Timing is everything

Chamberpot Days on Lyndale Ave

Many thanks to the Mpls Bike Coalition for last weekend’s Lyndale Open Streets.  It was wonderful to experience a neighborhood commercial street in Minneapolis without having to dodge cars, choke on exhaust and expose eardrums to honking, revving and screeching.  And it was surprising also to experience how wide Lyndale feels north of 31st.  Nowadays when we want to cram landscaped medians, buffered bike lanes, bump-outs, light rail and 6 left turn lanes on every street, Lyndale’s ~60′ seems confiningly narrow.  But in the days when the only thing you put in the street came out of your chamberpot, it must have felt grandiosely wide.  Maybe the reasoning was that if your street was wide enough that no shade reached the middle, the shit would dry out quicker.  Now that our streets are relatively free of shit, I’d like to propose a rule that no street be any wider than can be shaded by, say, a 20 year old boulevard tree.

But I didn’t bring up Open Streets as a launching point for a discussion of the effects of excretory matters on urban physiognomy.  I bring it up because after walking 9/10s of the round trip length of the event it brought me to Common Roots at the precise moment that I was thirsty for a beer and ready to sit down, and Common Roots had free copies of The Wedge, the tiny little newspaper for the confusingly-named Lowry Hill East neighborhood.  And inside that tiny newspaper was a tiny column called Pedestrian Improvements on Hennepin Avenue by CM Tuthill about how the people have spoken and she has listened to “the difficulty pedestrians have crossing streets in Uptown.”  And that column inspired this post, titled with a pun but really a collection of some stuff I’ve wanted to say about traffic signal timing/programming for a while.

Leading pedestrian interval

If you think the salon’s in rough shape, you should see the two pedestrians

CM Tuthill’s column highlights the concrete action Public Works is taking to address the aforementioned pedestrian difficulties – leading pedestrian intervals at the intersections of Hennepin Ave with Lake and Lagoon Sts.  CM Tuthill describes it thusly:

The Leading Pedestrian Interval gives pedestrians the walk signal 3-5 seconds before the green signal for [vehicular] traffic.  Pedestrians get a head start on crossing the street and become established in the crosswalk before vehicles begin moving.

I couldn’t tell from the article whether this pattern is in operation yet, but I’m looking forward to trying them out. These intersections are both terrifying, with the one at Lake infamous for the frequency with which cars crash into the salon at the northeast corner.  My guess is that the biggest improvement will be at Lagoon, where cars turning right from Hennepin to Lagoon were somehow able to see a red light as a green arrow.  Email 311 to tell them how great leading pedestrian intervals are and how they should be used at every intersection with a right turn lane.

Loser pedestrian interval

Push this and hurry

On the other hand, there are still lots of intersections with loser pedestrian intervals.  These give pedestrians a don’t walk hand way before the light turns red.  There is actually a somewhat legitimate reason to do this on a very wide road in order to halt pedestrians when their continued crossing after the signal changes would cut too deep into the next phase.  Almost no streets in Minneapolis and St Paul are wide enough for this and more common are examples like Glenwood & Royalston, at the heart of Minneapolis’ Homeless District. At this fairly narrow street – with a refuge median -  a beg button must be pushed before you even get to suffer the indignity of the signal timing, which gives twice as much time to the don’t walk time as it gives to the walk and flashing don’t walk combined (40 seconds vs 10 and 10).

This leads me to speculate about the causes of this sort of affront to pedestrians.  The beg buttons at Glenwood & Royalston were actually faux buttons until recently.  This means one of two things:

  1. The signal technology is so crude that it only allows certain heinous types of programming (think about the enormous signal cabinets you see at the side of the road to house the computers that control traffic lights and then think about an iPod Nano); or
  2. Someone actually designed it to be this way.

I shudder about equally at each of these possibilities.

Non-conflicting pedestrian walk signal

Last year I reported that only two of the 8-10 protected left turn enabled traffic signals on Hennepin – installed during the two-way conversion just a few years ago – gave walk signs to non-conflicting pedestrian traffic.  There is a good amount of foot traffic downtown, and holding them unnecessarily wasted time and encouraged non-compliance (already a good strategy for pedestrians in a auto-oriented one-way grid system).  The City’s zillion-dollar traffic signal programming initiative has fixed at least a few of those – the signals at 11th & 12th work now, although 9th & 10th still don’t.

