On June 6, the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department presented some rough ideas to the public for a Summit Avenue Master Plan. It wasn’t the best presentation and some aspects of the various proposals were vague or unclear, but the core ideas that were presented deserve our attention and support.
Summit Avenue is one of St. Paul’s oldest bikeways. Based on bike count data, Summit is also the second most popular place for people to bike in St. Paul, averaging around 1,100 cyclists per day. It provides the best east-west bike route in the city, running directly from the Mississippi River to John Ireland Boulevard, the State Capitol and downtown.
As good and popular as the Summit bike lanes are, however, they have some deficiencies. In winter, parking cars drive back and forth across the bike lanes, compacting even small amounts of snow into ice sheets. These can grow into small berms that are difficult to ride on, even with studded tires. Also, snow melts and refreezes in curb gutters, forming larger ice berms. As these build up and combine with plowed snow, they can cause cars to park farther into the bike lanes. This is particularly true east of Lexington Parkway, where the whole street narrows and the bike lanes go from being 9 feet wide to just 5 feet. In these narrower areas, cyclists have to swerve into the motor vehicle lanes to avoid ice or parked cars.
For at least two decades, cyclists have wanted a few east-west routes and at least one north-south route that are maintained throughout the winter. Back in 2010, the city tried a “snow-plowing pilot project” on Marshall Avenue but was unable to keep the on-street bike lanes free of ice and snow or keep the parked cars out of them. The only places where the city has been successful at maintaining bikeways in winter are off-street paths like Mississippi River Boulevard, Como Avenue, Wheelock Parkway, Johnson Parkway and the Ayd Mill Trail.
Even in warmer months, the narrowness of the Summit bikeway east of Lexington is uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. At just 5 feet wide, the bikeway forces cyclists to ride in the door-zone of parked cars on one side. On the other side, large volumes of motor vehicle traffic often speed past with less than 3 feet of distance between cars and bikes. If a cyclist makes a wrong move they can end up dead or badly injured. This is a big deterrent for younger or less confident riders. In addition to the deaths of Virginia Heuer and Alan Grahn, many other Summit cyclists have been hit by cars.
Here’s a sampling of crashes from local newspapers:
“Sunday, 5:56pm, a female bicyclist was taken to the hospital with minor injuries after being struck by a vehicle on the 400 block of Summit Avenue.”(Highland Villager, October 27, 2021, page 16)
“A 31-year-old man was cited for careless driving after striking a bicyclist at 7:36 a.m. Monday, August 22, on Kent Street and Summit Avenue. The bicyclist was taken to the hospital.”(Highland Villager, September 14, 2016, page 20)
“A St. Paul woman has been charged with felony criminal vehicular operation after police said she veered into a bike lane on Summit Avenue and hit a bicyclist from behind. …The 52-year-old male victim was not identified. A criminal complaint said he spent a week at Regions Hospital and suffered substantial bodily harm. … Witnesses told police that Johnson was driving her GMC Yukon west on Summit Avenue near Dale Street when she drifted into the right bicycle lane. She hit the man on the bicycle, and threw him into the middle of the intersection.”(Pioneer Press, October 29, 2014)
Lastly, many pedestrians also get hit by cars on Summit, particularly east of Lexington, where current street-crossing distances are over 48 feet and traffic volumes are higher. Here are more random examples from local media:
“Tuesday, March 14, 6:23pm, a pedestrian was injured after being struck by a vehicle on Lexington Parkway and Summit Avenue.”(Highland Villager, March 29, 2017)
“A 78-year-old woman was cited for failing to yield after hitting a pedestrian in the crosswalk at 4:44 p.m. Friday, September 20, on Chatsworth Street and Summit Avenue.”(Highland Villager, October 26, 2016, page 19)
“A pedestrian was struck while crossing a street in St. Paul’s Summit Hill neighborhood late Wednesday afternoon. The 72-year-old St. Paul woman, who was not immediately identified, was taken to Regions Hospital, where police said she was in critical condition with multiple broken bones. …Witnesses told police the woman, who was walking her dog, was crossing Summit Avenue near Chatsworth Street about 5:15 p.m. when she was hit by a westbound vehicle”(Pioneer Press, November 3, 2015)
Slowing traffic on Summit Avenue and reducing crossing distances could greatly reduce the frequency, number and severity of pedestrian crashes. For all the above reasons, bike and pedestrian advocates have urged the city to improve the Summit Avenue bike lanes and pedestrian crossings.
Next year, a section of Summit Avenue from Lexington to Victoria Street is scheduled for reconstruction. The street is over a hundred years old and is falling apart. So this is a full reconstruction that will replace sewer and water lines, construct a new roadbed, and repair or replace sidewalks. This seemed like the perfect time to revisit the Summit Avenue bike lanes and consider converting them to off-street, parking-protected bike paths that would be maintainable in winter and would shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.
The core idea is simple. The parking lanes and bike lanes would be swapped, with bike lanes placed near the trees on the outside of the street, and the parking lanes (and the curbs) moved inward, next to the road. The goal would be to work within the existing road width so as not to impact any trees and avoid adding any extra asphalt to the corridor.
