After years riding behind Minneapolis in cycling amenities, St. Paul officials are releasing a long-range plan Tuesday that would more than double the number of bikeway miles, create an off-street downtown loop and complete a series of trails and lanes around the city.
The plan, which is available online and which will be presented to the public in open houses next month, would guide city policy on developing bike corridors to increase cycling for transit and recreation purposes, said Reuben Collins, the city’s sustainable transportation planner. (See www.stpaul.gov/bikeplan.)
The goal is to build a network over the next 20 to 30 years that would put a bikeway within a half-mile of any cyclist in the city.
The plan recommends that the city develop 214 miles of bikeways on top of the 144 miles the city has. Nearly 70 percent of the network, according to the plan, would be either off-street paths or on-street lanes that separate bikes from motor vehicles.
Some lanes would be shared by bikes and vehicles, and some neighborhood streets with low traffic would be designated as bicycle boulevards.
“Our vision is to capture the crowd that doesn’t identify as bicyclists today … who are interested in cycling but concerned about distances and safety,” said Collins, who was hired last year to develop the city’s bikeways plan.
“We’re trying to develop a system that provides opportunities to all kinds of cyclists,” said Anne Hunt, environmental policy director for Mayor Chris Coleman.
Public feedback on the proposal will be received through April 30, and a final draft is expected to be ready in June. The St. Paul Planning Commission, the City Council and the Metropolitan Council will have to sign off on it before it becomes part of the city’s comprehensive plan.
So far, the only price tag put on the plan is $18 million for an off-street, downtown 1.7-mile bike trail that would circle the business district and extend a few miles to the Gateway, Bruce Vento and Samuel Morgan regional trails. There is no cost estimate for the citywide work.
The downtown loop would run along Kellogg Boulevard and Jackson, 10th and St. Peter streets. It would be partly modeled on Indianapolis’ off-street Cultural Trail for bikes and pedestrians, as well as Hennepin County’s proposal to build grade-separated “cycle tracks” along Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis as part of a reconstruction project.
“Downtown St. Paul is not welcoming to bicyclists, so the focus on downtown is critical,” said Joan Pasiuk, program director of Bike Walk Twin Cities. She added that the loop should put a premium on helping residents connect with popular destinations, as opposed to simply being a draw for out-of-city riders.
The first phase of the downtown loop project would connect Jackson Street to trails at the north and south ends. Jackson is wide enough to absorb a new bike alignment, but Collins acknowledged that reconfiguring narrower downtown streets for bike trails will involve “some trade-offs” that may prove controversial.
The other specific project noted in the St. Paul plan is completion of the Grand Round, a route of about 30 miles that would provide continuous biking around the city in bike lanes or off-street trails. Much of the route is built, such as the trails along the Mississippi River.
Minneapolis has garnered much of the $28 million in federal funding directed in recent years to the Twin Cities by the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program, based in part on the city’s well-established trail system and cycling and pedestrian numbers.
Andy Singer, who co-chairs the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition, said that St. Paul’s most critical biking needs are the lack of a downtown system, bikeway gaps created by railroads and freeways and unlit stretches along trails that could be used by commuters.
“Minneapolis is ahead of us because [former Mayor R.T.] Rybak rides a bike, and their larger infusions of federal funding,” Singer said. “I’m really grateful that St. Paul is doing a plan, and I’m hoping that it will be a good one.”