First I want to recap what it was like to bike ride on Marshall Avenue this past summer, in July particularly, when I rode 4 weeks to an assignment in downtown St. Paul. The morning eastwards commute was fast and traffic comparatively light to the heavy stop and go conditions during evening rush hour. Many afternoons I would cruise along in the bike lane passing idled traffic and surely make better time than those fools. The bike lane really worked as it was meant to. With the Greenway section of my ride I had about 10 miles of segregated off traffic lane riding. With fair weather long gone the bike lane is a distant memory for winter bike riders.
The bike lane conditions that await winter bike riders on Marshall Ave. in St. Paul Mn are in a word appalling. I will illustrate here with pictures of a father and his daughter who are travelling outside of the bike lane. For no other reason than the city does not prevent parking. What part of the day is set aside to clear ice from the lane? None! This is not one of those situations that beg, “well what does a bike rider expect”? It’s winter time in Minnesota and there are many bike riders that continue riding all four seasons.
I finally was able to crop yesterdays picture. The series was taken with an IPhone with Camera+ app. This is my feel good picture above. I like it because it represents who some of us are that make rational decisions about transporting ourselves outside in most any weather. It is this little girl and her dad who are vulnerable to poor policy and rank engineering that is illustrated in the next two photos.
The bike rider is barely in the bike lane on this stretch of Marshall Ave. The problem of a decorative median has decreased the lane width and traffic cannot move towards the center of the roadway. It should be noted that Marshall Ave is the main bicycle artery from the Mississippi River to downtown St. Paul and connects nicely to the River Road and the Minneapolis Greenway. I want to analyze two things about the median and ice build up in the lane. In this picture it appears there is a bike lane to travel in that is dry. This is not an illusion and you might wonder what is the complaint? Why is the bike rider riding the white line when pavement is dry and out of the traffic lane? The second picture taken as the bike rider passes me illustrates that the median has ended and the ice build up covers the bike lane. So bike riders with safety in mind keep the same line which in this scenario is in the traffic lane. Swerving back and forth would create an unpredictable line that would confuse drivers and also make bike riding manic. The focus is on the bike rider in traffic so take a look at the position of the truck in both pictures. In the distance the truck appears to be near the white stripe and in the second picture the truck not impeded by the median has moved towards the center of the road giving the bike rider a comfort zone. Where the median does not exist the street has a neutral space shared by both east bound and west bound traffic, not just a center line so traffic can move at random times to the center without interference.
Marshall Ave. is a problem area in the winter for bike riders. As I pointed out the median is decorative. Some engineers might say let’s put in a full median and that will solve our problem. Not so fast. I’m illustrating the conditions after a light snowfall 2-3 inches. We get tons of snow in Minnesota. The solution to this problem is to remove snow and ice efficiently with a policy to get cars off the street for a minimum of two hours a day during weekdays and plow the street then. Can the city of St. Paul get their $hit together for little users going to school before some idiot kills another bike rider?