Public Letter on Idaho Avenue

In March 2015, the City Council unanimously passed a Bikeways Plan. Idaho Avenue was identified as a bikeway on that plan. The reasoning behind this was that Ramsey County was not going to make Larpenteur Avenue bikeable and this corner of the city needed an east-west bikeway. Idaho Avenue has the advantage of going through the entire corridor, uninterrupted, from Lake Phalen to Furness Parkway. There is no room for bike lanes on Idaho, so city planners selected a “bicycle boulevard” treatment. To do this treatment and make the street safe for cyclists the city must put some kind of device on Idaho that will reduce both the speed and volume of car traffic. There are three proven options for doing this– speed bumps, chicanes or small traffic circles. Because they interfere with plowing, the city’s Public Works Department doesn’t like to use speed bumps or chicanes. So this leaves traffic circles.

Traffic circles have been successfully installed all over the city as far back as the 1980s, particularly on bicycle boulevards. There are dozens around the city, including Jefferson Avenue, Griggs Street, Portland Avenue (at Albert), Lincoln Avenue (at Finn), Stanford Avenue and many other streets of similar widths to Idaho. Small traffic circles are more effective than stop signs at reducing traffic speeds and volumes and they reduce crashes by preventing t-bone accidents, where a car hits the side of another car or a cyclist. Circles are included and discussed at length in the City’s street design manual. In addition to calming and reducing traffic, they also reduce street water runoff and they look nice.

Sometimes, when they are proposed, people will complain that circles make it more difficult for school buses or large vehicles to negotiate intersections. In reality, however, these vehicles manage just fine. They simply have to drive much slower. Also, if they need to, school Buses and emergency vehicles are allowed to turn left against traffic, in front of a circle. This is explicitly endorsed in the Complete Streets Manual that the City Council passed last year. If absolutely necessary, school buses can also be rerouted to avoid circles and the diameter of the circles can be adjusted.

A couple weeks ago, at an assessment hearing for an Idaho Avenue repaving project, the city council decided to remove the two proposed traffic circles from Idaho Avenue. In doing this, they diminished the safety and utility of Idaho as a bikeway. I sincerely hope that the Council will reverse itself and restore the circles. The time to put them in is during repaving projects because it’s much cheaper than adding them later. Concerns expressed by some residents are completely unfounded. Removing the circles from a planned city bikeway sets a bad precedent and calls into question the city’s commitment to the Bikeways Plan. I urge you all to reconsider your decision.

Thank you for your service to the city.

Sincerely,

Andrew Singer
Former Co-Chair Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition
2103 Berkeley Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55105
651-917-3417
andy@andysinger.com