Things are happening in St. Paul! And it’s not all snowplowing and garbage can controversies either. On February 1, the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation published the 90% edition of the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan. You can find news coverage of the trail in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, but here we’re going to meander outside the realm of the objective and into the real meat: How did all that fighting pan out?
What Does the Plan Say?
The plan is 90% designed, which means that the big decisions about design, placement and priorities have been decided upon. The plan has settled on curb-protected, one-way bike facilities the entire length of Summit, from its downtown intersection with Kellogg Boulevard all the way west to the Mississippi River.
The plan calls for the bike lanes to fall within the current curb lines of Summit Avenue, which should minimize impacts to green space and largely maintain the current layout of Summit. Where changes do happen within the current curb line, the curbs themselves will move, with the bike lanes at sidewalk level and only the driving and parking lanes falling between the new curb lines. This means that some places will have more green space and less pavement, considering that the bike lanes will have a green buffer rather than a paved and painted buffer.
That said, design can differ from engineering, which will include all the details, such as the placement of storm drains, utility lines and other infrastructure. It wouldn’t make sense to engineer the project until the city is closer to building it.
But let’s get to what you’re reading for: How does the plan address the controversies?
The City of Saint Paul has included parking studies in the plan, almost certainly in order to insert facts into what often becomes a panic-driven discussion of even modest changes to private storage in the public right of way. The plan states a goal of preserving parking where feasible, and follows through on that. For 2.5 miles on Summit Avenue west of Lexington, the right of way is wider, allowing room for driving, biking, walking and greenspace while having minimal impact on street parking. The portion of Summit east of Lexington would have more substantial impacts, in order to maintain the greenspace while fitting in all the rest. It would still have parking on one side of the street; “location varies,” says the plan on page 130.
Per the city’s parking studies, this may be less of a problem than some perceive it to be: The parking utilization corridor-wide was beneath 50% of all available spaces, according to a study conducted in 2019 and supplemented in 2022. This means that less than half of available spots in the corridor were getting used at any given moment. Considering that the plan won’t affect parking on half of the corridor, concerns about parking are likely based more on panic than fact.
The parking study did note where parking demand was greater, including at the intersection of Summit and Dale Street and at the University of St. Thomas campus, between Cleveland and Cretin. But local solutions could be created to deal with these areas. Ultimately, safe cycling infrastructure has the opportunity to allow folks who are able to cycle to take up less parking space, saving it for people who have fewer choices.
A Minor Controversy: the Demographics
Much of the controversy around Summit has been presented in false dichotomies. You see it in Save Our Street’s spurious framing of Green Transportation vs. Green Trees. You hear it in the melodramatic grumbling about old-fashioned St. Paul values vs. the inconveniences of living (and driving) in Minneapolis. You also hear it in stereotypes of entitled white, male cyclists vs. family-oriented mansion owners. (As a young person who, unlike many of my peers, plans to have children someday, I’d never consider raising a child in a neighborhood without protected bike infrastructure.)
The Summit Avenue Regional Trail plan makes many mentions of demographics, but largely presents safety as an across-the-board improvement for any group. But the planners do make a point about a growing car-free demographic: “Adults over the age of 65 are a fast growing percentage of the population. Ramsey County is projected to experience a 48% increase in residents 65 and older between 2015 and 2030. Nationally, this age cohort is also the only group with a growing number of car-free households. Separated facilities are much safer for seniors and generally those with slower riding speeds and lower visual acuity¹.” (Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan, page 111)
Which is a polite way to offer that the assumption that driving is a lifelong choice is fatally flawed.
The Big Controversy: the Trees
If you have heard anything about this process, you’ve heard about the trees. Chances are, you’ve heard misinformation about the trees. Namely the story is that the trees are being torn down — or will be irreparably damaged — in the process of implementing the bikeway. The plan mentions that this is not really the case.
“Considering many sections of the Summit Avenue roadway have not been reconstructed in over 90 years, maintenance and repairs of utilities and infrastructure that will be necessary to maintain a safe roadway could have an adverse affect on the tree canopy, regardless of the implementation of a trail facility.” (Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan, page 116)
To reiterate this point: Summit Avenue is in poor condition due to structural issues beneath the surface of the road. These issues have gradually been getting worse since the last time the road was overhauled, which was nearly 100 years ago. Also beneath the road is infrastructure — water, sewer — that will be replaced or relocated at the same time that the road is fixed for the next generations. However, trees do not know where the road is, or what the utility lines are. Roots could be beneath the road, or wrapped around pipes and utility lines. If you did nothing to Summit, the road would get worse and worse, faster and faster, and every time you fixed the surface, the surface would (and will) last a shorter time. That process would be expensive, too.
And it’s conceivable that outdated utilities could start causing problems. Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis have been replaced in the past decade after infrastructure failures caused disruptive flooding. Trees could be in the way of any serious attempt to fix the underlying issues along Summit. The bike lane is being included as part of the process in which everything is getting fixed or replaced. It’s an add-on that does not fundamentally change what’s going on.
“Feedback from community members highlighted the importance of maintaining parking in these segments. For this reason, total removal of parking is not the preferred alignment and would only be considered to accommodate emergency service vehicles, or to preserve high value, significant trees.” (Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan, page 131)
Controversy: Things May Have (Bin) Tame Up Till Now
The controversy around the Summit Avenue plan is somewhat baffling considering that the plan keeps the footprint of pavement in the corridor exactly within the existing curb lines — which seems like the most effective strategy to minimize the effects on existing greenspace. However, as Twin Cities residents know, this controversy pales in comparison to St. Paul’s defining struggle of the 21st century: municipal trash collection. Which is why I knew things could get ugly when, on page 151, the plan mentioned trash collection.
