Thursday, September 14, 2006

Saint Paul Bike Summit Report

I went to the Saint Paul Bike Summit last night at the Dunning Community Center on Marshall. This was hosted by the Saint Paul Bicycle Advisory Board (I'd put a link but the information is very ancient so I won't bother) and was a forum to present accomplishments, discuss plans, solicit comments and prioritize items brought up by the audience. About 50-60 people attended, including me.

[Note: this entry is likely to be boring enough for everyone, but is going to especially tedious if you are not familiar with Saint Paul and riding here. Sorry!]

As a bit of background, I have no history of bicycle advocacy other than just riding the damn things, and, for the last year and a bit, writing this blog. I did wonder last year while riding the Midtown Greenway (Phase III of which just opened September 8th, by the way, congratulations!), who put this together? I like many of the rails to trails ideas, the Greenway is unlike most paths in that it is fast, direct, useful and non-scenic, and I'd wonder who worked within the system to get this stuff done, especially with my vague awareness of the long timeframes, competing constituencies, funding issues, planning requirements, etc. I have no direct knowlegde of these issues, but know they exist and am glad that people have worked and are working on our behalf within the system.

The meeting started with some reviews of things getting done. Many of these I've noticed; the bike lanes painted on Como Avenue from Dale to Rice (my usual route downtown, e.g., to the Saturday Farmer's Market), the lanes newly-painted on Marshall towards the river (not my usual route, and the lanes stop early, but from where they stop to the Lake/Marshall bridge is two lanes wide and down a hill so I have no problem taking the right lane and zooming down), the newly-painted lanes on Como west of the Intercampus Transitway and the ones on Concord down by Boca Chica.

The longest part of the meeting was the comments section. You may not be surprised to know that practical cyclists are an opinionated bunch. Without taking minutes, the comments included these things:
  • The lack of decent north/south routes through the western part of the city was a recurring theme. There are two sets of railway tracks and Interstate 94 that present really big obstacles, and smaller ones like the Ayd Mill road cutout. North/South, I like the Chatsworth route (or Chatsworth/Victoria if you want to cross University on a light) but it requires carrying your bike across an "informal" railway crossing when there's no train there. I speculate that if the City asks BNSF for a crossing the rail guys will fence the damn thing off. The only other level crossings on these fast main lines in the city are at Black Bear Crossings (Como Avenue, SE side of Como Park and heavily-controlled, not that that prevented a 7-year-old on a bike from getting clipped and killed a few years back), and Talmage Avenue which actually is in Minneapolis now that I look at it, not that anybody knows where it is. Adding a new uncontrolled level crossing may not be what they want to do.

  • Others complained about Snelling south of Como across the railways. This probably does suck, but I never ride it, partly because it sucks so bad. Cranky we may be but we are nothing if not persistent; one guy said he'd been commuting on that route for 25 years and the bridge is due for a rebuild.

  • Some of it was poor sidewalk thresholds that dump you into traffic. The older thresholds, or ramps (there is some name for them) went down at the apex of the sidewalk corner, which dumps cyclists or wheelchair-bound people into traffic. The new ones go straight across, two apexes or a continuous radius on the corner. Old ones will be replaced in the normal course of events but no time frame was mentioned, there are bound to be some around after I'm dead.

  • There is another feature for traffic calming where the curb for the parking lane comes out and narrows the street down to one lane. We have this on Victoria south of Larpenteur near our house. I know neighbours liked this idea to slow down traffic (I went to a couple of planning meetings back in the mid-90s on this); from a cyclist point of view, it forces us out into the traffic lane. People proposed a jutout that doesn't stick out so far.

  • Various complaints. Poor bad paving on older trails, bad snow removal, debris on trails, cars in bike lanes, etc.

  • Specific street complaints; Snelling was the worst, no surprise, I prefer not to drive on it, followed probably by Lexington (my Chatsworth route is a parallel alternative to Lexington), Hamline and University. Ford Parkway was repainted but no bike lane added. Lanes suddenly ending. Lexington, for instance, is excellent north from about Roselawn to County E (just about exactly where I ride) in Roseville and north. In Saint Paul, south of Larpenteur and particularly south of Como Park it's narrow and too fast and there's not much they can do about it. One guy said Hamline and Marshall is the most-run red light he knows in the city. I don't like Hamline south of University and this is no surprise to me.

