peter

    I am also a frustrated rider. I believe one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is the lack of protected lanes. People constantly drive dangerously fast down our roads making it challenging and dangerous. I recently attempted biking down Selby Ave. and I won’t be doing that again!

  5. Trademark

    I love this whole article. The only disagreement I have is university avenue and protected bike lanes there throughout the whole facility. I don’t think that is feasible and I think the smarter play is to push traffic circles and traffic diversions on Charles and west of Aldine include the protected lane on University. But I’d be interested in seeing your article about your rethinking university!

    Also regarding the traffic diverters on lake Harriet. While I think they make sense for bike blvds. Too many of these leads to the breakdown of the grid and increase of traffic on arterial streets. But on streets like 40th street or 17th avenue in Minneapolis. I would love to see those every 4 blocks. Just not on random streets and random blocks.

    Otherwise good article. I’m all for more protected lanes.

    1. Ian R Buck Post author

      Yes, diverters make the most sense on bike boulevards, not just placed randomly. That said, breaking down the grid for motorists is a feature, not a bug; making driving less convenient while simultaneously making walking, biking, and transit more desirable is how we shift mode shares in the right direction.

      1. Trademark

        Breaking down the grid makes arterials more dangerous as they become choke points. Unless the plan is to just focus on bike blvds and leave arterials to the cars. Then breaking down the grid isn’t what you want if you want safer biking

        1. Ian R Buck Post author

          The plan is to decrease the overall volume of car traffic by making driving into an unappealing option. Perhaps we shouldn’t have arterial streets at all; no convenient, continuous routes for drivers. But allow transit, bikes, and pedestrians to travel unimpeded.

  6. Steve Yetter

    The photo of Melvin Carter erroneously states that he is pictured with Russ Stark when in fact he is with the incomparable Andy Singer.

Comments are closed.