A master plan for Summit Avenue to improve the recreational experience on the tree-lined boulevard and the safety of all those who use it will be drawn up in the coming months by Saint Paul’s departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works. Citizen outreach will begin in October with the goal of having the plan in place by September 2022.
 
The Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Transportation Committee reviewed a timeline for the master planning process and its goals on September 20.
Summit Avenue
With pup Wilbur in tow, Laura Jorgensen jogged beneath the shrubbery on the Summit Avenue median just west of Lexington Parkway in the spring of 2012. Photo by Brad Stauffer
 
The plan could include parkway, transportation and pedestrian improvements along Summit from the Cathedral of Saint Paul to the Mississippi River, according to Mary Norton of the Parks and Recreation Department. The intent is to modernize Summit’s infrastructure while building upon its historic character. Improving trails and public access to open spaces are other goals.
 
City planners will look at the evolving needs of street users and how to make Summit a more “resilient, people-oriented corridor,” Norton said. “Summit is a really important corridor, and we need to find a way to strike a balance for all street users.”

Planning to unfold over the next year

This fall the focus will be on assessing existing conditions, engaging the public and evaluating the street’s challenges and opportunities. This winter, neighborhood and technical advisory groups will meet to study intersections and the areas between intersections and review design alternatives for review by the public this winter.

Final plans will be developed during the summer of 2022. Those plans will be reviewed by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and Transportation Committee before heading to the City Council and Metropolitan Council for final approval. The Minnesota Department of Transportation and Capitol Region Watershed District will also be involved, as will district councils along Summit and the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association.

‘A heavily used corridor’

Summit carries between 7,000 and 10,000 motor vehicles per day. An estimated 800 to 1,000 bicyclists join the traffic flow in warmer months. That number drops to about 30 to 50 bicyclists during the winter.

Summit has some of the oldest bicycle lanes in Saint Paul, dating from the 1990s. The bike lanes west of Lexington were reconfigured and restriped in 2020. A request to turn city property northwest of the Summit Avenue bridge over Ayd Mill Road into a park will also be discussed as part of the master planning process.

“I’m on Summit Avenue several times a day and I’m pleased to see this,” said Jeffrey Risberg, a Lexington-Hamline resident who chairs the Transportation Committee. “It’s an extremely heavily used corridor.”

 

An avenue with many stakeholders

Risberg cautioned that public engagement in the project could be daunting, given the number of stakeholders. The 41/2-mile-long avenue is home to many schools and faith-based institutions. The city’s plan is to appoint a design advisory committee with representatives of those institutions as well as local district
councils.

The master plan will be used to guide public improvements along Summit. An early focus will be the section between Lexington Parkway and Victoria Street, which is slated for reconstruction in 2023-2024. The $6.64 million project will include new pavement, curbs and gutters, sidewalks and street lights. Summit between Hamline Avenue and Mississippi River Boulevard is slated for a mill and overlay project in 2024.

 

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One challenge in planning Summit’s future is the changing width of the street, according to Norton. Another challenge is balancing future needs with Summit’s historic status, she said.

Summit lays claim to having the longest stretch of Victorian-era homes in the United States. According to historian Ernest R. Sandeen, it is “the best preserved example of the Victorian monumental residential boulevard.”

Portions of Summit are included in two of the city’s historic preservation districts—the Historic Hill and Summit Avenue West districts. It also includes several properties that are on local and national historic registers.

— Jane McClure

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