  • Some people like the recent improvements on Selby including some sort of structure in the middle of the street, if I understood correctly, which I may not have. I'll have to go take a look.

  • A couple of comments struck me as odd. One person said we need to integrate with the Minneapolis trail system. For the most part, there's a river between us and the opportunities to connect are extremely limited (Highway 5 bridge, Ford Parkway/46th Street bridge, Marshall/Lake bridge, hopefully the Short Line bridge, and the Franklin Avenue bridge). The Intercampus Transitway and Como Avenue, both on land borders, are already hooked up. How can we not connect with them? Also, one woman was very concerned about changing the laws to allow bicycles on sidewalks in some business districts. Is that a worthy undertaking? Has anyone ever gotten ticketed for sidewalk riding?

  • Some things are more complicated. This was the City of Saint Paul, not Ramsey County, not the Met Council, not even Falcon Heights or Lauderdale. The plans end at the city limits. One guy, who says he commutes from Hudson to Minneapolis each day, would like Larpentuer made more bike-friendly. Larpenteur, at least from Dale to Highway 280, is actually pretty good, wide with a big wide shoulder/parking lane. It narrows a bit between Lexington and Hamline, but stays useful and direct to Hwy 280, where Minneapolis starts, the street changes its name to Hennepin and it gets busy, narrow, broken up and often obstructed by trucks and commercial traffic. I normally take Eustis down a sharp little hill to Como right before this happens and ride the rest of the way west on Como. [at the moment, BNSF is rebuilding a cruddy old steel railway bridge on Como and you'll get detoured on weekdays. Go north to Talmage and you can try out the other mainline level crossing. On weekends, you can ride your bike under the bridge. I think it's done in October.]

    The complication with Larpenteur is that it is the Saint Paul and Roseville city border. I once called 911 on a car crash on Larpenteur. The operator asked me which direction the car was heading. Does it matter? If it's eastbound, she told me, I'll call Saint Paul, if it's westbound, I'll call Roseville. Oh. Eastbound, I said, but it crossed the median and is now in the westbound lanes. I left her to sort out who to call. Given this niggling over who to call about a crash, how will we possibly coordinate striping lanes and installing signage?

  • Education and awareness. It's always an answer. The vast majority of motorists share the road with cyclists without undue issue. There is a tiny minority who are mouth-breathing twits. Education and awareness is not likely to help them. One guy said he once had a drink thrown on him, got the license, but the cops wouldn't do anything because he couldn't tell who was driving. He was indignant; that would never happen to a car! Oh yes it would. I had a Saab 900 I liked a lot and was sitting at a red light in Duluth one morning when I got rear-ended so hard I hit the car ahead of me who hit the car ahead of him. The guy who hit me took off. The cops seemed to know who this guy would be and in less than half an hour found him at home. Been home all morning he said, smelling of booze. Cop looked at the car, which not only had front-end damage and was still warm but also had my taillight in his grille (the cop there and my cop compared part numbers from my intact taillight and the one in the guy's grille). However, nobody saw who was driving and this boozed-up insurance-free bozo got off free. It doesn't just happen to bikes. (and if you ever get in a crash while drunk, take off and lie, there are apparently no consequences)

  • Maps. There used to be a Twin Cities Commuting Map available but someone said it's out of print. Several people complained about how there wasn't a decent map of the Twin Cities for cyclists and that the Metropolitan Council should update it and reissue. I think they're wrong. I really like Little Transport Press's Twin Cities Bike Map, which has the core cities on one side with every street shown, and the larger metro area on the other. I adore maps anyway, and liked this one a lot when I first got it, but I like it even more now that Doug Shidell, the publisher, incorporated a couple of my comments on the latest one (Minnehaha west of Snelling as a marked route rather than Thomas, for instance, and the full length of the Intercampus Transitway). It's in bike stores now, it has the Light Rail on the cover and you can instantly tell it apart from the prior version of the Light Rail cover map by looking at MSP airport and seeing if the north/south runway is shown (another suggestion of mine, though I think he rendered it too short) (the really old Little Transport Bike Maps had the Stone Arch bridge on the cover and, although ok, weren't as good as this one). I actually talked to Doug about buying a bunch of these (10 or 12, whatever the package is) and carrying a couple with me for sale because people ask me about them so much (I stop a lot because I'm taking pictures, admiring the view, drinking beer, plus I'm from Iowa so am a friendly approachable guy) and want to know where to get them. I direct them to their local bike store, but if they're lost when they ask me it would be handy to give them a map. Just call me Matt the Friendly Bicycle Ambassador. By the way, Doug also does Madison and Milwaukee maps and a Twin Cities Bird Map, not that I've seen these others.

