A Potentially Contentious Summit on Summit Reframes ‘Trees vs. Bikes’

Proponents and opponents of the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan crowded into an assembly room at House of Hope Presbyterian Church on February 27 for a community meeting cohosted by the Summit Hill Association and the Summit University Planning Council, two of St. Paul’s 17 district councils. It was a rare opportunity for people interested in or concerned about the oft-discussed plan to interact with city staffers — and in a more civil manner than either detractors or supporters have displayed on social media.

It also was a chance for organizers to remind the assembled that the much-vaunted history of Summit Avenue did not begin with its buildings, its bike trails or with white people. “This was Dakota land,” said Summit University Executive Director Jens Werner, “long before any settlers came and built houses and stores.”

Streets.mn contributor Ben Swanson-Hysell attended with his daughter, who “stickered” his leg to keep herself amused. (All photos by author)

By invitation, the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department delivered an overview of the plan, which now stands at 90% completion. Project Manager Mary Norton, a landscape architect with the city, gave a detailed presentation before taking pre-submitted questions. Several other staff also were present, most notably Director of Public Works Sean Kershaw and Parks and Rec Director Andy Rodriguez. Also present were City Councilmembers Rebecca Noecker (Ward 2) and Mitra Jalali (Ward 4), as well as members and leaders of Save Summit Avenue, the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition and Sustain Saint Paul.

This meeting promised to be contentious. At the direction of aligned groups, participants were encouraged to wear green, “for the trees” (for Save Summit Avenue), or blue or purple (for Sustain Saint Paul). Many cyclists also self-identified by wearing helmets and high-visibility gear.

Moderators of the meeting established “ground rules” to prevent outbursts or other disruptions. Handouts established community agreements, with admonitions to “be kind and respectful” and “accept non-closure.” And participants were warned in advance that misbehavior could lead to ejection from the meeting. Nevertheless, opponents came prepared with an abundant supply of neon signs reading “NOT TRUE,” an effort to assert some form of dissent.

Opponents of the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan found a way to circumvent the rules of decorum to
make their voices “seen.” Many apparently arrived early to dominate the main floor’s front rows.

But for all of the posturing in the audience, the city effectively refuted the organized opposition’s central claim, that building an off-road bike trail would affect Summit Avenue’s highly prized tree canopy more adversely than the needed infrastructure work would do.

“In a roadway as old and broken as Summit is,” said Kershaw, “we have to do a total reconstruction.” The city will “go parcel by parcel” to minimize damage to trees, which the city currently estimates could affect 10 to 15% of the tree canopy. “Where contractors park their equipment, how they excavate the site — we can do a lot to minimize that impact,” Kershaw said.

City officials clarified why the trail is best suited for Summit, as opposed to other east-west thoroughfares (the tree impact on Marshall in the stretch west of the Cathedral “would be significant,” one official said), and they opened up a tantalizing question as to whether opponents are opposed only to a bike trail or to rebuilding the crumbling road surface and the related infrastructure below it at all.

St. Paul’s bicycle plan (currently being updated from the 2015 version) and its 2040 Comprehensive Plan (“Saint Paul for All”) both identify the need for a regional trail. Such an amenity reflects changes in the way people use the existing facility and how a growing group of cyclists — of varying ages and skill levels — is likely to use it in the future. Not every rider is comfortable on bike lanes that run between motorized traffic and parked cars. Most important, Summit Avenue has exceeded the life of its structural foundation, city officials said. The roadbed, water, gas and sewer lines all need to be replaced.

The event exceeded the capacity of the meeting room at House of Hope Presbyterian Church. Latecomers, some of whom struggled to find a place to secure their bikes, were kept outside in the hall.

Green-clad participants and others raised their NOT TRUE signs when Norton said that “the road has not seen a reconstruction project in over a hundred years.” Driveway crossings by cyclists are another point of concern. But perhaps the most contentious topic is risks to trees and differing estimates about the number and percent of trees affected by the project. Norton addressed the widening of the roadway in two sections. The curbs would be moved out in sections A and C, by 18 inches on each side of the road. The city Forestry Department’s assessment of trees in those sections, which begins on page 115 of section 4 in the 90% plan, determined that this would not affect a significant number of trees, though Norton also is quick to caution that more decisions will be made at the design and engineering phase.

Questions and answers

Following Norton’s presentation, other city staff members addressed questions submitted in advance and read by Summit Hill representatives.

Bikes parked outside House of Hope church
Cyclists grow accustomed to finding their own bike parking when none is provided.

Impacts on trees: Staying within the curb borders is the best way to reduce the impact on trees, said city landscape architect Brett Hussong.

