Text messages started flying as soon as the news broke May 9 that a bicyclist had been struck and killed by a school bus in St. Paul. With no word yet on who the person was, bicyclists across the city were checking in with their friends to make sure it wasn’t one of them.
Now, some of those bicyclists are calling on the city to improve the intersection at Summit and Snelling avenues where Alan Grahn was killed, in the hopes another fatality can be avoided. Bicyclists have been pushing to make Summit safer for years and say they’re hopeful that new attention from city officials and neighbors will spur changes along the heavily traveled street.
“It’s grim, but that’s unfortunately the reality of it,” said Tom Basgen, a Highland Park resident who bikes along Summit nearly every day. “It’s harder to put it off when someone loses their life — when someone doesn’t go home.”
Basgen is part of a group called Safety on Summit, which is asking for big changes along the corridor: Protected bicycle lanes, bicycle lane markings through intersections and traffic signals that give pedestrians and bicyclists a head start.
The group has started a petition and will hold a town hall meeting Tuesday evening at Macalester College to discuss potential improvements and give people an opportunity to talk about their experiences bicycling and walking along the corridor. Safety on Summit organizer Lauren Nielsen, also of Highland Park, said the group plans to organize events throughout the summer.
St. Paul started tracking bicycle and pedestrian crash data in 2016. During that time, 19 of about 700 bicycle and pedestrian crashes citywide were recorded on Summit. Fourteen resulted in injuries, and 10 sent the pedestrian or bicyclist to the hospital.
City officials, including City Council members and staff in Mayor Melvin Carter’s office, are trying to figure out how to make the intersection of Summit and Snelling avenues safer. There are already challenges. The intersection is not included in the city’s five-year capital improvement plan, and 2018 city funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements has already been dedicated to another project.
“The city knows that we need to increase our facilities — it’s just the funding and the planning process that we need to get caught up on,” said City Council Member Samantha Henningson, whose western St. Paul ward reaches the Summit and Snelling intersection.
The mayor’s office has asked the Department of Public Works to look into possible safety improvements at Summit and Snelling, and department staff are considering a range of possible fixes, such as new lane striping, signage and traffic signals, said transportation planner Reuben Collins.
“I would say at this point, nothing’s off the table,” he said.
Because Snelling is a trunk highway, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has jurisdiction. City officials said they’re hopeful MnDOT will be willing to partner with the city and help cover project costs.
“Summit is our most heavily used bike route in the city, so we certainly have an interest in continuing to make it function well for people,” said Chief Resilience Officer Russ Stark, who’s leading work on improvements to the intersection from the mayor’s office.
Though advocates for bicycle and pedestrian safety are still waiting for details, they say there seems to be a growing momentum around improving Summit.
Mike Sonn, a member of the Macalester-Groveland Community Council’s transportation committee, has been advocating for protected Summit Avenue bike lanes for years. He said Grahn’s death has brought more awareness to the corridor.
“I think we could definitely see change,” he said.