The city of Saint Paul has released its latest proposal for a new recreational trail along the entire length of Summit Avenue for 30 days of public comment. The master plan for the Summit Avenue Regional Trail is now 90 percent complete, according to the city, and responses from both supporters and opponents are already coming in.
The plan has the support of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, but has drawn numerous objections from the group Save Our Street (SOS). Other local groups said they will need time to review the document.
SOS files Data Practices request
SOS filed a Data Practices Act request for city correspondence related to the plan. SOS is accusing the city of a lack of transparency. It contends that experts hired by the city to evaluate the plan maintained that the regional trail will be harmful to Summit Avenue’s historic character.
“Based on the analysis of a highly reputable arborist retained by SOS, we’re concerned that the trail will result in massive tree loss,” said Bob Cattanach of SOS, a resident of Ramsey Hill. “The city’s public response has been essentially, ‘Trust us. We’ll do our best to preserve the historic character and limit the loss of trees.’ But based on their own internal documents, we know that’s not true. It’s time they started being honest with Saint Paul residents.”
Loss of hundreds of trees predicted
SOS contends that the regional trail as planned will result in the loss of hundreds of trees along Summit, with heavy tree loss on the boulevards near intersections. Rather than risk a “fatal blow” to Summit Avenue’s tree canopy, SOS favors retaining Summit’s on-street bike lanes but making them safer by using high-visibility paint and narrowing the traffic lanes to slow motor vehicles and create a wider buffer between cars and bicyclists.
SOS is calling for keeping Summit’s curb lines intact. According to the group, city Parks and Recreation officials ignored their own experts’ advice on how to preserve Summit’s historic character. For example, engineering consultants from Bolton & Menk recommended in March 2022 that “additions to Summit Avenue should be as simple as possible and not change the existing curb line.”
A question of curb lines
SOS has said that the internal emails it obtained show that city staff knew their plans would be in opposition to what the city consultants recommended. The city’s draft plans do call for reconstructing the curbs in new locations all along Summit.
City parks planner Mary Norton stated in one email that if the recommendation is not to change the existing curb lines, she was unclear as to what options this leaves for a physically separated bikeway on Summit. Even a minimal approach to moving the curb line out from the boulevard is a change, she stated.
“I’m hoping the ‘no change to existing curb lines’ is more subjective than it sounds,” stated Brett Hussong, Norton’s supervisor, in another email.
A loss of trees at intersections?
Curves in the proposed trail at corners with intersecting streets could lead to the destruction of 96 trees, according to SOS. All told, Summit Avenue could lose 827 to 952 trees, or about 61 percent of its tree canopy, according SOS and its hired arborist.
Clare Cloyd, public services manager in the Parks and Recreation Department, challenged that conclusion. “The risk to trees is highly variable depending on specific site conditions, current health and maturity of trees, and tree species,” she said. “Other design considerations, approval processes, and engineering will be necessary to identify specific impacts to trees. The potential risk to trees was evaluated as part of the regional trail plan to understand potential impacts to trees relative to the proposed trail alignment. In most segments, there is no change in the curb line, meaning that the number of vulnerable trees stays the same regardless of the trail.”
As for the loss of trees at corners, Cloyd said that “specific designs at intersections will need to be addressed during the engineering phase of the project to determine appropriate crossing conditions that prioritize tree health, pedestrian and bicycle safety and vehicle movement. The trail plan does outline tree vulnerability and potential risks associated with construction of a regional trail. It also includes a toolkit of best practices for intersections.”
The risk to tree roots
SOS maintains that rebuilding more than 150 driveway aprons and more than 300 carriage walks or outwalks in conjunction with the regional trail will be very damaging to tree roots. According to Cloyd, the plan for the regional trail is a “visionary document” and such a level of detail is not known. Besides, the driveways and walks in the Summit right-of-way will need to be rebuilt at some point regardless of the trail plans, she stated.
Public comment is being sought through February 28 on the latest draft plan of the Summit Avenue Regional Trail. The final master plan will be drafted in March. A public hearing before the Parks and Recreation Commission is expected in March. The Saint Paul Planning Commission Transportation Committee will then make its recommendations. The City Council is expected to address the plan in April and then send its recommendation to the Metropolitan Council for review and approval in June.
To view the latest plan for the Summit Avenue Regional Trail, visit tinyurl.com/mv68vfdp. To comment on the plan, visit tinyurl.com/2w3mtfjj.
— Jane McClure
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Since I don’t live near Summit Avenue, I am not directly affected by the potential loss of trees. I might be out of line and poorly informed, but I was wondering why a recreational path down the middle of the parkway isn’t being considered since many people currently jog that route anyway. It would seem a meandering route for cycling, dog walking, rollerblading, etc., could be compatible with minimal tree loss.