Kershaw, the Public Works director, noted that pipes, sewer lines, gas and water lines — all of the infrastructure that needs to be dug up and replaced — share the soil with tree roots. “If this were only a road reconstruction project, and did not include the element of a separated bike path, the effect would be the same,” he said.

Project cost: About $100 million, for the entire five-mile stretch of Summit. That includes the entire scope of the project, and not just the proposed bike trail.

Winter maintenance plans: This involves both snow removal and snow storage, said Kershaw, which is what the buffer is for, between the curb and the bike trail. In the current configuration, car tires compact snow, which then becomes hard to remove. Winter maintenance is easier on a separated bike path.

Proposed safety measures: Norton noted safety as a big point of concern, on a street with car, bike and pedestrian users. Intersection design has not been finalized yet but is being influenced by responses to the plan at its various stages and will utilize best practices of the industry. Safety designs will be determined block by block, said Norton, because of highly variable conditions.

What other routes were looked at? The city considered Grand, Marshall and Portland Avenues as other potential east-west routes but ruled them out for a variety of reasons, including grade changes, boulevard widths, varying widths of the street itself, whether the county owns sections of the road and, in some cases, a greater impact to trees. In the end, said Hussong, Summit was chosen for this Regional Draft Plan because it offers a direct link from Mississippi River Boulevard to downtown St. Paul. And people love it.

Accuracy of data about crashes and tree impact: City officials answered this question calmly. Traffic data came from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Public Works; tree data, again, came from the city’s Forestry Department.

A press release from Save Summit Avenue claims that its own independent report finds damage to trees would be “much higher than the city’s estimates.” That report, which analyzes three sections of the road, is then extrapolated for the rest of Summit. The report, researched between July and November 2022, also features this caveat: “Analysis of construction impacts is limited by the lack of construction plans.” In the ensuing paragraph, the word or phrase “it was assumed that” appeared five times, to suggest what those construction plans might look like.

Expectations for cycling usage on the regional trail: Metropolitan Council data indicate that by 2040, more than 800,000 people will have moved to the Twin Cities region. Norton said this plan anticipates the future.

It’s about the trees. It’s not about the trees.

In its hired tree report, the Save Our Street group (whose nickname, SOS, annoys me for its overt reference to a maritime distress signal, when, in fact, I see no reason for distress) never mentions the words “bicycle” or “trail.” Effects on trees are attributed instead to road reconstruction. It does, however, describe incidents of severe storm damage to trees in places where sidewalk replacement projects had recently been completed (Summit Avenue Tree Survey, p. 4). There is no comparable mention of the effects of a separated bike trail.

Kershaw’s assertion, that the Regional Trail Project’s potential harm to trees is more a function of the road reconstruction than the proposed bike trail, led me to wonder whether SOS had any evidence to the contrary. I also wondered if SOS wanted the avenue’s roadbed and utilities to be replaced at all.

In an email exchange with Save Summit Avenue’s public relations director, Carolyn Will, I was referred to a bulleted list and a map of a sample intersection (below). The key differences I could discern are that the two sections would expand the road by 18 inches on each side, which potentially could harm the adjacent boulevard trees.

The rendering claims that the construction design would necessitate the removal of some trees.
An architect’s rendering, commissioned by Save Summit Avenue, imagines what a crossing might look like and how area trees would be affected.

Project Manager Mary Norton disputed this in a subsequent email exchange, saying that the boulevards in those sections offer a much bigger space for trees to grow (21 feet wide) compared with other sections (16 feet wide) and the city’s average boulevard width (6 feet wide). The diagram, which is not supported in the 90% draft plan, indicates trees that would be lost where the bike path merges with the sidewalk at intersections. This treatment is consistent with other separated bike paths crossing side streets, such as at Como and Pascal.

As for road infrastructure, SOS is adamant about passing a “tree preservation ordinance,” Will told me. When pressed to say whether SOS would support repairing crumbling infrastructure after such an ordinance were passed, Will acknowledged that it would, “where it’s been proven to be needed.”

An image from outside of the meeting, with no bicycle racks in sight.
Is this how you welcome constituents into a conversation about bike infrastructure?

Final thoughts . . . for now

This process is far from over. A public hearing is being held at the Arlington Hills Community Center on Thursday, March 9, during the monthly meeting of the Parks and Rec Commission, which runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. SOS again is inviting its supporters to wear their green. This time, let’s hope, I’ll find a bike rack.

It will probably be noisy. Attendees will bring hopes for a bike trail that accommodates a wider range of cyclists or their fears that such a path will cause irreparable harm to the neighborhood. But after last week’s community meeting, Save Summit Avenue will have to work a little harder to directly connect a better bike lane with fewer trees.