Currently, 75% of all municipal waste collection on Summit happens in alleys, which the plan would not affect. However, 20% of trash collection currently takes place on Summit itself, and the plan discusses the potential of moving trash collection to alleys, or other special considerations for implementation of the plan. Discussing trash collection in St. Paul is (ahem) a can of worms, and things easily could get ugly again. If they do, Trash War II may be the only thing to eclipse the last Trash War in municipal ridiculousness.
The Unspoken Controversy: St. Paul Is Broke
Summit inspires a lot of strong feelings. Passions are running higher than all of the seven hills combined. There’s enough grievance already to fill servers worth of noxious conversations on Nextdoor. Even if the Summit plan is eligible for regional (perhaps federal?) money, the City of Saint Paul lacks enough money for road repairs or parks. Thus, they’re asking voters to approve more, in the form of a citywide 1% sales tax. State law requires that the sales tax increase be voter approved, have an expiration and be for specific projects. Would you look at that? Summit Avenue reconstruction is one of them.
St. Paul is broke. A historic irresponsibility toward funding street repairs, chronicled by Bill Lindeke in Minnpost, has earned St. Paul a reputation for bad streets. Some of the city’s problems were self-inflicted, in that bad decisions made in the 1990s are creating unsolvable dilemmas for fixing things today — as well as for St. Paulites of the future.
The range of projected costs of the bikeway component alone is placed in the plan at roughly $12 million. The whole project of rebuilding Summit the street from sub-grade to surface would be much higher than that.
One strong argument for a regional trail plan is to enable the trail to be recognized as a regional amenity. Other institutions could then help foot the bill, such as the Metropolitan Council and the federal government. “Strategies for funding a regional trail facility could consider a combination of local, state and federal sources,” says Mary Norton, a landscape architect with the city and the public face of the Summit Avenue project.
Of course, set-in-stone opponents of protected bikeways who believe not one dollar of city money should go toward a bikeway that people already use may ask: what else could that money buy?
Not as much as you may think. For funding sources such as regional solicitation, municipal governments have to put up at least 20% out of local funds. But reconstructions — particularly the reconstructions on which St. Paul has fallen far behind — are expensive. To illustrate a comparison, I dug into the total reconstruction of Edgcumbe Road between St. Paul Avenue and Hampshire Avenue, in the Highland Park area. Through various funding sources, St. Paul is rebuilding the street, sanitary sewers and a water main for $8 million. The length of Edgcumbe Road being replaced is about 2,500 feet, or 750 meters. Twelve million dollars for 5 miles of bike paths looks like a better deal.
It’s an imperfect comparison, and the water main and sanitary sewer replacement are certainly part of the reason for the jaw-dropping price. Like Summit, however, Edgcumbe Road is a residential, landscaped parkway that is being reconstructed. Any subsurface work that turns out to be necessary for Summit could be significantly more expensive than the bike path on the surface. I submit that $12 million buys far less than you think when it comes to St. Paul street reconstruction.
But what that $12 million will buy, in the next 10 to 15 years, is choices. It’s an investment in recreational opportunities along St. Paul’s showcase street. It’s a cohesive transportation option that goes from Shadow Falls to Eagle Parkway. St. Paul is going to have larger potholes and (potentially) higher sales taxes for the foreseeable future, due to poor decision making from before I was born and structural challenges in the regional economy. Protected bike lanes can’t solve those problems, but funding them creates opportunities to bypass St. Paul’s decaying roads and yes, add some vibrancy to its neighborhoods and business.
What Is Still Being Decided?
The one-way bike lanes have been decided on and will be presented to the City Council. The 90% percent plan still has areas where design is being decided, however, and input is necessary.
- Where may it be appropriate to remove cuts for vehicles across the median of the parkway, making the public space in the middle of Summit more continuous?
- Intersection designs along Summit are still in process, which will be critical to safety but don’t seem to have inspired the passions of the Save Our Street crowd.
- Opponents likely will try to rehash the decision regarding one-way, curb-protected sidewalk-level lanes. If you support this plan, it’s important to include that in feedback on the project’s Engage website and in communication with your St. Paul City Councilmember.
According to an engagement and milestone schedule put together by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the plan will likely be submitted for approval to the St. Paul City Council by April 2023. Assuming it passes, that would be the start of the longer, arduous process of funding and implementing the plan. (The passing or failing of the sales tax throws in another variable to gamble on.) Summit Avenue, like many St. Paul streets, is in poor condition. The possibility for resurfacing while waiting to implement the plan is possible — but fixes made now will not last long.
Implementation of the plan will likely be phased. Though the plan does not describe that process, the timeline for full buildout of the regional trail is estimated at 10 to 15 years. It’s a long time to wait, but it will be worth it for a good project that could transform the Capitol City and beyond.
Finally, some disclaimers.
- Andy Singer has been a relentless chronicler and advocate for a better Summit Avenue (and St. Paul). My name is Max Singer. I welcome your incredulity when I insist that we are not related in any way. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him on multiple occasions, but never once at a family reunion.
- Second, I work for the organization Move Minnesota in a non-advocacy position and am a volunteer member of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC). This article represents neither organization, and any opinions or jokes are entirely my own.