West of Lexington
West of Lexington, the motor vehicle driving lanes are 11.5 feet wide. The parking lanes (where they exist) are 8 feet wide. And the bike lanes are 6 feet wide with a 3-foot painted buffer for a total of 9 feet in width (see diagram below).
The most viable proposal is to move the bike lanes to the outside, on a curb-protected path, with a small grass buffer for snow storage.
The curbed area of the road would be narrowed and the bike paths would be just 8 feet on each side, instead of their current 9 feet. So the entire corridor would lose 2 feet of asphalt. Even with a 4-foot grass snow-storage buffer, paved surfaces would be just 1.25 feet closer to the trees, plenty of distance away to avoid any impact. So this proposal would result in no tree loss, no parking loss and a sizable gain in unpaved green space: 2.6 miles multiplied times 2 square feet or 27,456 square feet of asphalt would be removed from the avenue.
Right turn lanes and existing parking bans near intersections would ensure that cyclists are visible to drivers, and there would be “Tabled” or “Raised Crosswalks” at all unsignalized intersections. These raised, marked crosswalks make the bike path smooth, avoiding dips and rises at every intersection, something that also benefits walkers and wheelchair users. Additionally, raised crosswalks mean that drivers crossing the bike path have to drive over a slight, marked hump, slowing them down and further alerting them to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians.
St. Paul has used raised crosswalks to good effect on multi-use pathways on Como Avenue, Wheelock Parkway and Johnson Parkway. Being raised up, tabled crosswalks also keep snow and ice from forming in crosswalk gutters and benefit both cyclists and pedestrians in winter. Because of these benefits, parking-protected, off-street bike paths with tabled crosswalks are used in cities throughout the United States, including cities with huge motor vehicle traffic volumes like New York.
East of Lexington
Summit Avenue narrows east of Lexington Parkway. The driving lanes are a half-foot narrower and the bike lanes are only 5 feet wide with no buffer (see diagram below).
Two options could work within the existing width of the roadway and avoid impacting trees.
The first option is to merge the two 5-foot bike lanes into a single 2-way, 10-foot, off-street bike path and place it outside one of the parking lanes, narrowing the curbs and adding a small snow-storage buffer between the parked cars and the new path.
This option would have the exact same amount of paved surface as exists now and would move paved surfaces just 1.5 or 2 feet closer to trees (depending on the width of the grass buffer). It would not destroy trees or eliminate any parking. It would require some kind of intersection transition at Lexington Parkway to get cyclists from one of the one-way paths across Summit to the two-way path. There are simple solutions and more elaborate ones, like a “barnes dance,” but it would require some research and engineering.
The second option would be to take away a lane of parking east of Lexington. The 8-feet of the removed parking lane would be divided between the two 5-foot bike lanes to make 9 feet of bike space on each side, similar to what currently exists west of Lexington. Those 9-foot spaces would then be moved outside the parked cars, on curb-separated paths with a small snow-storage buffer, nearly identical to the paths west of Lexington.
It would narrow pedestrian crossing distances on Summit from the current 48 feet to just 30 feet. Even with 8-foot bike paths and 3-foot grass buffers, this configuration would, like the paths west of Lexington, remove 2 feet of asphalt from the entire corridor. It would move the paved surfaces (the paths) about 2 feet closer to the trees. For 95 percent of the corridor this would have no impact on trees. For the few trees that are closer to the street, the path or its buffer could be narrowed to give them the exact same amount of space they currently have.
To avoid completely removing parking from one side of Summit, the Parks Department proposed having the driving lanes “chicane” or gently curve from side to side, allowing some parking on both sides of every block. The city currently does this on parts of University Avenue, Western Avenue (between Marshall and I-94) and several other streets. It allows parking on both sides of the street and tends to slow drivers down, another safety goal for Summit Avenue. (See the street diagram below, depicting chicaned driving lanes, from the Parks Department presentation on June 6.)
Removing some parking east of Lexington is a sacrifice, but the city conducted a parking study and found that, with the exception of the area around Dale Street, parking on Summit is very under-utilized. So plenty of parking capacity exists.
Here is a page from the parking study that the Parks Department presented on June 6:
Debunking Some Myths
Some members of the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association (SARPA) have organized opposition to any of the aforementioned proposals. They’ve created a petition, website, lawn signs and a paranoid group called “Save Summit Avenue.”
They claim hundreds of trees will be destroyed by changing the bike lanes to off-street paths. As I’ve demonstrated, however, this is bogus. No trees need be harmed, anywhere. City replacement of aging water or sewer lines might impact trees, but converting the bike lanes to off-street paths will not.
SARPA claims that under the bikeway proposals, Summit will lose “considerable parking (50 percent or more).” But, as I have demonstrated, this is also untrue. No parking would be lost west of Lexington. East of Lexington, at most, half the parking would be lost (if the One-Way Bike Paths option is chosen). This would result in a maximum total avenue parking loss of just 25 percent. If a two-way bike path is chosen, no parking would be lost at all.
SARPA claims off-street paths will be dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. But the city has numerous off-street paths: on Mississippi River Boulevard, Como Avenue, Wheelock Parkway, Johnson Parkway, Cherokee Avenue, and around Lake Como and Lake Phalen. They are among the safest, most popular places to walk and bike in the entire city. Bicycle and pedestrian count and crash data prove this, as do national and international data.
