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.
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.
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!