- Perhaps most controversially, I am from Minneapolis and have the nerve to write about what’s going on in St. Paul. I’m no expert in design, roadwork or repair, and any explanations found here should be understood as an engaged citizen trying to understand and reformat ideas created by people who do this sort of thing professionally. If I’m off on something, I encourage comments and corrections.
Photo at top: Summit Avenue at Lexington, courtesy of City of Saint Paul
Thanks for the intelligent, reasonable article about what a great trail this will make for St. Paul and the whole region. As a former St. Paulite, who lived a block and a half from Summit, this would be a much better, safer, calmer, and more enjoyable way to bike than when I biked along Summit in the ’90s and ’00s.
This should be a model for protected bikeways in other cities/suburbs in the Twin Cities. Protected bikeways are the gold standard, and we all deserve them.
Nice write-up. You distilled a lengthy document into a bite-size reading, and I like how you supported your words with evidence from the actual document. I’m really looking forward to riding along Summit safely with my children in the coming years on this new trail. It represents a regional attraction and community asset for all users, of which there are sure to be many.
Why is St. Paul broke? Obviously, it isn’t because too much money is spent on bike lanes. A far more likely culprit is the public subsidies for professional sports stadiums and other massive and costly concrete projects, that rather than add to the tax base, steal from the tax base to pay off investors in tax-exempt bonds. The Summit Avenue protected bike lane could be paid for, many times over, with the corporate welfare, alone, handed out to convicted fraudster Bill McGuire to build his soccer stadium monstrosity.
“In spite of these realities, in late 2020, a new City Council majority voted to create a $116 million Snelling Midway Redevelopment Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District in hopes of “jump-starting” redevelopment on the superblock. Incredibly, that amount was nearly doubled to $209.6 million less than a year later, even though no new development has been proposed. Keep in mind that providing this level of TIF for the Midway site will effectively deprive the city of $67.9 million in property taxes during the projected 26 years that the new TIF district is in place.”
I’m curious as to if you have any sources or proof saying that cycle paths are less safe than on-street lanes- especially in the one way configuration proposed. In my personal experience, I commute (in the summer) along Washington Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis, and I get to experience the difference between on street lanes and the cyclepaths- and I have a strong preference for cyclepaths over on street lanes. This winter, I’ve been biking on the new Hennepin cyclepaths and have been avoiding Washington entirely- because the painted lanes can’t be protected from snowplows and parking cars. That’s another win for the cyclepaths, in my opinion. My experience isn’t everyone’s, but I’m curious if you have any sources or evidence on cyclepaths.
I’d also ask you to look into the tree risks of reconstruction. It’s quite possible to lose hundreds of trees with your alternative proposal- anything that involves going subgrade on the road involves heavy machinery, and potentially disrupting roots. It sounds as though it is really not possible to meaningly fix the road surface without going beneath the roadbed, where things are going wrong. If the only priority was to save all trees along summit, I would offer that the best proposal would be to remove summit entirely- using hand tools and wheelbarrows.
Thanks for providing sources, Alex. I’m curious if you ride much in your neighborhood- or if you ever go for a ride with someone who doesn’t have as much experience.
I won’t address the points in depth, because I don’t believe I’ll change your mind, but I agree that intersections are the most important places for safety. However, I think that protected lanes and high visibility intersections are not at odds if done well. I think there’s a possibility of crash data presenting trees without the forest- namely- bike accidents don’t happen where most people are too afraid to bike.
I believe resolutely that safety in numbers is the best strategy. I think within reasonable bounds (like the footprint of the existing pavement), that maximizing comfort for folks not driving maximizes the number of folks who will take that opportunity. Saint Paul has bicycle boulevards, and they’re not that impressive or safe. Drivers seemingly have become only angrier and more aggressive since the pandemic, and are less likely than ever to peacefully share space- nowadays, not only with bikes but also with buildings, signs, and other cars. I’m sure you’ve experienced that.
Bicycle boulevards are a nice idea, but they won’t work here. Let’s build protected infrastructure that’s worked elsewhere, and trust that if Saint Paulites in cars aren’t annoyed or surprised to see bicycles, it will be a safer time for everyone.
The IIHS paper that Alex cited shows up in the comment section of every post on Summit Avenue, and has been addressed by others (e.g., low sample size, no control for rider ability, no accounting for reduced severity of crashes in protected bike lanes, etc.). More comprehensive studies have found that protected bike lanes are safer (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214140518301488).
Bike lanes such as these proposed have a 10 mph speed limit. Many, many bikers ride faster which means riding in the now narrower road with no room for drivers to pass. I’m a regular recreational rider and avoid these trail configurations. They are unsafe.
I’ve been wondering about that, too. Does anyone know if speed limits are being considered? They are common in Minneapolis, but nonexistent in St. Paul. I ride an e-bike, and on bike paths (I’m supposedly a menace that way). With the variety of vehicles likely to share this space, it seems like a good idea to start posting speed limits. Yes, people break the rules all the time. But a sign is a first step to remind people to look out for folk around you.
This plan is a sham that will cause more harm than good, and as Alex J points out above — will cost a bundle and half.
Counterpoints in the article
“The plan calls for the bike lanes to fall within the current curb lines of Summit Avenue” NOT TRUE. The curb lines are expanded in segments A and C — nearly half the corridor. Forestry, Water shed, and Historic Preservation all raised objections to changing the curb line. In the 90% Plan and comments. (Not to mention average citizens who aren’t in the Bike Lobby.)