Pedestrians crossing the north leg of the intersection conflict with the protected left turn, so they get a don’t walk sign. But thanks to lazy traffic engineers or inept software programmers, so do the pedestrians crossing the the south leg, who don’t conflict with a protected phase.

Same traffic pattern as above, but this time the traffic engineer actually gave some thought to pedestrians and managed to avoid wantonly wasting their time.

Imbecilic pedestrian walk signal

The intersection of 12th & Hennepin is alright now, but for the last few months it did something very unusual.  It managed to give a walk signal to non-conflicting pedestrian traffic, but the walk was active for the same amount of time as the walk for the conflicting pedestrian signal, effectively giving them a loser pedestrian interval.  In other words, the pedestrian traffic that doesn’t conflict with the protected left turn traffic gets the don’t walk signal earlier than the pedestrian traffic that does conflict with protected left turns.

This situation, and the fact that it’s subsequently been fixed, indicates to me that the source of pedestrian signal timing troubles – or “difficulty pedestrians have crossing streets” as CM Tuthill put it – is due primarily to lack of attention by traffic engineers.   It may be that the software used to program signals isn’t what you’d call user-friendly, but clearly it’s possible to program a phasing pattern that’s beneficial to pedestrians.  Let’s hope more policymakers follow CM Tuthill’s lead and put policies in place that would force traffic engineers to learn how to use their software for everyone’s benefit, not just for cars.

A less filthy version of this post appears on streets.mn.

Jim Lovell visits Planet Woonerf, doesn’t get it

Moonwalk carefully

If there was a prize for most American American, Tom Hanks would be a serious contender.  He’s not big but not skinny, nice but not too nice, and his accent sounds like it could be from anywhere.

Most American of all, he’s baffled by the foreign practice of asking drivers to be aware that children may be playing on some streets.  And as nature takes its course, his confusion turns to mockery of the idea that motorists’ right to drive where they want and as fast as they want be curtailed by children playing in the street.

A few weeks ago Hanks told David Letterman about his visit to the backwards Communist settlement of Eisenhuettenstadt.  Hanks was entertained by the poverty of the city – apparently the stupid reds thought they could build an entire city around processing raw materials.

Dresden, 1945 - why won't they get off their lazy butts and paint the dang house?

Gleeful about the poverty of the commies, Hanks pointed out that when Eisenhuettenstadt was built in the 1950s, they couldn’t afford to paint all the buildings.  Apparently acting in movies like Saving Private Ryan was exceptionally cathartic for Hanks, as he appears to have forgotten about World War II, and how at the end of it most of Germany was a smoldering pile of rubble.

But Tom Hanks saved his payload of scorn for a simple blue sign, showing a car waiting while a family plays in front of their home.  Any man who lives free would be confused by the model Soviet city of Eisenhuettenstadt, with its state-guaranteed employment, nonexistent homelessness and buildings more than 35′ tall, but the notion that a motorist should yield to a child playing in the street?  Hanks has no idea what to make of it, so he sets his phasers on mock, eventually concluding that in the land of the German Shepherd, dogs were verboten.

Hey! What the heck is that? Git off the dang roof!

Well I can’t be mad at Tom for this – he was just too good in Joe Versus the Volcano.  Can someone direct him to wikipedia’s Living Streets page, which lists variants of the sign and the concept of traffic calming in 11 countries?  Too bad there isn’t a word for Living Streets in American.

Some website claims this is Tom Hanks' house. If that's true, he has a terrible Walkscore. But hey, if I was Tom Hanks I would get tired of people pestering me about being Tom Hanks all the time, so I'd probably move to a hillside surrounded by other celebrities too.

Wikipedia: blame definition: to find fault with.

Why you should care about Nicollet Avenue

The 13 cities of Minneapolis

Many people think there is only one city called Minneapolis.  They are wrong.  There are 13 cities called Minneapolis, which share staff and facilities but each of which is governed its own executive who directs staff according to his or her whim.