Some people, including SARPA members, repeatedly argue that an off-street bike path will cost too much and “we should be spending the money elsewhere.” But the street is getting reconstructed no matter what happens, down to its sewers, curbs and roadbed. The cost to put bike lanes back in a different position as part of that reconstruction is little or nothing. The only real cost is the planning process itself.
Finally, SARPA claims that off-street bike paths will “destroy the historical character of Summit Avenue.” But this is also bogus. Summit Avenue has undergone many changes in its history. It was originally just a dirt road.
- In 1880, the League of American Wheelmen, a bicycling organization, started the “Good Roads” movement. Sixteen years later they persuaded the City Council to approve a protected bike path down the middle of Summit from Lexington Avenue to the Mississippi River, splitting the cost with the city. It opened on June 13, 1896 to much fanfare. In April 1897, over 4,000 cyclists used the new path in a single day.
- As with much of the United States, automobiles eventually overwhelmed Summit Avenue, and by the 1960s some portions of it had four lanes of traffic.
- When the current on-street, striped bike lanes were proposed in the early 1990s, many of the same bogus arguments were leveled against them that SARPA is using now: “They’ll be dangerous”; “They’ll destroy the historical character of the avenue”; “They’ll cost too much.”
The current proposals do not widen the street or increase the amount of asphalt. They merely switch the position of the driving, parking and bike lanes. On-street parking is not part of Summit Avenue’s “historical character.” Cars themselves are not “historically accurate” to Summit Avenue. When the avenue was built, people got around by horse and carriage. So it is a selective reading of history to assert that off-street bike paths would destroy the historical character of the street.
The Best Option
Of the options presented by the city, I favor one-way, off-street bike paths on each side of the street for the entire length of the avenue. I have two reasons for this: Safety and ease of implementation.
Single-direction protected bikeways have a somewhat better safety record than two-way bike paths in situations with a lot of cross streets. This is because bikes are traveling in the same direction as car traffic. Drivers entering or crossing a street reflexively look for oncoming traffic and are, therefore, more apt to see bikes. On a two-way bike path, bikes traveling in the opposite direction of traffic may go unnoticed. Mitigation is possible with raised crosswalks, bike lane markings, no-right-on-red signage and special signals. But absent these, one-way bike paths are much safer.
This leads to ease of implementation. While the safety deficiencies of two-way paths can be adequately mitigated, this assumes that the city would construct any bike paths all at once. In reality, they would probably construct paths in stages as funding becomes available, much as they’ve done with Wheelock Parkway and other streets.
In this manner, it could take five to 10 years to do the entire length of Summit. If the upcoming stretch from Lexington to Victoria was done as a two-way bike path, it would present difficulties transitioning to and from the current one-way, on-street bike lanes at each end. The city could put in an “interim” two-way path treatment east of Victoria, like we see downtown on 9th and 10th streets or on Pelham Avenue, but it would lack the raised crosswalks and other mitigation measures that enable two-way bike paths to be as safe as one-way bike paths — and it could languish in this interim state for years until street reconstruction funds were secured.
By contrast, one-way off-street paths would fit nicely with the one-way on-street bike lanes that are on Summit now. Transitioning between the two would be easy, and the city could do a section at a time without any major disruptions to bike traffic (or car traffic). It also fits with more recent one-way, on-street bike lanes in front of the Cathedral or the one-way bike lanes on the new Summit Avenue Bridge or over Ayd Mill Road.
As I have stated, west of Lexington for 2.6 miles, one-way bike paths wouldn’t require any parking removal. East of Lexington, one-way paths would require removing half the on-street parking. But it would narrow crossing distances and increase safety for pedestrians and would be safer for cyclists. Plus, in the few places were parking is fully used (like near Dale), parking loss could be mitigated for residents by implementing some permit or timed parking areas on Summit itself or on side streets. Overall, the one-way, protected bike path option east of Lexington is a bigger political lift, but I think it’s worth it for safety.
SARPA and its “Save Summit Avenue” campaign have already generated several hundred emails to City Council members. If you favor any of the off-street bike path proposals, write to your City Council members and let them know. Otherwise a big opportunity will be lost.
If you’ve never experienced a protected off-street bikeway, here’s a short video of one on St. Paul’s Wheelock Parkway, with raised crosswalks and other amenities.
Thanks to Andy Singer for laying out the argument in such a clear and concise manner. Rebecca Noecker is my Council Member. I will be attaching a copy of this column with my email to her.
Thanks for the great explanation! I saw the SARPA signs out and knew I’d find the answer here. Just wrote to Council to support the off-street bike path proposals.
Just a few observations on this article:
• 1,100 AVERAGE bikers per day – 1.22 per min – not observable, even on a good, high use day
• Winter usage – Do people support a major change to historic Summit Avenue for a small number of winter bike riders?
