When Lauren O’Brien goes for a bike ride or a walk, she often starts and ends her trips on St. Paul’s tree-lined Summit Avenue.
“I love the feel. It’s like a state park and a neighborhood at the same time,” O’Brien said. “It’s gorgeous.”
But O’Brien is among a group of residents worried the historic and scenic avenue will have a much different feel if plans for the Summit Avenue Regional Trail go forward, and trees disappear as a result.
“It will be horrible,” O’Brien said.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department this week released a draft plan detailing a proposed bike lane to separate cyclists from traffic on both sides of about 5 miles of Summit between Mississippi and Kellogg boulevards. Though any construction is years away and would be tied to a yet-to-be-scheduled rebuilding of Summit, plans for the bike lanes are being developed and finalized now.
The lanes would be built about six inches higher than the adjacent driving lanes, with a buffer between. The raised trail away from traffic is intended to improve safety and accommodate cyclists of all ages and abilities. Some parking would be reduced, said Brett Hussong, a senior landscape architect with the city.
Parks and Recreation officials will take comments on the draft through Feb. 28.
Neighborhood group Save Our Street (SOS) is strongly opposed to the plan. The group of residents who live on and near Summit has collected more than 2,000 signatures from people who say building bike lanes above the curb line will harm too many trees.
“We are all for bike lanes,” said avid bicyclist and SOS member Bob Cattanach. “‘Right lane in the right place’ is our mantra. This is the wrong lane in the wrong place.”
The group says there are alternatives to both accomplish the city’s goals and save trees. Among them are painting high-visibility green lanes, improving pavement, dropping the speed limit and installing better buffers.
“There are lots of positive things you can do to make lanes better,” Cattanach said. “Once you start excavating, the tree is in trouble.”
Hussong said the current design proposal could affect about 200 of the 1,561 trees along the five-mile segment that have roots extending into the construction zone. Though none would be cut down, it’s not yet clear which ones would be affected. Preserving trees is a priority, he said.
“We work for parks,” Hussong said. “We do love trees.”
Summit Avenue was one of the first streets in St. Paul to get bike lanes in the 1990s. They are heavily used — and so is the street.
Traffic counts show between 3,500 and 11,000 vehicles travel on the mansion-lined road each day. Federal, state and local industry standards recommend separated bicycle facilities when the average vehicles per day exceeds 6,500.
From 2012 to 2021 there were 31 bicyclists involved in crashes along the corridor, 90% of which resulted in an injury or fatality, according to the city.
“Putting them in separate areas reduces those conflicts,” Hussong said.
In addition to safety improvements, city officials say the project would create a vital east-west connection, allowing riders to access historic districts and sites.
“It’s only going to make people use and love Summit Avenue in the future,” said construction manager Alice Messer.
The Parks and Recreation Commission is expected to make a design recommendation in March, and the City Council is expected to take up the measure in April.