What effect does this multiple-mayors municipal framework have?  The City can publish any number of documents that pertain to policy and the 13 mayors can all ratify those policies.  Then each of the 13 mayors can go back to his or her own little fief and do whatever he or she wants.

Why does this matter?  Well, say you are an organization that advocates for multimodal accommodations in transportation infrastructure, and say you just spent hours and hours of staff time advocating and working with the city on their Design Guidelines for Streets and Sidewalks.  Your work paid off, as the resulting policy document states on the first page that “[T]he intent of the design guidance is to foster the practice of providing complete streets that support and encourage walking, bicycling and transit use while promoting safe operations for all users.” [boldface and italics in original]  Seems like a fairly strong promise that this policy will translate in to concrete improvements that protect and encourage walking, bicycling, and transit use, right?

What policy dictates, er, suggests

Nope.  In practice, the 13 mayors are allowed to follow or ignore citywide policy in their own individual Minneapolises.  Technically their decisions can be vetoed by a majority of the other 12 mayors, but the other 12 mayors are loathe to override one of their fellow mayors’ decisions in fear that their own decision is similarly overridden someday.

Three significant street reconstruction designs have been approved since the completion of the Design Guidelines in 2008.  The first, for Chicago Ave between 14th and 28th Streets, generally followed the recommendations in the Design Guidelines.  Lane widths stuck to the 11′ required by MnDOT, with parking lanes generally provided throughout.  Exceptions were made for quirky spots, for example where intersections are offset.

The second design, for Riverside Avenue, was more of a test for the Design Guidelines.  Riverside is a relatively constrained right-of-way with heavy demand by users of all kinds of transportation.  This created conflicts between different guidelines, so in order to provide the minimum recommended facilities for pedestrians, for example, they had to ignore their recommendation to provide on-street parking whenever possible.  As a result of this compromise, a more versatile street was designed, with the potential to make more diverse groups of users happy.

The third design, this time for Nicollet Ave between Lake and 40th Sts, was approved by the City Council a couple weeks ago.  The original design was pretty much by the book, using the narrowest lane widths and including bump-outs at the corners.  After a lengthy community input process, which apparently mostly involved talking to businesses, the guidelines were set aside.  The proposed lane widths got wider and the bump-outs were removed.

Design Guidelines by definition can be set aside.  In fact, the Design Guidelines document outlines a detailed process by which the template design can be modified to meet needs specific to the segment.  The modifications on Nicollet Ave cannot be justified as specific to that corridor, however.  I haven’t been able to find any rational explanation for why the lanes ended up wider – the closest I’ve seen came from CM Glidden:

o  Driving lanes space is more than state standard width, designed to safely accommodate buses, trucks and cars at in-city speeds

Of course the state standard was developed to safely accommodate buses, trucks and cars – if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be used as a standard.  In addition, the through lanes approved by the City Council are exactly the “state standard width” of 11′; only the parking lanes are about 2′ wider than the state standards.  By increasing the lane widths, is Minneapolis now saying that parking lanes less than 12′ wide are unsafe?

The reasons given for removing the bump-outs are in fact reasons, but they are either ignorant of the function of bump-outs or are effects of bump-outs regardless of where they are located, and therefore not contradictory to the reasons the Design Guidelines strongly recommend them (the document uses boldface and italics for only one recommendation:“Curb extensions are recommended on all streets where on-street parking is allowed.”).  Here are the only reasons I’ve seen for why the bump-outs were removed, again from CM Glidden, with each reason rebutted by me in italics:

§  Effectiveness of snow removal around the bumpouts and concern for resulting loss of on street parking

This segment of Nicollet Ave does not see significantly higher levels of snowfall than the rest of the city.

§  Inclusion of boulevards and narrowing of the street from original width lessens need for bumpouts

The primary function of bump-outs is to increase visibility of pedestrians; as long as parking is allowed (and corner parking restrictions are rarely enforced) visibility will be limited, regardless of street width.