” The parking utilization corridor-wide was beneath 50% of all available spaces, according to a study conducted in 2019 and supplemented in 2022. ” MISLEADING. The areas where parking is left untouched (mostly West of Lexington), utilization rates of around 30% are common. But, in the areas were 50% to 100% of the parking will be eliminated have utilization of 50% to 75%, per those reports. Those reports also over-counted the umber parking spaces, not accounting for things like driveways, bus layovers and required “no parking” distances from intersections. Actual parking utilization is much higher than in the reports.
“Much of the controversy around Summit has been presented in false dichotomies.” RARE AGREEMENT! However, we disagree on what the false dichotomy. The false dichotomy is the all of or nothing of this plan, that all things must be sacrificed for a suburban-style trail through the city. So many better compromise solutions were not allowed on the table. Segment A and C (Summit West of Lex fully meet NACTO standards with the current buffered lanes. Keeping Summit east of Lex (Segment D E & F ) as a commuter route with widened (buffered) on-street lanes and narrowed car lanes would meet Regional Trail standards and negate the negatives. The orphan branch of the bike network – the Ayd Mill Trail is located in a protected corridor, the appropriate location for separate pathway. That trails could and should be extended westward to Minneapolis along the shortline and eastward down Jefferson to the Sam Morgan Trail. Now we’ve increased the network size, made a safe actually protected cycle path and prevented all the losses on Summit. Win, win, win. But Planners have not allowed alternative ideas to the table.
Please Don’t Parent Shame
“As a young person who, unlike many of my peers, plans to have children someday, I’d never consider raising a child in a neighborhood without protected bike infrastructure.” Lots of parents live here an raise their kids just fine. As a biking parent who’s been there, what you think about parenting before you’re there and what happens afterward are very different. In the city, you teach your kids to bike in the park, then on the sidewalks. You step up to neighborhood streets, and then to Summit. You bike with your kids until they’re ready to bike on their own. You choose your routes according to their abilities. I need to step back a little and take about “all abilities” biking. You write like we don’t have a grid of slow, low traffic streets: Neighborhood streets are all “all abilities.” Yes, you have to stop and yield more, but slow bikers (kids and grandparents, in my experience, actually like the rest stops).
We shouldn’t actually need an expert to tell us that moving the curbs will hurt more trees than not moving curbs, but it’s in the plan.
TRASH AND ALLEYS
I think you missed the important part: 25% of Summit doesn’t have alley access, and that is why trash is not able to collected from the alleys.
ST PAUL IS BROKE
Indeed. So why are we proposing the most expensive shiny new thing in a location that doesn’t even provide any new bike routes? That, while it might get some “matching funds” form the Fed (still out taxpayer dollars, by the way), that comes without maintenance funding? Whose astronomical price tag doesn’t include lighting or signage? That will require ripping up all the expensive bumpouts and curbs that were just installed this year between Snelling and Ayd Mill?
I take umbrage at the idea that since I do not support this cycle path that I am against investing bike infrastructure. It should, but like all city budget items, it should be invested well. The city could fund over 80 miles of bike lanes for every one mile of this gratuitously expensive cycle path. My math: 12.5 million for 5 miles (I’m rounding up the miles since I rounded up the cost) is 2,5000,000 per mile. Per the St Paul Bike Plan, on-street bike lanes cost 300,000 per mile. For those of us who like take shortcuts in math, remove 5 zeroes form each of those: 250 to 3.
Should millions of our limited bike dollars to a “bikeway that people already use” or should it go to expanding the bike network?
editorial corrections I hit send too soon
This plan is a sham that will cause more harm than good, and as Alex J points out above — will cost a bundle and half.
Counterpoints in the article
“The plan calls for the bike lanes to fall within the current curb lines of Summit Avenue” NOT TRUE. The curb lines are expanded in segments A and C — nearly half the corridor. Forestry, Water shed, and Historic Preservation all raised objections to changing the curb line in the 90% Plan and comments. (Not to mention average citizens who aren’t in the Bike Lobby.)
“The parking utilization corridor-wide was beneath 50% of all available spaces, according to a study conducted in 2019 and supplemented in 2022. ” MISLEADING. The areas where parking is left untouched (mostly West of Lexington), utilization rates of around 30% are common. But, in the areas were 50% to 100% of the parking will be eliminated have utilization of 50% to 75%, per those reports. Those reports also over-counted the number parking spaces, not accounting for things like driveways, bus layovers and required “no parking” distances from intersections. Actual parking utilization is much higher than in the reports.
“Much of the controversy around Summit has been presented in false dichotomies.” RARE AGREEMENT! However, we disagree on what the false dichotomy. The false dichotomy is the “all or nothing” choice of this plan, that all things must be sacrificed for a suburban-style trail through the city. So many better compromise solutions were not allowed on the table. Segment A and C (Summit West of Lex) fully meet NACTO standards with the current buffered lanes. Keeping Summit east of Lex (Segment D E & F ) as a commuter route with widened (buffered) on-street lanes and narrowed car lanes would meet Regional Trail standards and negate the negatives. The orphan branch of the bike network – the Ayd Mill Trail– is located in a protected corridor, an appropriate location for separate pathway. That trails could and should be extended westward to Minneapolis along the shortline and eastward down Jefferson to the Sam Morgan Trail. Now we’ve increased the network size, made a safe, actually protected cycle path and prevented all the losses on Summit. Win, win, win. But Planners have not allowed alternative ideas to the table.
Please Don’t Parent Shame
“As a young person who, unlike many of my peers, plans to have children someday, I’d never consider raising a child in a neighborhood without protected bike infrastructure.” As a parent who’s been there, what you think about parenting before you’re there and what happens afterward are very different. In the city, you teach your kids to bike in the park, then on the sidewalks. You step up to neighborhood streets and then to Summit. My kids began biking on Summit around age 8.
