Ten Reasons to Love the Summit Avenue Draft Plan

St. Paul recently released its 90% draft plan for a Summit Avenue Regional Trail. The project would replace the current painted bike lanes on Summit Avenue with separated, protected one-way bike paths. The draft plan has a lot to love for all users of the historic Summit Avenue corridor.

This piece was drafted before the excellent pieces from Max Singer and Ed Steinhauer were also published by Streets.mn. Check those out for additional perspectives.

1) Safety improvements for everyone

One-way, raised protected bike lanes are the worldwide gold safety standard, especially in busier, much-loved corridors like Summit. Study after study has shown these to generally be the safest type of facility for people on bikes, while the current unprotected, painted bike lanes next to parked cars are some of the most dangerous. This safety benefit applies to all corridor users, not just those using bikes.

2) Listens to the community

While the current bike lanes work for some, they fail far too many others, such as newer riders or those with children. In relevant surveys (here and here), people are shown to want protected lanes. This was far and away the most commonly cited factor that would enable people to ride more often and feel safer on Summit. Unsurprisingly, car drivers generally like protected infrastructure better too, because it reduces the chance that they will hit a cyclist.

A recent survey related to the Grand Avenue reconstruction, just a block away from Summit, showed that many more people would like to get to locations on Grand by bike than currently do (7% do, while 26% would like to). While the Grand project doesn’t include any bike infrastructure, safety improvements to Summit will help make locations along Grand vastly more accessible by bike, because they will be just a short block away from safe and accessible bike infrastructure.

3) Preserves historic street

There’s no evidence that the draft plan will damage the historic nature of Summit. For most of the project, the proposal functionally just swaps where the bike lanes and parking lanes are located, putting parked cars next to moving car traffic instead of the bike lanes, while also raising the bike route above street level for added protection. A similar design is used east of Lexington, repurposing some of the excess street parking to largely maintain the current street footprint. If we wanted to be completely true to the historic nature of Summit, we should ban cars altogether and restore the bike trail which was first established in the 1890s.

4) Climate and environmental action

St. Paul recently recognized the reality of climate change through a climate emergency declaration and by completing a climate action plan. The Summit trail translates policy into action by providing the type of facilities known to increase cycling rates. It will result in decreased greenhouse gas emissions and less microplastic pollution. If even one extra person per day replaces a three-mile car trip with a bike trip, the annual emissions avoided are equivalent to the carbon sequestration of 20 mature trees. Given that improvements such as these often lead to a doubling of cycling rates, that would have the emissions impact of adding thousands of mature trees.

5) Leverages needed street reconstruction

Large portions of Summit are over 100 years old and badly in need of reconstruction to replace utilities and roadbed. The plan calls for work to be done during planned, upcoming reconstructions of Summit. This smart and efficient approach drastically lowers the standalone trail cost, while also minimizing disruption. Under this plan, the majority of disruptions to the current streetscape would be due to street rebuilding and utility replacements, not the trail itself.

6) Transportation freedom and happiness

We know that far more people would like the freedom to bike. What stops them is not weather or hills, but the availability of safe, accessible and comfortable bike infrastructure. As such, this project increases transportation freedom of choice along the Summit corridor and beyond, letting more people choose the transportation mode known to produce the happiest commuters. Increased availability of a wide variety of electric and adaptive bikes means that just about anyone can comfortably use the new facilities.

7) Economic stimulus and community investment

Better access to safe bike infrastructure has time and again been shown to help, not hinder businesses. Studies comparing the economic impacts of driving and cycling also conclusively show the benefits of investing in high-quality, accessible cycling routes over the liabilities of our economically unsustainable, car-centric development model. St. Paul Public Works estimates a roughly $30 million annual maintenance shortfall because we have too much paved surface being damaged by too many cars. The option to choose cycling can save households thousands of dollars a year, making low-carbon, sustainable transportation accessible to a much wider swath of income levels than other alternatives like electric cars. We’ll also be helping low income workers who are financially overburdened by or unable to afford car ownership.