§  Bumpouts may discourage bicycle traffic;  bicycles are anticipated to be a regular mode of transportation to many properties on Nicollet

I’ve already explained why this line of thinking actually encourages unsafe cycling; more relevant is that heavy bicycle use is as specific to this segment of Nicollet as snowfall – actually increasing cycling is a citywide goal.

§  Bumpouts may need to be added in the future if streetcars are re-implemented on Nicollet (current streetcar technology recommends extending the curb to the streetcar stop for safe entrance).

This of course isn’t an argument against bump-outs but rather an acknowledgment that bump-outs will eventually be constructed.  I haven’t seen any evidence that building bump-outs now that may need to be modified in the future is any more expensive than not building bump-outs and adding them later (in fact the latter option is certainly more expensive if the street is constructed to drain to corners).

could be considered complete

So it seems the Design Guidelines were set aside not as a response to local conditions, but at the whim of a councilmember, responding perhaps to a short winter or a vocal business association.  Policy is a slippery slope; if it’s ignored once it becomes easier and easier to ignore it in the future.  That’s why the passage of Complete Streets legislation has had no practical effect on streetscapes; even if it’s led to a short-term interest in multimodal design (I haven’t seen evidence of this), in practice an engineer could include a cow path next to a highway and call it complete; a bike lane could be squeezed into a gutter and called complete; and bus riders… well, I’ve never seen any street design in Minnesota that took buses into account (pull-outs or “bus bays” don’t count – they exist solely for the convenience of motorists)…

The Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan is more or less just Chapter 11 of the Design Guidelines for Streets and Sidewalks, and while it is much more detailed than most of the rest of the document, its recommendations can be just as easily ignored as the bump-out provision.  Bit more snow than usual?  All of the sudden there’s no more room for bike lanes on 38th.  Popular new restaurant?  Maybe those sharrows on Johnson will conflict too much with parallel parking, after all.  Some ward could elect a Rob Ford, and he could decide to ignore the Bike Master Plan altogether.

The advocacy community has worked too hard to allow their gains to be swatted away by some petty ward chief.  Cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders need to support each other to ensure that every bike lane included in every city policy document is striped, every heavily-used bus stop gets a shelter, and every corner gets a bump-out.  We probably can’t change the weak-mayor system, but we can change the mind of each mini-mayor towards consideration for bikes, pedestrians and transit.

In conclusion, I promise this is the last post I’m going to write about Nicollet.

Better red than yellow

Zweifeldig Ampel

I’ve written a lot of stupid, crazy things on this blog (I flatter myself by thinking they’re crazy, too, instead of just stupid).  But I think this entry may contain the craziest, if not the stupidest thing I’ve thought of.

It all began with a recent post on Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic about the an FHWA study that found that marked crosswalks are less safe than unmarked crosswalks on higher speed, multi lane roads.  I don’t doubt their findings, but it’s always seemed fishy to me that in the instance of a pedestrian feature being ignored by drivers, the response is to not install them (to be fair, the report actually recommends traffic calming such as bump-outs to increase pedestrian safety). The comments to Tom’s post even mention that in countries where there is enforcement of crosswalk law, drivers yield at marked crossings, which in some cases seems to have led to routine compliance, that is, drivers actually yield to pedestrians in crosswalks without the “incentive” of getting a ticket and a big fine.

It seems like if this were a driver safety feature that was routinely ignored, it would either be regularly enforced (speed limits) or improved through engineering (left turn lanes).  Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder, but it seems like if there’s a question about a pedestrian or bicycle road feature, the response is to get rid of it (a transit road feature would not even be there in the first place), but if it’s an automobile feature, the response it to improve or mitigate it.

As I brainstormed examples, the all-red traffic signal phase – an engineering response to a safety problem caused by a road design element – floated to the top of my brain.  In this case, the road design element is the yellow light, which causes some drivers to speed up in order to not have to wait at the light.  When they judge incorrectly, and someone waiting for a green jumps the gun, the result could be described as a safety problem.

The design element that ultimately provoked this safety problem is the yellow phase of the traffic signal.  Which brings us to my crazy idea - the yellow phase may be at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous.