For me, seeing small children wearing bike helmets was the brightest part of the event at House of Hope. They, and their parents, will bear the brunt of climate change. We can’t overestimate the anxiety young people are experiencing over the devastating impacts of our fossil fuel consumption. Young adults (and some of their elders) have latched onto a form of agency in cycling, one that aligns with federal, state and regional objectives to reduce vehicle miles traveled, through the use of low-carbon vehicles.

These kids give me hope, occupying themselves with big cat stickers at public meetings and building bike paths of their own with wooden blocks. May they teach their parents well.

28 thoughts on “A Potentially Contentious Summit on Summit Reframes ‘Trees vs. Bikes’

  1. Melissa Wenzel

    I am double booked on Thursday but attended last week’s meeting in support on 2nd floor with lots of other bicyclists. Fear-mongering, negativity, and misinformation doesn’t sit well with city planners. I am hopeful for a positive outcome on Thursday. Thank you for writing this, standing up for this, and leading by example for your daughter and our community!

    1. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

      Thanks, Melissa! Please believe me, if she were my daughter, I would have shared her picture, because she was totes adorbs. But in fact, she is Ben’s little girl. But thanks for your perspective; it is heartening.

    1. Jacky B

      I agree with your words, but not their direction.

      The 90% Plan will make Summit 400% more dangerous.

      Most of this article centers on red herrings, so before we get lost in the weeds of debunking all the false claims above, we need to address the fattest elephant in the room: the unsupported claim that the 90% plan design is safer. The facts show the opposite: the proposed trail will be more dangerous to cyclists, and the re-design roadway with wider vehicle lanes will be more dangerous to cyclists, passengers and drivers, and to the most vulnerable, pedestrians.

      Some quotes:

      Jan Heine, editor-in-chief of Bicycle Quarterly, wrote:

      “Any barrier that separates the cyclist visually from other traffic effectively hides the cyclist. This is counterproductive to safety. Moving cyclists out of the roadway altogether, on separate bike paths, is even more dangerous, because drivers don’t look for (or cannot see) cyclists off to the side.”

      John Forester, industrial engineer and author of Effective Cycling, which boasted seven editions (MIT Press, 2012)”

      “On streets with frequent intersections, separate paths only make cycling less safe. I wish those who advocate for them would look at the data and stop asking for facilities that will cause more accidents.” (5)

      “Moving cyclists out of the roadway altogether, on separate bike paths, is even more dangerous, because drivers don’t look for (or cannot see) cyclists off to the side.” He continued, “On streets with frequent intersections, separate paths only make cycling less safe. I wish those who advocate for them would look at the data and stop asking for facilities that will cause more accidents.”

      Some facts:

      A 2019 analysis of bike lanes and crashes in Colorado (Forester and Heine, peer-reviewed). The author concluded that separated bike lanes raise the number of crashes by 117 percent compared with shared roadway. Separated bike tracks, which are separated from cars by a median strip, parking lane, or row of plantings, increased crashes 400 percent more than a bike lane.

      Some realities:

      The type of trail that proponent envision is another Midtown Greenway, or the Sam Morgan trail along the river. These are what Europeans call “cycle highways”— make a direct, uninterrupted mobility connection for bikes. The problem is that this is the wrong location. Summit is interrupted every 600 feet by cross street (with dangerous turning and crossing conflicts), every ½ mile by a stop light (with dangerous turning and crossing conflicts), and every 40-100 feet by driveways—again with dangerous crossing conflicts. Here are two pertinent guidelines for successful cycle highways that cannot be met by Summit (https://cyclehighways.eu):

      potential full stops: no more than 1 stop per 10KM ( 6 miles)
      limited number of dangerous intersections.

      Summit has 1 “potential full stop” every 1/2 mile and a dangerous intersection every 1/8 mile with multiple dangerous crossing in-between.

      What we all know, is that Summit is not the right location. Summit is a local bikeway, and is not the right context for a bicycle highway. Shortline/Ayd Mill is the obvious location for that type of facility.

      1. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

        I’ve got three kids of driving age: 17, 21, and 24. None of them has a driver’s license. Believe me, as their dad, I might have come to similar conclusions as you about their motivations. But the interest isn’t there. It turns out, they are part of a trend. Gen Z kids are much less likely to pursue a driver’s license than previous generations. My eldest has lived in several cities and states, and has traveled to other countries and continents, and has become very resourceful in getting around. His peers are like that. They use transit and rideshare. They bike. For a variety of reasons, they are eschewing the car culture that has dominated American life for generations. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2023/02/13/gen-z-driving-less-uber/ Driving has actually plateaued, and may soon be trending down, as boomers move on.