8) Winter maintenance improvements

Currently, even our highly qualified public works staff can’t keep the bike lanes on Summit rideable in the winter. Parking cars pack even small amounts of snow into uneven ice berms. Snow builds up along the curb causing parked cars to creep into the painted bike lanes, often completely blocking them. The proposed plan fixes this. While no model is perfect and can suffer under the heaviest of snowfalls, separated infrastructure is far easier to maintain by eliminating the challenges of working around cars. Similar off-street sections of the Grand Round are admirably maintained by Saint Paul Parks and accessible year-round.

Two photos. The first shows a car parked in a bike lane on Summit due to the presence of a large snowbank, with the caption "Summit today with blocked, icy bike lanes." The second shows a completely unobstructed bike trail, with the caption "Ayd Mill trail — separated, safe, and cleared of snow."
The current bike lanes on Summit steadily and reliably disappear each winter. Grade separation from car traffic enables much more reliable snow clearance.

9) Design welcomes all users

Separated, protected bikeways improve safety outcomes for all corridor users. Specific design elements in the draft plan are known to provide safety and accessibility benefits, such as raised intersection crossings and curb bumpouts. These help naturally enforce safe vehicle speeds (something paint and signs cannot do), shorten roadway crossing distances for pedestrians, increase visibility and improve both safety and comfort at intersections. Safer speeds means that when conflicts do arise, they occur at a speed where all users can react to either avoid crashes or minimize chances of severe injury.

10) Connects other routes

An improved Summit bikeway helps significantly improve the existing and planned network in St. Paul. Notable connections will include the Mississippi River path, Capital City Bikeway, Ayd Mill trail and several north-south painted bike lanes. This entire area of St. Paul currently lacks a high-quality east-west route, as the bike lanes on Marshall are incomplete and suffer the same issues as the current Summit lanes. The Summit trail will add an invaluable piece to our nascent bike network.

In all, there is a lot to love about the draft plan. It is forward-looking but maintains the important parts of what makes Summit Avenue a special and historic place. It will be a valuable investment in the financial and environmental sustainability of our community. To review the city’s draft plan and provide feedback, visit the city’s website here. Be sure to submit feedback by February 28!

Submit feedback to the Parks and Rec Commission

Meeting details: Thursday, March 9, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave. We currently expect that the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) will consider the Summit Avenue Master Plan proposal at this meeting. We need people to turn out to the meeting and/or submit e-mail comments to liz.mcdonald@ci.stpaul.mn.us. E-mailed comments should include “PRC PUBLIC COMMENT” in the subject line and may be submitted up until noon the day before the meeting. Try to keep comments brief as there is bound to be a lot of repetition.

In addition, consider participating in a community forum on Monday, February 27, 6 to 7:30 p.m., House of Hope Presbyterian Church, 797 Summit Ave. The Summit Hill Association and the Summit-University Planning Council are co-hosting the meeting, which will include representatives from St. Paul city government to provide an overview of the project and participate in a Q&A session.

Questions must be emailed ahead of the meeting to questions@summit-university.org. The meeting will also be offered over Zoom. Learn more here.

19 thoughts on “Ten Reasons to Love the Summit Avenue Draft Plan

  1. Sheldon Gitis

    The Ayd Mill Road-Summit Avenue comparison is apples and oranges. The 2 corridors are not similar. The Summit Avenue plan looks a lot more like the Johnson Pkwy sidewalk project than the Ayd Mill Road trail project. For those who use Summit Avenue as a corridor for bicycle transportation, 90-plus percent of whom don’t ride in the winter, a protected bike lane similar to the one on Plymouth Avenue between the River and Wirth Pkwy would be preferable to a Johnson Pkwy-like sidewalk.