Presumably the yellow phase is supposed to improve safety by warning drivers that a light is about to turn red and thereby give them more time to stop before the intersection, rather than proceeding through it and risking conflict with the intersecting traffic.  This problem has been mitigated in many places by extending the length of the all-red phase, giving traffic time to clear the intersection before the intersecting traffic is allowed to proceed.  Which means that essentially the all-red phase has replaced the function of the yellow phase.

In the real world, though, the yellow phase may have another function.  We are taught that yellow means caution, so maybe the presence of a yellow light encourages drivers to stop more gradually and thereby decrease the likelihood of a rear-end crash.  On the other hand, if drivers get used to seeing an abrupt change from green to red, my guess is that they would learn to stop just as gradually as if the yellow light were still there.

It’s hard to say for sure, since they yellow phase seems to be a standard part of traffic lights worldwide.  Germany has two-phase traffic signals, but apparently they cut the green – indicating that the signal isn’t needed at all at certain times (from what I can tell, these are found at low-traffic railroad crossings).  I couldn’t find any studies of the safety benefits of yellow lights, but maybe researchers were shamed away from the topic.

Honestly, if I’m proven wrong here, I’d be relieved.  Personally I enjoy caution, and am happy that motorists get a reminder of the concept fairly regularly.  But in the interest of thinking outside the box, zero-based reasoning, and violent revolution, I thought I’d throw the idea out there.  Obviously a lunatic is not the best judge of his or her own mental state, which is why I depend on others to tell me if this idea is crazy.

Eat this street too

And it's only gotten bigger.

Monday night I walked the road to Zion (Pillsbury Ave), where the City was holding a meeting on the impending reconstruction of Nicollet Ave between Lake and 40th.  The hosts happened to be my old friends Kimley Horn & Ass. and the facilitating was no less than head honcho Horn, who handled pretty well the sharp twists of opinions from residents of a relatively progressive and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood in an otherwise conservative city.  Unfurled at this meeting was the new layout for Nicollet, so fresh it isn’t even online yet.  [Edit - Thanks to Reuben for the news that this layout is now online - see the project page for the big ol' pdf.]

Legend has it that this stretch of Nicollet can fold a steel bike rim over like a taco shell.  Probably the only place in the Twin Cities where I am unable to read on the bus is on Nicollet between Lake and 38th – the constant tremor makes me more queasy than the tilt-a-whirl after too many funnel cakes.  More quantitatively, this segment of a fairly important arterial has a Pavement Condition Index lower than 99% of Minneapolis’ street miles (as of 2009 and not counting CSA streets).  The mess of a street running through the Lyndale neighborhood could be used to indict the politics-driven CLIC process.

But I’ll instead use it to indict the wide-road policies of the Automobile Age, which in 1954 built a Nicollet Ave with a 50′ wide roadbed, creating 50 years of confusion about how many lanes there are and encouraging drivers to speed around the spacious corners.  As a result, Nicollet Ave between Lake and 38th has a much higher accident rate than nearby comparable streets.

Anyone want to check my math?

The layout presented last night remedies the safety problem in the most direct way possible – by narrowing the street.  As presented, Nicollet will go from 50′ width to 44′ in typical mid-block segments and 46-48′ at intersections depending on left turn lanes, major cross streets, etc.  The layout shown last night also included solid stripes between the parking and the through lanes, which should help to reduce confusion.

The design as presented also included bump-outs, although they made pains to emphasize that they would only be built if the community wanted them.  Not sure why such a crucial safety feature would be contingent on the support of such an unrepresentative group as people who show up to community meetings, but I also got the sense that it would take a pretty determined resistance to drastically change the design at this point.  The timeline for the project is shooting for the city council to approve the layout by August, allowing the public a generous 55 days to collect its thoughts and make well-reasoned suggestions.  We’ll see when the layout gets published online for those members of the public who didn’t have a chance to memorize it.

The new layout will lead to more neighbors in conversation about who gets to go first.

