Updated St. Paul Bicycle Plan Highlights Desire for Safer Cycling

St. Paul Transportation Planner Jimmy Shoemaker presented the city’s recently updated Bicycle Plan as part of Sustain Saint Paul’s “Brews & the Bike Plan” event on May 24 at Dual Citizen Brewing Co. The presentation provided detailed information and gave opportunities for feedback on the update, which is currently available for public comment.

A bicyclist admires a bicycle rack loaded with bicycles of all kinds.
Dual Citizen Brewing hosted a crowded bike rack for the event. Photo by Sarah Johnson, @sj_obc

Over 40 people enjoyed a beverage in the brewery’s sunny warehouse space to view the slide deck available online and hear Shoemaker’s 20-minute presentation, followed by an expansive Q&A. Fresh off big wins for sustainable transportation at the Minnesota Legislature — including funding and parameters for a Metropolitan Council study to extend the Midtown Greenway across the river from Minneapolis — the crowd seemed relaxed and optimistic.

Shoemaker began with a bike plan’s purpose: “to build consensus” and set a vision for the future. Building upon the 2015 plan, which stressed completion of the Grand Round and Capital City Bikeway, the update draws from the results of a Fall 2021 engagement survey. The community’s most frequent request by far: more separated bikeways. 

St. Paul Public Works Planner Jimmy Shoemaker speaking to a full room, with presentation slides behind him.
St. Paul Public Works planner Jimmy Shoemaker speaks to a full room. Photo courtesy of Sustain Saint Paul

Separated Lanes and Safety

Referencing recent debates about the proposed separated bike trail on Summit Avenue (a regional trail plan that the St. Paul City Council voted 6-1 to approve on May 24, after four hours of public testimony) , Shoemaker stressed the tradeoffs of separated bikeways. One, he said, is that “separated bikeways often require large street reconstruction projects to implement. “Without additional funding sources, the build-out of the separated bikeway network will be comparatively slower than a network of striped bike lanes,” he said. (The Summit Avenue Regional Trail would be constructed as part of a massive project to update the century-old infrastructure on the historic street.)

Other tradeoffs: Separated lanes slow down the fastest bicyclists, although they provide greater safety to more types of riders, including children and less experienced cyclists. And even though separated lanes must compete for space with auto lanes, parking, trees and green space, building them may lessen the impacts of climate change by encouraging a shift to lower-impact transportation modes.

“Bike spaces separated from cars are more comfortable and attractive for new and less experienced riders.”

St. Paul city planner Jimmy Shoemaker

The updated Bicycle Plan also focuses on increasing safety and attracting new riders, seeking to align St. Paul with other American cities in expanding transportation options — and to align the city with its own 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The update reflects multiple studies that illustrate the need to attract the 54% of bicyclists who identify as “interested but concerned” about their willingness to bike on urban streets. “This updated Bicycle Plan proposes a network that responds to feedback the city has received for years,” Shoemaker said. “People want bike spaces separated from cars because they provide a more comfortable and attractive experience for new and less experienced riders.”

Other priorities Shoemaker stressed include increased connectivity; attracting external funding; and geographic distribution across the city.

A woman smiles with a welcome sign for the event behind her.
Sustain Saint Paul Co-Chair Melissa Wenzel is an active advocate for more cycling infrastructure. Photo courtesy of Sustain Saint Paul

Questions and Next Steps

The question-and-answer session lasted over an hour, with detailed questions on community messaging, sourcing revenue, impacts of a proposed 1 cent St. Paul sales tax and improving key connections across railroad tracks and through downtown.

Melissa Wenzel, co-chair of Sustain Saint Paul and a year-round bike commuter, highlighted her struggle with bikeway connectivity between downtown and her home on the East Side, particularly with increasingly unpredictable flood seasons. “When will there be reliable connections for East Siders to reach downtown?” Wenzel asked. Between a dangerously speedy East 7th Street and a flooded 4th Street, bicyclists have been forced to consider using the Kellogg Bridge sidewalk, thereby competing with pedestrians for space on a steep thoroughfare. 

Others shared similar concerns about connecting the Payne-Phalen neighborhood through downtown.

Shoemaker was receptive to taking another look at the connections, while referencing upcoming Kellogg Bridge and East 7th Street reconstruction projects.

Three people chat at a hightop table with beers and Bicycle Plan Update literature, while a few others chat in the background.
Early arrivals enjoyed conversation about the Bicycle Plan update. Photo courtesy of Sustain Saint Paul

Gabby Lasala, a new resident of St. Paul, said they get easily lost without their phone navigation and asked about better wayfinding for preferred bike routes citywide. Shoemaker referenced the “Wayfinding & Mapping” section in the full draft of the Bicycle Plan update, which reads, “The City should not assume that all people biking have access to smartphones” and stresses continued use of “traditional wayfinding elements” such as signage and painted sharrows.

The full draft of the city’s Updated Bicycle Plan is available for review on the city’s website at stpaul.gov. It includes an executive summary and detailed maps for ease of use. Public comment is welcome, and the city’s Interactive Bicycle Plan Network Map and Survey closes on June 30, 2023.

Shoemaker will deliver the presentation again at several community meetings throughout June, including via Zoom at the transportation committee of Union Park District Council on Monday, June 12 (email Leah Timberlake-Sullivan for the link) and the transportation committee of Macalester-Groveland Community Council on Monday, June 26 (email Alexa Golemo for the link). Plan adoption is expected in July.

Editor’s note: Streets.mn author Ed Steinhauer contributed to this report.

About Sherry Johnson

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Sherry Johnson gets feisty about sustainability and localism. A complexity coach, adaptive strategist, and amplifier of counter-narratives, Sherry supports civic and nonprofit leaders as Principal Guide at Cultivate Strategy.