    As long as the traffic engineering profession continues to design roads with the ass-backward goal of increasing the volume and speed of motor vehicles, no amount of bicycle path/trail/sidewalk building is going to make the streets any safer for anyone, regardless of their preferred mode of transportation. As long as the traffic engineers and the money-grubbing concrete project conglomerates they work for maintain the current “bigger is better” mindset, we’re screwed.

    These are not the people you want designing safe streets.

    1. Jacky B

      Thanks for the links, Sheldon. It seemed inevitable that there would be a money trail. I have a link for you: SaveSummitAvenue.org

      1. Sheldon Gitis

        Yes, follow the money. The last place we want to put government grant money for transportation and infrastructure projects is into the pockets of Bolton & Menk, Inc. Corporate welfare for “engineering” and “professional services” consultants will not bring us safe streets. On the contrary, it brings us more the same high volume, high-speed, highway-hellhole.

  2. Jacky B

    Another day, another post by one of the ten people who like this plan… This piece is chock full of misinformation and false either-or thinking. There are much better designs possible for Summit.

    There is no singular gold standard for bike infrastructure. It needs to be context-specific and the extremely high number of intersections (46) and driveways (150) make this less safe for bikers. Summit’s largest risk to cyclists occur at intersections, and the proposed cycle path offers no additional protection to cyclists while creating blind crossings with confused right-of-way for all 46 cross streets and 150 driveway crossings. Separated, protected bike paths are the standard for another context: naturally protected corridors, like along a river or a railroad corridor. Cycle paths are shown to be more dangerous for bikes in a city street context. It is also less safe for everyone by widening traffic lanes. Speeding is the biggest risk for all road users. We need narrower driving lanes to increase risk to all road users, especially the most vulnerable.
    Summit is classified as a commuter route and commuters by and large prefer the bike lanes. A parallel bike boulevard extending the Ayd Mill orphan trail would far better serve the recreation cyclist.
    Cutting down trees — as this trail will do in spades — will harm the environment more than this bike trail will help.
    That’s not the 90% plan says. The historic memo says that in order NOT to damage the historic districts, the curbs cant be moved, and any plan should be “as simple as possible”. This plan is neither simple, nor within the curbs.

    5.Street reconstruction from Lex to Victoria was cancelled three months ago. The author has to be aware of it–the cancellation has been commented on these pro-trail posts several times. Why do you keep saying it’s still happening?

    & 7 — Freedom and Economics. There are alternative designs that would be much less invasive, less expensive, much less harmful to trees and historical districts. This is not an either/or. There is an economic need for also the need for deliveries, ADA access, and for folks to park near their homes and businesses. More than 50% of the population is not interested in/able to bike ever — where’s their freedom?
    If you let me post photos I have dozens of counter examples of these types of paths covered by ice sheets. In fact, you all just complained about it: https://www.minnpost.com/metro/2023/02/winter-biking-in-the-twin-cities-is-for-committed-cyclists-but-has-this-season-been-especially-bad/
    Acknowledgement from the author Zack Mensinger (Bike Coalition) that the City “failed to plow at a critical time”. Mississippi River Trail is “almost impossible to ride”. So much for year-round usage of trails.
    The cycle path is the most expensive bike infrastructure. At $12.5 million, it will cost an astronomical $2.8 million per mile. How is spending this kind of money on a mode that is just 3% (on average) equitable?Authentic public outreach or just leaning in toward the BikeLobby? https://www.fox9.com/news/our-streets-Minneapolis-must-register-lobbyists.amp
    Summit does not have a bridge to Minneapolis. Marshall or Ayd Mill orphan trail would be better connectors. Marshall is more direct, Ayd Mill is a suitable context in a protected corridor for the type of trail