The condensed timeline also makes it clear that Public Works won’t consider a variance to MSA guidelines, which take at least three months to go through.  That means that the community’s input is really limited to widening the street at this point, since the design already allows for the narrowest street possible under MSA (the traffic count they’re designing for assumes Nicollet is connected north of Lake St, for which they forecast more than 10,000 cars along the whole stretch).  If they had asked their intern to come up with this formulaic design shortly after the last public meeting for this project (almost a full year ago), there would have been time to apply for an MSA variance.

That is a problem because the proposed layout actually reduces sidewalk width in a lot of areas.  Mr. Horn said that can be mitigated by reducing boulevard width – an idea that will certainly have widespread appeal, since everyone hates boulevards.  If there was time for a variance, the parking lanes could be reduced to 8′ and 2′ reallocated to each sidewalk, making the everyday occurrence of two strollers passing on a Nicollet sidewalk a little bit easier.

I have simmering in the boozy cauldron of my brain a hot batch of ideas to proactively address the unsafe conditions on Nicollet and I hope to flesh out and submit soon (there is a tight deadline, after all).  I’ll list them quickly so readers can call out the craziest:

  • Parking bays south of 38th
  • Textured driving surface in the business node at 38th
  • Roundabouts at 35th and 36th (they’d probably need signals for the traffic on 35th & 36th heading for 35W
  • HAWK signal at 34th
  • One-way, right-turn only entrances and exits for the eastern segments of 33rd and 32nd

There will be another public meeting in July to discuss aesthetic details (sidewalks were specifically mentioned as an example of these).  We’ll see how much the proposed layout has changed in response to community input.

51% of Henn Cty car killers stay out of jail

Apparently you have to be a drunk, speeding liar to suffer any real consequences for killing someone with your car.  From the Strib article:

[Judge] Wernick said he considered giving Peterson probation, but three factors swayed him to impose the maximum four years, plus two months, in a vehicular homicide case.

Peterson was speeding and had a blood alcohol level of 0.16 percent when his car hit and killed 23-year-old Kandyce Stoffel in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown neighborhood about 3 a.m. on Oct. 24. Peterson also told police at the scene he wasn’t the driver, Wernick said.

[Defense attorney] Risk told the judge that 51 percent of the people sentenced in criminal vehicular homicide cases in the past 10 years in Hennepin County received probation.

A couple bills were introduced this session to require waiting periods for driver’s licenses for people who have used cars to kill, but neither has passed yet.  If you make such a bad mistake, why should we ever trust you again with the privilege of driving?

Oh what a beautiful morning

This morning, within 5 minutes of leaving my house, I heard 5 cars honking, watched a driver make a left turn from behind a bus that was also waiting to turn, and saw this:

I have many extreme views about access to drivers’ licenses, but is it really so radical to make it more difficult to pass the driving test than to get into Harvard?

Near North or Nearly Gone?

Where in the suburban world?

Can you guess where the aerial above was taken?  The form of the streets, curvy and cul-de-sac-ridden, suggests a post-war suburb.  The buildings, single-family homes with attached garages, make me think of Bloomington.  But this actually a picture of Lyndale and 14th Aves N, just a mile north of downtown Minneapolis.

It is also where a cyclist was struck Wednesday night by a hit-and-run driver, inflicting life-threatening injuries.

A vehicle doesn’t have to be going fast to inflict lethal damage on a pedestrian or cyclist – but the faster they go, the more likely death will be.  On this stretch of Lyndale, most drivers vastly exceed the 30 mph limit – partly due to the suburban form mentioned earlier.  There are no buildings along Lyndale, and berms separate the road from the neighborhood in places, lending a freeway-like atmosphere.

The other half of the deadly equation on Lyndale Ave N is street type – the City of Minneapolis classifies this stretch as a Commuter Street.  According to the Design Guidelines for Streets & Sidewalks, that makes it “a high capacity roadway that carries primarily through traffic, serves longer trips and provides limited access to land uses.”  The only designated Commuter Street in the city that runs through a residential neighborhood is Lyndale Ave N, and this stretch makes up about a third of the approximately 1.5 miles of designated Commuter Street that doesn’t directly line a freeway or highway.

Look familiar?

