A person rides a bike down an off-street bike path just east of downtown St. Paul.

All About the St. Paul Bicycle Plan

The City of Saint Paul released a draft of an updated Bicycle Plan in April. Through July 31, 2023, community members can read the recommendations of the plan and submit feedback via an interactive map, an online survey or directly to me, Department of Public Works planner Jimmy Shoemaker at jimmy.shoemaker@ci.stpaul.mn.us. All opportunities to learn more and submit feedback are at stpaul.gov/bikeplan.

The process to update the Bicycle Plan started at the end of 2021 when Public Works staff began talking with the community about what should be included in the update. In August, staff will make final changes to the Plan based on community feedback and take it to the St. Paul City Council for final adoption. Continue reading to learn about the major changes and recommendations in the updated Plan.

What a Bike Plan Is Used for

The Saint Paul Bicycle Plan provides direction for biking in St. Paul, including  why biking is important to the city and how the city should support it. The planned bicycle network in the Bicycle Plan identifies which streets, parks and railroad corridors should accommodate bikes in the future. It also identifies the best bikeway type for each street, park or railroad corridor.

Perhaps most importantly, the Bicycle Plan gives city planners and engineers the planned bicycle network, a web of bikeways across the city that connects destinations for people biking. City planners and engineers refer to the planned network when planning and reconstructing streets.

A graphic from the City of Saint Paul outlining the process of updating the bicycle plan.
The process for updating the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan.

Without this planned bike network, city planners and engineers would have to start from scratch and rethink a street every time one needs construction — this approach would be inefficient and would likely result in a disorganized and disconnected network. The Bicycle Plan does some of the thinking before the budgeting for street projects occurs. Having a planned network that the City Council and the community supports is critical when budgeting for construction projects.

A bicycle plan is also important when the city is pursuing federal and state funding (whether it’s targeted for bike infrastructure or not). These funds are often very competitive; other cities across the state and nation are submitting applications just like St. Paul. Having an approved bicycle plan shows federal and state funders that our community has put thought into it, and that we are ready to take the next step to design and construct if we are awarded funds.

What a Bike Plan Doesn’t Do

The Bike Plan doesn’t answer specific design questions like bikeway width, whether the space is shared with people walking, or exactly where and how the path travels as it crosses intersections. Those details are figured out later once funding has been identified and city staff have discussed tradeoffs with the community.

The Bicycle Plan also does not indicate when recommendations in the planned network will be built. Each planned bikeway in the planned network will require more engagement, design and funding before it is pursued. That’s why priorities in the plan are so important; see that section below.

Kids wearing backpacks and an adult with a child on a child seat bike down an off-street path.
A well-used separated bikeway. Photo by Jimmy Shoemaker

Overview: What’s in the Plan?

The updated Bicycle Plan builds on the 2015 Bicycle Plan. Many of the chapters, figures, and information are the same, though updated to reflect the expansion of the network since 2015.

An executive summary at the beginning of the plan highlights some of the main and most important recommendations: the planned bicycle network, priorities for shorter term construction, and the so-called “policy and process” priorities. These are recommendations that deal less with capital construction and more with how the city delivers projects, coordinates with other agencies, and pursues resources. 

Here’s a quick summary of the Bicycle Plan chapters:

  • Chapter 1 introduces the plan and talks about the vision for biking in St. Paul, what the plan is used for and briefly mentions the version adopted in 2015.
  • Chapter 2 talks about why biking is important and the different types of bikers.
  • Chapter 3 gives examples of the different bikeways existing and planned in St. Paul: shared lanes, bicycle boulevards, on-street bike lanes, and separated bikeways and paths. This chapter also talks about why and how streets were selected to be part of the planned bicycle network.
  • Chapter 4 presents the planned bicycle network, broken down by bikeway type. It also talks about the different sub-systems of the network, both planned and existing.
  • Chapter 5 discusses how biking is supported besides construction and expansion of the network. Bike racks and parking, counting and data collection, maintenance of the network and wayfinding are all included.
  • Chapter 6 talks about how the bike network is constructed, the planning and design process and what funding sources are used. It also includes shorter-term priorities for the network.
  • The Appendix has information about previous planning efforts and policy that supports and directs the city to pursue investments in biking. It also highlights engagement that went into the 2015 plan and the updated plan.

