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St Paul Deals with Loss of Parking for Bike Lanes

Dar’s Double Scoop is a blast from the past along St. Paul’s Rice Street. The walls are adorned with vintage art depicting ice cream and classic cars. Patrons pick their favorite ice cream flavors and enjoy a cone, sometimes with fries or cheese curds on the side. It’s the kind of small, family-owned place that helps define a neighborhood.

But Dar’s, along with a dozen other Rice Street bars and restaurants, is fighting a battle that is all too familiar to some Twin Cities business owners. Rice Street will be rebuilt starting in 2019. One idea is to remove parking on one side of the street to make room for bike lanes. It’s an idea embraced by cyclists and supported by the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition. St. Paul has few north-south bike connections through that part of the city and cyclists contend the link is badly needed.

Business owners and groups including the North End Business Association oppose the loss of parking. The debate has roiled the District 6 Planning Council, a citizen engagement group. Last month a group that favors bike lanes took over board leadership positions, so several other members resigned in protest. Those who left include Gidget Bailey, owner-operator of the iconic Tin Cup’s restaurant at Rice Street and Maryland Avenue. She represented the business group on the district council.

Bailey and Dar’s owner Kevin Barrett said the loss of on-street parking could be disastrous for theirs and many
others’ businesses. Barrett shares about a dozen parking spots with an adjacent sandwich shop. But spillover parking from a nearby funeral home and the Rice Recreation Center fields takes much of the available on-street parking already. 

“The bike lane proposal makes me feel like we’re being backed into a corner,” Barrett said.

“I’d estimate that we could lose 25 percent of our business if we lose the spots out front,” he continued. “As a business owner and neighborhood resident this is incredibly worrisome for me. I try to keep my prices affordable for the community and this makes doing that more difficult.”

“We have many businesses, including bars and restaurants, with no off-street parking,” Bailey said. “We feel like we’re all in this together and we have to fight it. With some businesses, if they lose on-street parking, they’re gone.” 

Tin Cup's shares a large parking lot with three stores, said Bailey, but many customers with disabilities find it easiest to park on Rice Street and enter from there. 

Similar debates have played out throughout St. Paul in recent years, with the most high-profile fight being along Cleveland Avenue in 2015-2016. Bike lanes are now on the drawing boards for Pelham Boulevard and several other streets in the next few years. St. Paul, which adopted a citywide bike plan in 2015, now includes bike infrastructure such as share-the-road arrows in most of its street mill and overlay and reconstruction projects.

Bikers welcome

Some restaurants and coffee shops welcome more bike traffic and believe bike lanes are a benefit. Shannon Forney, co-owner of Workhorse Coffee Bar near Raymond and University avenues, said her business will welcome the Pelham bike connection. At a recent meeting on that project, Forney brought up the need for other improvements beyond street striping, protected lanes and other on-street changes.

“If people are going to bike to
businesses, they need bike racks and bike lockers,” Forney said.

City Council President Russ Stark is a strong advocate for bike facilities. His Fourth Ward includes sections of Cleveland and Charles avenues, which had two of the most high-profile fights between businesses and cycling advocates in recent years. He has also been involved in the debates over bike projects on Pelham, Griggs Street, Prior and St. Anthony avenues.

Stark said in his experience,
controversy dies down after bike lanes or street markings go in place. “I don’t think we’ve seen the negative impacts people fear. It’s a change and that can be hard.” 

In his ward, Stark has worked to change residential permit parking time limits to accommodate business patron parking in the Marshall-Cleveland neighborhood, after that bike lane went in. 

Along Cleveland cyclists organized to support restaurants after the bike lanes went in, something Stark said he
encourages more of. He also said
businesses need to see that people will bike to eat a meal or buy a cup of coffee.

On Rice Street, business owners are not sure that kind of organized support would happen. 

“This is a busy street and I don’t know how many people would ride bikes here,” said Barrett.

Bailey said she is concerned about
ripple effects and unintended consequences of lost on-street parking and loss of customers. Losing revenue, in turn, could mean less support for
community activities. 

“We give a lot, Dar’s gives a lot, many other restaurants and bars give a lot,” Bailey said. “We have supported the Rice Street Festival and many other events, and if we lose revenue, I’m not sure how that level of giving could continue.” 

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