        No, I’m not interested in your safety studies. See Zach Mensiger’s piece from a month ago. You already did; you commented on it profusely.

        The Regional Trail Plan addresses priorities as outlined on page 12 of the 90% draft. It includes designing amenities for the way we choose to live, and how those trends are changing.

        You don’t like it. I’m okay with that.

  2. C.C.

    In the Q&A section of this article Dir. Kershaw is noted as the PED Director. He is the Director of PW.

  3. Paul Nelson

    Thank you, Ed Steinhauer for writing this report, and your objective approach. It is very helpful.
    That street intersection image you show above from the SOS group, and is on their website page https://www.savesummitavenue.org/about, I do not see any basis to assert damage to trees from the curved alignment change for the cycleway crossing the street. Any negative impact from the build of this element, would be nil to none.
    I was at the House of Hope presentation, and brought my own canary shade sign that read “TRUE Thank you”. So I held that up.
    It is unfortunate that elevated concerns of SOS are supported by several factually incorrect statements and distortion of reality descriptions and explanations on their site. I hope this all gets cleared up. I am making an effort to write something here too,

    1. Jacky B

      Importance of Trees against Climate Change

      And, and if it were “trees versus humans” – I would choose not to cut the baby in half. I choose both.

      AmericanForests.org article on the importance of urban forests:

      “Trees also help slow climate change. Our urban forests are responsible for almost one-fifth of the country’s captured and stored carbon emissions.”

      “Conserving forests and avoiding forest degradation is renowned as one of the most cost-effective strategies to lower emissions. Many communities are pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century, and forests and trees can help achieve the last mile of emission reductions needed to achieve these ambitious climate goals. At the global scale, ending forest conversion, preserving existing forest carbon sinks and restoring degraded forests has the potential to avoid more than one-third of emissions”


      The World Resources Institute states empirically that we need to grow (not shrink) our urban forests to cover 43.3 percent. St Paul is at 32.5%, and of course mature trees not only sequester more carbon, provide more shade and mitigate climate change for us human, but when cut down, they release stored carbon. WE need to keep mature trees and diversify by planting new young trees, not by replacing our mature trees with saplings.

      Hundreds of communities across the United States are developing ambitious climate action plans to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but most overlook a critical piece of the puzzle: trees. Forests and trees offset 13% of U.S. emissions. With improved conservation, restoration and land management, that number could jump to 21%. However, in a survey of more than 30 U.S. communities conducted by ICLEI-USA last year, less than 10% were including forests and trees in their GHG inventories.
      More and more, U.S. communities are setting goals to reach net-zero emissions. If these goals are to be accomplished, forests need to be part of the equation.


      Footnote: What’s the Big Bro’ Bike Lobby? “Our Streets Minneapolis, a nonprofit organization formerly known as the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition that hosts Open Streets events, was ordered to pay a $4,000 civil penalty and file lobbying spending reports for four previous years under a settlement agreement that Approved earlier this week by the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board.”

      1. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

        The trees can’t save us from ourselves, Jacky. Not when our emissions far exceed their capacity to consume them. If the average car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon per year (versus the average mature tree’s 48 lbs./year), striking a balance between the two would require hundreds of trees per car. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle#:~:text=A%20typical%20passenger%20vehicle%20emits,of%20miles%20driven%20per%20year.
        It would take a mighty big urban forest to tackle the 6000 cars that travel Summit every day, or the 7 megatons attributed to car exhaust in the Twin Cities. And all the trees in the world haven’t made a dent in the 52 billion tons of greenhouse gases we kick into the troposphere. https://climatetrace.org/map Incentivizing people to choose human powered machines over ICEV machines is a practical way to tackle vehicle emissions. The people who ride in the current configuration constitute a small percentage of the general population. We’d love to see more.
        If your goal is to save the boulevard trees, you will need much, much, much bigger boulevards.

  4. Ben Swanson-HysellBen Swanson-Hysell

    Excellent write up, Ed. It was great to meet you at the event! Thanks for the featured photo — the animal stickers were crucial 3-year-old entertainment. I gave her the option to leave early, but she insisted we stay to the end of the meeting! I’m glad that she’s raising hope. She and her baby brother are big reasons that I’m so passionate about a better and safer Summit Ave.

    1. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

      Heart! Heart!
      It was great to meet you, too, Ben! And what a delight to meet Harriet. You are all doing good work, and I can tell that you are a wonderful father.

  5. Paul Nelson

    The SOS group just put out a video displaying and describing some critical errors here:

    They reference page 123 of the plan.