  • The last place I could have sold these maps was to three women on the east end of the Midtown Greenway by the Short Line Bridge, which as I have reported earlier, had a fire this summer. These ladies were from Chaska and had somehow got onto this trail, not at that point officially open, and followed me because I looked like I knew what I was doing. I told them this great trail might go over the ratty-looking bridge and connect to Saint Paul. We chatted, I showed them the map and where they were and directed them to the West River Road and towards Minnehah Park. The good news is, it sounds like the trail will go on across the bridge. Nobody is confirming anything, but the City of Saint Paul is doing the trail up Ayd Mill and calling it the Greenway and the comments made it sound like the Short Line bridge will be accessible to bikes. As usual, this is probably a couple of years out, but that would be great.

  • Bike Parking is an issue. Many people commented that it was an inhibitor to using their bikes more. The good news is that there are racks going in in the Marshall/Cleveland business area (think Izzy's ice cream and Trotters Cafe and Bakery) as well as in other places. There were a lot of comments, and I'd used mine on the Chatsworth rail crossing and didn't want to go again, but not only is bike parking (decent racks and especially lockers) not widely available enough outside common destinations, it often sucks outside bike stores. I first noticed this at World Cycling Productions and mentioned it in my blog, mocking them since the customers drive their cars there to get their $700 bike wheels, but in fact a lot of bike shops have sucky bicycle parking. The place to start might be getting decent racks outside bicycle retailers, then start hounding others. Jim at Hiawatha Cyclery has done a nice job outside with racks outside his shop, for instance, and he sells the Twin Cities Bike Maps, so you can have a fulfilled Practical Cycling experience. I may do a page of Bike Shop Bicycle Parking in the Twin Cities to illustrate this point.

  • At one point a lady was commenting on the proliferation of drive-through lanes for various businesses and someone piped up, yeah, and they won't even let you use them! Damn Right!

  • Although University Avenue is plenty wide enough for bike lanes at the moment, it probably won't be when Light Rail goes in there. There will be requests for sidewalks, parking, traffic, left turns, bike lanes and light rail, and it probably won't all fit, although the design hasn't yet been settled upon. Just don't be surprised. Also, University is likely to be tougher to get across once light rail goes in assuming it looks like the Hiawatha Line and not like Toronto's streetcars. I think it's due to open in 2014. These planning time frames are enormous.

All in all it was an interesting evening. Jim at Hiawatha has commented recently about how much he dislikes government and maybe anarchy would be better. That's a safe viewpoint from the standpoint of someone who's government provides police protection, puts out the fire if your house burns down, built the street you live on, enforces the property rights that allow you to stay there and provides a legal framework which, among other things, gives the mortgage company enough security to lend you the money to buy it, clears the snow, allows fresh water to come out of your taps and takes care of your shit when you flush the toilet. I think anarchy sounds greatest when you're a college sophomore. However, anarchy quickly dissolves into something else, tribal or feudal or fascist or, very rarely, and after some struggle, democratic.

This Bicycle Summit was a good example of citizens participating in government. Our opinions were being solicited, our viewpoints heard, non-cycling City of Saint Paul engineers were there to hear what the cycling community wants. I appreciate the opportunity to be heard and to have some tiny influence on what happens. Will we get everything we want? Nope. Can we affect what happens next and provide the benefits of our cycling experience? Yes. And we can affect it better if we're not the only anarchists; it'd be bad if well-organized pet owners got outdoor free-range hamster runs funded while anarchist cyclists just complained about The Man and how much it sucks and You Just Wait. As I mentioned earlier in the article, I have from time to time been astonished and grateful that someone, quite some time ago, took the time to get the approvals, design, funding and construction of the Minnehaha Park trails, the Midtown Greenway, the Munger Trail in northern Minnesota, the bike lane striping on Como and Marshall and Minnehaha. Somebody gave enough of a damn to get that stuff done, they probably did it in their spare time and they probably didn't get paid. Now it's our turn. Maybe one day we'll get a level crossing at Chatsworth and the railroad tracks and it'll be christened the Matt Memorial Level Crossing to choruses of rousing cheers; maybe they'll talk to BNSF and the railway guys'll have a conniption and fence the thing with barbed wire and my name shall evermore be cursed. Maybe nothing will happen. At least I will have tried my little bit to influence what happens, and I'd encourage you to do the same.

