Almost 250 people attended a June 6 virtual meeting to review the city of Saint Paul’s concepts for replacing Summit Avenue’s on-street bike lanes with one- or two-way bike trails separated from traffic by a narrow boulevard. The change would be welcomed by bicyclists who often find themselves too close to speeding vehicles. However, the possibility of losing green space, trees and on-street parking concerns many others.
Preliminary plans for the redesign of Summit between Kellogg Boulevard and Mississippi River Boulevard include options for different sections of the street. City officials hope to have a final plan in place this summer before it goes through a review and approval process. Because Summit is considered a regional trail, the approval of both the Metropolitan Council and the Saint Paul City Council is required.
The virtual meeting elicited a wide range of opinions in breakout sessions, some of which became heated. One of the few points on which people could agree is that Summit’s pavement is in poor condition and in need of repair.
“Summit already is overwhelmed with traffic of all modes,” said John Wood. “It needs resurfacing only. It does not need to be overwhelmed with a regional trail added to this already busy boulevard.”
“The on-street bike lanes are great for avid cyclists who like to go fast with cars,” said local resident Gaby Lasala, “but they aren’t safe for those of us who want to bike to the store and pick up groceries or for kids who want to bike to school or to the store.”
Will Fetcenko agreed. “Separating pedestrians and bicyclists from two-ton vehicles swerving to avoid potholes is the safest and most accessible option for all Saint Paul residents,” he said.
SARPA envisions serious problems with off-road trails.
The Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association had several objections to the bike trail. SARPA appreciated the planners’ efforts to save as many trees and as much green space as possible, according to president Tom Darling, but saw many problems with the ideas presented. “Each of the alternatives we’ve seen still has serious, serious problems,” he said. “We have to ask, is this needed? Is this a good idea?”
One issue for SARPA is that the off-street trails would create new hazards where they intersect with private driveways and parking lot entrances. Darling predicted that experienced cyclists will not use the trails and instead bike on Summit itself, which will be more hazardous without the bike lanes.
Both bike trail options would dramatically alter the landscape and character of Summit Avenue, according to Darling. “People have been fighting to preserve that character forever,” he said.
Different trails for different stretches of Summit.
All of the concepts still under consideration include bike trails that are separated from motor vehicle traffic by a narrow boulevard. One concept has one-way trails on either side of Summit between the street and sidewalk. The other concept has a wider two-way trail on just one side of Summit. The existing medians and curb lines are maintained as closely as possible to preserve trees and green space.
What differs in the designs is dictated in part by the width of the street. Summit has about 100 feet of right-of-way between Kellogg Boulevard and Lexington Parkway. West of Lexington, the right-of-way is about 200 feet with either a grassy median in the center or two grassy medians on either side of the main traffic lanes.
One concept for the Kellogg-Lexington stretch calls for removing parking on one side of Summit. On the stretch between Lexington and Mississippi River Boulevard, parking could be retained on both sides of Summit or removed on one side. Where parking is removed could vary. City parking studies conducted in 2019 and 2022 found that parking demand is well below 50 percent along most of Summit, with higher demand near Dale Street and the University of Saint Thomas.
Just when the new bike trails could be built is unclear. The only funding currently in place is for a mill and overlay project on Summit between Lexington and Snelling Avenue this year and a reconstruction of Summit between Victoria Street and Lexington Parkway in 2023.
Summit bisects two historic preservation districts: Historic Hill and Summit Avenue West. According to Alice Messer, who leads the design staff in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the city is trying to respect the historic status of Summit while addressing the need for multi-modal transportation.
One historic element of Summit that would likely be replaced are the granite curbs found along some stretches of the street. They would be replaced with concrete curbs as ADA-compliant curb cuts are added at intersections.
“The Regional Trail Master Plan is looking at ways to improve accessibility and safety for all users while preserving the historical context of Summit and minimizing impacts to greenspace and trees as much as possible,” said Parks and Recreation spokesperson Liz McDonald. “Constructing a bike trail typically requires similar or less excavation depth than rebuilding a street. A design approach that uses the existing roadway as much as possible would help to limit the impact to trees.”
For more information about the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan, visit engagestpaul.org/summit.
— Jane McClure
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