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.