Safer Summit Campaign Looks to Highlight the Facts

Here are upfront takeaways (TL;DR) on a homegrown group that is offering a different view about Summit Avenue and the bike lanes debate:

  • St. Paul’s new plan for Summit Avenue is not finished and there is no “done plan” to be against.
  • The city is listening, so get informed and speak up! Comments are open through November.
  • The city’s plan will both preserve the beauty of Summit’s trees and history, and update the street to the standards of modern safety for people walking, biking and driving.

Listen, I love a good yard sign. So when Save our Street (SOS) signs started popping up in my Summit-University neighborhood I took notice — but kind of in a panicked way. Was Summit Avenue, the historical St. Paul gem, in danger?! No. As it turns out, it wasn’t. 

I quickly learned the Save our Street campaign was funded by Summit Avenue residents in opposition to the City of St. Paul’s plan to re-envision Summit Avenue to be safer for bikers and pedestrians — and arguably motorists as well — by giving all groups their own spaces. 

I wasn’t super clear on why SOS was so against the plan. The city is going to rebuild Summit anyway, in order to replace critical infrastructure like pipes. So it seems like a good time to evaluate whether it should stay exactly the same or if something like 30-year-old bike lanes could be updated to fit the St. Paul of today.

So to find out more and discuss with neighbors, in September I biked over to an SOS meeting with my 3-year-old (their flier promised ice cream). They hosted a couple of local arborists to speak about trees and the importance of taking careful consideration of nature during construction projects. 

A small child points to something while straddling a strider bike and wearing a helmet.
The author’s son on his bike, probably pointing out something obvious to the author. Photo by the author

I learned a lot about trees! And about my toddler’s attention span, once ice cream has been promised. I also learned that the City of St. Paul has an incredible tree audit, which is miles ahead of most cities, and that St. Paul’s city planners are “very knowledgeable about tree considerations” and “great to work with” from the arborist’s perspective.

SOS says their primary concern is the safety and preservation of Summit’s incredible trees. And I can’t argue with that! But nobody is anti-tree here. Actually, I’d hedge a bet that the plan’s advocates (and bikers and walkers at large) tend to over-index as “tree people.” Plus the city’s draft plan mentions “trees” or “greenspace” a whopping 240 times and makes it abundantly clear that preserving them both is a top priority. 

We’re getting to the point of my epiphany. I realized SOS and Summit plan proponents were arguing in circles with one another. For example, someone (not necessarily an SOS’er) told me the city planned to bump the curbs back 9 feet, putting all boulevard trees in danger. In reality, the plan leaves curbs largely unchanged and only slightly moves the curb in two sections which may pose increased risk to approximately 6 percent of Summit’s 1,561 trees.

There seems to be a lot of fear about “worst case scenarios,” which has led to some easy-to-disprove misinformation floating around about this project. And while the city’s plan is thoughtful and comprehensive, it is also looooong, which makes it hard to understand every single detail. I thought if we could just dump all the facts out onto the table and sort through them together, we might not actually disagree on much.

So, my neighborhood friends and I decided to create the Safer Summit website and yard sign (safersummit.org). (I told you I love yard signs.) SOS is a very loud voice on the Summit plan. But a single loud voice doesn’t make for a good conversation. So our goal is to help share the facts about the Summit plan and get more of our neighbors involved. 

A yard sign reads "Let's build a safer Summit" referencing https://safersummit.org
A Safer Summit yard sign in St. Paul’s Summit-University neighborhood. Photo by the author.

To be clear, we are not anti-SOS. In fact, we agree on a lot of things like saving the trees and preserving the historical grandeur of Summit. But we think there’s a way to do these things while also building our city to be safer for everyone and more environmentally conscious.

Personally, this issue feels big and small at the same time. Small because of all the other worrisome issues our world has going on. But big because I’m a St. Paul native, choosing to raise my family where I grew up. I remember being thrilled when Summit’s bike lanes came to fruition in 1992. And 30 years later I’m thrilled at the prospect of making Summit even more accessible by updating those bike lanes to modern standards and creating safer and even greener spaces for all people. Ultimately, I think this plan is very good for St. Paul and I’m proud to support it.

I hope you’ll join the conversation too by leaving a comment on the City’s draft plan (open through November) and supporting safer biking and walking options for all of us. And grab a yard sign! Yard signs are the best. 

See you on Summit!

