The Saint Paul Bikeways Plan
By Joan Pasiuk, Bicycling & Walking Program Director
Update: The public comment period on the draft Bikeways Plan will be open through April 30, 2014. Submit your comments online via Open Saint Paul or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kudos to the City of Saint Paul for vision in advancing sustainable transportation. The draft citywide Bikeways Plan is ambitious—a proclamation of values and a pledge of investments that will create a more livable city. Adoption of the final plan this year will add an important dimension to the Saint Paul Comprehensive Plan.
Anne Hunt, Environmental Policy Director, affirmed that the plan represents best thinking of the departments of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Planning and Economic Development. This kind of cross-fertilization is exciting. And she said passage of a final plan this year is a very high priority of Mayor Coleman.
This is a strong start. Now community input is essential to ensure successful adoption and implementation of the plan. With that in mind, I offer a few thoughts in advance of the four open houses this month:
- The plan includes a proposed goal and performance measure! Increasing Saint Paul’s bicycle commute mode share from .6 percent to 2.5 percent by 2025 is a step in the right direction. For comparison, note the current (2010) bicycle commute mode share of a few other cities: Hartford, CN: 2.6 percent; Salt Lake City: 2.7 percent; Oshkosh, WI: 2.1 percent; Portland, ME: 2.5 percent. By 2025, places like Iowa City, currently at 5.6 percent bicycle mode share, will leave us in the dust. We can aim higher.
- Creating stronger connections to and through downtown is vital. A highlight of the proposed plan is an off-street bikeways loop through downtown. This seems well conceived not only as an improvement for bicyclists who are now braving travel on narrow downtown streets but also as a way to attract new and less experienced riders. It could serve as a source of civic pride as well as an economic boost to downtown. There is growing evidence of the retail benefits of walking and bicycling traffic. Off-street design is not an inexpensive approach, but the innovation factor could trigger new or additional sources of funds, perhaps including private dollars.
- The commitment to build connections to neighborhoods in conjunction with construction of the downtown loop is absolutely important. The most essential connection, based on current barriers, is between downtown and the East Side, where bicyclists have long been isolated from the rest of the city by freeways and treacherous arterial streets. This link is missing in the draft plan. My best route suggestion: Jackson to 9th/10th to Pine to Grove to Olive to the Phalen Boulevard bikeway. This is an easy, safe connection that could largely be accomplished with paint/tape and signage.
- The plan addresses bicycling specifically and is best viewed as a component of a transportation network. Bicycling and walking provide access to transit stops. Transit can extend bicycling trips otherwise hindered by season or geography (Saint Paul, think hills!). Shared bikes and community bike centers expand the reach of bicycling as transportation into new demographics. Dedicated facilities for bicyclists reduce bicycle riding on sidewalks and make the walking environment safer. Road diets and traffic circles create safer routes not just for bicyclists but also for motorists. These systems are complementary and this plan should be featured not as a resource for bicyclists but as a vision of a city that works better for all of us.
- Bicycling is affordable transportation that makes access to jobs, school, appointments, and community events possible for many residents. Transit for Livable Communities, through our Bike Walk Twin Cities program, has seen enormous evidence of the hunger for bicycling across all our city’s demographics. This plan should make a clear commitment to bicycling as a poverty-fighting strategy. The Metropolitan Council recognizes Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty (RCAP), where more than 50 percent of the residents are people of color and more than 40 percent have incomes that do not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty line. The existence of such an area is appalling, and right now Saint Paul has the region’s largest contiguous RCAP (East Side, Dayton’s Bluff, Payne-Phalen, etc.). Every document the city produces should aim at reducing and eliminating the RCAP. This plan should identify these areas and prioritize bicycling investments that link residents to job centers, schools, and transit connections.
- This draft addresses engineering, the best place to start to improve bicycling conditions, but a few other capital investments should be included— bicycle parking, lighting, wayfinding signage, and cameras and emergency call buttons where personal safety might be a concern on some of the trails. Beyond this, Saint Paul will want to address education, enforcement, and encouragement as part of the formula that creates a bicycling city. And, though not a capital product, it would be great to see a printed map that combines existing and planned bikeways with transit routes as an early commitment.
- Plan implementation is a blank page at this point. This is where public input is most needed. Prioritizing the Jackson Street leg of the downtown loop and neighborhood connections is a good place to begin the increase of 214 miles of bikeways. The price tag may deter progress and downtown cannot wait for attention. How can the city make near-term bicycle accommodations on downtown streets?
- It is not possible to build to a city’s sustainable transportation aspirations by relying on competitive federal funds. TLC and our Move MN allies are pushing state legislators for a new source of metro funding for walking and bicycling investments, but that isn’t yet secure. Passage of the Bikeways Plan in 2014 is good timing for the next round of the Capital Improvement Budget process in 2016. Clamor from cities to use state funds in new ways may help to balance our resources to all users. This is where political leadership and financial assertiveness is critical. What is the best financial foundation we can lay? Sustainable transportation investments must be incorporated as a line item in the city’s annual budget.
- In building the network, the rubber hits the road when individual projects are vetted to neighborhoods. A well-vetted bicycle plan and strong policy framework (e.g. complete streets standards incorporated into street design, safety ordinances that are enforced, coordination across jurisdictions, etc.) can create continuity of implementation. The question to take to the community is not whether the street will be designed for bicycle safety, but how we can improve on a basic design to create a welcoming street for bicyclists and walkers.
We need to get more voices in this process. If you live, work, or bike in Saint Paul, we strongly encourage you to attend one of the open houses listed below. Try to bring at least one other newcomer along. This is how we will build a broader base of support for this draft plan and how we will build a final plan that best serves the broader community.
Saint Paul Bikeways Plan Open Houses (6-8 PM):
- Tuesday, Feb. 11, El Rio Vista Recreation Center/Wellstone Community Center, 179 E. Robie St.
- Thursday, Feb. 13, Macalester College, Weyerhaueser Hall, Ballroom (SE corner of Grand Ave. and Macalester St.)
- Tuesday, Feb. 18, Duluth & Case Recreation Center, 1020 Duluth St.
- Thursday, Feb. 20, CapitolRiver Council Office (Adjacent Conference Room), US Bank Center Building, 101 E. 5th St., Suite 240
The public comment period on the draft Bikeways Plan will be open through April 30, 2014. If you are unable to attend an open house, submit your comments online via Open Saint Paul or by email to email@example.com.