Some St. Paul business owners on Cleveland Avenue say they’ll lose customers if bicycle lanes are installed in place of more than 230 existing parking spots on the busy road. Others predict bike lanes will bring more customers to the Highland retail district.
About 40 people showed up to an open house last Monday night, some with signs reading “Cleveland Ave. lives matter,” to discuss city plans to create bicycle lanes on the road between Highland Parkway and University Avenue.
The meeting, which started with yelling and accusations that the city wasn’t taking community feedback seriously, reignited a nearly yearlong debate about Cleveland Avenue.
The city aims to complete lanes and add some parking bays between Highland Parkway and St. Anthony Avenue in 2016 at an estimated cost of $266,500, said Joe Ellickson, a public works spokesperson for the city. The remainder of the corridor would be altered in the future.
Critics say other roads in the neighborhood are more suitable for bike lanes and that residents and commercial tenants will suffer if parking is removed.
But advocates say bike lanes would increase safety for cyclists and help create a more “bikeable” St. Paul in a critical north-south corridor.
“Cleveland will provide a direct route down to Highland Village” and between St. Catherine University and University of St. Thomas, said Mike Sonn, an area resident and co-chair of the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition. “There are a lot of business nodes that can be safely accessed by cyclists, so I feel like there’s a lot of untapped potential there.”
Angel Chandler, who owns a mixed-use building on the northeast corner of Cleveland and Randolph avenues, is concerned about her tenants’ safety if parking is reduced.
Businesses in her building rely on parking. Three of her six commercial tenants cater to elderly people and children, and many of her apartment tenants are single women, she said.
“As soon as you remove parking in areas, it becomes more susceptible to crime because people know that people are walking long distances,” Chandler said.
Cleveland Avenue is one of many throughout St. Paul earmarked for new lanes after the city adopted a bicycle plan last March. After hosting a public hearing on the proposal last summer that drew a lot of negative feedback, the City Council voted to postpone the work and conduct more community outreach.
But in November, a community working group that was formed to consider bike lanes on other roads in the area voted 8-4 to set plans back in motion for Cleveland Avenue.
The working group included representatives from the St. Paul Planning Commission, local community councils and bike advocacy groups, business owners and the two universities.
Chandler, a member of the working group, voted against a Cleveland Avenue alignment. The group’s process left her feeling steamrolled, she said.
“We were just led through a list of activities,” she said. “We weren’t able to come up with a plan of how we were going to decide which route it was going to be.”
But Amy Schwarz, a member of the Women on Bikes group who also served on the working group, said she felt the process was fair. Schwarz voted in favor of bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue.
“I felt that I got the information I needed and I made the best decision with the information that I had,” she said.
The postponement was a loss for Highland Park neighborhood businesses, which aren’t at risk of losing parking, said Kevin Gallatin, who chairs the transportation committee for the Highland District Council.
“Ultimately we lost use of a bike lane for a year, which could actually help Highland businesses,” he said.
The City Council, which has scheduled a March 16 hearing, still needs to approve the plan.