The author and her son look at the camera while wearing their helmets.
The author and her son wearing their cute helmets. Photo by the author

About Kelsey Dahlager

Kelsey lives in St. Paul with her husband, two kids and many, many plants. She is fueled by a combination of Claddagh coffee and optimism and is up to her eyeballs in trips to the Tot Lot.

10 thoughts on “Safer Summit Campaign Looks to Highlight the Facts

  1. Melissa Wenzel

    Thank you for your thoughtful, kid-filled article! In addition to this plan not resulting in a loss of trees (directly related to anything bike infrastructure related), it’s my understanding that it would also not lead to a major loss of car parking (a not-good use of public roads, but I digress). This information wasn’t available at the open house, but I just recently received the link of the Summit Ave parking study, available online here: https://www.stpaul.gov/sites/default/files/2022-11/Overnight%20Parking%20Restrictions%20on%20Summit%20Memo%20%282020%29.pdf

    I live in SE Saint Paul and yes, I bike on Summit Ave frequently. I don’t know the intersections well enough to know if the very limited by high density of parking in a few spots is residential related, college-related, but generally speaking, this information tells its own story: https://www.stpaul.gov/sites/default/files/2022-11/Overnight%20Parking%20Restrictions%20on%20Summit%20Memo%20%282020%29.pdf

    Thank you again for advocating for safe, multi-purpose, mixed use options of a public road that is long overdue for critical utility work, which will determine the vast majority of loss of trees. Not any “above-ground” [minimal] changes that are made!

  2. Gary Farland

    In general, Minneapolis and St. Paul have been wrecking needed main thoroughfares for the sake of a few summertime bicyclists who should be on side streets.

    1. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

      Oooh, someone’s mad. “A few…” Well. There are reams of data being collected, dating back to 2007. They find that Summit is one of the most heavily trafficked bike thoroughfares in the metro and the state. Summertime ridership looks like it’s just shy of 30,000/month in the summertime, and in the low 2,000 in Jan-Feb. Also, ridership increases as infrastructure improves. Hopefully, more bikes = fewer cars. I’d like to see that.
      Telling people where they should go invites push-back. Is that what you’re going for here?

      1. John Loban

        1000 bikers a day average in the Summer ? What are you smoking? Over 70 a day average in Jan-Feb. has anyone actually done a count with accurate data? These are conjecture at best. I commit the sin of recreational driving down the length of Summit on a regular basis and I must need glasses because I am not seeing all these bikers Summer or Winter. I also ride my electric bike down the avenue and rarely see these crowds of bikers. I am all for dedicated bike lanes well marked on the existing pavement.

  3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Unfortunately, there is a reflexive negative reaction to “bike lanes” from a strange set of people who feel that their cars are being attack and who are willing to adopt argument in questionable faith, like “trees,” to try to keep things how the have been in the recent past.

  4. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

    Kelsey Dahlager & Co. is my new hero! Woooooo!!!! Go Kelsey! Go Kelsey! Way to use your voice and offer a pro-bike, pedestrian, and motorist counterweight to the alarmist (I mean, like SOS is not an alarm?) campaign. Thank you both for venturing out to participate in the SOS meeting and arborist presentation. Let’s hope Summit Ave. continues to draw people through the heart of St. Paul safely, all year long. And how can I get my mitts on one ‘nem lawn signs?

  5. Scott BergerScott Berger

    Lovely, non-combative article. You make excellent points! I’m hoping to see more purple signs go up in the city, not just among the elite homeowners (with some exceptions) on Summit, but throughout our wonderful, and far more diverse, neighborhoods.

  6. alison young

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful, factual and positive article! I am a Ramsey Hill resident, walker, biker and driver. I support wholeheartedly both preserving the beauty of Summit’s beautiful trees and history while updating the street to the standards of modern safety for all of us who use it. My purple Safer Summit sign is braving the snow and looking to a bright future!

  7. Ken Schlosser

    Changing the parking East of Lexington to one side of the street will lose a lot of parking. Where will those cars go? Will it make traffic in the surrounding blocks worse for those in those areas? Parking on Grand is already bad on most days as it is and that would seem to hurt the businesses from Lex to Dale. Is there a suggestion in the plan for where that parking/traffic will go? Some of the neighboring streets are permit parking only so that isn’t an available option. If it is in the plan I did not see this information. If this has been covered and someone has a link to point me to I would appreciated that help.

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