January 30, 2023
SAVE OUR TREES

Dear SOS advocates,


We have an important reminder to share with you. On Wednesday, February 1st, St. Paul Parks and Recreation will post its 90% Draft of their proposed Regional Trail Plan for Summit Avenue.

And then the clock is ticking to the final countdown when the St. Paul City Council will review and vote on the plan in April.

We have found revealing information as to how the city has been steering this plan and it has been unsettling. Read on to learn more.

And once the 90% Draft of the plan drops on Wednesday, read it and call your city officials and let them know your concerns and questions. Most of the contacts can be found on the website: https://www.savesummitavenue.org/contact-councilperson.

Let your voice be heard!

SOS Steering Committee
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JANUARY 30, 2023

City of Saint Paul's plan for Summit Avenue bike route ignores advice from their own experts and the public
(Saint Paul, MN) Save Our Street (SOS), a citizen group formed to protect Saint Paul’s iconic Summit Avenue, has learned that the City of Saint Paul’s plan for a regional bike trail along Summit is at odds with opinions stated by experts hired by the city itself to evaluate the plan. 
“Based on the analysis of a highly reputable arborist retained by SOS, we are concerned the trail will result in massive tree loss,” said Bob Cattanach, SOS volunteer and Saint Paul resident. “The city’s public response has been essentially, ‘trust us, we’ll do our best to preserve the historic character and limit the loss of trees.’ Based on their own internal documents, however, we know that’s not true. It's time they started being honest with Saint Paul residents.”

The City is due to publish their 90% Draft of the Summit Avenue Regional Trail plan on February 1, 2023. Citizens will have a 28-day comment period, followed by one public hearing hosted by the Parks and Recreation Commission in March. Saint Paul City Councilors will vote on the Master Plan in April. 
Contradicting their own experts
Contradicting their own Experts: To date, the plan put forth by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department completely ignores their own experts’ recommendations on what steps must (and easily can) be taken to preserve the historic character of Summit Avenue.
 
Below are recommendations from the city’s experts, as contrasted with the city’s public positions, and contradictions in its own internal discussions as disclosed in materials produced in response to Data Practices Act requests to the city.
 
1.    Bolton & Menk: Retain Existing Curb Lines to Preserve the Historic Character of Summit Avenue - A technical memorandum from Bolton & Menk* from March 23, 2022 recommends: “additions to Summit Avenue should be as simple as possible and not change the existing curb line.”
 
2.    City’s Public Recommendation: St. Paul’s 60% Draft Plan proposes curbs be completely reconstructed in new locations for all segments of the Avenue in both “preferred” and “alternative” configurations of the proposed bike trail. 
 
3.    Contradicted By City’s Own Internal Discussions: Inter-staff emails exchanged immediately after receiving the Bolton & Menk technical memorandum demonstrate that City officials knew their proposed design would violate their own consultant’s recommendations: (emphasis added):
 
“If the recommendation is “not to change the existing curb lines”, I’m unclear what options this leaves us for a physically separated bikeway on Summit. Even a minimal approach of moving the curb line out from the blvd. to accommodate a trail where the road is currently paved, is a change to the curb line. – Mary Norton
[Source: March 25,, 2022 email (subject line “FW Summit Ave Design Next Steps”), Mary Norton, Landscape Architect for the City and Summit Master Plan Project Manager]
 
“I’m hoping the ‘no change to existing curb lines’ is more subjective than it sounds.” --Brett Hussong
[Response from Mary Norton’s supervisor, Brett Hussong,  Senior Landscape Architect for the City. Source: email response on March 28, 2023 at 8:59 AM (emphasis added):
 
Whatever subjective wriggle room the city may have had in mind, killing hundreds of trees – which will happen if the curbline is changed – is an objective fact. The City has declined to consider any design that preserves existing curbs as recommended by its consultant; this could be as simple and inexpensive as improving the current bike paths through high-visibility striping and better protective buffering.
 
The True Impact of the City’s latest plan: The 60% Plan recognizes that any paved separate trail will invade the current boulevard green space. Moving the curbs even a few feet requires significant additional construction activity which will unavoidably impact boulevard trees by having to regrade boulevards in order to rebuild the 150 driveway aprons and more than 300 carriage walks along Summit. The construction impact will be to all four sides of boulevard trees (curbside, driveway, carriage walk and sidewalk) resulting in severe impacts (unlikely to recover) to more than 60% of the trees
 
Tree removal will be required for the newly introduced curved transitions (marked in yellow in diagram below), dealing a fatal blow to trees at nearly every corner.
Trail transistions proposed for every corner:
  • 96 corner trees will be lost (spreasheet available)
  • 61% (827-952 trees) of Summit Avenue’s tree canopy lost overall due to faulty impact evaluation methods used by the city, as calculated by an independent arborist.
1.    Bolton & Menk** observed they couldn't find any comparable bike trails in historic residential areas anywhere in the country like the one
 
proposed on Summit Avenue Regional Trail**: "the majority of these (cities) include on-street bicycle facilities…while none of these fit exactly into what a regional trail Summit Avenue would look like."
City's response: The City's Engage St. Paul 60% Draft Plan continues to promote a raised, separated bike trail that will decimate the mature tree canopy on Summit Avenue, at a cost of $12.8 million taxpayer dollars, when a High-VIS in-street bike lane would better accomplish the corridor goals for cyclists at less than $1 million.***
The city's proposed separated trail should be rejected in favor of safer, better, and cheaper alternatives:

1.    Keep the existing curb lines and improve in-street bike lanes with
High-VIS paint.
2.    Narrow the motorist lane to create a wider buffer between cars and bicyclists. 
3.    Narrowed motorist lanes create more comfort for the cyclists & naturally slow traffic.
4.    In-Street bike lanes SAVE TREES.
5.    The city' commitment to 'engagement' is a myth; rather than answering questions from constituents, the city is looking for ways to shut down discussion, as its own documents demonstrate.

The top block, below, provides typical examples of questions asked by citizens on the Engage St. Paul online site, as well as during the city's first public meeting held via Zoom on June 6, 2022; what follows is an internal email from city employees plotting how to dodge these questions:
Has the decision already been made?
How will this regional trail be paid for?
How well has Ayd Mill Trail been used?
Why haven't we been given the number of ped/bike crashes?


An excerpt from an email exchange between city staff in relation to questions from the public (emphasis added):
From Westman, HunWen; To Norton, Mary; others
Wednesday, June 8, 2022 3:49 PM
 
(They're accusatory questions, but if they're not answered, we'll
almost certainly be accused of not listening.)
 
I thought about this a bit afterward –how to shut this line of questioning down without stepping into their trap – and here's where I was headed:
 
No decisions are made. This project is tasked with putting forth a recommendation for what a regional trail on Summit Ave would look like if there was one…
Lack of transparency by city hall
In summary, internal documents have revealed that city staff and elected officials have not been transparent as to the true nature and environmental impact of the proposed Summit Avenue Regional Trail. "Rather than engage with citizens, our volunteers have sifted through piles of evidence showing staff looking for ways to 'shut down' public discussion," said Cattanach, "while SOS has been trying to help. SOS found a vendor willing to do a demonstration project of HI-VIZ striping of the existing lanes to increase their safety, at no cost to the City. Why would the City turn down a demonstration that could provide the solution for increasing safety without destroying trees?" SOS has collected more than 2100 petition signatures to its online petition expressing opposition to the current plan, 76% of those signers do not live on Summit Avenue.
 
Once the City of Saint Paul's Parks and Recreation Department posts its 90% Draft of the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan on February 1, 2023, citizens will have 28 days to make comments. SOS encourages citizens to call their city councilors and district councils to ask for transparency with regards to the costs of the trail, both financial and environmental.
 
Summit Avenue’s existing bike lanes can, and are, being improved.  The City is presenting its residents with a false choice: preserve the trees on Summit, or improve the bike lanes. We can do both, it the City would listen to its residents and its own consultant. 
The Importance of Preserving Summit Avenue
Summit Avenue brings tremendous value to Saint Paul and the region as a tourist and visitor destination, an urban oasis for area residents, and an important factor in combating climate change. Summit Avenue is one of, if not the best-preserved historic streets in the country. 
Quick facts:
  •  In 1886, property owners from Lexington Parkway to Mississippi River donated expanses of their own front lawns to create the grassy, tree-lined boulevards we associate with Summit Avenue.
  • In 1915 Minnesota legislature empowered Saint Paul to designate Summit Avenue as a residential district free of commercial businesses. 
  • The current striped on-street bike lanes were created over 20 years ago as the first marked on-street bikeway in Saint Paul.

The entire length of Summit Avenue earned the distinction of belonging to two national historic districts:
  • Historic Hill District
  • West Summit Avenue Historic District
 
References:
 
*Bolton & Menk Technical Memorandum, p. 212, Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan 60% Draft
 
** Bolton & Menk Technical Memorandum, p. 199, Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan 60% Draft
 
*** Project Costs, pg. 161, Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan 60% Draft
 
Additional resources:
Growing Shade- Metropolitan Council in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Trees Inc. https://metrotransitmn.shinyapps.io/growing-shade/
 
Free tool to estimate individual tree benefits in terms of carbon dioxide, air pollution, stormwater impacts, and energy savings.
 
Landmark study produced by the USDA, US Forestry Service, Arbor Day Foundation, and the University of Nebraska Bureau of Business Research. https://www.arborday.org/trees/index-benefits.cfm
-SOS-

Sign our petition at www.savesummitavenue.org

We now have more than 2,100 signatures! Click on the map to see how widespread opposition to the plan has spread.

ABOUT SOS (Save Our Street)
Save Our Street is a citizen group that seeks to educate and advocate for the preservation of the historic streetscape of Summit Avenue as a treasured St. Paul destination and a safe, tree-lined, multi-modal corridor for generations to come.
SOS Steering Committee Chair: Gary Todd Grtodd@comcast.net 651-470-4720