The Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Commission recommended approval of the proposed Summit Avenue Regional Trail on a split vote on May 11 with four commissioners in favor, three in opposition and four who were absent. The plan for the 4.7-mile recreational trail now goes to the City Council for a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 24.
The regional trail would extend from Mississippi River Boulevard to Kellogg Boulevard. It would replace Summit’s on-street bike lanes with an off-street path raised and separated from motor vehicle traffic but built within the existing curb lines for the most part.
A lightning rod for controversy
The plan has been a lightning rod for controversy, with thousands of people commenting online or in writing in support or opposition. The plan is favored by many cyclists who claim it would make for safer riding as well as better winter maintenance.
Opponents contend that the proposed trail would be detrimental to Summit’s historic character and lead to the loss of hundreds of mature trees. The loss of on-street parking would harm businesses and institutions east of Lexington Parkway, opponents say. Some believe the trail would become clogged with a variety of users and drive the serious cyclists back onto the street.
Other plan opponents want more time to discuss alternatives. Members of the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association and the ad hoc group Save Our Street are seeking an injunction and fighting the city in district court for access to city emails and documents related to trail planning (see related story).
Commission votes 4-3 with four absent
Parks and Rec commissioners Jazmin Glaser-Kelly, Rafael Espinosa, Lucas Paschal and Abdulrahman Mohamed voted in support of the trail. Commissioners Andy Flamm, Dave Burns and Theresa Paulson voted against. Commissioners Antonio Montez, Jun Choua Yang, Eric Erickson and Joseph Moua were absent.
Commissioners at the May 11 meeting disagreed over the level of opposition to the plan and whether more public engagement was needed. Flamm and Burns wanted to delay the vote but their motion failed 2-5. Espinosa criticized opponents of the trail plan for what he sees as an effort to block access to Summit Avenue.
Public engagement will continue as details emerge
Alice Messer, the manager of design and construction for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said public engagement would continue as more detailed plans to rebuild Summit come forward. The project could take more than a decade to complete as Summit would be rebuilt in segments.
With the prospects for the trail undecided, the city has postponed a plan to rebuild Summit between Victoria and Lexington Parkway this year. “This plan could sit on the shelf for a really long time,” Messer said. “There are so many details to talk through.”
Is Summit the right avenue for trail?
“I very much favor a separated bike trail,” Flamm said. “But what I feel is missing is whether Summit Avenue is the right place for it. I don’t understand why it has to be one trail in one place and why we can’t split it up.” Summit was “foisted” onto the community as a location without adequate exploration of other route options, Flamm added.
According to Messer, other east-west corridors for a new bike trail were studied by the city but were ruled out due to grade changes, not being through routes and other issues. “There’s not a perfect solution,” she added.
Opposition gives commissioners pause
“There’s just massive opposition to this plan,” said Burns. Even bicyclists disagree over whether the proposed trail would be an improvement, he said. “In this case, it feels like a minority of people are pushing this forward,” Burns said.
Paulson raised the issue of safety, citing problems that occur on the off-road bike path on Mississippi River Boulevard. “Bicycles speed by toddlers who are walking,” she said. She asked if it is time to post speed limits for cyclists.
Regional grant deadline looms
City officials are working under a June 30 deadline to have a trail plan approved under the provisions of a regional grant received through the Metropolitan Council. No request for an extension has been made. The city has already overspent the $150,000 planning grant by about $225,000 with much of the additional expense coming from the extent of public engagement on the plan.
— Jane McClure
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