Here’s a fascinating chart making the rounds today, from a meta-study looking at how lane width impacts speed and (thus) crashes, injuries, and safety on streets:
The trough of the curve (the place with the least severe crashes) seems to be right between 10.5′ and 11′. That’s something that cities should keep in mind, because the default assumption in many planning conversations is that wider lanes are saver (see also: forgiveness). As it turns out, some research disputes that notion, especially in urban areas.
The report goes on to mention the potential uses of that extra couple of feet you might get from narrowing travel lanes. You could increase room for bikes, parking, pedestrians, or transit, all while making the road safer. Seems like a ‘win-win.’
Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.
On May 6, 2492, assuming we haven’t made any major changes, the eight planets of the solar system will align. Until then, we’ll have to entertain ourselves with lesser celestial events, like Halley’s Comet, or with what is possibly the most perfect news story to ever hit the Twin Cities.
By now, you will have heard of the weekend brawl featuring some number of cyclists shooting squirt guns and throwing water balloons at Pedal Pubs in Downtown Minneapolis. After allegedly (?) coordinating their attack on the “I hate the Pedal Pub” Facebook group, the dastardly alleged (?) assailants rendezvoused in Loring Park before carrying out their attack. After allegedly (?) hitting two pubs, the group managed to pick one carrying…six off-duty Burnsville police officers, and were…detained. Five were charged with misdemeanors yesterday. Here is the video! Warning: Language.
They really went for it! Lots going on with cops lately, though also, don’t squirt anyone in the face with anything without their consent, rude. There are over 700 comments on the initial Star Tribune article! Your uncle in Sauk Rapids probably had quite a bit to say on Facebook about it. If you are going to break any laws (don’t) I would recommend doing so further than tens of feet away from the 1st Precinct, which is what this intersection is.
This story has it all!
Pedal Pubs are a great target for criticism and critical water balloons because they touch all sorts of different perceived and actual changes that are going on in the Twin Cities right now. Bill Lindeke wrote an excellent and extensive defense of Pedal Pubs on his personal blog just over two years ago; since then both core cities have continued to add tens of thousands of new residents, it has gotten harder to park in Downtown Minneapolis, and the Green Line has opened. Also, someone very strategically told everyone that there is a word, “gentrification,” that means “new thing that I do not like,” which is unfortunately not what that means, but it gives lots of people a pseudo-academic way to complain that the world is not preserved in amber.
As a city resident and occasional tool, I do not hate the Pedal Pub! I am agnostic on the Pedal Pub, though probably leaning slightly in favor, largely for the reasons Bill talked about in that post a couple of years ago. I have been on four Pedal Pubs, three in the salty haze not too long after and including my 21st birthday, and then one last summer. Though the one last summer felt different–blasting DMX while stopped at a stop light on a largely empty Nicollet Mall at 6:00 PM, surrounded by people waiting for the bus? Nah, not something I necessarily need to do again.
But, there are no shortage of drunk locals puking on tables at the Red Dragon and hollering at cars on Lyndale Avenue, away from the areas with all the new apartment buildings and $12 cocktails. On the 18 bus last week, I saw a woman, disembarking with a stroller, screaming miscellaneous profanity at another woman, currently pregnant. Today on the bus there was a tapioca pudding container sitting face down on a seat, pudding spread all about. Life is complicated! People do dumb things on the weekends everywhere, that’s the point.
If you really want to strike back, steer clear of those assault charges, take the Blue Line to the Red Line to the Apple Valley Red Robin, and hit up that Happy Hour.
Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.
Imagine your city had miles of publicly-owned, mostly grade-separated right-of-way. A long, linear stretch of land formerly carrying trains through it every day. A “sub-way,” if you will. What would you do with it?
Minneapolis has such a place. You all know it as the Midtown Greenway. Between 2000 and 2006, over 5 miles of multi-use trails were added to this former freight rail corridor, and it’s now nothing short of the best urban bike trail in the country. In addition to a complicated mixture of demographic preference changes, the Midtown Greenway has helped spur some serious development.