We shouldn’t actually need an expert to tell us that moving the curbs will hurt more trees than not moving curbs, but it’s in the plan—experts don’t want the curb moved.
TRASH AND ALLEYS
I think you missed the important part: 25% of Summit doesn’t have alley access, and that is why trash is not able to collected from the alleys.
ST PAUL IS BROKE
Indeed. So why are we proposing a $12.5 million dollar piece of junk, that doesn’t provide any new biek routes? That, while it might get some “matching funds” form the Fed (still out taxpayer dollars, by the way), that comes without maintenance funding?
important correction on zeroes
I take umbrage at the idea that since I do not support this cycle path that I am against investing bike infrastructure. It should, but like all city budget items, it should be invested well. The city could fund over 80 miles of bike lanes for every one mile of this gratuitously expensive cycle path. My math: 12.5 million (12,500,000) for 5 miles (I’m rounding up the miles since I rounded up the cost) is 2,500,000 per mile. Per the St Paul Bike Plan, on-street bike lanes cost 30,000 per mile. For those of us who like take shortcuts in math, remove 4 zeroes form each of those: 250 to 3.
Should millions of our limited bike dollars to a “bikeway that people already use” or should it go to expanding the bike network?
editorial corrections I hit send too soon
Speaking as a bicycle commuter who rides on Summit Avenue daily and year round, I can confidently attest that every statement made by Alex J above is either untrue or misleading.
Hi Dan. Alex’s comments cited facts, links to legit bike source, and a peer-reviewed study. You cite your personal opinions. PJ also provides personal opinion on biking that is contrary to yours. I also bike, and provide personal experience and opinion that agrees with Alex and PJ. (To be fair, Joe also agrees with you, but similarly fails to cite data.). Probably the reason why the IIHS study is so cited is that so many studies look at comfort, but not at actual crash data. MNDOT lists standard bike lanes as “proven” and these very expensive paths only as “tried.” I’ve made a bunch of posts here now with tons of sources. I don’t pretend to I think I can convince you — you can’t fight belief with facts — so have a nice day.
The Dutch do not paint a stripe on road surfaces and call it a bike facility. Improvements are not for those of us who are comfortable riding in current conditions.
Great write up, Max, and I echo your concerns about letting kids ride alone on bike facilities that aren’t separated. The National Association for City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which another commenter cited above, specifically recommends separated bike lanes, rather than buffered bike lanes, for streets that experience the speeds and volumes of Summit Avenue to accommodate people of all ages and abilities. Considering how many schools are along or within a few blocks of Summit, it has the potential of being a great way for kids to get too and from school. St. Paul Public Works did a nice job of implementing best practices into this design.
Hi Joe. More context on NACTO:
NACTO recommends buffered for roads with speed limits of 25MPH or less and traffic levels of 6000 or less. West of Lex, those are met. The one-way roadway divides traffic levels in half, putting traffic at 3000-4000 per one way roadway. There’s also plenty fo space for the buffered bike lane, and as noted in other comments, by keeping the bikes on-street we can narrow the traffic lanes creating safer experience foe everyone: cyclists, peds, passengers and drivers. (Really, lowering driving speeds should be step #1 in any city road project.)
“Lane widths of 10 feet are appropriate in urban areas and have a positive impact on a street’s safety without impacting traffic operations. For designated truck or transit routes, one travel lane of 11 feet may be used in each direction. In select cases, narrower travel lanes (9–9.5 feet) can be effective as through lanes in conjunction with a turn lane.” (https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/street-design-elements/lane-width/)
As for East of Lex, the section of Summit from Ramsey to the cathedral similarly meets NACTO requirements for low traffic levels and low speed. The problem section is not the full 4.5 corridor, but just the 1.3 mile stretch form Lexington to Ramsey, and there the speed limit levels are met, just not the traffic levels. And that section of the roadway unfortunately has the most constrained conditions. There are, however, guidelines for constrained conditions that relate to modifying the very blunt (two criteria only) NACTO prescriptive rule of thumb. NACTO goes not give good guidance of making decisions regarding constrained conditions, but FHWA provide guidance:
“The inability to provide the preferred bikeway should not immediately result in dismissal of other options. If the resulting bikeway is not appealing to all ages and abilities, it still may be desirable and beneficial for the comfort and safety of more confident bicyclists. The next best bikeway should be considered, but will often depend on the context and particular constraints of each project. Where project constraints or compromises require a design solution that does not meet the original purpose of the project, it may be necessary to consider alternative parallel routes. It is therefore important to evaluate the project from all angles and consider the impacts on all modes of transportation.” (FHWA, Bikeway Selection Guide)
In Minnesota, MN-DOT’s Bike Facility Design Manual, (BFDM), is the governing document for facility selection. It stipulates that “balanced and appropriate” solutions must be sought, particularly when there is a constrained right-of-way. Further, the BFDM specifically references the Performance-Based Practical Design (PBPD) as a companion guide to help work out the balance:
Constrained Right-of-Way: “To find balanced and appropriate solutions in constrained right-of-way, consult the Performance-Based Practical Design Guide.” (BFDM, 3-7)
BFDM stipulates that “compromised” solutions must be looked at in context and officials must consider alternate routes and/or decreasing the “comfort level” of cyclists. Performance-Based Practical Design (PBPD) takes cost into account, and it is not optional. It is required by MN Law:
“Performance-Based Practical Design (PBPD) is simply the use of performance-based methods and processes to solve problems and produce outcomes, all the while recognizing our limited financial resources and the need to spend public funds wisely and with a long-term, system-wide outlook. Expressed another way, every scoping and design decision should be made based on whether the proposed feature will address the project’s stated desired outcomes as well as whether it represents a use of funds that makes good sense considering other needs on the system as a whole. It tends to rely on the use of a flexible design approach to choose appropriate dimensions and parameters within and sometimes outside the ranges of standard nominal values.” (PBPD, 3) (1) (emphasis added)
No alternative positions have been considered in the SAMP process, despite the practical advantages of grid pattern of streets and the unique circumstance of differing levels and types of traffic along on Summit. The finances of this plan are irresponsible. In an era where the Mayor is asking for property tax increases and a sales tax increase to pay for basic services like repaving the roads, how can this exorbitant duplication of infrastructure —it’s not even a new bike route– even be proposed? Is Summit’s overpriced cycle path St Paul’s “Bridge to Nowhere”?