    I replied as follows:
    Paul Nelson
    The “existing curbs” will not be moved “3 feet”. The existing curbs at present, border the total width of the current street with asphalt between the curbs. Your critical error describes the rebuild as positioning the new curbs with gutter pan outward 3 feet, when in fact those new curbs will be built *farther in” circa 9 to 10 feet on the right side of roadway system looking forward. The width distance between the new curbs will be circa 20 feet, decreased from the current 28.5 feet. Please correct your error.

    Note: the current street width is shown as 28 feet in the images on p 123

    1. Patrick Contardo

      Paul, please allow a correction to your math: The Development Concept on page 119 (not page 123) of the Master Plan shows the existing transportation envelope as 28′ wide. The new transportation envelope will be 31′ wide, which means that the existing envelope must be widened 18′ on each side. The construction zone for increasing width will be a minimum of 12″ beyond the 18″ which means that the magnificent legacy tree and the tree immediately beyond will be cut down. You are correct that the width between the new curbs will be twenty feet. But what you fail to consider is the 11′ for the buffer (4′) and the trail (7′). Thus, 20′ + 11′ = 31′ — three feet wider than the existing street. This condition is consistent in both segments A and C.

      1. Ed SteinhauerEd Steinhauer

        So…much…math. Not just here, but in many back-and-forth exchanges between people on opposite sides of this debate. I’ve been thinking about the video Paul shared from the Summit group, and I’m struck by the need to state unequivocally that the loss of trees will be devastating on the souls of people who are accustomed to seeing them, day in and day out. No amount of math, or contrasting studies, will diminish that reality. Whether you and I trust the estimates of the City’s forestry department, or those Mr.’s Giblin and Jordán, we have to start with the understanding that under this project, there will be tree loss. And that sucks.
        That said, I am an unabashed supporter of this project, because it will mean extending the life of Summit Avenue another century, as opposed to a resurfacing project that will last a few years, and then we’re back to square one. The prospect of increased usage of a separated bike lane is worth the turmoil we face in the interim, with all of the fallout from construction.
        We will keep arguing about construction methods, safety studies, trail usage, and tree loss. But I think it’s worth acknowledging the “suckiness” of having to see bare sky where you’re used to seeing foliage and birds.

      2. Paul Nelson

        Hello Patrick Contardo:
        I think you are unclear about the difference between the space for the cycleway within the 32′ envelope and the space for the new street for car traffic within the 31′ envelope/ The two spaces are not the same. Most of the cycle way space will be built over where the parking space is in the street now, within the current 28′ width envelope. In addition the grade of the space for the cycleway will be 6 inches higher than the current grade of the street surface. The infrastructure of the cycleway will be built to a different set of standards than the standards for a street surface for auto traffic that will accommodate tour buses, MTC busses, Fire engines, emergence vehicle, etc. We will be using snow removal equipment to clear the surface of the cycleway, and that standard will be according to the weight of the kind of traffic on that surface. In addition, we can build the cycleway infra with pervious asphalt that will allow water to seep through the asphalt. The build of the surface for the cycleway most certainly should not require an additional 12″ construction zone for that kind of infra. And the depth will not be as deep below the 6″ additional grade level, depending upon how it is built, like a gravel layer and then covered by asphalt. That might be a total of 6″ thick itself. Shoule or will it me more depth? I do not know.

        I really am not sure about what kind of work will be required below the street for utility work that has not been done on that street for a very long time, and there may be involvement with some tree roots. I think the additional 18 inches beyond the current envelope is insignificant because the Summit SOS group has cited specific trees on one side of the street, the sidewalk side that is the same side as the cycleway space. If there truly is a problem with a lot of trees on that side of the street, we could easily shift the 31′ over 18 inches toward the opposite side of the street.

        There is a great deal of engineering flexibility (in that diagram intersection concept above and elsewhere.) of design to align or locate non motorized infra space to be clear of trees we definitely do not want to remove.

        I wrote the following to Ms Alice Gebura on the SOS video on vimeol here:
        Alice Gebura
        Reference: 06: Appendix 90% Draft Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan.pdf page 234 Historic Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, MN is under threat. The proposed regional trail threatens the 100-year-old tree canopy. The integrity of the boulevard and vista designed by landscape architect Horace Cleveland is threatened by vastly expanded pavement. This video demonstrates one consequence of this plan – 100 year old trees at intersections will be removed to make way for the bike trail.