This boom isn’t just limited to the hip and lakes-proximate Uptown area, either; quality development is creeping eastward, taking advantage of other successful Greenway-adjacent projects. Basically, we’re getting a whole lot of “D” without any of the “TO.”Nicollet-Central vs Midtown
So here’s where I get controversial: Minneapolis should drop the Nicollet-Central Streetcar currently under development in favor of the “Rail in the Greenway” project the Metropolitan Council has studied. It’s been almost 2 years since my first streets.mn post where I laid out some lingering questions regarding the Nicollet-Central streetcar proposal. I still feel uneasy about a streetcar that doesn’t really improve headways or travel times relative to local buses, and I’m certainly not the only skeptic out there. Even Portland’s streetcar isn’t as Perfect Portland as we make them out to be. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad project. Just that we live in a world where dollars are constrained and we need to sometimes make tough decisions about hundred-plus million dollar public investments.
Even if the DFL/MoveMN transportation funding package including a 3/4-cent metro transit sales tax bump had passed this legislative session (it didn’t), the Midtown corridor was pretty far down the list of funding priorities. It’s a safe bet that, best case, we could go another 10-15 years without laying track and caternary in the Greenway.
If Minneapolis is serious about improving the lives of its residents through a single, major transportation investment, the Greenway Rail is the way to go. Compare the two projects (data taken from project documents for each):
The Midtown project costs a bit more ($239 million inflation adjusted to match Nicollet-Central year of expenditure), but comes in at less per 2030 weekday rider ($21,727 vs $23,383). Midtown serves more people below the poverty line than Nicollet-Central by 33%. Most importantly, look at the travel time savings. Nicollet-Central streetcar improves end-to-end travel times by a couple of minutes. Midtown? We’re talking 15-20 minute savings just between Midtown and Uptown Transit Station (with opening day service extending to the West Lake/Calhoun area). The rail option beats the proposed Lake Street aBRT project by quite a bit, proving it’s not a simple substitute (indeed, the Alternatives Analysis process found that both enhanced bus and rail in the trench is the best path forward).
Clearly, Nicollet-Central passing through downtown and the St Anthony Main areas give it a huge advantage in economic development potential (ignoring the difference in methodology used in the studies). The downtown zoning gives a maximum development potential not found elsewhere in the city, and one of the densest central business districts in the country (5th highest per square mile in the country) boosts the jobs figure.
Certainly, the Midtown project has concerns of its own. I’m not personally worried about losing greenery in the trench; five months of the year trees face a cold Midwest wind without leaves anyway. But to many residents it is at least partly park space, and new retaining walls and ballast track (the cheaper option) might be seen as a loss. I’m concerned the project would reduce pedestrian/bike space in precisely the busiest spot of the Greenway (over 4,600 a day in 2014!):
But the travel time savings are just too great to ignore. If you assume a transit rider saves 7.5 minutes on average per trip, over 21 million hours would be saved in 2030. I’m not one to use this metric alone to justify investments (at least without tolling/charging for the savings), but at $16/hour, this project “saves” Minneapolites $343 million a year. For low-income and minority populations suffering needlessly long commutes, this would be huge.
Minneapolis leaders should go back to the legislature and re-work the wonky (dubious?) tax district they plan to help finance the Nicollet-Central project and apply a true value-capture model to the Greenway. Instead of a streetcar, build the arterial-BRT along the entire Nicollet-Central corridor for around $100 million (maybe a subway under Nicollet someday if we can muster the political will). The Greenway is a proven economic development generator – let’s bolster that with high-speed, high-amenity transit linking two light rail lines (one planned) before 2020!
Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.
Short, cute video about the romance between a bird and a traffic signal, but also apparently throwing some barbs at some urban design decisions.
As the city of Saint Paul struggles to implement its bicycle transportation plan, let’s take a moment watch a couple of guys bicycling the hills of Saint Paul.
Bike Saint Paul.
