Members of the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition are mobilizing for a new bike lane along historic Summit Avenue and accuse opponents of spreading misinformation in an effort to save the parking lot. A growing number of Summit Avenue homeowners have planted ‘SOS’ lawn signs asking the city to ‘Save Our Street’, a nod to fears that new connections to regional bike paths will uproot stately trees from their street .
The hubbub over street plans that have yet to be finalized has left city staff in the awkward position of trying to solicit input and feedback on potential trail designs while navigating a war of words of increasingly vitriolic.
“We are moving towards a master plan document,” said Mary Norton, the city’s landscape architect, in a recent interview. “We are seeking feedback on a one-way and two-way trail installation.”
St. Paul Parks and Recreation staff noted that Summit Avenue was laid out with cyclists in mind as early as the 1890s. of Victorian-era mansions in the country, with 373 of its 440 original houses still standing, including the governor’s residence.
PLANS CALLS FOR BIKE FACILITIES ON HIGH VOLUME STREETS
The city’s Regional Parks Policy Plan and its 2040 Comprehensive Plan call for the addition of separate or protected cycling facilities on high-traffic streets.
Under the St. Paul Bicycle Plan and general industry practice, this means that roads carrying more than 6,500 vehicles per day would be suitable candidates for segregated or off-street cycling facilities. Summit, which already has on-street bike lanes, sees average vehicle volumes ranging from 3,900 to 11,300 vehicles per day, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The goal is to create distinct bicycle and pedestrian connections from Mississippi River Boulevard to downtown St. Paul and the Sam Morgan Regional Trail, said Brett Hussong, landscape designer with St. Paul Parks and Recreation.
“It’s a regional trail,” Norton said. “This east-west connection is really important to connect to other regional parks and regional amenities. It has long been a multimodal corridor. …We are really looking forward to creating this comfortable trail experience for all ages. … We’re in this balance between prioritizing that green space and working within the transport footprint – the roadway itself.
LOW USE OF PARKING
Parking studies conducted in 2019 found that, on average, less than 50% of available street parking spaces along Summit Avenue were in use at night. Parking studies conducted in 2022 generally showed around 30% usage, according to the city. On-street parking was found to be more used, ranging from 50-75%, near the University of St. Thomas and Dale Street.
An off-street pathway could be installed while prioritizing preservation of trees and green space, “considering removal of parking on one side (of the street) or selective, contextual removal,” Norton said.
From Mississippi River Boulevard to Fairview Avenue and Hamline Avenue to Lexington Parkway, Summit Avenue is bisected by a large grassy median, creating two one-way roads. A design option might lend itself to one-way pathways on each sidewalk. “That sidewalk, there’s a little more wiggle room, as opposed to east Lexington where you have more mature trees,” Norton said.
East of Lexington Parkway, where the grassy median disappears, Summit Avenue’s 200-foot right-of-way becomes a 100-foot right-of-way. This could lend itself to a variety of applications on either side of the road, ranging from one-way bike lanes to two-way bike lanes, depending on the design chosen, “each with its own methods and drawbacks,” Norton said.
“It’s not an one-or-one approach,” she added. “Summit Avenue is characterized by different experiences in different footprints.”
What could go into an off-street bike path? Planners said having a distinct kerbside is an important factor when considering potential designs. In the renderings, a red dotted line marks the existing sidewalk in the segment from Lexington Parkway to Victoria Street, which is to be rebuilt anyway.
“We seek to work within this cobblestone footprint whenever possible,” Norton said.
A draft master plan will be released this summer, triggering a public comment period. On the “Engage St. Paul” website, residents can view an online map showing existing conditions along Summit Avenue and comment on opportunities for other types of connections to existing green spaces that planners may have missed. .
The draft master plan will not specify the number of trees or parking spaces that will be removed, but it will establish priorities and best practices.
SAVE OUR STREETS AND BIKE COALITION
Dan Casebeer, owner of the longtime Grand Performance bike shop on Grand Avenue, said he was strongly opposed to any plans to install a two-way bike lane east of Lexington Parkway.
“The two-way trail is another disaster waiting to happen,” Casebeer said in an interview, noting that intersections will get hairy. “It does the same thing as having runners against the current. Summit is one of the most idyllic bike rides in town, and I use it almost every day. Just fix the road and bike lanes we already have.
Summit Hill resident Marilyn Bach said she fears decisions have been made over the heads of residents already ‘heartbroken by the tragic loss of ash trees’ along Cleveland Avenue and Edgcumbe Road. To avoid future disputes, she calls on the city to develop a tree preservation ordinance and abandon the Summit Avenue bike corridor. Members of SOS, or Save Our Street, hire an arborist to help them assess the impacts.
“This plan will decimate this historic streetscape and much-needed urban canopy and green space,” Bach said, in a recent letter to the editor of Pioneer Press. “Trails like this belong in areas uninterrupted by hundreds of walkways and many walkways.”
The St. Paul Bicycle Coalition released multiple statements on social media in June accusing Summit Avenue owners of spreading misinformation to preserve parking.
“There’s no reason a better bike lane would impact any significant number of trees, and the city has made it clear that tree preservation is the top priority,” read one. of their statements. Another includes a list of accidents that have resulted in hospitalizations over the past six years: “Every year people are hospitalized after being hit while biking on Summit Ave. Don’t you think it’s time for anything change?”
Norton stressed that keeping Summit Avenue as tree-lined as possible is a clear priority. The avenue is in two historic areas of the city – West Summit Avenue and the Historic Hill district, as well as in an overlapping national district. Concept drawings already exclude certain types of trails that would cross mature trees.
“If that impact zone is going to be too large from a green space priority perspective … there are tolerances at that edge of the sidewalk,” Norton said. “That has been the basis of how we move through this corridor. It is a cultural landscape.