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Is West Midway and Como next step in the Grand Round?

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Calvin

The Grand Round, St. Paul’s citywide bike and pedestrian link to lakes and the Mississippi River, could grow this summer with work in the West Midway and Como areas.

More than 50 people attended a Jan. 17 meeting at Merriam Park Community Center to see the plans for Pelham Blvd. and connections to Raymond Ave. and Mississippi River Blvd. If the project wins approval from the St. Paul City Council, it would be implemented this spring.

The Grand Round is a 27-mile system of bicycle and pedestrians facilities that connect the Mississippi River, Como, and Phalen parks. Parks Planner Kathleen Anglo said the Grand Round was envisioned in the late 19th century by landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland. Cleveland was hired by both St. Paul and Minneapolis to outline a plan for the cities’ park systems.

Grand Round Como Raymond reportPhoto left: The Grand Round was envisioned in the late 19th century by landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland, and was meant to be a 27-mile system of bike and pedestrian facilities. This section would come up from University Ave. and run  just south of the State Fairgrounds.  (Illustration provided)

Cleveland, who was a leader in the “City Beautiful” movement, wanted St. Paul to protect its natural areas along the lakes and river. While most of the street parkways were in place by the 1930s, most Grand Round work stalled for many years. Proponents revived the plans in the 1980s, but city financial support and detailed planning didn’t start again until 2000.

Anglo said that the current Grand Round effort focuses on the northern 13 miles of the Grand Round, through East Side, North End, Como, St. Anthony Park and Desnoyer Park. More than 40 meetings have been held to discuss the project, which is supported by the city’s Vibrant Places and Spaces (formerly 8-80 Vitality) Fund. Work along Wheelock Pkwy., from Edgerton to Rice St., was done last year. More work is planned in the Como area this year.

“This has been a gap in the bicycle network for a long time,” said Reuben Collins, a Public Works transportation planner who leads the city’s bicycle planning. Public Works and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation are working on the plans. This year’s plans call for work along Raymond, Myrtle St. and then to Pelham.

Pelham south of I-94 could have one of St. Paul’s first cycle tracks, to create another leg of the Grand Round.

While plans to continue the Grand Round have strong support among bicyclists and advocacy groups, neighborhood groups are weighing support and concerns about the plans. Desnoyer Park Improvement Association, Union Park District Council, and St. Anthony Park Community Council all are following the plans and will weigh in at some point, as will the St. Paul Planning Commission Transportation Committee. No groups have taken a position yet, although St. Anthony Park Community Council’s (SAPCC) Transportation Committee is considering route options in that area. Union Park District Council’s initial discussions have included more focus on Pelham traffic calming.

Neighbors and businesses along the route had mixed reactions, with some expressing strong support and others asking that heavy rush hour traffic volumes on Pelham be considered in the context of cyclist safety.

A cycle track is a signed and striped set of bicycle lanes on one side of a street, with a buffered area between the bike lane and motor vehicle traffic, between the parking lane, or between both. Pelham would have one bike lane in each direction for its cycle track. Minneapolis has recently installed a cycle track on First Ave. N. between Eighth St. N. and Washington Ave. St. Paul Public Works is looking at cycle tracks in other locations.

The on-street cycle track plans are considered an interim step, with a permanent change eyed when Pelham is rebuilt, said Collins. It doesn’t call for street reconstruction—just paint and flexible plastic posts installed into the street. The posts and paint narrow the street and provide a measure of traffic calming as well as a safer place for bicyclists.

A cycle track does mean extra measures at intersections, including more signage and green pavement markings to denote where bikes go.

Pelham isn’t in the Public Works’ five-year street construction plan, so a permanent bikeway is several years away, said Collins. Its status is a 35 rating on a 100-point scale. Longer-term ideas call for off-street bicycle trails, with landscaping between Pelham and the trails. The street would be narrowed as a result of reconstruction.

The interim and permanent solutions would take away parking on the east side of Pelham in Desnoyer Park.

Pelham is a municipal/state aid street and a collector route, carrying about 4,000 motor vehicles per day. Speed studies indicate that most motorists drive over the posted speed on Pelham, at 39 miles per hour. The limit is 30 mph. Narrowing Pelham with the cycle track is seen as a way to slow traffic. The street varies in width from 36 to 44 feet.

“We have a high volume of traffic on Pelham during rush hour,” said Desnoyer Park resident Marit Bujold. “It’s hard to get in and out of driveways as motorists, and hard to cross Pelham as pedestrians,
“This is a wonderful neighborhood, with lots of new, young families,” Bujold said. “The number of children living here has skyrocketed.” She described rush hour traffic as “bumper to bumper’ at times and questions how the bike project would promote safety.

“We don’t want people to use Pelham as a cut-through,” said Collins. But he admitted that it can be a challenge to redirect motorists. Pelham traffic is something city staff continues to look at. The hope is that the cycle track will narrow the street and slow motorists down.

North of Interstate 94, bike lanes would be striped on either side of streets. In that area city staff and consultants have focused on parking. The Raymond-University area has some businesses and multi-family buildings, as well as Avalon, a charter school.

Pat Thompson serves on the SAPCC Transportation Committee. “We know there are business concerns about the potential loss of parking on Myrtle and Raymond,” she said. The committee would like to see Wabash Ave. looked at as the connection between Pelham and Raymond, but railroad tracks in the street mean that option has been ruled out by Public Works.

Shannon Forney, co-owner of Workhouse Coffee Bar near Raymond and University said her business would welcome the bike connection. She does see improved bike parking facilities as a need after the project is completed.

Forney also said she likes the idea of a cycle track. “That kind of protected bike lane gives more comfort to some riders, especially novice bike riders,” she said.

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