• Diagrams in article do not match the diagrams from the City’s project website
• He favors 1-way trails. City’s latest designs only propose 2-way trails for two of the three segments (2.5 of 4.5 mi) of Summit
• Two-way trails are less safe (even he admits this) especially when there are a lot of conflict points as there are on Summit Avenue
Why disparage and question incorrectly factual data. One of the very important reason we need to make the bicycle a more viable mode of transport for everyone, is because we have a winter climate.
Gary, it’s an average of 45 bikes per hour. In non-snow months, it can be well over double that. In snow months, a quarter of that. I used the city’s count data from Summit Ave at Fairview, from 2015 (which had a longer, multi-year comparison) and 2019, the last year data was available. You can see the data for yourself at– https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/public-works/transportation-and-transit/bike-saint-paul/pedestrian-and-bicycle-traffic (I provided links in the article). Having counted at that spot once and seen 232 bikes in 2 hours (I still have my count sheet), I think it’s an accurate estimate.
Regarding winter usage, I guess the difference of opinion is whether it’s a “major historic change”. You think it is. I think it’s not. It’s just rearranging the parking and bike lanes so cars aren’t compacting the snow on them and they can be plowed. Right now, many winter cyclists like myself are forced to use Grand, depending on snow/ice conditions.
The city’s presentation and diagrams are just broad-brush ideas not an actual proposal. What they are saying is that, broadly, one could do one-way bike paths, a two-way path, or some combination of the two …and they spell out what the potential tradeoffs could be from each in terms of parking in particular areas. They use 7 foot bike paths (on their one-way path examples) which is the low end of national standards (which range from 7-10 feet, I believe). I’d like to see 8 feet, which is more comfortable. You can look up the national and state standards on AASHTO or MnDOT’s guidelines, which I supply links to in the article. 10 feet is the low end for 2-way paths but many of our city’s 2-way paths are 10 feet wide and quite nice. Variances from these path widths and buffer widths are also easy to get (and fluctuate for short distances) based on conditions. The city varies path widths in this way on Wheelock Parkway in several locations to avoid harming trees or due to narrow overpass abutments (on the Gateway Trail) and other constrictions.
The city spells out both one-way and two-way path designs, in a broad-brush way. The presentation was poor and confusing but it’s just throwing out some general ideas for discussion, not specifying any particular path type on any particular stretch. I am taking those ideas and presenting something that’s more focused and defined.
Yes, I favor one-way trails, but two-way trails can be made much safer via various mitigations– tabled crosswalks, restricting right-on-red turns, pavement markings, etc. The issue for me is how it’s implemented. Will there be an “interim” 2-way facility that doesn’t have these things while they are building out the area east of Lexington over a period of years? If so, then the one-way is much much safer and easier to do …but they haven’t done any design yet or even begun to answer that question.
The city and state data shows an average of 200 cyclist per day. The PDF you linked to didn’t show 1,100 per day. Please correct this.
Here’s what the latest the city published said: https://engagestpaul.org/10770/widgets/37641/documents/27277
Sps, the data posted on engagestpaul.org is inaccurate. I’m not sure where or how they got it. The city data I linked to DID show over 1,100 per day. Go to– https://www.stpaul.gov/sites/default/files/Media%20Root/Public%20Works/2015%20to%202016%20Bicycle%20and%20Pedestrian%20Count%20Report.pdf and read pages 5, 6, 7, 8 explaining count methodology. The standard (first paragraph of page 6) is that the two-hour fall count represents 22% of daily bike traffic. On page 10, first table, the 2-hour count for Summit at Fairview in 2015 was 246 bikes. If this is 22% of the daily total, then the daily total is 1118 bikes. It is similar for previous and subsequent years. I happened to count that spot myself in 2019 and post for you a copy of my 2-hour count sheet at– http://www.andysinger.com/2019_09_10_Summit_Eof_Fairview.pdf …during which I saw a very similar number– 252 bikes in 2 hours (between 4 and 6pm). If you do 252 or 246 divided by .22 (which is a bike planning estimate standard) you get around 1100. So the average and peak that the consultant published on Engage St Paul seems too low. Unlike the city’s website, they don’t show how they got those figures. You’ll have to ask them.
The EngageSTPaul data is correct, and from the counter embedded underneath the bike lane on Summit run by the State MNDot. See here – https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=e98c225ff41249e88ae59a25c596170c&extent=-99.2088,43.29,-87.739,49.4581
Sps …I think I found the problem– the two Engage Saint Paul charts you sent me links to at– https://ehq-production-us-california.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/93488645f0e63085f0ac104333adf1262f4348dc/original/1642103131/c23a58e900861f8af0a8e9b88ab74499_PermanentFairviewSummitSummary.pdf …they have to be added to each other because each one is for just one direction on Summit. If you look at the pie chart at the top center of each page “Distribution by direction”, the first page is “WB” (or westbound) and the second page is “EB” (eastbound). So, adding the two pages, they total 489 average and 1302 peak. Then the count data was from 2021 and the pandemic has substantially decreased commute traffic on Summit because folks stopped commuting to downtown. If you look at the graphs on each of the two chart pages “Annual comparisons by month”, you’ll see in warm months a traffic decline of around 200 bikes per day from 2019 in each direction. This is more in sync with the city data I linked to (from 2016 and 2019), where the average and peak were much higher. By the way, I am assuming that you are correct about the Engage St Paul data being from MnDOT, because the city hasn’t conducted published counts since 2019 …but I see no notations of the data source anywhere on the two pages you sent.