        1 Comment

        Paul Nelson2 days ago
        Hello Alice Gebura: OK, you are displaying and describing several significant errors again. You are making general claims without referencing exactly what intersection you are referring to as an example, and you do not state specifically if the intersection at Nina is the same intersection in the diagram that you claim of an existing tree: “that tree will be eliminated”. Is that the same tree at Summit and Nina? What intersection does the diagram refer to?

        You also state: “If a tree is close by, it might not get cut down, but its roots will be impacted by construction and its ability to survive deeply compromised”. You are stating that as an absolute for all of the trees at all intersections on Summit, and that is simply not true at all. As I have stated previously, the infra for the design of a bike trail is hugely less impactful on the environment compared to a street or roadway for motor vehicles. They are not the same. The bike trail will present significantly less impact to tree roots below the surface everywhere, no matter where the trail alignment is located.

        More importantly on p134 of the appendix, it clearly states: “NOTE: Adjusting sidewalks at intersections will be determined based upon tree health, and final alignment will be evaluated beyond the master (90%) plan during design and engineering of a trail facility.”

        1. Paul Nelson

          I apologize for my not spell checking what I wrote above. And I want to add, I think it is unusual indeed to focus so much attention on the “Proposed Bike Trail”, and just one side of the street to cite potential tree damage. Does not make a whole lot of sense.

          1. Jacky B

            Hi Paul. I think it’s too bad we have to focus so much attention on the plan, but it’s so fraught with errors and bad planning, it needs to be done. I need to jump in about the lane widths.

            Wider Summit Vehicle Lanes, Higher Danger

            Sean Kershaw’s statements at the meeting were a Trumpian reversal of reality, claiming that the plan would narrow the roadway. He did this by redefining which elements are included in the roadway (current roadway includes bike lanes, parking, vehicle lanes) and ignoring the very important fact that the actual vehicle lanes will get actually widened in each section. This again is information available in the plan, but you have to really hunt for it: (90% SART,92, 96, 100 & 122, 126, 130-131) .

            Data practices requests have revealed that early on Parks and Rec did roadway cross sections in which the vehicle lanes were narrowed to 10 feet universally, which is the line with recommended by MNDot for urban streets like Summit. But it was Public Works (Sean Kershaw’s department) that preferred the 12 foot lanes. MN-Dot, by the way, recommends 12 foot lanes for a very different scenario: streets with high traffic, multiple lanes, and speed limits of 45. This is not a suitable design for Summit Avenue., and increasing the speeds on Summit, will decrease safety for everyone: drivers, passengers, cyclists and most especially pedestrians.

            Speed Kills:

            “The Highway Safety Manual reports that a 1 mph reduction in operating speeds can result in a 17% decrease in fatal crashes. A separate study found that a 10% reduction in the average speed resulted in 19% fewer injury crashes, 27% fewer severe crashes, and 34% fewer fatal crashes.”


            “Lane widths of 10 feet are appropriate in urban areas and have a positive impact on a street’s safety without impacting traffic operations”


  6. Patrick Contardo

    Ed, I have to question Norton’s reply to your question about trail realingnment at each intersection, which SOS claims will result in significant tree loss.

    “Project Manager Mary Norton disputed this in a subsequent email exchange, saying that the boulevards in those sections offer a much bigger space for trees to grow (21 feet wide) compared with other sections (16 feet wide) and the city’s average boulevard width (6 feet wide). The diagram, which is not supported in the 90% draft plan, indicates trees that would be lost where the bike path merges with the sidewalk at intersections. This treatment is consistent with other separated bike paths crossing side streets, such as at Como and Pascal.”

    Norton is silent about tree loss, which suggests that she tacitly acknowledging the loss. She quickly segues to a new, 21′ wide boulevard which will “provide a much bigger space for trees to grow.” What about existing trees? A wider boulevard is terrific for replacement trees, but just try exlplaining her logic to the poor trees that are about to go under the axe. Ouch!

    I’m confused at her wording that the diagram in her master plan (p. 142) “is not supported.” By whom? Where has been the public discussion? She, Kershaw and the rest of PW staff have been totally silent about this design feature and also the closing of Summit’s ten street medians (p. 143). Their silence cannot be considered by the public as an oversight or from a lack of time. Both “are highly contentious concepts for our community. Are we to assume they are “ideal trail concepts” contingent on funding? IOr have these concepts been discarded, as Norton seems to imply? If funding is secured (high probability) will they be included in the construction documents — final documents that our community will have little to no ability to meaningfully weigh in?

  7. Patrick Contardo

    Hi Ed,
    I’m not picking on you, and though I don’t agree, I do appreciate your honest perspective on tree loss. May I interpret it as “if we want to make a good omelet, we’re going to have to break a few eggs?”

