Plans for a regional bike trail along St. Paul's Summit Avenue will go forward after the City Council strongly backed the project despite fierce debate for months leading up to the vote.
The council voted 6-1 on Wednesday night in favor of a separate, raised trail that would be built in the street's existing right of way. Council Member Jane Prince cast the lone dissenting vote.
Nearly 100 people testified in the packed council chamber, with the tone of discussion often contentious. Dozens more sent written comments on such topics as safety, tree loss, parking and racial equity.
Planning for the project started a year and a half ago, as officials in Minnesota's capital city discussed the need to rebuild the crumbling roadway. The street and portions of its underlying infrastructure reportedly have not been replaced in more than 100 years. With the aim of making construction efficient and coordinated, officials proposed replacing Summit's painted bike lanes with an elevated trail, which they said would serve as a better east-west link to the region's bike system.
Rebuilding the entire avenue will cost an estimated $100 million. The 5-mile trail would cost about $12 million more, some of which could be covered by assistance from the state. Project funding has not yet been approved.
"I voted for this trail because it reflects our community's vision for the future as a safer, more connected and more sustainable St. Paul," Council Member Mitra Jalali said.
City officials have said the project would be completed in phases over at least a decade.
Residents have long staked out positions for or against the trail, launching campaign websites and distributing lawn signs. The two camps sat on opposite sides of the council chamber Wednesday.
Though speakers listed a multitude of reasons for their stances, many opponents focused their comments on tree loss. Save Our Street, a group of neighbors opposed to the project, has said the work could threaten as many as 1,000 trees.
City staff have disagreed. They say building the trail would harm no more trees than the necessary road construction — about 200.
Others worried about historic preservation and the loss of parking, saying more time is needed to study the project's impacts. Supporters' primary argument was safety.
Many have repeatedly said the separated bikeway would provide protection from speeding or distracted motorists. They also said the trail would help lower carbon emissions and allow more people from other parts of St. Paul to more easily access the historic, mansion-lined street.
Prince said her dissenting vote did not represent her position on the plan. Instead, she said she thought more could be done to engage parties on both sides of the issue with a mediator.
"I believe our vote today will foreclose the opportunities we have to find a saner and more reasonable path forward on Summit Avenue," Prince said.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker said she regrets how divisive the project has become.
"Just because an idea is divisive, though, isn't a sign that it's wrong," she said. "All it means in this case is that people care about this street, and they have different ideas about what should happen with it."
The plan will now go to the Metropolitan Council for final review, allowing the city to start pursuing funding. One possible source could be the proposed 1% sales tax that St. Paul residents will vote on in November.
Even then, the conversations may not be wrapped up: City officials said additional engagement, design and engineering work would have to happen before construction starts.
Staff writer James Walsh contributed to this report.