‘Save Our Street’ Is a Disinformation Campaign: The Summit Avenue Regional Trail Is What St. Paul Needs

If you are a Summit Avenue resident with a “Save Our Street” lawn sign or a passerby concerned by that fearful phrase: The beautiful Summit Avenue is not in danger.

The signs are advocating against a proposed bike trail that will make for a safer road without sacrificing the things you love most about the street: the wonderful trees, the historic houses, the large boulevard, the connection from the Cathedral to the Mississippi River.

  • There will not be a mass removal of trees.
  • You will still be able to park on the street.
  • The bike trail will be safer and more accessible.
  • Do you prefer to drive? Great, let’s move the bikes out of your way!

The city’s plan, which is not yet finalized, is to shift the bike traffic to the outside of the roadway with physical separation from moving traffic. Road construction will happen regardless of the final plan. Summit Avenue is scheduled for a full reconstruction either in its current layout or with a separated trail.

If you can’t quite picture what the change will look like, head over to Como Avenue between Hamline and Snelling avenues. You’ll find a two-way bike trail completely out of the way of car traffic that is safe for users of all abilities.

Here are some key arguments that the “Save Our Street” campaign has gotten wrong:

“Save Our Street” ClaimRealitySource

Who is this master plan intended to serve? Overall, what is the “point”? Is anyone in the bicycle community actually pushing for a regional trail on Summit?
Last fall, the city asked residents “What would make you bike more in Saint Paul?”. The far and away most common response was “More separated bikeways”. Many people want trails like this and will benefit from their construction.Fall 2021 Engagement Survey (Question 2)
Only 217 people bike on Summit Ave per day
Between 2015 and 2021, MnDOT’s automated counter on Summit Ave east of Fairview Ave averaged 640 cyclists per day. 25% of all days recorded greater than 1,000 cyclists per day. Notably, this is at a single data collection point that only captures bike rides on the farthest west mile of Summit.

More importantly, trails like this allow more people to ride bikes. Studies show that building protected bike infrastructure leads to a significant increase in bike ridership.
MnDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Traffic Counting

International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
The trail will cost $50,000 per cyclist

The roadway assessment cost to Summit Ave property owners will be the same whether the road includes a trail or is reconstructed exactly as it is. The city has not released financials, but the majority of the work in the reconstruction will be on the vehicle roadway (including new water/sewer infrastructure). The cost will not increase because of the trail.
Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan FAQ
Hundreds of trees are at risk of removal
The city has stated that greenspace and trees “have been and continue to be a priority”. With a redesign either completely within or only slightly beyond the width of the existing roadway, there will not be a massive removal of trees. The city needs to be honest and up front about the tree impact in the final proposal, but the tree canopy that we all love is not in danger.
Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan FAQ
An off-road trail will increase risks to cyclists
The safest bike infrastructure is fully separated paths. Protected bicycle facilities create safer cities for all types of road users – drivers included. The trail will make it so bicycles no longer have to travel immediately adjacent to moving vehicle traffic and in the dangerous “door zone” of parked cars. There will be no new conflict points for cars and bicycles.
Journal of Transport & Health

In short, the “Save Our Street” campaign is acting in bad faith on bad information.

I’ve talked to several different “Save Our Street” advocates at their tables along Summit Avenue, and the frank truth is that they don’t even fully understand what they’re campaigning against. Each expressed their desire for safer bike infrastructure and for vehicle traffic to be calmed. One even conceded to me that they generally like the plan, but are taking a hardline stance so they have more negotiating leverage with the city.

This bike trail will allow cyclists of all abilities to bike on Summit Avenue. A bike trail will enhance year-round biking with a surface that can be fully cleared of snow instead of a lane which gets rutted and narrowed by car tires and snow plows. A bike trail will allow more people to replace car trips, which will reduce noise and pollution and move us toward our climate goals.

The road reconfiguration will be a major improvement for the many people who are interested in biking, but concerned for their safety. The greatest barrier to biking in St. Paul is the danger posed by cars. Paint alone is not infrastructure. Bike lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic only by a white line are not safe enough. The trail will allow people to bike with their children in trailers, for older kids to ride their own bikes, for hesitant riders to feel comfortable, for commuters to be safe — all along one of our city’s most beautiful roads.

This should be a moment for celebration. St. Paul is continuing to evolve toward a more equitable, sustainable, happier city. To “Save Our Street” would be to commit to outdated, unsafe infrastructure for decades. 

Write to your City Council member and talk to your neighbors. This is a great moment of opportunity for St. Paul!

Ben Swanson-Hysell

About Ben Swanson-Hysell

Ben lives in St. Paul with his wife and two kids. He is a member of the Union Park District Council Transportation Committee. Professionally, he works as a Data/Business Analyst.