St. Paul restaurants lose bike lane fight

A summertime view of 10th and Robert streets, home to several restaurants in the Rossmor Building, including the Black Sheep, Keys Cafe, and more.

A summertime view of 10th and Robert streets, home to several restaurants in the Rossmor Building, including the Black Sheep, Keys Cafe, and more. Google

A cohort of eight local businesses took a proposal to St. Paul’s City Council seeking to postpone the development of bike lanes slated for construction near their storefronts this fall. 

On Wednesday, City Council President Amy Brendmoen described the existing Capital City Bikeway as "a little odd" in its current state. In a unanimous vote, the council approved the growth of another leg in the form of the 10th Street Bikeway— in spite of restaurants' pleas.

The business owners behind the petition included representatives from Keys Cafe, Black Sheep Pizza, Camp, Sawatdee, Jimmy Johns, Tin Whiskers Brewing, and more. They said the parking spots eliminated by the 10th Street Bikeway are critically necessary for delivery drivers and customers at this time, as restaurants find themselves freshly dependent upon vehicle-based delivery and take-away to weather the pandemic.

At stake were 18 parking spots along 10th Street. In total, the businesses face the loss of 65 spots affected by progress on 9th, 10th, and Roberts streets, as the former pair are converted into one-ways, and a rapid transit bus line from White Bear Lake is installed on the latter.

In a letter addressed to Mayor Carter and City Council and signed by the group members, they'd asked for a postponement in deploying the bike lanes on 10th Street at this time.

“Being in an active downtown also means making sure there are a variety of transportation options for residents and our customers,” they wrote, stating support for “a robust transit system,” before noting the challenge involved in “making sure all of this work is done in coordination to create the best plan and take fully into account how these projects will impact all stakeholders.”

For Carol Hunn-Gregory, owner of Keys Cafe and Bakery on Robert Street, this perceived lack of coordination between the government’s left and right hands are taking a toll.

“The city and met counsel, or the public works… They're not communicating," said Hunn-Gregory, who'd hoped to find a solution that everyone could live with. “[They're] going to leave 25 parking spots for a whole building, for our whole group of businesses, and the people in the building.”

“The unique thing is they're taking two streets and turning them both into one-ways which operationally for a restaurant – especially now with COVID where there's so much takeout – is really problematic,” explained Black Sheep Pizza’s Jordan Smith, himself a bike commuter.

Black Sheep owner Jordan Smith also sought the postponement due to the confluence of the rapid transit line with the bike lane and shifting traffic patterns. "There's a lot of moving parts that weren't really considered prior to putting the project into place," he said. "It's a huge reduction of parking. Seventy-five percent of our customers drive there and have said they wouldn't come. So that's very frightening, especially now [during the pandemic].”

To be clear, the cohort’s opposition to ceding these parking spots predated COVID-19. (The development of Jackson Street a couple years ago began the process of chipping away by knocking out all of that corridor’s parking.) In our chat, Smith referenced a report surveying nearly 800 of their customers from this January and February, which revealed an unwillingness on the part of St. Paul’s existing clientele to walk more than two blocks.

But when COVID-19 came along, it brought with it a new urgency in the form of shuttered dining rooms, increased restrictions for businesses, and an increased dependency by restaurants and breweries on curbside takeout and third-party delivery services like Uber, DoorDash, and Drizly to stay solvent.

"I'm in support of bikers, but it's just like: Where do you draw the line?” asked Hunn-Gregory. “It's destroying businesses and a tax base. How are you going to get that back?"