Breaking down the St. Paul Bicycle Plan

Updated 3/4/2015 to reflect revisions to the bike plan.

If you like reading 100-page government documents, you’ll probably get a kick out of the St. Paul Bicycle Plan. If not, don’t worry—we read it so you don’t have to. Here’s what you need to know.

What it does

The draft St. Paul Bicycle Plan provides a framework for the development of a complete and connected bike network in St. Paul. It builds on previous planning documents, most prominently the St. Paul Comprehensive Plan, which set a goal of becoming a world-class bicycling city and increasing the bicycle mode share from 2% in 2000 to 5% in 2025. This plan expands upon that vision by creating a blueprint for a bike infrastructure system that will be built, project by project, over the coming years and decades.

Mapping the bike network

The set of maps included in the plan shows which streets are already designated as bikeways, and which will become new ones.

Existing bike network

Major and minor bikeways

The type of bike facility recommended on each street depends on its role within the network. Some streets are designated as major bikeways, and some are designated as minor bikeways.

Located no more than one mile apart, major bikeways create a backbone of bike corridors through the city. On these streets the needs of bicyclists receive extra weight, which means that 90% of the major bikeways will get dedicated space for bike traffic—either an in-street separated bike lane or off-street path.

Minor bikeways connect neighborhoods to major bikeways and are located no more than a half mile apart. Bike travel doesn’t receive the same emphasis here as it does on major bikeways. The plan recommends more shared facilities for these streets; while 42% are marked for in-street separated lanes or off-street paths, the rest are split between bike boulevards and enhanced shared lanes.

The complete system

The fourth map is the most exciting, and probably the most important. It shows what types of bike facilities are recommended and where. For those who need a refresher on the language used in the map, our bikeway glossary defines and illustrates what is meant by off-street path, in-street separated lane, bike boulevard, and enhanced shared lane.

Bike plan full map

Proposed bike network

An important thing to note about this map is that, while streets are categorized according to the type of bikeway that would be built, each category still contains a lot of variation. An in-street separated lane, for example, could be separated from traffic by anything from a line of paint to a landscaped barrier.

The plan also doesn’t state a preference for any particular type of treatment. So when these projects are being implemented, it will be important for neighbors who use those streets to speak up about what kinds of bikeways would best suit their needs.

Implementing the plan

The plan offers five criteria for prioritizing bike projects—connectivity, cost effectiveness, equity, and safety, and usage—and suggests prioritizing projects that fulfill multiple of these criteria. [This section tweaked in most recent draft.] However, it does not offer a specific timeline or goal date for completion.

Much depends on successfully funding these projects. Though some federal and state money may be available, most of the bike network will be funded locally, and most bikeways will pass through the Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) process. In the CIB process, proposals for capital projects are weighed against each other by a citizens’ committee, which then selects a limited number of them to be included in a recommended budget that is reviewed, modified, and approved by the Mayor and the City Council.

Many of the proposed bikeways will be built in conjunction with routine maintenance and reconstruction. In many cases, these projects present excellent opportunities to install bikeways quickly and cheaply. The bike plan specifies that when they would have minimal impact on the roadway, bikeways may be implemented upon identification of funding (as opposed to requiring a formal planning or public involvement process).

First steps

The two top priorities in the plan are the creation of a Downtown Loop and Spur Network and the completion of the Grand Round.

Downtown Loop and Spur Network

The Downtown Loop is an idea inspired by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Essentially a square-shaped bike trail in the middle of downtown, its off-street design would allow bicyclists of all ages and ability levels to comfortably explore the city center. Safe connections, or “spurs,” would also be constructed between the Loop and the bikeways that lead into downtown. While the final route of the Loop is still under study, funding has been secured for the first leg of the trail—along Jackson St.—which will be completed in 2016 as a part of an already planned reconstruction.

Downtown bike plan map

Options to be evaluated for the Downtown Loop and Spur Network

Grand Round

The Grand Round, a 27-mile scenic parkway that encircles the city, will also see quick progress. Unfinished portions will be constructed throughout 2015 and 2016, and remaining gaps will be targeted for future funding and implementation.

Bike parking

In keeping with the shift in the title of the plan from “Bikeways Plan” to “Bicycle Plan,” this draft looks at more than just the bike corridor network. There are several other elements included in this version, including bike parking. It tackles this issue through “Action Items” that suggest improvements to both the city’s policies and the zoning code.

Some of these suggestions include:

  • Completing an inventory of existing bike parking and using it to fill gaps
  • Including bike parking as part of sidewalk and street reconstruction
  • Reevaluating bike parking minimums, especially along transit corridors
  • Requiring or encouraging end-of-trip facilities such as showers, lockers, changing rooms, and repair stations in new developments

Other bike programs

The plan touches on a few other programs that support the proposed network. Those include:

  • Bike counts—how to continue them and what technology to use
  • Expanding Nice Ride
  • Lighting off-street bikeways
  • Bike detection at signalized intersections
  • Making current bike route data available to tools like Google Maps and Cyclopath.

There is also a short section on education, enforcement, and encouragement, as well as an Action Item that reads:

Explore opportunities to partner with other agencies or community groups to develop education, encouragement, and enforcement efforts, safety programs, and other initiatives designed to raise awareness of bicycling

[This section added in most recent draft.]

What’s next

The plan has been approved by the Planning Commission and now is on its way to a vote at City Council on March 18.

At the City Council meeting, there will be a public hearing, and if you like the plan, we strongly encourage you to attend. Learn more about the hearing here.

Stray notes

  • The plan is to be updated every 5-7 years. However, it doesn’t specify how this will be done.
  • Just because a street isn’t in the plan now doesn’t mean it can’t be in the future.
  • Though major bikeways generally give bicyclists dedicated space on the road, the plan states that in some cases treatments may be limited to pavement markings and/or signs may be used.
  • The plan acknowledges that accommodating bikes can sometimes require tradeoffs from other modes, like removing parking or a lane of car travel.
  • Besides the off-street Loop, downtown St. Paul is only recommended to receive enhanced shared lanes.
  • The plan suggests an ordinance to prohibit locking bikes to certain objects within the public right-of-way, such as trees, gas meters, and stop signs. [This section removed in most recent draft.]
  • It also suggests a policy to use pavement markers or signs to discourage sidewalk biking in business districts.
  • The plan includes a cost estimate of both construction and maintenance of the facilities proposed in the plan.
  • The plan points out that the costs cited are likely an overestimate since many of these facilities will be installed as part of larger roadway maintenance or reconstruction projects. [This line added in most recent draft.]

For more about St. Paul Women on Bikes’ thoughts on the plan, check out our feedback or talking points.