St. Paul to study downtown bike loop segments

The city of St. Paul is taking a closer look at the alignment for a proposed bike loop through downtown.

The centerpiece of the city’s plan is an off-street bike and pedestrian trail through downtown, expected to cost $18 million. Planners initially determined the bike loop would be on Jackson Street, St. Peter Street, Kellogg Boulevard and 10th Street.

But St. Paul businesses and property owners lined up to push for an alignment that would increase traffic to downtown retailers. They would like to see the southern and western portion of the loop on Fourth and Wabasha streets rather than on Kellogg Boulevard and St. Peter Street.

During an update to the Planning Commission on Friday, St. Paul transportation planner Reuben Collins said the city planned to hire a consultant to analyze different alignments for the downtown bike loop. The only segment of the loop that is finalized is the portion of the path on Jackson Street between the Mississippi riverfront and 11th Street.

“In the draft that we released in January, it set out a pretty specific vision for specific streets that this loop and spur network would be on. We heard … that there needed to be a larger more transparent public process to have that study,” Collins said.

Planning Commission member Rebecca Noecker raised concerns about downtown parking.

“What is the plan to counter the inevitable opposition from downtown business owners about the lack of parking that will result?” Noecker asked at the meeting.

Contrary to Noecker’s expectation, many property owners and businesses are in support of the bike loop, though it could eliminate some parking.

After the draft plan came out suggesting the loop run on St. Peter Street, the business group Wabasha Partners wrote to the city advocating for the trail on Wabasha. The Greater St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association, which supports the loop on Fourth Street, took it a step further and pushed for vehicle traffic to be removed from Fourth Street to create a greenway. The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce also joined the Wabasha Partners and the St. Paul BOMA to issue a letter in support of the bike loop in April.

Some businesses and property owners “are beginning to recognize the value that these facilities can provide relative to the value of street parking,” Collins said. “That being said, I’m sure you’re likely to hear about parking.”

So far, the city has budgeted $8 million in funding for the first phase of the bike loop on Jackson Street through the new “8-80 Vitality” fund for projects to build “bold and vibrant places” in the city.

The fund, which supports public projects for residents ages 8 to 80, also sets aside $450,000 for the bike loop study and for short-term demonstration projects of bike and pedestrian facilities downtown.

Collins said it was “pretty bold” to propose an off-street trail system for an urban downtown core like St. Paul, but the loop network is designed to spur economic development. The bike loop concept was modeled after the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an 8-mile bicycle and pedestrian path through that city’s downtown.

Planning Commission member Daniel Ward raised questions about the return on investment for increased bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Collins said he has not seen any such ROI studies, but that city staff members are following the Indianapolis example very closely.

“We do think that developing these off-street trails throughout downtown specifically is an economic development tool,” he said. “It’s something that will bring new people into downtown and help make downtown more accessible for folks that don’t want to drive into downtown.”

The city plans to issue a request for proposals for a consultant to lead the bike loop study before the end of this year and start the study in early 2015.

Posted in News, November 2014