I’m always thrilled when the MNDOT bike manual gets referenced outside our agency’s hallowed walls, but wanted to offer some additional context on the facility selection criteria and design flexibility options offered in the BFDM. Credentials – I was one of the primary authors of this version of the BFDM and we relied heavily on the FHWA document you’ve cited.
The selection criteria are offered as a minimum requirement for the majority of users, not a maximum. If you want interested but concerned bicyclists to use your bikeway, you need to do at least what is suggested by NACTO, FHWA and MnDOT (e.g. buffered on-street bikeway), but there is no prohibition on doing more. Similarly, the concept of the next best facility is really for when all other approaches have failed.* Historically, bike/ped has been in a position of begging for scraps which these days has manifested itself in our insistence that we want A but when push comes to shove, our willingness to accept B. Engineers often end up in a position where they feel that if they can’t install the best facility they shouldn’t install anything and this is our attempt to say “yes, we will take an on-street bike lane if you can’t do a sidepath.”
When PBPD came out in 2018, we were excited that it might mean that engineers would use the design flexibility it afforded them to reduce their focus on building excess car infrastructure “just in case” and allocating that ROW instead to other uses (like walking and biking). In the last 5 years, we’ve found that to sometimes be the case. More often, we see it weaponized against us as people argue all the ways that a walk/bike facility is impractical.
*Coming back to this point, we want to do the next best thing if we can’t do the best thing. But, the BFDM also has several suggestions for how to fit the best thing in before resulting to less attractive alternatives (pgs 3-16 thru 3-17). Removing or relocating parking is listed as one of those options. In my personal opinion (my employer has no skin in this game), we are able to provide the preferred bikeway so we should do so.
Wow, this is so helpful! Thank you for sharing your expertise and explaining some of the context and considerations in these decision-making processes.
Thank you Max Singer: Very nicely written and easy to read. The proposed project is consistent with current best practices of design for safe movement of all users of a street, and you illustrate that well for Summit.
Thank you, Max. Well said, and funny. There is much to be said on the subject, and I’m trying to craft my own two cents. You’ve said it well, and now I’ll have to scratch off much of what I’ve written. Thanks a lot! (mock sarcasm).
You are shifting the focus in a much needed way towards the changing needs of residents regarding protected bikeways. I wonder what other vehicles we are likely to see on Summit, once this project comes to fruition. I suspect everything from longboards to electric wheelchairs. I hope it will mean a reduction of vehicle traffic on the road surface itself; a big factor in St. Paul’s Bike Plan.
I bike commuted along Summit for a decade or more (April through early November). The major risk I saw was cars not stopping behind the stop signs on cross streets, but stopping past the signs in which to look for cross traffic on Summit and encroaching on the bike lane. But the same potential exists for the proposed trail, perhaps even heightened because the stop sign is further in from Summit. Cars will definitely block the trail as they wait for an opening in Summit traffic to make a turn.
A new risk is cars on Summit turning right or left onto a cross street. Drivers may not check for bicyclists on the trail before turning. Bicyclists might be difficult to see when parked cars block a driver’s view of the trail. The trail will need signage to stop users at every cross section.
The worse stretch was always Dale to Lexington due to traffic volumes and most parking spaces being occupied during afternoon rush hours.
Hi Peter. Great comments.
I spent some time visiting the new Johnson Parkway’s new bike paths this summer. Here’s what I learned.
First, Johnson is a little bit different from Summit, because the new facility is a shared path and before it was built there was no sidewalk at all. So adding a pedestrian facility was greatly needed. There’s also still on-street bike lanes for most of it — unfortunately not all. Those are key differences form Summit, where there’s already sidewalks and the on-street bike lane will have to be removed for this (bad) plan.
But the reason why I wanted to bring up Johnson was the intersections. They built “tabled crossings” which are supposed to make intersections safer, but by observation they appear to do the opposite. The tabled crossing is concrete, a gently raised platform and it is really wide — more than a car length– and so instead of stopping behind it, where you cant see traffic at all, cars roll right up onto it and stop where they normally would. Is it drivers’ fault? Technically, yes, because they did not stop at the sign. But — the Europeans would look at dominant behavior and decide it’s a design problem. In several places to stop at the stop sign, you’d have to block the side lane roadway, and it’s not possible to turn from the side lane and stop at the stop sign. The trail design creates a confused right-of-way condition with poor site lines.