In one very important respect, I do not think too much consideration be given to bicycle traffic counts on Summit, because the current placement of the bike lane space on Summit is simply the wrong place to put it. No problem collecting and compiling data, but consider the fact that the Midtown Greenway traffic count averages 5000 per day (most recent I have from 2017). Why is that? This article by Andy is complete and correct. Lets make this a better street system for all of the people using the street, and align the bike lane space where it is best by todays standards.
I agree, Paul.
More important than the current-use count is what the count would become if the improvements are made. I’m age 76, live in a Lowertown condo, and own an e-bike. I estimate I use it 3 times for every time I use the car. I generally try to avoid biking on Summit now because I worry about the driver of a parked vehicle opening their door into the bike lane. I wear a helmet, but at my age, a collision with an open car door could be fatal. If the bike lane is no longer adjacent to a parking lane, I’ll be much more likely to use the Summit Avenue bike lane.
I presume the resistance to the new proposal coming from the Summit Avenue residents stems from their assumption that: 1) They, their guests, and their delivery persons will be somewhat inconvenienced by the reduction in parking and a slower flow of traffic.. 2) The resale value of their property will suffer. I believe that both assumptions are wrong.
Massive thanks to Andy Singer for such a high quality piece. You took a multi-faceted, complex debate that is easily muddled with misinformation/hysterics and laid out the issues, options, and impacts in a clear, sequential, exhaustive, fact based and concise way. This article is getting shared with everyone I talk to about this topic. Thank you for investing your time and skill into this piece!
Thanks Andy for writing this! I usually walk on Summit (such as heading to downtown to my job), but been trying to bike more on it for both exercise and heading to restaurants. I do drive on Summit, but usually just go between Western and Marshall when I’m heading home. West of Dale, I typically prefer driving on Grand instead of Summit, since it has left turn lanes at most intersections, and the bumpouts help make it easier to yield to pedestrians. I’m curious to see what layout the City will propose later this summer.
Some of my thoughts so far:
– I tend to like driving on the roads/streets that have had recent bike improvements. I prefer driving on Jackson St downtown now compared to it’s previous layout. I do get annoyed driving on routes that had “road diets” (like Larpenteur near Rice) during rush hour, but my impatience is not important. I’m looking forward to Rice’s road diet, even as someone uses it as an alternative to 35E. I’m glad I didn’t have to ever deal with Summit having four lanes.
– I love the tree coverage on Summit (it has been great for sun protection this summer), though I’m not concerned at the moment about losing a large amount of mature trees due to improving bike access (especially since they plan to use the existing right-of-way of the pavement). I assume my neighbor’s concerns are likely fueled by what occurred with other reconstruction projects (such as Cleveland Ave near the U of M). Like what you said, reconstructing water/sewer utilities is more impactful to tree loss, and bikes are a common scapegoat when criticizing road projects for all sorts of reasons. When I reviewed the tree removal plan for Cleveland, the utility and grading work looked to cause more impact to tree loss than the bike lane and trail.
– I’ve seen a proposal that we move the bike route to a parallel residential street like Portland, but Summit and Grand are the only consistent west-east routes in this area. Keeping bikes on Summit makes more sense with the historic character of the corridor.
– It would be cool to see dirt/gravel paths in the medians along Summit between the river and Lexington. There’s desire paths anyways, so a formal path would look more attractive than its current state (with minimal impacts to existing trees). Maybe those who like off-street biking could use it (depending on the width of the paths), but I’m assume it would be a good jogging and walking corridor.
– Reducing the road width of Summit can benefit those crossing on foot. It can get awkward trying to cross Summit on foot regardless if you’re crossing at a uncontrolled or signalized intersection. Having crossings designed like the one at the St. Thomas campus (near Finn St) would be nice.
– Sometimes people are running/jogging along the bike lanes, so I’m hoping that separating the bike lanes will make it easier to safely pass them when they are.
– When I walk for exercise, I typically stay between Dale and Selby since the sidewalk is 8-10 feet wide there. When Summit is busy west of Dale, dealing with large groups and/or people with dogs can get odd when the sidewalk is only 6 feet. I assume the narrow sidewalk in these areas might be why some people jog/run in the bike lanes.
– Some plants/tree branches block portions of the sidewalk. This isn’t as bad on the wider sidewalks, but it can be an issue when it’s on a narrow one. Trimming these branches and plants should be encouraged when it blocks sidewalk access, as I’m expecting most of these narrow sections to say as-is.
– I wish more of the signalized intersections along Summit (Dale, Victoria, etc.) had no turn on red restrictions as well. Crossing at Dale is awkward when those driving block the crosswalk (and sometimes don’t look at their surroundings), though I still typically cross at a signalized intersection. I prefer the existing no turn on red restriction on Lexington, even when driving.
– Reducing the road width might help reduce dangerous maneuvers since people get impatient and illegally pass cars waiting to turn.