    But I’d like to point out to our Streets MN readers my lingering discomfort with the current mantra “trees are going to die anyway, so let’s take the ‘tree loss’ argument off the table.” Professor Lindeke in a recent Streets MN missive summed up this refrain quite nicely. I quote:

    Summit Avenue needs to be reconstructed, which means re-doing the hundred-year-old utilities beneath the surface. There’s no alternative to reconstruction; continuing surface repaving means wasting scarce city Public Works money for a smaller and smaller return.
    Any street reconstruction inherently imperils trees. The tree roots along Summit Avenue have been growing for decades, and when the utilities (e.g. important sewers) are dug up, some roots might be damaged. It’s a fundamental part of sewer replacement.
    Expensive reconstructions allow the city to make large-scale safety improvements at little-to-no extra cost. This is important because the existing 30-year-old bike lane design is currently not safe. It is not designed to serve kids, older people, families or vulnerable riders, and the city should improve it.
    Once we all agree about these three pieces of common ground, people in St. Paul can have a useful conversation. I’d love to talk about that!

    I’d love to talk about it too, Professor, but no one, including you and PW Director Kershaw, has answered specific questions about the extent, sequencing, and timing of this purported $100 million Summit Avenue reconstruction that you tell us the Regional Trail will piggy-back on.

    I assume everyone has by now seen and studied Public Works’ published schedule for major Saint Paul street reconstruction through 2051. It includes all reconstruction Public Works has scheduled for Summit Avenue for the next 30 years. https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/public-works/street-design-and-construction/saint-paul-streets-process A search of other Public Works sites provides no additional information about Summit reconstruction. It may exist, and if it does, it has not been made readily available to the public.

    Other than the previously scheduled Lexington to Victoria project, reconstruction will not start for another ten years, with the final segment starting around 2050. How will this work sequence with Regional Trail construction?

    Most notably, Summit from Mississippi River Boulevard to Fairview, and from Syndicate to Lexington (totaling about one-third of Summit’s 5.1-mile length) is not scheduled for any type of reconstruction—not now, not next year, not anytime within the next three decades.

    And sadly, these two sections of Summit include Regional Trail Segments A and C, the segments most vulnerable to tree loss. In these two segments due to trail design, the “transportation envelope” expands 3’ beyond existing curbs, resulting in the loss of most, if not all, legacy trees.

    Thus, until we get more information other than PW’s typical non-answer “these are planning decisions we will be making as we get into construction drawings,” may we put to rest the “fact” that Summit Avenue must be entirely and immediately reconstructed, and concurrent with construction of a Regional Trail?

    Using facts rather than conjecture is the only way we can make informed, socially responsible decisions about Regional Trail design and its construction—major decisions that affect everyone in our wonderfully demographically diverse community.

    We may disagree on the Master Plan but, as Professor Lindeke emphasizes, we aren’t allowed to disagree on the facts. We need the facts.

    If there is information available as to the timing, extent, and sequencing of Summit Avenue’s reconstruction vis-à-vis Regional Trail construction, our “debate’ on the merits of the Master Plan may just become more meaningful.


    1. Ed SteinhauerEd W Steinhauer

      Patrick, I don’t know where to start here. I would start with your specific concerns about the diagram about intersections, or about median crossings. But your use of hyperbole to characterize what I (we, maybe) feel about tree loss makes that seem unnecessary. No, I’m not sanguine about “cracking eggs,” and no, “they’re not all gonna die anyway.” You have been reading all the articles on Streets, and commented on all of them, to boot. So you know from Pat Thompson’s piece about the contrast with the Cleveland/Raymond project that the way Ramsey County handled the gross mischaracterization of risk to trees that no one wants to repeat that mistake. We hope that the mitigation efforts Kershaw described, and that Giblin suggested in the “Trees & Me” study would do something to minimize harm to boulevard trees. But we’re not foolish enough to suggest that there wouldn’t be significant loss.
      I said the diagram is not supported in the draft plan, because there is no diagram of intersections in the 90% plan. Norton said they are leaving the design of intersections to the design and engineering phase. Where the Summit Saviors diagram came from, I can’t tell.
      I have no idea about those median crossings. That call seems about as fungible as bollards at a Starbucks drive-thru lane.
      Yes, the city has been sending mixed signals about a construction schedule. It seems that such a schedule would hinge on this process playing out. Should they be moving faster? The reconstruction project between Lexington and Victoria is cancelled. Unless it isn’t. I too, would like to know how this summer’s construction would proceed; whether it’s mill and overlay this year, and when the Regional Trail construction would proceed, pending Met Council approval and the procurement of funds.
      My turn.
      You seeeeem to be in favor of the rebuilding of infrastructure, judging by your comment on Bill Lindke’s post. But you may be unique in that respect. The Summit people are less enthused. So, what does “tree ordinance” mean? They keep talking about the need for one, but I can’t find any further verbiage about it other than the three words “a tree ordinance.” If transparency is a virtue in short supply with the Regional Trail Plan, I think we deserve to see what the alternative scenario would look like. If opponents can come up with their own studies about tree loss, or come up with their own diagrams of what the intersections might look like, shouldn’t I also be able to find a diagram of a newly-configured painted bike lane, like SOS wants? Shouldn’t every Trail opponent be able to articulate what a Tree Ordinance would say, what it would do, how it would be enforced, and what it would cost? And who is willing to pay the long-term price of broken water mains, leaky sewer lines, and a never-ending cycle of short-term fixes of potholes?
      I would like to assume good faith that there are things both sides desire here. Namely, a better road. As far as the need for new infrastructure is concerned, I’m not sure that’s true.

