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Future of St. Paul's Summit Ave. under discussion

As the city evaluates a "Master Plan" to expand bike and walking paths, some neighbors are concerned about the potential impact to greenspace.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The City of St. Paul is considering expanded bike and walking trails along historic Summit Avenue as part of the "Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan," which remains in the design phase and still needs council approval.

The St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department is managing the plan for the roughly eight-mile stretch of road, spanning the Mississippi River (near the University of St. Thomas) all the way east to downtown St. Paul. Currently, Summit has sidewalks on both sides of the road, but its bike lanes share the roadway with vehicle traffic.

To "increase accessibility for all ages and abilities, reduce conflicts found with on-street bike lanes, and improve safety in the corridor," the city is evaluating a bike and walking trail along Summit that would be separated from the actual road. 

"We know it's heavily used, heavily loved by St. Paul," said Alice Messer, the manager of design and construction for the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department. "It's really a chance to look at this regional facility and see what the future could be. Is there an improved bike facility that will serve all users?"

The public will get a chance to weigh in next month, at a virtual meeting on June 6. At that point, the city is expected to release design options. 

While many details remain under discussion, some neighbors are expressing concerns about the Regional Trail Master Plan and the potential impact to Summit's famous landscape. 

Francis Luikart, the treasurer of the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association, said the expanded bike lanes would spell trouble for trees and greenspace across the Summit Avenue corridor.

"There's been a lot of work done to try to save this street, save its character, and I think we're looking at a radical change," Luikart said. "Safety, greenspace, and trees... if you change that, or diminish that, St. Paul itself has lost something."

The city, however, emphasizes on its Master Plan website that "no critical decisions have been made regarding impacts to green space." In an interview, Alice Messer of the Parks Department said greenery will remain a key concern in the design phase.

"We are landscape architects. We are the Parks Department. We love trees as much as everyone. It is one of the guiding principles for this corridor," Messer said. "I think it's why many people love Summit Avenue — the shade, the canopy, it's really mature and very special. It's really important as we develop these concepts, and it's also balancing that with safety and pavement conditions."

After the designs are presented to the public and the Master Plan is finalized, it will go to the city council for a vote — likely this fall. If approved, the city could then seek funding sources through the Metropolitan Council. 

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