What’s Changed Since the Last Plan

When the Bicycle Plan update process began in fall 2021, the goals were to:

  • Update the planned bicycle network to be more responsive to the needs and desires of the community.
  • Be more in line with adopted city policy.
  • Better reflect industry best practices.

Accomplishing these goals meant extensively reviewing the 2015 planned bicycle network. The updated planned bicycle network is a result of that review and is arguably the most significant and meaningful update to the Bicycle Plan.

Separated Bikeways and Paths: A Lot of Them

When comparing the 2015 planned network to the one in this updated plan, there are many similarities. The same four bikeway types are recommended:

  • Shared lanes (shown as blue lines).
  • Bike boulevards (purple lines).
  • On-street bicycle lanes (red lines).
  • Separated bikeways and paths — called “off-street paths” in 2015 (and shown with green lines).

Though some new bikeways have been added, and some removed, the bikeways of the updated planned bicycle network are largely shown on the same streets, parks and railroad corridors.

Map showing the Draft 2023 Planned Bicycle Network
Draft 2023 Planned Bicycle Network
The currently adopted Planned Bicycle Network

However, when looking at the 2015 planned bicycle network and the updated planned bicycle network (as seen above), the amount of each bikeway type is different. And perhaps the biggest change is the number of separated bikeways and paths (green lines on the maps) as a percentage of the planned network.

Why So Many Separated Bikeways and Paths?

City staff routinely hear from members of the community that people want to ride, but they feel unsafe and uncomfortable riding in on-street bike lanes. In the spirit of being more responsive to the community, staff looked at each bikeway identified in the 2015 planned bicycle network and asked, “Is this the correct bikeway for this street?”

Answering that question required using state and national best practices to select and plan for the best bikeway. The graphic below was developed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and is supported by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Bicycle Facility Design Manual. The guidance in the graphic says the correct bikeway for any street is based on the street’s traffic volumes and traffic speeds.

Chart showing traffic volume on the y axis and speed on the x axis, and where on the chart different kinds of bikeways are appropriate.
Preferred Bikeway Type for Urban, Urban Core, Suburban and Rural Town Contexts. Source: FHWA Bikeway Selection Guide (2019)

The City of Saint Paul has a lot of data on traffic volumes and speeds. Where traffic is low (say, a neighborhood street in St. Paul), a person biking and a person driving can share the road. On streets where traffic volumes are a bit higher and speeds are a bit faster, an on-street bike lane is recommended to provide some space between people biking and people driving. When traffic is high and speeds are high, state and national best practice recommends physical separation between people biking and driving.

Where a green line is shown on the planned bike network map, traffic volumes exceed approximately 6,000 vehicles per day, and speeds exceed approximately 25 mph. These conditions are true on many streets in St. Paul, which is why so many separated bikeways and paths are shown in the planned bike network.

What Does a Planned Bike Network With More Separated Bikeways and Paths Mean?

Based on community feedback, a network with more separated bikeways and paths will lead to additional — and most importantly, new — bike riders. Separated bikeways and paths are supported by local policy (the 2019 Saint Paul Climate Action and Resilience Plan) and industry best practice. Streets with separated bikeways and paths also allow planners and engineers to construct a narrower street relative to a street with on-street bike lanes. A narrower street helps accomplish city pedestrian safety and traffic calming goals.  

Compared with on-street bike lanes, separated bikeways and paths require different types of street construction to implement. Bike lanes can often be implemented with a resurfacing (mill and overlay) project. In these projects, the old pavement is ground up, and fresh asphalt is laid down. That process allows the community, planners and engineers to rethink how the space in the street is divided up. Often, extra space can be reallocated and striped with bike lanes. St. Paul has had success using this method to take an existing street and repurpose the space using new asphalt and new paint.

An introduction to the Draft Saint Paul Bicycle Plan,
A fully separated, curb-protected bikeway in St. Paul. Photo by Jimmy Shoemaker

Separated bikeways and paths, however, often require a full street reconstruction to add the physical separation necessary. Street reconstruction projects often completely remove the existing street elements and give a blank slate between property lines on opposite sides of the street. Planners and engineers work with the community to think about what goes back into the street, boulevard, and sidewalk space. Street reconstruction projects are much more expensive than comparatively simple mill and overlay projects. With current funding levels, the city typically fully reconstructs only a couple miles of streets each year. Because of the funding required, a bike network of separated bikeways and paths will likely take longer to build out than one with mostly on-street bike lanes. Therefore, it is so important to identify where the city will prioritize construction of the bike network in the short term. (See the priorities section below.)

