In Saint Paul, Bikes Lanes are the New Smoking Ban

[Nice Rides are only as useful as the lanes that connect them.]
There’s a sometimes harshly worded debate going on right now in Saint Paul over the future design of Cleveland Avenue, whether or not it should have bike lanes and/or on-street parking. (The exact design depends on where you’re talking about.)

You can read some of the comments on the discussion, taking place on Open Saint Paul, on streets.mn, on this blog, and in the newspapers, emails, and voicemails of Saint Paul’s elected leaders.

Here are a few representative samples that capture, I think, the heart of the issue, i.e. how moving parking spaces will hurt business versus how creating safer streets will improve access for bicycles.

Try this one, from an article on streets.mn:
The fact that business owners are losing their minds over this is disappointing but not unexpected. Small proprietors operate on shoestring budgets usually, so any change is perceived to be potentially catastrophic. It’s not a rational response, but an understandable one.

[...]  As a dad who carts his kids around sometimes by bike, but sometimes by SUV…I’m just so annoyed by the trite “think of the mom in the van” garbage.

Or this one, from a different article on streets.mn:
The owners of the building/barber shop/other stores clearly CLEARLY perceive the lose of parking as a threat to there business. If the bikes lanes were a boon to their business, they would feel the opposite no?

But the more the argument goes on, and the more histrionic it becomes, the more I’m reminded of the 2006 rhetoric surrounding the city’s smoking ban, which disallowed smoking in bars throughout the city. At the time, many small business owners (primarily bar owners) claimed that the smoking ban would kill their business. Despite the pressure, the City Council (led by CM Thune) insisted that the effects of second-hand smoke outweighed the potential economic impacts on some businesses. It was the right thing to do.

[Richard Jackson, the guy who wrote the book on public health and urban design, speaking in St. Paul a month ago.]

Cars are the New Tobacco

[Not just a metaphor.]

Just like Saint Paul is a healthier city without smoky bars, it will be a healthier city with bike-friendly streets. And what’s more, unlike the Nazi analogy, this comparison isn’t an exaggeration.

Here’s some of what I wrote on the subject back in 2013:
Now that smoking rates have declined, the new #1 public health risk in the US and UK is the automobile. [...]
But let's keep the metaphor going. If cars are the new tobacco, what would be a public health solution for the deadly automobile? What if we treated cars like we did cigarettes? What if we used all our anti-smoking tools and waged a public health campaign against cars? [...]
We would acknowledge the harms of second-hand cars. Just like with smoking, cars don't just harm those who use them. Even people who choose not to use cars, who kick their car-dependency, are forced to deal with 'second-hand cars' as they try to walk or bike around the city. Eventually, our society would recognize these harms, would try to come up with rules for limiting the danger of second-hand cars.

Last month, city leaders gathered to celebrate the idea of using urban design to solve a very real public health crisis that finds America in general, and Saint Paul in particular, suffering from a whole string of health problems. Tobacco use is no longer the #1 public problem we face as a society; lack of physical activity has taken its place as a driver [sic] of long-term health problems.

At the time, the solutions garnered headlines. But as I wrote at the end of in my piece on Minnpost, "talking about a healthy city is certainly nice, but the true test will come when road construction begins this summer."

Well, now’s when the rubber meets the road. And so far, it doesn't look good.

[The circled statement is just plain wrong.]

Seeing the Big Picture

[This guy would really like to light one up.]

I’m sure the smoking ban did hurt some businesses in Saint Paul. The giant cigarette mural on the outside wall of Costello’s Bar (one of the most vocal opponents of the ban) has been replaced by a (socially inferior, in my opinion) quasi-chain burger joint from Edina. And to this day, Mayor Coleman is not allowed inside the Gopher Bar (if he ever was), which clings on for dear life serving the city’s best coney dogs in a changing corner of downtown.

But sometimes moral issues should outweigh unknown economic impacts, and implementing the city-wide bike plan is the clearest way to actually achieve the goals that city leaders set out during their gala dinner last month.

Looking back at the smoking ban issue, it’s hard today to find people who don’t see Saint Paul as a better place now that smoking has been banished to sidewalks, alleys, and occasional patios. If we implement the bike plan, starting with Highland Park’s main street, years from now I’m confident that the vast majority of people in Saint Paul will look back and wonder what the fuss was all about. We’ll be living in a city that made it easier to get active when we’re young, stay active in our old age, and get around without exacerbating our already-stressed roads and parking lots.

I understand the reluctance of business owners to take risks. Our city's small businesses struggle to make a living in a country where the game is rigged in favor of chains and corporations. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask that businesses work to help bring a healthy city to life. And just as our leaders boldly did the right thing back in 2006, they should prioritize the big picture here too.

I'm sure that no Saint Paul City Council Member wants to take the kind of abuse that CM Thune received ten years ago. But I'm also sure that if you asked him today, he'd say that he did the right thing. And he'd make the same decision every time.

The smoking ban didn't kill small business in Saint Paul. On the contrary, bars, restaurants, and nightlife are thriving, and almost everyone is better off. Implementing the bike plan is exactly the same kind of issue, a moral question where putting health and safety first is the right thing to do.

[Three Saint Paul smoking ban protests: from Mike's Bar, Costello's Bar, and the Gopher Bar.]


Oh, I almost forgot. The public hearing is tomorrow!
As the first proposed projects since the passage of the Bike Plan, it’s important that these projects succeed. For Cleveland and Front specifically, there has been a lot of concern raised about the loss of parking. Even if you don’t live in these neighborhoods, elected officials need to hear from you.

Lexington, Cleveland, Front Public Hearing
Wednesday, June 17 at 5:30 PM 
City Hall: 15 West Kellogg Blvd, 3rd Floor Council Chambers

Learn more!
Lexington: http://stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5691
Cleveland: http://stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5690
Front: http://stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5692


Darren Tobolt said...

Nice post. For the record, Keenen's has better coneys.

Bill Lindeke said...

Obvious trolling there. I've done careful analysis and even taken a folks out on a survey. Bill Keenan himself admits that Gophers' are better, only that the profanity on the side diminishes the experience so that, for most people, Kennan's coney wins out.

Me? I don't want to have to choose.

Anonymous said...

Darren your running for Ward 2

Adam said...

I'm thinking about spending the weekend riding up and down Cleveland.

Unknown said...

Here's new ammunition for your argument. But you got there first.