The St. Paul City Council approved bike lanes on Wednesday for Front Avenue and Lexington Parkway, but decided to delay a controversial bike proposal for Cleveland Avenue until further study is done on alternative routes.
The council voted 6-0 for Council Member Chris Tolbert’s amendment to study possible bike lanes on Finn Street and Prior Avenue as well as Cleveland, and to ask the Public Works department to draw up “a robust public engagement plan” to get more input from residents, business owners, district councils and others before deciding by the end of the year where to put the lanes.
Tolbert said based on the feedback he had gotten — “the most public engagement I’ve received since I’ve been on the council” — he wasn’t sure the issue had been properly vetted. He represents the area south of St. Clair Avenue, where business and property owners said they had collected more than 1,000 signatures opposing bike lanes down Cleveland.
“Both sides have brought up a lot of good issues and a lot of issues that need to be resolved, and we haven’t had a lot of time to let that happen,” Tolbert said.
But the council member representing Cleveland north of St. Clair, Council President Russ Stark, opposed amending the original proposal and in vain urged his colleagues to adopt the Cleveland bike plan. He said he feared that residents on other streets would oppose bike lanes as well and that St. Paul would wind up without a north-south route in that part of the city.
The City Council in March adopted a citywide bike plan that anticipates doubling St. Paul’s existing 153 miles of bikeways over the next 20 years, with the work to be done whenever key streets are repaved or rebuilt to rein in costs.
Public Works officials recommended that the council approve bike lanes for Cleveland, Front and Lexington since each of those streets — which are also county roads — is scheduled to be resurfaced this summer by Ramsey County.
The streets would be re-striped with two bike lanes, each 5 feet wide, while slightly narrowing vehicle lanes to 11 feet.
The bike lane proposals filled the council chamber Wednesday evening with residents and business owners who spoke on both sides of the issue. Only a few testified on the Front Avenue plan and no one spoke on the Lexington proposal; most were there to give their views, pro and con, on Cleveland Avenue. Officials said 27 people signed up to oppose Cleveland bike lanes and 28 in support.
Many said that Cleveland was too narrow a street to encourage more biking down it. “You’ll either kill some people or wreck a lot of rearview mirrors,” one man said.
“I don’t know how you get trucks and buses down there at the same time,” said Doug Hennes, a University of St. Thomas official who expressed the school’s opposition to bike lanes on Cleveland. He suggested Prior or Finn instead.
A former Ramsey County assessor, Robert Burns, warned that the city might lose tax revenue if Cleveland Avenue business owners seek to have their property values reduced because of loss of street parking.
But others agreed with Amy Schwartz, who supported bike lanes on Cleveland as an uninterrupted north-sound route that links Interstate 94 with Highland Park.
“I really encourage you to oppose the amendment and move St. Paul into the next century,” she said.