    1. Zack Mensinger Post author

      Hi Jacky. You’ve made a great point that extending the Midtown Greenway/Ayd Mill trail by connecting the missing middle would also be a highly transformational project. Combined with a good connection to the excellent new facilities on Summit, it will greatly enhance transportation freedom of choice for a large number of Saint Paul residents, who will no longer be forced into a transportation mode that kills our planet and gives their neighbors asthma in order to travel around safely year-round! This proposal in no way takes away the “freedom” of drivers either, who will be freely and safely able to access the entire corridor just as they can today. A complete win-win, slam-dunk of a project that benefits everyone!
      I encourage you to check out and support the awesome work of the Midtown Greenway Coalition in extending the Greenway: https://midtowngreenway.org/news-and-developments/extend-the-greenway-impact-report/

    2. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

      “Another day, another voice.” Thank God! Jacky, you can’t credibly minimize the voices of people who speak up for improved bike infrastructure. Today it’s Zack’s voice. Yesterday it was Lisa’s. I was so glad to meet Lisa Nelson (on a zoom meeting, yesterday), who testified about successes, failures, and adaptations to her family’s commitment to reducing vehicle miles traveled. She is right, and you are wrong, about “bang for the buck.” You reduce far more GHG emissions by cutting down on your ICEV use than by planting trees. Your car generates thousands of pounds of CO2 every year, while a mature tree consumes tens of pounds. This plan in hand, on the table, the one “all ten of us” loves, stands to put more bikes on the cycleway, and will eventually offer connection to more places via more paths.
      Yes, the road reconstruction will happen. It is off the table for now, but city planners can’t wait for this political process to play out before they at least do a mill and overlay between Lex and Victoria. So the Big Dig + Path won’t happen this summer (bummer), but it seems to me (I’ll admit, the city’s announcements are vague) that once a plan is approved and funding secured, the path will be built in conjunction with a rebuild. Because we know that’s the only way the bike improvements can be financially feasible.

  3. Laura

    As a biker and a lover of the environment, I’d prefer to largely keep the bike lanes the way they are so that there’s no loss of trees. I prefer to walk and bike in the shade.

    I also want to keep the lanes in the street because I have seen what’s happened in New York. The bike lanes are generally populated by e-bikes and mopeds, not pedal bikes. In instances where there’s one protected lane for bikes right next to the sidewalk, it’s the motorized bikes that nearly run pedestrians down, not the pedal bikes or the cars. The motorized bikes also tend to make it less safe for non-motorized bikes. This effect doesn’t kick in right away. One or two motorized bikes isn’t that big of a deal. But when, say 30-40% of the traffic gets to be e-bikes, I’d rather have them in the street with other motorized traffic than up closer to the sidewalks, packed in with the pedal bikes. At least when they are in the street they can kind of weave in and out of the pedal bikes and avoid slower riders. They can’t weave in and out of a raised lane.

    We need to be building for the future, and the future is 1) likely to be more e-bikes than pedal bikes and 2) we should be preserving every mature tree we can. With our changing climate, we’re already losing trees to invasive species. I don’t want to lose anymore of them to a luxury bike lane.

    To your point about biking with kids – I believe kids and parents can and do already bike on the sidewalk if they want to. Putting slow moving kids in a lane with e-bikes or bike racers going 20+ mph isn’t going to make things better for the kids or the other bikers. Maybe better for kids to stay on the sidewalks, many of which are nice and wide on Summit where it’s easier to have walkers and bikers co-mingled.

    1. Monte Castleman

      As an adult, there’s absolutely no way I’d ride my bicycle on the street with nothing but paint between myself and cars It’s either ride on the sidewalks if available and legal, or ride on fully protected bicycle infracture like is proposed. Either way there’s concrete curb and boulevard space between myself and cars. Of if those options are available, I just don’t ride at all. And fewer bicyclists because we’re not providing protected infrastucture just makes bicyling more dangerous as motorist are less used to seeing them.

      We need bicycle infrasture for all, not just for those that are so incredibly brave and fearless that they’re willing to ride on an on-street lane with nothing but paint between themselves and cars.