9 comments:

wheatstraw said...

Matt - Thanks SO much for taking the time out of your (i'm sure busy) schedule to attend this meeting and blog about it! I read your blog everyday and and really appreciate your work. Keep up the good work man!

BTW, your updates on the Well's Fargo incident has been hilarious to follow! I've laughed, I've yelled, I've had fun. :)

Tincéir said...

Oi. I'm the guy "who says he commutes from Hudson to Minneapolis each day". I ride all the way back and forth about a third of the time. Most of the time I ride between Hudson and Oakdale and use the express bus between Oakdale and Minneapolis. My office is in the warehouse district, my home right in lowertown Hudson.

I find it interesting that you mention my nomination of Larpenteur as a candidate for improvement. My main reason for showing up to the meeting... the point that I really would like people to consider... is that I wish the city of St. Paul would actually start enforcing speed limits. Improving Larpenteur is more of a "gee, it'd be great if...". Sticking a few "Share the Road" signs on it would even be cool... as you say it's really not that bad to bike on. Minnehaha is much worse.

I didn't notice a lot of support for my "enforce the speed limits" suggestion. I deem it likely due to the fact that most bicyclists are also motorists, and get uncomfortable thinking about changing their motoring habits. If motor traffic was truly constrained by the speed limit though, biking would be substantially safer and more enjoyable.

Anyhow, thanks for the review of the summit.

Evan said...

Matt the more I read the more I want to move to the twin-cities. Thanks for providing this information.

Pete said...

Great review. I was disappointed that I missed the meeting, but now I feel like I got the gist of it.

Jim said...

In his wild and crazy days, my teenage brother felt that he was about to get stopped by the police. Having in his vehicle a large bag of marijuana and a bottle of whiskey, he ditched the car and ran just before the police could turn around to stop him. He ran/walked home and called the police to tell them that his car had been stolen. They told him that they would simply take fingerprints from the whiskey bottle and marijuana bag and track down the thief. At that point, he came clean and was ticketed for a variety of offenses.

Given the short time between when you were rear-ended and the time that the car's owner was found sitting at home drunk, it would seem that fingerprints would be fresh in his car from the person who was driving it. Of course, the truth is that the police don't have the time or resources to pursue such cases.

On the other hand, I was in a crash back in college in which the driver (and everyone else) was drunk that sheds some light on how the legal system deals with such cases. Luckily nobody was hurt, except for some trees. The driver was arrested for drunk driving. Later his lawyer told him to always carry an alcoholic beverage in the car. That way when he gets into a drunk driving crash, he can have a drink while he's waiting for the police to arrive. When they show up, he can attribute his drunkenness to the drink he's having, and can only be charged with being in possession of an open intoxicant.

Jim said...

I got so wound up about your incident with the drunk driver, that I forgot to address the other points I wanted to make.

I probably should address the anarchism bit, since you mentioned me by name, in what I would consider a personal criticism that is slightly off-topic from the rest of this post (I'm not offended though, in case you're worried). Anyway, you just wrote that most motorists interact smoothly with most cyclists, and I would agree. The people who cause most of the problems are just a few. As you suggested, no amount of information and education is going to change how these people operate. I would agree with all of that. I would be surprised if all the polite drivers and cyclists act that way because they are following a law, and I would be equally surprised if all the a-holes would quit acting that way because of a law. In my own personal business, just because something is legal doesn't mean that I think I should do it, and just because something is illegal doesn't mean that I should necessarily abstain. A responsible citizen doesn't need laws to govern his conduct, and an irresponsible citizen does not care about laws, or, more importantly, he doesn't care about community standards.

