The city of Saint Paul’s regional trail planning exercise for Summit Avenue is on a path for an irresponsible solution more dangerous for bicyclists and at the highest possible cost to taxpayers. For 2.5 of Summit Avenue’s 4.5 miles, the regional trail that planners are proposing is the most dangerous road facility for bicyclists, according to an Insurance Industry Highway Safety (IIHS) report comparing bike facility types and roadway conditions.

summit ave bike trails
One of the options for replacing Summit Avenue’s on-street bike lanes with off-road bike paths involves removing one of the parking lanes and installing a two-way bike trail on that side of the right-of-way.

For two sections of Summit Avenue—from the Cathedral to Lexington Parkway and for several blocks near Snelling Avenue and Macalester College—the emerging recommendation for the regional trail is to replace the existing on-street bike lanes with a more dangerous two-way bicycle path.

The IIHS study used biking on a busy street with no bike facility as the base condition, assigning it a risk of 1.0. According to the study, on-street bike lanes like those that are now used on Summit are the safest alternative for a busy street with a risk ratio of 0.53. That is roughly half as risky—or twice as safe—as no bike facility at all.

In contrast, a two-way bicycle path along a busy street with high conflicts (i.e., many intersections and driveways) is 11.38 times more dangerous for bicyclists than no bike facility. By simple math, that makes Summit’s existing bike lanes more than 20 times safer than the proposed two-way bicycle path.

The IIHS study cites as an example 15th Street NW in Washington, D.C., as a two-way cycle track with a heightened risk ratio. It attributes the heightened risk to the high number of conflicts (intersections and driveways). Summit between Lexington Parkway and the Cathedral has 2.5 times more conflicts per mile than that high-risk cycle track in D.C. On this stretch of lower Summit Avenue, there are 73 intersection and driveway crossings. These crossings are much more dangerous with a two-way bike facility:

 

As quoted in “PR Newswire,” the IIHS study found that “(T)he combination of busy intersections and junctions and a two-way bike lane likely contributed to the high risk.… Intersections and junctions at a two-way bike lane can be particularly challenging for turning drivers. They need to look for oncoming traffic as they turn and must look in both directions for bicyclists.”

In addition to being dangerous, the raised bicycle path is the most inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. According to the Saint Paul Bike Plan, the cost of building on-street bike lanes is $30,000 per mile, while the cost to construct a bicycle track is $1,500,000 per mile.

 

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The city could and should make Summit’s existing on-street bike lanes safer through four well-proven methods: 1) fixing the pavement and plowing better in winter; 2)narrowing the driving lanes; 3) painting bike lanes a high-contrast green and adding a painted buffer to Summit Avenue between the Cathedral and Lexington; and 4)making context-based intersection safety improvements.

The Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation and National Association of City Transportation Officials, as well as the European Oslo Standard and Copenhagen Model, all caution against two-way paths in high-conflict areas, and recommend on-street bike lanes for busy streets with limited speeds (25 mph and lower).

Buffered on-street bike lanes combined with intersection safety improvements and traffic calming, unlike the two-way cycle paths, will increase safety for people in all modes of transportation—cars, bikes and pedestrians.

On-street bike lanes are both safer and more economical. Why are city planners even considering this exorbitant and dangerous bidirectional bike path boondoggle?

— Save Our Street

Save Our Street (SOS) is a citizens group seeking to preserve the historic streetscape of Summit Avenue and a multi-modal corridor for generations to come. This article was a collaborative effort by 12 members of the SOS Steering Committee.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Matt Healy, Merriam Park

    Your editorials continue to overstate the cost of adding separated lanes as part of a reconstruction of the roadway that’s happening regardless of which bike lane configuration they end up with. The Saint Paul Bike Plan says (right before the table of costs you cited): “…the cost of constructing an off-street path adjacent to a roadway is significantly reduced when the adjacent roadway is also being reconstructed compared to the cost of constructing a path without adjacent roadway work.”

    This editorial also says “on-street lanes are safer”, comparing them against a two-way lane, but conveniently ignoring the proposal for separated one-way lanes on this stretch, a plan that is neither “exorbitant” nor “dangerous”, and wouldn’t require removal of boulevard trees.

    I can certainly understand why Summit Avenue homeowners would want to minimize any project on the street where they live (as we all likely would), but Summit is a thoroughfare used by all Saint Paul residents, and I think separated bike lanes would be a great improvement.

  2. Robert Bushard, Merriam Park

    I have a really good idea that I think most residents (taxpayers) on Summit could get behind. Repave the avenue leaving the bike lanes where they (are). We should also make Summit Ave a “Minnesota State Cultural Preservation Roadway” which would prevent any change in the topology and layout of this treasure other than necessary maintenance and repair, managed by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

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