Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #8

[Empty spaces on Wabasha in the middle of the day, fm Ken Paulman's twitter.]
High cost, loss of parking argue for a better bike loop

By Bill Hosko

On Tuesday, December 2, downtown St. Paul residents and business people gathered for a follow-up discussion of Mayor Chris Coleman's plan for a "bike loop" in downtown. An earlier meeting with business people and residents on the bike loop was held on November 12. Public comments to the city were due by December 8.

[I went to one of these meetings, and listened to the following testimony from one elderly resident: "I’ve been a resident for just about a year and seeing a poster on a little deli was the first I’ve heard that 15 spots on Jackson might no longer exist. One of the biggest factors for us relocating to downtown from the suburbs, and we took six months to decide, was the parking for people who wanted to come visit us."]

The bike loop, as proposed, is an $18 million designated, curbed and landscaped bike path that would connect Wabasha, 10th, Jackson, and 4th streets. [The exact alignment for the loop hasn't been decided, though Hosko did choose my preferred streets as his example.] It would eliminate 147 metered parking spaces on top of the 131 metered spaces that were previously removed as a result of the construction of the light-rail Green Line downtown.

St. Paul has been working on a comprehensive citywide bike plan for the past three years, and released a draft of the proposal last winter. [Three years is a long time!] The plan, if fully implemented, would add 214 miles of bikeways in the next few decades to the 144 miles of bikeways the city now has. It includes two already-identified projects: the downtown bike loop and the completion of the Grand Round, a 27-mile route around the city on either bike lanes or off-street bike trails.

The bike plan has received the support of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater St. Paul Association of Buildings Owners and Managers, and limited endorsement by the downtown CapitolRiver Council's executive and parking committees. [Note that Hosko pulls many of the strings for the CapitolRiver council, unfortunately.] Mayor Coleman has already budgeted $8 million of the city's $42.5 million 8-80 Vitality Fund to rebuild Jackson Street as the first segment of the bike loop--two months before the public comment was to end. [Yeah, that's how this city works.]

Before I go any further, I should mention that I'm car-free, bike year-round, and view the draft bike plan as largely an excellent document. I'm also certain that most of those who live and work in St. Paul support the thoughtful, cost-effective expansion of biking opportunities throughout the city. [Before I go any further, note that the bike loop really isn't designed for people who are already biking around downtown Saint Paul, but for people who aren't biking in downtown because they don't feel safe. Downtown curb-separated bike lanes are something that even kids should be able to ride on comfortably.]

In August, Mayor Coleman expressed great concern in an article published in this newspaper about a projected $9.6 million city budget shortfall. ("Budget cuts and tax hikes may be in store for 2015.") Coleman was quoted as saying, "Imagine having to cut every year for the last eight or nine years and then year we need to cut more. It gets very difficult." Was the mayor's concern sincere?

Mayor Coleman was elated in October when the City Council awarded the bike loop project $8 million to start the first phase of construction: rebuilding Jackson Street between 10th and 4th streets. That project alone would permanently eliminate 46 metered spaces -- as well as significant parking meter and ticket revenue -- and 10 loading spaces. [Parking revenue doesn't go away, actually. It moves around. That's why parking revenue needs to be seen as a whole. One great way to increase parking revenue in downtown Saint Paul would be to extend meter times past 5 PM. That would also have the added benefit of ensuring that spaces turn over more frequently. The argument about revenue is especially disingenuous because it seems like what people are complaining about is the loss of free parking, which generates no revenue at all.] Only after making budget cuts and raising city taxes and fees does Coleman propose to pull out $8 million in city taxes and fees for his pet project, which was based on a similar project in Indianapolis. [I can only hope that this is indeed a pet project for Coleman, which means it actually might happen!]

What Indianapolis has that St. Paul doesn't is [downtown art gallery owners with vision] flat terrain, milder winters and a strong economy. [Pretty sure that the Twin Cities' economy is doing better than Indianapolis'. If decades of free parking haven't made downtown Saint Paul's economy thrive, maybe we should try something else?] Additionally Indianapolis' downtown streets are significantly wider than St. Paul's. As a result, far fewer parking spaces were removed to accommodate that city's bike loop. [I'm actually curious about data on this.] Indianapolis also doesn't have two other major economic competitors to contend with a few miles away: downtown Minneapolis and Bloomington's Mall of America. [Note that the Saint Paul Macy's is thriving because of the free parking.] Coleman continues to insist that downtown St. Paul is "booming," when the truth is that St. Paul continues to economically fall further behind other municipalities in the metro area.

Is there a middle-ground in Coleman's bike loop plan? Absolutely. let's install bike and motor vehicle markers on traffic lanes along the bike loop to drive home the point that they are shared lanes for motor vehicles and bikes. [Sharrows, the last refuge of the scoundrel.] Coleman might even lead by example by starting to bike year-round -- we're the same age -- and show how easy it is is to commute the four miles between his West Side home and City Hall. [It'd be easier if they had a contiguous bike lane on Wabasha Street and a bike loop path that would let you easily get from City Hall to Bill Hosko's dynamic business on 7th Street, the Music Forest Café.]

1 comment:

Andrew Balfour said...

My faith in humanity died a little when I read that "relocated downtown from the suburbs" comment.

I mean the only reason to live somewhere should be based on an insignificant, variable resource that you might only use a handful of times per year. Right?