  8. Paul Nelson

    I added one more comment to the video by Alice Gebura on Vimeo: as follows:
    Paul Nelson21 hours ago
    “Hello again Alice Gebura: Your first statement “The proposed Bile Trail on Summit Avenue puts hundreds of trees at risk” is very likely factually incorrect because you use poorly constructed reasoning to support it. At the very least that statement is very overly elevated with respect to reality. The diagram from page 234 is a drawing to illustrate a concept, it is not an engineering diagram displaying an actual, or even typical intersection on Summit Avenue. The places on the diagram where you placed the tree locations, appear to be fictitious with respect to location and actual existence. I would give you a D or an F grade mark for this video composition.”

    1. Jack B

      What about those two-lane pathways?

      It bears noting that both the City and SPBC and Streets.MN promoted the most dangerous facility possible continually and repeatedly for several months, despite clear and abundant evidence that it is less safe. The two-way cycle track for Summit through the 30% plan and the 60% plan, only finally dropping it for the 90% plan. The continued use of this trail type for segment G (along Kellogg) as well as continuing to suggest it despite widespread opposition during the DAC meetings (90% plan pXX), shows that this trail has never been primarily about safety. This, too, was reveleaed in those inter-department emails:

      “Cyclists should be aware that the term Protected Bike Lane is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. It’s time to change” (3) – Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Professor of Transportation Economics at George Washington University

      This plan has never been about safety. It’s been about creating unnecessary sacrifices of others on the alter of Big Bro Bike Lobby.

      1. Jacky B

        And I give the video an A+, the city has their intersection graphic buried on page 232 in hte appendix, reduced in size from the 60% plan so it’s barely legible. They’ve done the same with the “chicane” idea from the 30% plan. The City doesn’t want us to notice the details. So, a+ to Alice for digging in to the detail and exposing the hidden truth.

        1. Paul Nelson

          Hello Jacky B: If you are referring to the image on p234 of the plan, Alice Gebura incorrectly displays that a tree will be removed. That diagram is a concept, and both the cycleway space and the crosswalk can be aligned differently at different locations and intersections. For example, the cycleway alignment can be extended slightly to cross a space where there is no tree. Most intersections and tree locations will vary at different places.
          Also I think you are miss denigrating the safety issue with the two way cycle track concept. The safety considerations for that concept will depend largely on application. Summit may not be the best place for a two way cycle track, but it is not reasonable to say that it is unsafe for all places or all streets. The Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis has a two way cycleway and that works well.

  9. Jacky B

    Specifically to Ed — “I said the diagram is not supported in the draft plan, because there is no diagram of intersections in the 90% plan. Norton said they are leaving the design of intersections to the design and engineering phase. Where the Summit Saviors diagram came from, I can’t tell.” It is in the appendix on page 234 (correction for typo above). It was shown larger in the 60% plan on pages 141-142. You can be forgiven for not finding it, since it was so well hidden. But now please correct your article.

    1. Ed SteinhauerEd W Steinhauer

      No need to, as you just did. Thank you. You’re right, I missed that. That’s why I said “I can’t tell,” and not “it’s not there.” Again, thanks for correcting my oversight. And directly beneath the diagram on page 234, there is this note: “Note: adjusting sidewalks at intersections will be determined based on tree health, and final alignment will be evaluated beyond the master plan [oops, they’re supposed to edit out that word. Will have to point it out.] during the design and engineering of a trail facility.” Now, you are perfectly free to doubt their sincerity. Nevertheless, it seems the City is trying to adapt its toolkit to meet the safety and preservation concerns that are expressed during the comment phases. This fact is not lost on the decision makers in this process.

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