I also looked up crash data on Wheelock Parkway, since the Johnson Parkway facility is too new for data, which had the sidewalk level paths installed. Wheelock had the same number of bike crashes at Summit –two — even though it has way less traffic and is supposed to be safer. And, no surprise here, they were both at intersections. The confused right-of-way had a cyclist hitting the side of car at a minor side street, and the other was at Wheelock and Rice and occurred where the path crosses a commercial driveway with a huge blind spot.
Say no to the suburban trail in the city context. 90% plan refused at look at other solutions: narrowing traffic lanes, wider buffers, high visibility paint, and maybe even trying something new-to-the-US, but well proven in Europe: parking protected bike lanes.
Hello Jacky B: You have misrepresented/miscalculated a couple of facts. The $12.5 million dollar figure is not due to the bicycle infra but is the approximated total cost of rebuilding the street system, no matter how it is designed. Actually, I perceive the proposed re design of Summit would actually be lower cost than rebuilding the street layout the way it is now.
The other issue you have mixed up is about the curb lines. The overall project is within the same relative envelope width of what is currently in place at this time. The change in the curb line alignment is due to the cycleway space being removed from the middle of the street and and repositioned between the parking space in the street and the sidewalk. The street width curb to curb will actually be less than it is now, and the auto carriageway would be farther away from the trees, and some roots.
Some things to think about.
Hi Paul. Maybe you missed it, but the rebuilding of the street has been cancelled:
“UPDATE 10/13/2022: Summit Avenue Reconstruction Project for 2023 has been cancelled. Summit Avenue from Lexington Parkway to Victoria Street AND Summit Avenue from Mississippi River Boulevard to Snelling Avenue will receive street maintenance treatments to improve the road surfaces in 2023. Read the press release.” https://www.stpaul.gov/projects/public-works/pw2023summitreconst
It defies common sense that how you rebuild does not affect the price tag. The new design will require countless efforts that would not be required if the on-street bike lanes and current road configuration were kept: rebuilding all 150 driveways (extending 8-12 feet, re-ramping), rebuilding 688 (all 86 intersections x 8 ramps @ per 4 corner) including the brand spanking new bumpouts just build last summer between Snelling and Ayd Mill. Not to mention the added cost and destruction to the trees and tree canopy — removal and replanting that could be prevented. This is a boondoogle and the “no added costs” refrain is disinformation campaign.
“Stay inside the curb” is another disinformation campaign. The 90% plan clearly shows that the the plan right now is to cut into the boulevards and median islands by 3 feet for the largest roadway section–called A and C in the plan, but better recognized as the single island style West of Lexington (except near Mac). As for east of Lexington, the 90% appears to show staying between the curbs, but the clearances are substandard and the 90% also clearly states that the design can be modified in “Design and Engineering” phase to expand the bike facility foot print to meet the typical section of 11 feet (on each side). This would cut into the boulevard or eliminate 100% of parking in the area where its most needed by renters carryign groceries and laundry, parents dropping off their kids at day care or school, Grand Avenue employees hoping to walk safely to their cars after closing the restaurant at late hours, and elderly trying to get to church.
I had to check the City’s website to parse its plans, but it seems they’re saying reconstruction is postponed for this section (Lexington to Victoria) for this year. Yes, it says cancelled. It also says “we’ll see what happens” vis a vis the city councils decision regarding the trail plan. But, they say, the mill and overlay can’t wait. They’re not cancelling the road reconstruction indefinitely; they’re kicking sewer and water repairs down the road.
The press release (I think) says: Saint Paul Public Works is not going to do a scheduled 2023 street reconstruction on the half-mile of Summit Avenue between Lexington Parkway to Victoria Street. The City funding for that project is being reallocated to address maintenance treatments on the two larger sections of Summit Avenue. This new 2023 street maintenance work, combined with this year’s mill and overlay work on Summit Avenue, will create improved pavement conditions along Summit Avenue from Mississippi River Boulevard to Victoria Street.
“We want to wait until the City has a finalized Parks Master Plan for Summit Avenue before we begin any future planning and engineering work for potential changes along Summit Avenue,” said Director of Saint Paul Public Works Sean Kershaw. “That being said, we know the roadway pavement conditions on these sections of Summit Avenue could not wait another year without some form of larger maintenance effort in 2023.”
Another correction: nowhere is the “carriageway width less than it is now” unless one misleadingly excludes the the bikeway from the “carriage way.” More importantly for roadway safety for all users, the vehicle traffic lanes are also widened from 11 fete to 12 feet in every section, sometimes one lane sometimes both.
There was a public comment submitted by Technical Advisory committee member Luke Martinkosky (emphasis added):
“… reduction in lane width would likely result in decreased crashes and greater safety along Summit Avenue (Relationship of Lane Width to Safety on Urban and Suburban Arterials (Harwood, Potts, Richard, 2007)). MnDOT recommends that design begin with a street width of 10 feet for design speeds of 20 to 35 mph and states 12-foot lanes are only appropriate for high-speed streets (Performance-Based Practical Design – Process and Design Guidance, MnDOT, September 2018). If necessary, the bikeway buffer could also be reduced from 4’ to the identified 2’ minimum width. A reduction in overall width would have the added benefit of reducing project costs associated with grading, tree removal, and paving.”
The separated cycle path trail design actually requires widening existing lanes from 11 feet to 12 feet in order to maintain room for emergency vehicles to pass. Keeping the on-street lanes with the parking lanes maintains a shoulder and would allow narrowing the drive lanes to 10 feet, lowering speeds and increasing safety for all: pedestrians, cyclists, passengers and drivers.
