It will be months before a master plan outlining a proposed regional trail down St. Paul's Summit Avenue is completed. And it will likely be several years before construction of a protected bicycle trail even begins.

Yet the opposing camps have already staked out positions. A contest for hearts, minds and funding has begun between those who see a new trail as necessary for safety, connectivity and accessibility and those who, while wanting Summit's bumpy pavement smoothed out, would rather the mansion-lined street stay much as it's been for more than a century.

For the next month, city officials will be collecting public comments for the kind of Summit Avenue area residents want to see. At an open house that city planners hosted Thursday at Hidden River Middle School, visitors — some in street clothes and some in bicycling gear — reviewed the trail plan's progress so far.

There is no direct off-street connection between the Mississippi River Boulevard Trail and the Sam Morgan Regional Trail along Shepard Road. A Summit Avenue regional trail could create an off-street option through downtown for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages and abilities, officials have said.

Officials are working on the master plan, funded with state money through the Metropolitan Council. There is no money budgeted yet for construction.

A completed master plan would allow the city to apply for financial help to build a trail along Summit Avenue's five miles. Andy Rodriguez, St. Paul's director of Parks and Recreation, said a trail is at least five years away.

Karen Allen, who lives in the Midway area, said she supports a separated bike lane down Summit.

"I'm a yea. I'm a strong yea," Allen said. Why?

"Safety. Connectivity," she said. "In terms of an east/west connection in our city, it really is the best choice."

But Christopher Keith, a local historian who lives in the 300 block of Summit near the Cathedral of St. Paul, said a new bike trail down the corridor, which already shuts down for the Twin Cities Marathon each year, "feels like another hurdle for us."

Keith said he fears the potential loss of trees, parking and the historic street's century-old granite curbs.

"I'm all for making Summit more accessible," he said. "I don't think this is it."

According to the city's preliminary plans, Summit Avenue "has been an important civic thread for recreation and transportation since its inception in the late 1800s." Distinguished by boulevards and architecture stretching from Mississippi River Boulevard to downtown St. Paul, it is filled daily with walkers, runners and bicyclists.

Parks and Recreation staff say a new regional trail could be a safer way to connect Summit to the Sam Morgan Regional Trail than the current painted bicycle lanes. Traffic on Summit ranges from 3,500–11,000 vehicles per day. City officials say federal, state and local industry standards call for separated bicycle lanes when the number of average vehicles per day exceeds 6,500. Between 2012 and 2021 there were 31 crashes involving bicylists along the corridor, with most resulting in injury or death.

Differing views of need

Those traveling down Summit can't help but notice the miles-long proliferation of Save Our Street (SOS) signs in front yards. For months, residents opposed to a trail have been building a case against major changes to one of the city's most attractive — and widely used — corridors.

Residents have decried the process and complained that city planners haven't seriously explored other routes for an east/west connection.

In an August letter to city officials, Marilyn Bach wrote: "We urge the City of Saint Paul to slow down — allow genuine public input and approach this issue with transparency and the data-based care it deserves."

Dan Marshall, who bikes Summit every day, said a separated trail is badly needed. He has been hit by a car while riding in the painted bike lane, he said. As the street is now, Marshall said, he doesn't dare invite his mother for a ride down the historic avenue.

"I can't do it," he said.

Besides making the road safer for cyclists, a separated regional trail would serve as "an amenity for Summit Avenue that only would make it easier to visit, more attractive," said Marshall, who owns a toy store on Grand Avenue, a block south of Summit.

But Kent Treichel, who wore his cycling togs to Thursday's open house, said a separated regional trail is a "terrible idea."

While Summit Avenue should be smoother and would benefit from more attention by Public Works, he said, its role as a go-to bicycling route is already strong. The painted lanes do the job, Treichel said.

"I don't know what problem they're trying to solve," he said.