Often, but not always, separated bikeways and paths take up more space than on-street bike lanes. In some instances, this will mean more space given to the bikeway and physical separation relative to on-street bike lanes. Every project will be different, but with a finite amount of space, the city should expect more and difficult tradeoffs between separated bikeways and paths and other uses of the street, including vehicle travel lanes, turn lanes, on-street parking and tree and boulevard space.

Winter maintenance is another consideration. Currently, on-street bike lanes are cleared of snow when the plow clears the vehicle travel lanes and parking lanes. Depending on the amount of snow stored on the street and the amount of snowfall, on-street bike lanes can be difficult to clear. When snow piles up along the curb and encroaches on to the street, snow and ice can build up in the bike lanes, or it can push parked cars further from the curb and into the bike lane. Furthermore, the snow that finds its way from the curb into the parking lane or bike lane gets compacted, often creating ice and snowpack in the bike lanes. Community engagement from the Bicycle Plan update indicates that people would like to bike in the winter, but often run into major challenges when streets become icy and snow-packed.

A Bobcat plowing a bike lane near downtown St. Paul.
A Bobcat plowing a separated bikeway near downtown St. Paul. Photo by Jimmy Shoemaker

Compared with on-street bike lanes, separated bikeways and paths can be functionally easier to clear of snow. Drivers cannot drive on these bikeways like they can on on-street bike lanes, so limiting ice and snow build up is comparatively easier on separated bikeways and paths. However, a network with more separated bikeways and paths does take different equipment and will require more staff to maintain, so a network with more of these bikeways will take an adjusted maintenance strategy and more resources. 

Priorities

The draft planned bicycle network map is shown below, overlaid with short-term priorities called out with dark red halos. Because the Bicycle Plan is a long-range document that will guide street investment for decades, identifying shorter-term priorities becomes more important.

The priorities shown in the draft plan are based on several criteria:

  • Bikeway locations and connections that have strong community support.
  • Bikeways that could be implemented if voters approve a local sales tax in November.
  • Bikeways that could be implemented with external funding sources from the state and federal governments.
Map of the Draft 2023 Planned Bicycle Network, with priorities outlined in red.
Draft 2023 Planned Bicycle Network, with priorities outlined in red.

The priorities shown on the above map are not meant to exclude other opportunities for network expansion. Any time investment is made in a street, the Bicycle Plan should be consulted to determine how the recommendations can be included in the work.

Timeline: Your Feedback by July 31!

Creating (and updating) the Bicycle Plan is the first step toward ongoing support for biking in St. Paul and building out the bicycle network. St. Paul combines bikeway projects with other infrastructure projects: mill and overlays (resurfacings), reconstructions, transit projects and large site developments. But the city does not have a dedicated source of funding for construction of bikeways. Therefore, it isn’t possible to predict the timeline for expansion of the network.  

In the future, additional engagement will be part of every street project that includes a bikeway. Project staff (from the city, county and state) will reference the Bicycle Plan, then meet with the community and stakeholders to work out the details. However, the  planned bicycle network as shown on the map will be the starting point.

If you care about your street and how it functions for people walking, rolling, biking and driving, please consider sharing your comments and concerns through July 31, 2023 at stpaul.gov/bikeplan.

Once the comment period is closed, city staff will use the feedback gathered to update the draft plan to create a final version. Once that is complete, staff will bring the plan to the city’s Transportation Committee, then the Planning Commission and finally the City Council to be considered for adoption. A formal public hearing will be part of the adoption process, which will give community members another chance to share their thoughts with staff and the city leaders. Once some version of the Bicycle Plan is adopted by the City Council in early fall 2023, local street designers and engineers will use it to design streets for decades.

You can follow the process before adoption at stpaul.gov/bikeplan.

About Jimmy Shoemaker

Pronouns: he/him

Jimmy Shoemaker is a Senior Transportation Planner working for the City of Saint Paul Department of Public Works. He thinks a lot about street design to slow traffic and provide safer spaces to walk and bike. He is currently working on updating the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan, Safe Routes to School, and BRT projects. He enjoys working with the great staff in local government and being able to see changes to streets in the neighborhood and city he lives and grew up in. Previous to joining the City of Saint Paul, Jimmy worked in the private sector on active transportation planning.