– Concerns have been made about speeding cyclists when people exit their parked cars on Summit, but I don’t think it’s any different from when I’m parked on Summit or Grand and watching out for cars. Bikes have been pretty easy to spot before I open my car doors (the “dutch reach” is useful).
– Taking a left with my bike on Summit is usually tense, so maybe bike boxes would be useful at major intersections. I know some bikers don’t like making hook turns, but at busy times I would prefer taking a left through a hook turn. I think bike boxes would be ok as long no turn on red restrictions are posted.
Thank you, Andy.
Very well presented. The current design and layout oi Summit is dysfunctional and out of date. From a standpoint of safety we need to change the location of alignment for bicycle transit and make the street system as safe as it can be for all users. The street design options presented by the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department, do exactly that, make the street as safe as it can be for all the users of the street
Andy, I appreciate this article and I want a safer Summit. I avoid biking east of Lexington and it’s obvious to me that it needs to be fixed and made safer for bicyclists.
As a co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycling Coalition I would like you to address my only concern and that is the report that your group issued with a recommendation for paving a path down the medians west of Lexington. I thought that was an awful idea. You don’t mention it in your article, but the report is still on your website. What is the official position of SPBC? Has the group abandoned that idea or are there still plans to advocate for the paved path?
Steve (and Jed), that report was just a conversation starter made several years ago. Our position is that we favor two one-way paths west of Lexington (as articulated in this streetsMN piece) and one of the two options presented in this piece east of Lexington– either a continuation of the one-way bike paths on either side …or a two way, depending on how the city was planning to implement it …with a strong preference for the one-way paths, due to safety and ease of implementation. When actual planning discussions started a year or so back, it became apparent that median paths were impractical for a number of reasons, particularly at street crossings where cars queue up to turn left and would block center paths or create dangerous situations. So we abandoned the idea. If we had a professional web designer, we’d probably take down or modify the report …but we’re all volunteer 🙂
I appreciate that you are arguing in favor of the one-way bike lanes. I do, however, have two key points of criticism, related to assertions that were made that fall below my high standards for full reporting.
The statement that “Single-direction protected bikeways have a somewhat better safety record than two-way bike paths in situations with a lot of cross streets” is misleading. Two-way are MUCH MORE DANGEROUS than one-way, on a two-way street. And, if you look closely at the IIHS data, the one-way have even been shown to be more dangerous than no facility at all. (Link at bottom to report summary, I have a copy of the full report, if anyone would like it, I am happy to share.)
The two types of lanes being proposed are what IIHS calls a “two-way protected bike lanes with light separation” and a “one-way protected bike lanes with light separation.” The type of bike lanes we have on Summit now are “traditional bikes lanes” (east of Lex) and “buffered” traditional bike lanes (west of Lex). (The buffer is paint). They are NOT “Protected bike lanes with heavy separation.” That classification is reserved for truly separate facilities — like the Greenway in Minneapolis or the new Ayd Mill trail; “Protected bike lanes with heavy separation” means the trail is not only physically separated from the roadway, but physically separated from conflicts, aka cross traffic. This is simply not possible on most city roads, Summit included.
From the IIHS study, both types of light separation lanes were less safe overall than on-street bike lanes on two-way streets. (One-ways streets are different.) The IIHS study took bike facility types and compared to the a default condition, which was a busy road with no bike facility at all, which was given a rating of 1.0. Below are the IIHS bike facility types—note that I’ve added a less jargony names to facility types, where I could— placed in ranking order from most safe (number lower than 1.0) to least safe (number higher than 1.0)
Greenways (“Protected bike lanes with heavy separation”) 0.10
Bike Boulevards* (“Local roads with bicycle facilities or traffic calming”) 0.31
Local Streets (“Local roads without bicycle facilities or traffic calming”) 0.39
Conventional Bike Lanes (I.e. on street, one way) 0.53
Baseline. (“Cycling on lanes of major roads without bicycle facilities”) 1.00
One-way protected bikeway with lighter separation** 1.19
Two-way protected bikeway with lighter separation ** 11.38
*What Summit has now
** What is being proposed for Summit
My second criticism is related to the parking lane — and I say parking lane because the lane is useful not just for on-street parking, but for deliveries, pulling over for emergency vehicles, and handicap drop off. (On-street parking meets ADA threshold for van drop off.)
You wrote, “In the few places were parking is fully used (like near Dale), parking loss could be mitigated for residents by implementing some permit or timed parking areas on Summit itself or on side streets.” This is simply untrue. The heavy parking utilization seen around Dale in particular is by residents, driven but the apartments and condos in the area that do not have off-street parking. As such, Residential Parking Permit would do very little to reduce demand. Same thing for time limits — those are solutions for commercial or institutional spillover parking in residential neighborhoods.
I have deep criticisms of the parking study itself, as it seems to have been done at time of day or on days to avoid what I’ll loosely term “event parking” —church parking, University Club and Summit Manor or Women’s Club parking, or school and business related parking. An example: there are only 4 cars parked on the block with Hamline Mitchell. This of course is during a pandemic did not have classes in session. Come Fall when the law school is back to in-person classes, the parking use will be near 100%. Historic fact, spillover parking from the law school resulted in the first RPP in St Paul.
