Public hearing on St. Paul Bike Plan draws more enthused cyclists than critics

St. Paul’s draft Bicycle Plan envisions 337 miles of bikeways crisscrossing the city in an elaborate network by the year 2040, with nearly three-fourths of that network consisting of protected, separated bikeways and off-street paths.

That’s an increase of 119 miles of new bikeways in the next 16 years — an ambitious proposal that drew sizable turnout on Friday during a public hearing before the St. Paul Planning Commission.

Many hailed what they described as a key opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, a goal laid out in the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan, while inviting potential riders normally hesitant toward in-street cycling to complete short trips by bike.

“I’m just so impressed,” said Mary Morse Marti, a consultant and former executive director of Move Minneapolis, the nonprofit that launched the HOURCAR car-sharing program. “Don’t back away. Don’t listen to people living in the past.”

Public comments

Of nearly 30 members of the public who took the mic to testify at the 8:30 a.m. hearing, all but six said they were supportive of the plan. Most said they were heavily impressed by its scope. At the end of some two hours of testimony, the Planning Commission referred the 97-page draft document to its transportation committee for further review. It likely will be taken up by the city council later this year.

Still, even supporters found key areas for improvement in the bike plan, which hadn’t been updated since 2015. Andy Singer, the outgoing chair of the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition, said while he appreciated the effort, it lacked key bike connections from downtown St. Paul to the Minnesota State Capitol, the East Side coming from Kellogg Boulevard, and Smith Street and the neighborhoods southwest of downtown.

Scott Berger, a resident of Ashland Avenue, said not all bike routes are created equally, and it was his experience using the car-free Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis that converted him into becoming a full-time bike commuter the following year.

“My kids enjoy being carried by e-bike to school, even in January,” he said. But key destinations like the Midway Target remain “completely inaccessible” by bike.

Melissa Wenzel said she bought an e-bike a decade ago and has been car-free ever since, but she acknowledged that in-street bike lanes alone won’t inspire many seniors and families with small children to do the same.

“Since 2015, I’ve been actively looking and listening to those who also want to bike, and realizing they don’t feel safe biking in streets,” said Wenzel, who called for protected, off-street paths “for the elders, for the kids and for everyone.”

Critics raise parking, tree concern

St. Clair Avenue resident Brian Pierce cautioned that adding a new off-street bike corridor on St. Clair near Interstate 35E would likely remove parking, forcing residents to park across the street. That’s a dangerous proposition, given an uptick in truck traffic coming off the interstate. He said he was supportive of bike structures in other places, but surrounding streets would be better suited, given two hills in the area.

“There’s many, many accidents at St. Clair and Richmond,” Pierce said. “We do bicycle ride. We do enjoy it. … (But) I really don’t want to lose the parking.”

Several audience members weighed in on a hotly-debated plan to add a protected bike corridor along 4.7-miles of Summit Avenue. The proposal, approved by the city council last year but not yet funded, has inspired more than one legal fight and lengthy public testimony at hearings, with many residents raising concern about potential parking and tree loss.

“You have to think about where you put those bike lanes. All of a sudden you can’t park in front of your own home,” said K.C. Cox, a resident of Carroll Avenue. “Why don’t bicycle riders have to have a license, just like a car? Why not make them pay for their roads, just like a car?”

Summit Avenue resident Tom Darling asked for cost estimates, which he said were lacking.

“What will this plan cost if this is implemented? … People need parking,” he said. “Think about us, we who live there.”

Patricia Hartmann, a former candidate for St. Paul City Council, said the bicycle network was “very impractical, very lacking in common sense. … We’re trying to roll it out on too many streets at the expense of parking. … Hats off to the people who want to do it in the winter time. I would never do it.”

Written comments on the draft bike plan are due to the St. Paul Planning Commission by 4:30 p.m. on Monday. For more information, visit stpaul.gov/bikeplan.

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