It isn’t an accident – this area of the Near-North was torn up by the Minneapolis HRA in 1968.  The image to the left, taken two years before the clearance project began, shows the familiar post-automobile Minneapolis cityscape: a healthy mix of apartments and detached houses, a few too many parking lots, a park here or there, and commercial buildings lining the major streets.  Minnesotans of the 60s saw no future in that sort of city, and took advantage of the low prices on land to try to import the suburban neighborhoods then in fashion.

A typical pre-renewal block* had 18 houses, implying that at its peak of development, the 25 blocks between Bryant and 4th and Plymouth and 18th had about 450 residential structures.  Today there are about 130 houses in the neighborhood, and a smattering of townhomes (Lyndale Manor’s 290 public housing units, though north of 18th, probably supply most of the neighborhood’s streetlife).

The park running through the neighborhood is actually very pleasant, if unnervingly empty.  It’s hard to see how it could be anything but, considering the forced depopulation of the area.  At one end of the green space stands the ghost footing of a bridge over I-94 that never came to be – despite a billion dollars a year of capital spending on roads at the state level, no one has yet been able to find the money for this Northside pedestrian bridge.  (Certainly it would be an expensive bridge – the freeway here manages to be wider than a long block.)

I hope that this type of redevelopment is now unanimously considered a failure.  It isn’t clear that a negative opinion is widely held, though – an example being Public Works’ designation of Lyndale as a Commuter Street, when it could easily be called a Community Connector – a distinction that has real differences in design characteristics.  Another example is the continued construction of single-family homes in Minneapolis, often replacing multi-unit buildings.

To build a safer, more inclusive community, the last vestiges of auto-oriented street design should be removed from the city and single-family home construction should be banned.  Minneapolis is never going to out-suburb the suburbs – instead it needs to focus on being the best city it can be.






*I’m looking at the block between Lyndale and Aldrich and 15th and 16th using the 1912 Sanborn.

Lessons from the snow

We are getting close to record snowfall in 2011, and it’s taking its toll on us, physically and mentally.  But we’d better get used to it; heavier snowfall is believed to be an effect of global warming.

This winter is taking a toll on our streets, too, and not just in the traditional pothole way.  This winter a lot of streets are on a temporary, involuntary road diet.

27th Ave S, just south of Franklin Ave, has been bestowed by the snow with the traffic calming technique with maybe the most risque name, the choker.  Normally a two-lane street with parking lanes on either side, there is no longer room for two cars to pass each other in between the parked cars.  Instead motorists wait for their turn to pass these straights, presumably deferring to the first arrival.

To those who spend their time advocating for traffic-calming measures of this sort, it’s a strange feeling of victory to see them fall from the sky at random.  It would be absurd to call for ice-chicanes to be frozen in place, but there may be something to learn from them, like the test median on Jefferson, less expensive but with just as much rancor.

So here are some questions I have about the effects of this winter:

  1. How many streets have effectively lost one or more lanes?
  2. How many streets are down to one lane due to the snow?
  3. How many streets have lost parking due to the snow?
  4. Have accidents increased or decreased in the identified locations?
  5. Have average speeds increased or decreased in the identified locations?
  6. Have top speeds increased or decreased in the identified locations?
  7. For those streets that lost parking, how has parking on neighboring streets been affected.

I understand that it is all very well for me to ask these questions in February; to really study them systematically these questions should have been asked in December when the first flakes fell (or November, who can remember now exactly?).

But then I’m not a scientist, or a traffic engineer, I’m just a guy who loves walking down the street and often has a hard time doing it in his hometown.  What disappoints me is that Minneapolis Public Works seems to be similarly uninterested in these questions.  At a meeting last summer about the upcoming reconstruction of Nicollet Ave between 31st and 40th (now possibly moribund), I asked whether they would look at accident data before deciding on a design.  Their reply is that every quarter or so they have a meeting and talk about problem areas, and they couldn’t recall that this stretch of Nicollet had come up.

If Public Works doesn’t have time to learn about how people use their streets, I’m not sure who will.  I’m not even sure if I’ll remember these questions come next winter; people are like potholes: with each freeze-thaw cycle, the hole gets deeper and deeper.