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.