A tale of two cities: biking in MPLS/STP

St Paul Bike

The bike path along Shepard Road in St. Paul provides sweeping views of the Mississippi River // Photo courtesy of the City of St. Paul

While Minneapolis was expanding its bikeways, St. Paul did almost nothing. It wasn’t for lack of interest: St. Paul was actually the first city in the state to dabble in bike sharing. The Yellow Bike Coalition formed in 1996 and sought to make free bikes available around the city. Unfortunately, the logistics of servicing bikes at remote locations, theft, vandalism, and a lack of funding forced the coalition to fold in 2000.

Interest in bicycle advocacy and education remained, however, and in 2001 Cycles for Change was born. The nonprofit organization, now located on University Avenue in St. Paul, provides free bikes and bicycle education to underserved Twin Cities communities and operates a full bike shop where the community is invited to participate and have a hands-on role in bicycle advocacy.

St. Paul also had a Grand Rounds park system that included many excellent recreational bike trails. It had the first Bicycle Advisory Board in the state, established in 1991, and in 1992 the city striped bike lanes on Summit Avenue from the University of St. Thomas to the St. Paul Cathedral. In 1994, St. Paul cycling activist Richard Arey founded the Saint Paul Classic, the first annual Twin Cities bike tour. The music-filled ride through St. Paul’s historic neighborhoods attracts over 6,000 participants a year, making it one of the largest group rides in Minnesota.

Despite these steps forward, by the 2000s bike infrastructure in St. Paul had grown very little compared to its sister city across the river. Without the political, public, university, and monetary support enjoyed by Minneapolis, bike commuting in St. Paul, as measured by the U.S. Census Survey, actually declined slightly between 2007 and 2008. In 2010, the Bicycle Advisory Board was dissolved.

Fast forward to the proposed St. Paul Bicycle Plan (SPBP). Designed to “guide the development of a safe, effective, and well-connected network of bicycle facilities to encourage and facilitate bicycle transportation” throughout the city, the plan’s primary objective is to designate corridors for future development of biking infrastructure.

If implemented as currently planned, the SPBP will double the mileage of bicycle facilities throughout St. Paul over the next several decades. In the city’s 2015 budget, Mayor Chris Coleman dedicated more than $27 million to road reconstruction, including the creation of bike pathways—the largest investment in bike infrastructure in St. Paul’s history.

To what degree this plan will be implemented remains open for debate. There are already signs that some city politicians may be waffling. The only sure thing as of yet is that it will take sustained pressure from cycling advocates and the public to make the SPBP a reality.

If St. Paul does implement the plan, it would radically improve cycling in Minnesota’s capital city and be another notch on the belt for a state that boasts some of the best bikeways in the world and is home to Quality Bicycle Products, one of the biggest distributors of bikes and bike parts in the country; HED wheels; Park Tool; DERO; Surly Bikes; Nice Ride; Blaine’s velodrome; mountain bike parks; and indoor and outdoor bike parks. Minneapolis has fully embraced cycling as part of its core identity. Hopefully St. Paul will do the same.

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