This 90% Plan proposes a suburban-style trail meant for 45 MPH suburban roadways–look at Country Road E2 in Arden Hills. Same trail, but in its proper context. The cycle path is wrong for Summit Avenue.
Well-written and even-keeled look at the process at the present moment.
Just a note about the debate here on safety, data, and citations. I have a PhD in urban geography and my dissertation research was on non-motorized transportation planning, i.e. exactly this kind of topic. I would encourage
Bike safety studies are difficult to parse because there are so many variables and such a wide range of applications and contexts for different design treatments. As a result, engineers like the ones working at St Paul on this project have to make difficult judgement calls about which
Mostly, I’d encourage folks not to think there’s a simple study or data source that we can turn to that will prove that one deign is better than another. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here because so much of what makes a bike route safe or unsafe revolves around urban context, rather than a specific measurement or piece of infrastructure.
For example I’d encourage anyone to click on the actual NACTO page and read what they say about different treatments: https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/cycle-tracks/raised-cycle-tracks/ Check it out. They don’t make any definite statements because everything depends on specific context that can change greatly from city to city or street to street.
This days, I think that once you get a few safety basics down, the important thing is for cities to be consistent about how they design bike infrastructure. I.e. right now in Minneapolis, they’ve narrowed down what they’re building into a few kinds of treatments: the one- and two-way protected on-street lanes and the one-way curb-protected cycle tracks (and with more of these built lately). Probably the best thing St Paul can do is to make new infrastructure either match Minneapolis’ standards or continue with the two-way off-street designs you see downtown or on Como and Johnson.
But the main takeaway: take the long list of comments and citations from Jacky B with a lots of grains of salt. As someone who’s been studying this topic for over 10 years, I don’t have time to refute or argue with Jacky here because I’m teaching three classes this semester. There are a few things I’d change, but if St Paul executes the details at intersections, this plan is a good one and will be far better than the status quo.
I did not feel safe biking in downtown Mpls. One stretch of bike lane on 4th St. is right next to the center line. A biker could literally be in the middle of two-way traffic. Ongoing street construction also caused bike lane closures or re-routing that was unsafe.
Hello Jacky B: The current reality is the perception of motorists, of a 20 foot wide lane due to the extra space in the street with the painted bike lane. . This induces higher speed traffic of motorists on the road. The 11/12 foot width change saga you describe is not really relevant.
More importantly, take a good hard look at the street conditions at this time with many cars parked in the wrong place on the street (Summit, Marshall, Minnehaha West) due to the snow banks extending out in to the street; there is no bike lane. That is not safe. Honestly I would not park a car that way, and it is not necessary.to do so.
As I explained previously, the new design would require less cost to build than keeping the current road design as is.
If there really is a lack of funds to rebuild in the near future, a less costly method of design can be applied by merely extending the boulevard out in to the street and building a new curb, and building the grade separated cycle pad on the extended space. It may not be necessary to remove all of the old curb in some places to save costs. This concept would provide the same basic design of the rebuild without rebuilding the whole street.
This is a much better design and street system that we need to apply to other streets, and convert the “door zone” unsafe in street bike lanes to a far more safe space of bicycle use.
Your statement of “suburban-style trail meant for 45 MPH suburban roadways” is wholly untrue, and you miss characterize reality for this application. The proposed cycle pad is not wrong for Summit.
Creative thinking is not a strong suit in the Twin Cities. It seems since its early days “newer must be better” has been the modus operandi hence beautiful turn of the century architecture torn down in Minneapolis for…parking lots; Rondo destroyed for a “modern, efficient” beltway; an impressive electric trolley system replaced with busses; a football stadium that looks like Darth Vader just landed, etc. And now an historic neighborhood and its priceless tree canopy will be besmirched because millennials (who like everything painted gray) want a suburban lifestyle in the city. Common sense says that if you add 3 feet to the width of Summit Avenue, you will negatively impact the trees. Duh. Wabasha in downtown was “improved” with a raised surface bike trail and there are 0 trees left – all taken down and not replaced. I don’t see anyone on that bike trail by the way – who wants to ride a bike in a city of vacant buildings. I expect to see tumbleweeds blowing around any day now. Bump outs and table intersections might make some feel they are modern and safety minded, but in the process they will ruin the historic vista on Summit, something that is clearly not valued here. It is a fact that no alternatives to achieve the goals of the 90% plan have been or will be considered. That is Stupid 101. If people were truly interested in solving the problems they are using to rationalize their plan, they would look at a number of alternatives and weigh cost/benefit/advantages/disadvantages and brainstorm. But the boys in diapers want their raised surface bike trail and they will have it regardless. I could go on about what I’ve seen internationally that does all the things the plan claims it wants to do while preserving history and greenspace, but why bother. Minnesota is bland at best and ugly at its worst – thanks to short sighted leadership and misplaced values. The tradition continues. Sinclair Lewis would not be surprised.
Hello Uncle Guido: Wabasha in downtown Saint Paul does not have a Capital City Bikeway on it at this time, and there are trees on the southern end of Wabasha. If the Capital City Bikeway was extended throughout the city and metro with the same standard of design features, we would have many more people using that system. Fewer cars would be on our roads creating potholes which seem to be in a lot of places right now, created by the weight of motor vehicle traffic in tandem with our winter climate. We have lots of wasted space throughout the city and the metro where we could build more sustainable infra for non motorized transport, and the outcome is we all would be saving a lot of money, as well as restoring and reclaiming the historic vista on Summit and many more places. Just my two cents.
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