Anyone who believes that the Summit Avenue Regional Trail is a done deal because the St. Paul City Council approved it 6–1 on May 24 may be underestimating the Save Summit Avenue opposition, whose SOS moniker (“Save Our Street”) seems intended to portray the group’s level of distress about separated bike lanes being constructed just past their front yards.
Two weeks after its members showed up to testify at the City Council public hearing wearing green (“for the trees”), Save Summit Avenue — which is managed by a professional PR firm — issued an email blast urging trail opponents to:
- Keep the Save Our Street (SOS) signs up in their yards.
- Gear up for “the next phase of the resistance.”
- Avoid “kowtowing to a small fringe group of Coalition Biker activists.”
- Speak against proposed updates to the St. Paul Bicycle Plan, which prioritizes separated bike lanes throughout the city.
One SOS trail opponent testified before the City Council in a green Wellstone T-shirt — as if the late, great activist U.S. senator would have opposed the democratization of the city’s most iconic and privileged street. Dan Marshall, co-owner of Mischief Toys on Grand Avenue, countered the misperception in his own testimony: “This is all about limiting public access to one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s about control, not trees; privilege, not safety.”
Marshall and other Streets.mn contributors turned out in force for the four-hour public hearing, and portions of their testimonials are excerpted below. Although opponents outnumbered supporters, and the antagonism was evident by the two sides seating themselves on opposite ends of the hearing room, the eloquence and logic of a future-focused group derided as “elite cyclists” were unmatched.
Safety for All
“This plan is very simple, and I’m surprised it’s created so much controversy. All it does is switch the position of the bikeway and the parked cars. . . . It would create a safer, more comfortable bikeway. It would create a bikeway that is maintainable in winter. And it would narrow the street, making it safer for pedestrians to cross.”
“Summit Avenue is a very direct way to get to my destinations on bike, which allows me to live my values while commuting. But this isn’t about me. This is about the we, about us. I reflect on who bikes, and those who want to bike, and who cannot drive. I speak for the youth who can’t drive. The young adults who don’t want to own a car, for those like me who feel safer biking than driving based on health concerns, and for those who shouldn’t or can’t drive any longer.
“Finally, I speak for this topic as a social, racial and environmental justice issue. The youth I work with expect me and others to lead on climate change issues. I owe current and future St. Paul community members to speak in favor of this plan.”
“It’s hard for young families to attend in-person City Council meetings on weekday afternoons. Don’t forget about these people. I had two families tell me they supported my stance, but they couldn’t attend due to family priorities.
“The city’s infrastructure is far too car-centric, making short walks and bike rides challenging and dangerous. The Summit Avenue bike lanes today are unfit and unsafe for kids, especially without parental supervision. The Summit Avenue trail would make Summit a place parents could trust their kids to ride bikes, including to schools.”
— Scott Berger, lawyer and father of two
“I am tremendously excited about this plan and the opportunities it provides for my family to get around our city safely using modes of transportation that are significantly more fun, better in a city environment, quieter and more human-centered. The other facilities that St. Paul has built have fundamentally changed our lives. The Como Avenue trail allows us to bike safely to these kids’ grandparents’ house for childcare and just to hang out.
“An entire, comprehensive network is crucial to bicycles being a feasible form of transportation for everybody, including people who have kids on the back of their bikes. When I’m biking on Summit Avenue, if a car door opens in front of us, my only escape route is into traffic. A fully separated facility makes it safe and comfortable for me to get my kids around our great city, and I hope you’ll support this plan toward a safer, more equitable, sustainable, better St. Paul.”
“Last week’s . . . installment of our annual drought-fire-smoke season should serve to remind us why St. Paul has a climate resilience plan, vehicle emissions targets and a comprehensive bike plan with a renewed emphasis on separated bike lanes. We will not make any headway in reducing our vehicle emissions if we don’t take this opportunity to make cycling more attractive to a broader demographic of riders.”
— Ed Steinhauer, youth worker, year-round utility cyclist
“SOS began spreading misinformation about tree loss months before the city even released its plans. To this day, they continue to claim that the trail will kill hundreds of trees despite overwhelming evidence that any possible tree loss will be the result of street and sewer reconstruction, not the trail. They’ve largely succeeded in framing this entire debate as bikes vs. trees, which was never true. Our civic culture has been damaged by this false dichotomy.”
— Dan Marshall, co-owner, Mischief Toys, year-round cyclist
“Several speakers have framed potential tree loss as a climate issue, but what about carbon emissions? I’ve lived in Minnesota my entire life, and winter has changed. We have less snow, more ice, higher temperatures and more torrential rains. Attention to climate means we need to set aside convenience, alter our habits and drive less. And yes, plant trees.
“Because if we don’t solve our climate emergency, then the question of where people are going to park when they drive to businesses on Grand Avenue — a street with a bus line — won’t matter. This is a vote for today, a vote for tomorrow, and a vote for the world we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.”
— Amy Gage, managing editor, Streets.mn
Photos by Ed Steinhauer for Streets.mn