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?
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.
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
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!