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.
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.
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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