I appreciate that you acknowledge that “Removing some parking east of Lexington is a sacrifice” Merriam Webster defines ‘sacrifice’ as “to suffer loss of, give up, renounce, injure, or destroy especially for an ideal, belief, or end.” Shouldn’t those who will “suffer the loss” have a say? And, I guess even more importantly, can’t we look for a solution that eliminates (or at least minimizes) sacrifices? A solution that makes Summit safer without sacrificing trees, or sacrificing the multiple benefits the parking lane offers for those nearby? I think we can.
Both you and I attended the DAC meetings. At those two meetings (especially the December one), I appreciated the openness expressed —excuse my poor memory for names — by someone from SPBC. We were specifically discussing the challenges of the roadway east of Lexington, and he expressed an openness to exploring how to preserve trees and both parking lanes AND make the bike lanes safer and better. The idea I’m remembering was to keep the curb-to-curb where it is, keep and improve the one-way lanes, take space from the car lane to create a wider painted buffer. Part of that idea was to look at swapping the parking lane to the traffic side and placing the bikes by the boulevard. This approach for Summit was a new thought for me, and one that I’ve been researching. I am becoming an advocate for it. It aligns with the Copenhagen model (with only 4 facility types), which as I think most readers of this blog might be familiar with (link below for those who want to know more). The parking lane becomes a protective barrier between bikes and cars on the move. (And, as a little piece of fun for the preservationist fans of Summit, the Copenhagen bike lanes often have granite curbs like those on lower Summit.) The Copenhagen choices are safer and more practical — an important component of practicality being affordability.
Alternative Trail Routes
So what the regional trail? It seems to require a trail that does not fit our urban context. Can we change the trail guidelines? Or, if not can we find an alternative route? I have three ideas that I will present in the spirit of a workable solution for a regional trail:
(1) Marshall. While Marshall will have many of the same space and parking issues as Summit (and by Copenhagen, it too should also painted lanes, not a separated trail), Marshall Avenue, not Summit, was the most requested east-west connection from downtown St Paul in the bike survey.
(2) Hybrid approach: Summit & Portland. West of Summit the “trail” would follow the one-way improved bike lanes, and east of Lexington the “trail” would move to Portland Avenue in the form of a bike boulevard. At Western, where Portland ends, the “trail” would either follow quirky Maiden Lane, but only if that could be done without ruining the historic brick surface. Otherwise, it would go from Portland north on Western to Marshall. From IIHS, bike boulevards were the next safest bike infrastructure (behind greenways). That stretch of Portland is already traffic calmed and portions of it have one-sided parking already.
(3) Hybrid Approach: Summit & Ayd Mill & Bohemian Trail.
(1, 2, 3) I would add that in all of these approaches, I would like to see the one-way on-street bike lanes on Summit improved and maintained, hopefully looking toward the standards from Oslo and Copenhagen. What Summit needs most for improvement safety is several dozen small scale, specific to context improvements: raised crosswalks for side streets, bike boxes at signaled cross streets, much better intersection safety, and “road diet/traffic calming” design for slower car speeds. (Hint: parking on both sides can slow traffic.)
Thanks for your time reading this. I think the “sides” are closer than it might seem at first glance.
(1) IIHS study https://www.iihs.org/topics/bibliography/ref/2193
(2) Copenhagen https://campo2copenhagen.weebly.com/blog/four-types-of-copenhagen-bicycle-infrastructure
correction in * placement:
Greenways (“Protected bike lanes with heavy separation”) 0.10
Bike Boulevards (“Local roads with bicycle facilities or traffic calming”) 0.31
Local Streets (“Local roads without bicycle facilities or traffic calming”) 0.39
Conventional Bike Lanes* (I.e. on street, one way) 0.53
Baseline. (“Cycling on lanes of major roads without bicycle facilities”) 1.00
One-way protected bikeway with lighter separation** 1.19
Two-way protected bikeway with lighter separation ** 11.38
*What Summit has now
** What is being proposed for Summit
Sonja, the IIHS study has some issues and while I included a link to it in my piece, you have to read past the conclusions and dig into it a bit. If I recall correctly, crashes and falls were less in traditional bike lanes or roads without bicycle facilities …but the severity of those crashes was worse: “Compared with a major road with no bike infrastructure, the risk of a crash or fall was much lower on two-way protected bike lanes on bridges or on protected lanes raised from the roadway.” …”The types of bicyclist crashes seen in street-level protected lanes weren’t the type that are typically most severe. Most fatal bicyclist crashes involving motor vehicles occur midblock, while cyclists using two-way protected bike lanes in the study collided with vehicles most often at intersections or junctions with driveways and alleys. In such cases, vehicles are usually turning and, as a result, are traveling slowly.”