    2. Kyle Constalie

      If protecting trees is your concern, then the proposed bike lane should be very far down on the list of threats. The separated bike lane is not threatening the trees. At the open house for the new design I learned that the street is going to be re-done with the same footprint regardless of where the bike lane goes.

      I think you are misrepresenting ebikes, which are actually often pedaled at similar speeds as regular bikes and are used safely and happily by families with small children. I think these riders fit in alongside regular bikes far better and more safely than you’re making it seem. Mopeds and motor bikes are something else and riding them on a separated bike path would be illegal, right?

      Your characterization of a safely separated bike lane as a luxury is kind of offensive. Many commuters endure seriously dangerous riding conditions along car traffic, and we shouldn’t think of infrastructure for their safety as a luxury.

  4. Roger T Goerke

    I think Laura’s comment has the most common sense in this thread. I also think that climate change effects of one more bicyclist is tantamount to taking one teaspoon of salt water out of the ocean and saying you are emptying the ocean. I am very much in favor of bicycling in the Twin Cities and have done so for 35 years. Planting more trees instead of building raised bike lanes will help reduce CO2 content in our atmosphere. They also provide shade which makes bicycling more pleasant. It is a win/win.

    1. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

      Roger, planting more trees is a great idea. All you need is 1.2 million saplings, and 24,000 acres to plant them. Because:
      -One tree (average, based on species, maturity, and I suppose, hardiness zone) consumes about 50lbs of CO2 per year
      -One car (average 12,000 annual mileage and 22mpg) produces 4.6 metric tons of CO2, or just over 10,000lbs per year, so
      -you would need 200 mature trees to offset carbon emissions for a single car. Also,
      -Traffic volume on Summit exceeds 6000 cars/day,
      -6000 x 200 = 1,200,000 trees needed, which
      -requires about 24,000 acres of land, which is about 2/3 the size of St. Paul itself.
      you can take more cars off the road and replace them with low-carbon vehicles. That’s what Zach is saying, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.
      Cars produce a lot of tailpipe emissions. Bikes don’t make any. So every “teaspoon” of bike can make an enormous impact. And it’s something meaningful anyone can do who has a bike. Trouble is, most people aren’t comfortable doing so when sandwiched in between moving and parked cars (Zach’s point #1). This draft proposal squarely addresses that, and would therefore put a whole lot more bikes and other personal vehicles on Summit Ave. Let ’em come!

  5. Bekah

    What research or input has been gathered from walkers and local families that use the green space? This seems a conversation of bike vs car but many are actually on foot and that green is gold. Also is there an unusual number of biker accidents on Summit as opposed to Marshal or other bike lane streets?

  6. Paul Nelson

    Quite a few factually incorrect statements are again being repeated by Jack B, to support her points. The result is that most of her points become watered down to meaningless. The overall design of the 90% Summit Draft Plan is the current best standard of street design for this type of street and corridor. And it is basically the same alignment concept of what is called a “parking protected bike lane” and that is where the cycleway space is placed between the sidewalk/boulevard and the parked car space. It is a much better system. You can see a conversation here in circa 2012 about the very first parking protected bike lane in the US @ 9:42 in this TED video of Janette Sadik-Kahn in New York City:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LujWrkYsl64 Jannette describes the data of safety compiled from this parking protected bike lane concept.

    To correct a couple of errors: The 90% Summit Plan Draft does not widen the car space. The actually carriage way for the motorcar will be narrower by removing the 9 foot wide cycle space from the street and realigning it where the parking space was in the street. In other words exchanging the parking space with the bike lane space. This is a much safer and better system by design and makes the entire street system easier to maintain throughout the year, especially in winter. In addition because of the design change, the carriageway for the car will be circa 9 feet further from the tree line. There is no extra or significant removal of trees as a result of the 90% Summit design. The 90% Plan is more environmentally friendly to the tree canopy and everything else in comparison to the way the Summit is designed now. The cycle way pad surface itself can be designed with pervious asphalt or other similar environmentally clean surface.

