City needs to slow the process and consider other options for improving bicycle safety.

 I participated on the Design Advisory Committee for the proposed Summit Avenue Regional Trail and have spent countless hours reading all of the iterations of the plan. It has gotten more confusing with each version. At 241 pages, the latest 90% Draft Plan contains an indigestible amount of information. Confusion and misinformation abound.

summit and lexington
Summit Avenue looking west from its intersection with Lexington Parkway.

I was disappointed to read in the February 22 MyVillager the false but oft-repeated claim that the trail would be built within the existing curb lines. In fact, it widens the curb line by 3 feet along 2.1 miles of Summit, and leaves open the opportunity for expansion along the other 2.4 miles. That inaccuracy in the usually solid reporting of MyVillager made plain what’s needed. The plan needs to be distilled into bite-size pieces.

Planning process solely focused on one style of trail

The master plan process for the Summit Avenue Regional Trail has excluded other options and solely focused on one style of trail: a raised asphalt path at sidewalk level with a buffer space and curb. There would be two one-way trails the length of Summit. The standard is 7-foot asphalt paths and 4-foot buffers, requiring a total of 22 feet of roadway width. However, only 2.1 miles have the standard treadway. Modified treadways are proposed for the majority of Summit. This style of trail requires extra space that the constrained roadway simply doesn’t have. It will also require sacrifices of green space, roadway shoulder or parking lanes, as well as the loss of the on-street bike lanes.

Sacrifices west of Lexington

In the 2.1 miles of Summit west of Lexington with the single center island, the 90% Draft Plan proposes widening the one-way street on both sides of the island from 28 to 31 feet. Combined, this would impact 6 feet beyond the current curb lines, posing a severe risk to trees on the boulevards and island. Both traffic lanes would be widened from 11 to 12 feet, encouraging higher speeds and reduced safety.

Sacrifices east of Lexington

Summit east of Lexington is only 48 feet wide from curb to curb, making it difficult to find the 22 feet required for the standard trail. As written in the draft plan, anything could happen. One design would eliminate half of the on-street parking. City planners have emphasized that the use of on-street parking is low corridor-wide. They fail to recognize that 82 percent of the households east of Lexington are in multi-family buildings, and many park on the street.

Here, the plan includes a single 8-foot parking lane and 11- and 12-foot traffic lanes. The asphalt paths are 7 feet wide, but the buffers are only 1.5 feet wide—insufficient for snow storage and people. Passengers and deliveries would be unloaded on the new asphalt path.

A final decision on this segment has been left for a future design phase, allowing the return to a previously discarded configuration that would extend the curb 2.5 feet on either side. Another configuration would eliminate all of the parking on “select” blocks. With no parking, both traffic lanes would be widened to 12 feet.

Sacrifices west of Snelling

The plan for Summit between Snelling and Fairview avenues also falls short of the standard. This segment near Macalester College has two traffic lanes in the middle and a narrow island and frontage road on either side. The plan is for two 11-foot traffic lanes and a 3-foot buffer and 6-foot trail on either side. In this segment, the trails are narrowed in order to widen the traffic lanes, going against the best practices of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). And Macalester is the area most in need of safer speeds and traffic signal improvements. It has seen several crashes, including two at intersections that were fatal.

Extensive reconstruction required

The proposed Summit Avenue trail doesn’t just swap the locations of the parking lane and bike lane to create parking-protected bike lanes. The raised and separated trail creates a new curb in a new location, requiring the construction of an extension to all 150-plus driveways and the reconstruction of 350-plus pedestrian ramps at 46 street crossings. This includes any curbs and bumpouts that were or will be constructed as part of mill and overlay projects in 2022 and 2023 between Mississippi River Boulevard and Victoria Street.

Better ways to improve safety

The 90% Draft Plan didn’t draw on studies of actual bicycle-car crashes in order to address their causes with proven solutions. Safe roadway design anticipates common human error and prevents it. Targeted improvements to intersections are the greatest need on Summit and do not require a raised separated trail. Redesigning the roadway to enforce Summit’s 25 mph speed limit would increase safety and decrease injuries for all users. MnDOT recommends 10-foot traffic lanes for urban roads with low speed limits like Summit.

As members of the Design Advisory Committee, I and others became frustrated with the planning process. Safety and user feedback were not placed first. Less invasive trail designs were not allowed to be considered. Alternative routes were dismissed without analysis. The 90% Draft Plan began and ended with a single predetermined product.

There’s still time to save the Summit Avenue Regional Trail. The process needs to slow down and consider more options and more people. Summit deserves a trail with fewer sacrifices and a planning process that considers alternative trail types and alternative routes.

— Sonja Mason

Sonja Mason is a resident of Summit Hill.


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