I've spent 2/3 of my life living in a place where there is no PD to protect residents or FD to prevent houses from burning down. We also had a well for drinking water and our own private septic system for dealing with our shit. My family wasn't special; everybody who lives there is in the same situation. Once per year, the people who live there have to pay taxes to the federal and state governments. And once per 25 years, the county road commission decides to repave the pot-holed road. Of course, there is mail, but the USPS is a self-sustaining entity that, as a branch of government, is quite independent; in many ways, the USPS is more like a private business. And there is school, but with recent trends toward school accountability and alternative funding, etc, local funding from property taxes has become quite important. So in many ways, the local schools are less and less an arm of the state or federal government, and more of a community endeavor. That is the extent of most interactions with government in those places. Is there tribalism and fascism and violence? Hardly. People have disputes, and usually settle them in some sort of amicable way, or learn to live with those disputes. Anyway, to my point, despite the lack of much government in that place and other rural areas and small isolated towns, people still have community-mindedness, and act from higher motivations than basic selfish impulses. It isn't a utopia by any means, but it manages to work without deteriorating into the worst fears of the advocates of big government.

Ironically, as a college sophomore, I might have been most accurately described as a Socialist. As a high school sophomore, I was probably a Republican. In those days, my politics tended to match my environment. The Libertarian/Anarchy stuff is probably my most well-thought stance on politics. Maybe when I get a few more years on me, I'll come to a different conclusion. But current trends indicate otherwise.

SueJ said...

I guess this post exhausted you so much you stopped posting?

I'd have to disagree about the lack of benefit of education. In my experience, many drivers and cyclists don't know some important stuff... but could, and would be willing to entertain adding to their knowledge. I live in a college town with tons of bikes but next to no infrastructure or any other structure to support them.
We had a fatality in September when a driver was busy downloading ringtones and swerved off the road and killed a cyclist. There has been a subsequent barrage of letters to the editor, and some of them reveal a sincere desire for education and a lack of knowledge. Some of 'em are destined to stay ignerrint, like the guy insisting that we should all ride against traffic, but people have been talking a lot more about what makes for safer cycling.
Before this happened a group of us had banded together for advocacy purposes; one of our goals is to get people to think of benefits and fun of cycling as opposed to being programmed to talk about avoiding hazards. Skiers don't always talk safety, and that's a crazy sport! We also want to get people past the idea that all we need is more bike paths (any bike path, no matter where, no matter how poorly planned... we've got a recent one going down teh median strip...).

Rowena Hullfire said...

Hey bro!

I think citizen involvement in listening sessions, town hall meetings, etc. is very important. I have shared ideas that happened and became law, policy, program, or project...and it inspired me to become a citizen and a registered voter so my input would "weigh more." (Yes, pols' staffers check the voter registries and score or weight the citizen input.)

I'm proud of you for your blog, getting the word out for the meeting, and encouraging peoples' participation.

Re cycling development, you know my area is crap for cycling and you go to confession and get right with God before you go road cycling here. Just in case. Adds to the excitement.

BUT...I have tinkered for years with trying to get a Rails to Trails movement going in this region. Everything right now is ATV trails, and I support that too (as long as they stay away from my precious quiet lakes), but we need some outdoor rec trails for people who aren't mountain goats. (There's good steep hiking available but not valley trails.) There are LOTS of abandoned coal RR spurs here, and not all the land is scarred; there is lots of natural beauty here.

Well, the outdoorsy folks here are very independent minded and don't want to bother trying to work together to make anything happen. I am not going to be able to do it single-handed. TEA 21 grants are a big fat thing and it will take some numbers to show support and demand, before the pols will join the effort and cooperate.

The Appalachian Regional Commission had their annual meeting here last month, and one of their themes they flogged was outdoor adventure tourism development. I've been harping on that for years, so maybe the moment is ripe. Still, interested others must get involved and form a coalition, no matter what the level of involvement. I'm certainly not going to become Liz Quixote and go tilting at windmills all by my lonesome.

OTOH...the US Army Corps of Engineers resource manager offered me a scullers' dock at my local lake. I cultivated that friendship without ulterior motives, and try to be known to my park rangers in case they need to save me someday; but heck, cultivating some key relationships can pay off, too, I guess. Just one of those right place, right time kinda things. Now maybe I can get a longer racing shell since I'll have a better launching situation!

Anonymous said...

Bicyclists on the sidewalks should be ticketed aggressively. Ah, life in a flat, boring, ridiculously multiple-use state...