    Another issue that Jacky B misrepresents is driveway crossings and street crossings in the 90% Summit draft plan. All of those crossings are there right now as the street the way it is. A person on a bicycle and someone in a car in a driveway have much better sight lines with the 90% plan then the way the street is now because of the parked cars blocking sight lines with the bicycle lane in the street. There is a proposed improvement of street crossings for non signalized streets. We are always going to have traffic crossings for all kinds of modes, and it is our intent to make our streets as safe as possible by design for everyone that uses the street. The following are a couple of vides of street driveway crossings explained by Bicycle Dutch:


    The sidewalk way will still be there with the street rebuild and it will therefore still be an option for parents with small children.

    It clearly appears to me that the 90% Summit Plan draft will actually be lower cost to build than to rebuild the street the way is is now. I think everyone can see this in that the carriageway for the motorcar will actually be narrowed and more green space will be added, so less street asphalt surface to build overall, and much less impact on trees and roots than the street the way it is now.

  7. KC Cox

    As an elder statesman, all this talk about bicycles being the only transportation allowed is ridiculous. Going out on a ride is one thing, but do grocery shopping it is not a great thing. So you want to limit the elderly by taking their most reliable transportation away from them. This connection to the greenway or to downtown can be done on Jefferson Ave, which has wide bike lanes for those people who can’t ride the lanes on Summit. My biggest concern is the destruction of trees, which the committee doesn’t want to discuss to the getting of federal monies to support this project. Fed money is scary money. You don’t get what you want, you get what they want. Why don’t you put it to a vote?

    1. Ed SteinhauerEd W Steinhauer

      KC, let’s be clear: the road is not being taken away from drivers. No one wants to take the traffic lane from Summit Avenue! No one is suggesting remotely that bicycling would be the only form of transportation on Summit Avenue.
      Jefferson Avenue is a bicycle boulevard, which means that cars and bikes share the same space. There is no dedicated “lane” for bikes to travel on. Now, there are fearless cyclists who ride in the middle of the road, as they have every right to do on a bike boulevard, drivers be danged. The rest of us ride pretty much in the gutter, giving motorists sufficient room to pass. But that leaves the vast majority of people in the “thanks, but no thanks” column; folks who would rather get punched in the nose than risk getting run over by a car. City planners know this, and that’s why they crafted the Summit Avenue Trail Plan to offer two forms of physical separation for cyclists.
      There are quite a few folk who read these pages who like to take their bikes for shopping and errands. I hope you’ve had a chance to read this article from earlier this week: https://streets.mn/2023/02/20/car-free-goals-how-to-succeed-through-failure/ The author shows us how it’s done, trucking around children, groceries, hardware, street barricades, and the Thanksgiving turkey, on her bike. That’s dedication!
      As for trees, opponents of the project have done a very good job of framing the proposed trail design in terms of the destruction of trees along the way. We don’t believe the bike trail itself puts trees in jeopardy as much as the necessary rebuild of the road itself. If the bike path is the icing, the street is the cake. If you’d like to know more, you can come to House of Hope Church on Monday the 27th and hear from some of the planners themselves answer questions about the project. The Community forum will be from 6:00-7:30.

  8. Paul Nelson

    Just want to add an addendum about dimensions. In the Summit 90% Plan the street width now of 28.5 feet west of Lexington will be decreased to 20 feet width with the 9 foot space for the bicycle being removed from the street. That represents an 8 ft wide park lane and a 12 ft wide traffic lane. I think we need the 12 foot wide MV traffic lane because on Summit there will be tour busses and other large vehicles. Summit is not a truck route, but it will have some types of trucks. I measured an MTC bus to be 8 feet 3 inches width outside diameter. In addition, there will not be “five feet” taken from the boulevard because the boulevard will actually be widened, extending out to the street over where the park lane is now.

    The Summit 90% Draft Plan is a wonderful update to an iconic historical roadway, and will enhance the beauty and safety for all users for many decades to come.

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