Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

A Bike Route on Snelling Avenue?

Shouts out to @reubencollins on ze Twitter for tweeting this article about people looking to have the resurfacing project on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul include bike lanes.

This is a reasonably good article, with some gaps. The main gap is really surrounding the concept of Complete Streets, and I’m not strictly certain that’s on the author so much as the people he spoke to for the piece.

Would adding bike lane striping be cheapest during a resurfacing project? Certainly. Do cyclists lack reasonable North-South choices to get through the Saintly City? Ohmyyes. Is slapping some paint lines going to make most of Snelling Avenue a Complete Street? OhmyNO.

The article does mention a few reasons why — first, Snelling is a truck route. There is a limited ability to narrow the lanes and maintain the status of the road as a truck route. And, much as cyclists lack north-south options through the city, so do trucks. Snelling Avenue is a key arterial route for trucks, and connects to many local businesses that need trucks to be able to reach them. Most of the north-south streets aren’t truck routes, and have significant direct residential frontage — people who would oppose their north-south streets becoming truck routes, and people who have less need for trucks to be able to get into their neighborhood than many of the businesses with Snelling Avenue frontage.

There are also a large number of uncontrolled intersections. The merges off the Pierce Butler Route and Como Avenue come to mind, where cars have about 3 feet to merge and the curve is not entirely blind but certainly not unobstructed.

Another key consideration is the parking situation. Snelling has a lot of on-street parking, and a lot of driveways. If the on-street parking is maintained, parked cars + abundant driveways equals out to crummy visibility for cyclists coming through. Dropping some of the parking reduces this visibility issue, and makes room for bike lane striping. However, it almost ensures local businesses to mobilize heavily against such a plan. Much of the city is unlikely to get involved in a parking removal project right now, given the many challenges in the Central Corridor, parking included. (Check the closing quote in this article about Central Corridor parking. Oy vey.)

It’s nearly impossible to argue that Snelling doesn’t need traffic calming. It does. A lot of traffic calming, in fact. Bike lanes can be a part of a traffic calming strategy. But just slapping some bike lanes down does not equate to a Complete Street, or to making Snelling an attractive roadway on which to bike. For that matter, bike lanes won’t do much to promote pedestrian safety.

Doing this project correctly could be a very good thing. Just painting in some bike lanes is not a correct approach to the problem that is Snelling Avenue, and won’t do a lot to encourage alternative mode share through much of the corridor. I have high doubts that the public meetings will do much to really address the totality of the situation, because to actually address the real issues will be very expensive, and require a lot of people to cooperate. After all, this is St. Paul, where there are still fights about simple changes to Jefferson Avenue that are unlikely to impact most residents or users. To make Snelling safe for, well, anyone not in an armored tank will require changes that will impact everyone.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. 1- Great post!
    2- I couldn’t agree more, and I’m not even sure that adding bike lanes on Snelling would make a difference. I live by Snelling Ave and it’s an intimidating road to bike along. In fact, I do my best to avoid it whenever possible.
    3- In my opinion (and off the top of my head) it might be wiser to look into Macalester St/Fry St, or possibly Saratoga St. being a north/south bikeway (or Bike Boulevard) instead of Snelling.

  2. I’m glad to see someone agree with me. I’ve seen a lot of “but any bike lane is better than none!” stuff, and I simply do not agree. Bike lanes often encourage the less experienced, but in this case it would put them into the path of danger if all that happened was the addition of a lane between the parked cars and main traffic pattern, at least for much of the route. Bad engineering isn’t good for bikes, or anyone else. Snelling Avenue is badly engineered for almost everyone at this point (including cars/trucks).

    South Snelling is pretty workable, up through a bit past Randolph.

    The big challenge north-south is the I94 crossing. There used to be a pedestrian crossing at Griggs that made a good connector, but it was structurally suspect and torn down. Nothing truly equivalent has been put in place to replace.

  3. Isn’t Fairview a North/South bike friendly street? I thought it has bike lanes, and is only about 4 blocks west of Snelling. And going under 94 makes it much easier than to deal with the entering/exiting of all the maniacs on 94/Snelling.