Also, without bike count data for each facility, we don’t know the risk-per-rider of each facility. (For example, the off-street facility could have a lot more riders). The study also had a small sample size of just 600 or so people, and it didn’t account for the skill sets of the people who chose to use each type of facility– i.e. road cyclists like to bike in the street in conventional bike lanes or on roads without bicycle facilities but they have more skills and safety awareness than less experienced riders. Engineers call them “Class A” riders. By contrast off-street facilities are often used by less experienced riders. There have been dozens of studies on comparative facility safety of which the IIHS study is just one. I also included a link to a major study by the University of Colorado done in a different way that came to some different conclusions — https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/05/29/protect-yourself-separated-bike-lanes-means-safer-streets-study-says/
I also included a link to the NACTO guide in my post (the same one your weebly comment post above links to) and it discusses 2-way versus 1-way. I think we agree that one-way is safer than two-way but just differ in terms of degree. If you like on-street bike lanes, extending the 3-foot buffers that exist west of Lexington to East of Lexington would also help the situation but there’s no space in the existing driving lanes to do this, so it would require the same parking removal as 2 one-way paths …and it wouldn’t address the winter maintenance issues.
As far as parking, there’s a tremendous amount of underutilized capacity in Saint Paul neighborhoods. When Ramsey County removed parking from one side of Cleveland Avenue in 2015, we heard how the sky was going to fall. But people worked it out. I live a block off Cleveland and my block is never, ever parked in. Removing some parking is a sacrifice but we live in a city (supposedly). My mom lived for 40 years in Berkeley, California and was lucky to find an on-street parking spot within 2 blocks of her apartment building, and she had an area parking permit. I realize that parking studies don’t capture events but it is a huge waste of urban space to preserve large amounts of car storage space on public land for weekly events. Mitchell Hamline has a parking lot and the University Club offers Valet Parking … and there’s Lyft, Uber, Evie, bicycles and transit. I bike up and down Summit enough to see that there are many blocks that habitually have vacancies.
You repeatedly mention “without sacrificing trees” …but none of the proposals would sacrifice any trees.
…And there is no other street that goes through the corridor that’s better for bikes or more direct than Summit. Marshall from Cretin to Snelling is a disaster. It has just 7-foot parking lanes (below state minimum recommended), 5-foot bike lanes (below state minimum recommended) and 11 driving lanes (considered state minimum for bus routes). It is absolutely impassible in winter and, in the summer, vehicles (by design) must pass cyclists with less than 3 feet of passing space (the state-law minimum). With mid-block medians, there is no way for cars to go around cyclists. I’ve seen the bike and pedestrian crash data for Marshall and it blows away Summit. The western portion of it is very unsafe– one of the highest crash rates for that street type in the city. As far as removing parking on it (to create more space), It has far more apartment buildings that Summit which, by your claim, involves more “parking sacrifice”. Portland Avenue doesn’t go through the corridor, so riders have to jog back and forth to Summit and cross major 4-lane streets like Snelling or Lexington at unsignalized intersections. Your suggestion of switching bikes to a route of Summit to Ayd Mill to the Bohemian Trail is laughable. First Summit doesn’t connect to Ayd Mill at the moment and, more importantly, this is a huge indirect detour that would take any rider many miles out of their way. Summit is a well-lit, populated street. The Bohemian Trail is a poorly lit (with wiring stolen out of the few lights that exist) and in a secluded space. Even I feel much less secure biking it at night. For all these reasons, we’re not going to remove bikes from Summit.
I disagree with some of your “specific context improvements”. Parking doesn’t inherently slow traffic if you have 5 feet or more of bike lanes between the traffic and the parking. In some of the pedestrian crashes on Summit, a car stops for the pedestrian at an intersection and another car goes around it, partly on the road and partly in the bike lane space and hits the person. It’s a similar phenomenon to “double jeopardy” pedestrian crashes on 4-lane roads like Snelling or West 7th Streets. Moving the bike lanes to the outside of parking would narrow up the driving lanes, and that’s what slows cars down and prevents double jeopardy pedestrian crashes. The City’s proposal of having the driving lanes chicane to allow parking on both sides would further slow traffic. Your raised crosswalks would benefit pedestrians but if they were tabled and accommodated both walkers and bikers (the way they do on Wheelock) they would benefit both …and nothing you’ve suggested would address the winter maintenance problems. Parking-protected bike lanes are nice but ice and snow accumulate in curb gutters and they’re hard to maintain. The city’s proposal is basically to make parking-protected bike lanes but on a raised curb to facilitate winter maintenance.
That report was just a conversation starter. Our position is that we favor two one-way paths west of Lexington (as articulated in this streetsMN piece) and one of the two options presented in this piece east of Lexington– either a continuation of the one-way bike paths on either side …or a two way, depending on how the city would implement it …with a strong preference for the one-way paths, due to safety and ease of implementation. When actual planning discussions started a year or so back, it became apparent that median paths were impractical for a number of reasons, particularly at street crossings where cars queue up to turn left and would block center paths or create dangerous situations. So we abandoned the idea. If we had a professional web designer, we’d probably take down or modify the report …but we’re all volunteer 🙂
When you preface the comment section with ’15 thoughts on “The Case for a New Summit Avenue Bikeway” ‘ do you mean we are reading all of the comments readers submitted for this article, or are we reading “15 thoughts” that you have selected (edited?) for content or point of view from a larger pool of submissions?
It’s just a count of the total number of comments posted in response to the article, which may exclude some comments that violated the comment policy (https://streets.mn/about/comment-policy/). When I wrote my comment, that number was at either 6 or 7 “thoughts” (as yours was #16).