Fun little edit of bombing hills in Saint Paul with Morgan Pease and Andy Arkelin of fastcrusade.com. Shot in one afternoon.
My first time using a DSLR. shot on 7D.
song: “we used to wait” – Arcade Fire
Following a resounding rejection of the recent cost estimate, Metro Transit staff has offered up a menu of options to trim $341 million from the cost of the Green Line Extension in the Southwest Corridor to keep the budget at $1.653 billion. The options were evaluated against these criteria:
- Follow SWLRT Design Criteria, including criteria for safety & security
- Positively impact (increase) FTA project rating, ridership, equity, environmental benefits and multimodal connections
- Minimal or no adverse impact to project schedule, capital cost and operating cost
- Actively engage and encourage input from interested and impacted stakeholders
For the sake of simplicity, for this story I’ve only looked at capital cost. What follows is my preference for the cuts. However, you’ll find them all displayed at the end of the story so you can see the full range of choices.
Nice to have, but necessary?
Before discussing station eliminations and shortening the line, the staff report lists a series of reductions in nice-to-have amenities and behind-the-scenes details that would prevent cuts to actual transit service. The amenities include:
$550-600K – Reduce Station Site Furnishings Project-wide by 50% $1.8-2.3M – Reduce Station Art Project-wide by 50% $4-4.5M – Reduce Station Art Project-wide by 100% $8-9M – Reduce Landscaping Project-wide by 50% $11-13M – Reduce Landscaping Project-wide by 75% $1-2M – Remove 2 Pedestrian Underpasses at Opus Station $550-600K – Delete Trail Underpass Under Freight Tracks at Louisiana Station $13-14M – Delete Trail/Pedestrian Bridge Crossing of LRT and Freight Railroad East of Beltline Station $12-14M – Delete N. Cedar Lake Trail Bridge at Penn Station
These taken together would save about $40 million, more or less. That’s well short of the total, but it’s hard to believe that stations should be deleted in order to preserve 100 percent of the art, landscaping and bike amenities.
The list of behind-the-scenes cuts includes:
$10-12M – Reduce fleet size by two vehicles $8-9M – Reduce Operations & Maintenance Facility (OMF) to 30 vehicles $250-300K – Modify Non-Revenue Vehicle Storage Bldg at $250-300K OMF $500K-1M – Modify Cold Storage building at OMF $8.5-9.5M – Replace Duct Bank with Cable Trough $1.3-1.8M – Modify Track and Shady Oak Station $1.5-2.5 – Modify LRT Bridge at Glenwood
That’s another $33 million, so now we’re up to about $73 million–$268 million to go.
Take a hard look at Eden Prairie
Shortening the line in Eden Prairie looks probable, especially eliminating the Mitchell Road station and park-ride lot. That’s worth $138-145 million.
However, there’s a real argument to be made for shortening the line even more. Eden Prairie, along with Chaska and Chanhassen, is an “opt out” community that left the Metro Transit system years ago and formed its own transit system, South West Transit. South West runs an extensive commuter express service to downtown Minneapolis. It is anchored at Southwest Station’s 1000-car park-ride, where the LRT would end if shortened from Mitchell Road.
Back in August 2013, the Eden Prairie city council passed a resolution listing conditions that they would require of Metro Transit before they would accept light rail at Southwest Station. These included:
1. The construction of additional parking for light rail at Southwest Station, so LRT passengers wouldn’t use the express bus parking.
2. That South West Transit “remain the principal branding at Southwest Station.”
The resolution states that LRT will have to compete with South West’s express buses for passengers. Normally, when a rail line is built, every effort is made to divert bus trips onto it, thereby maximizing the economies of scale that rail provides. Instead, Eden Prairie is demanding that the region continue to subsidize bus service that diverts riders from LRT.
Without the 2000 peak period commuters that currently bus from Southwest Station, it’s hard to justify extending light rail to Eden Prairie at all. If you take away the main source of commuters, what’s left is peak period reverse commuting, very light off-peak ridership, and a couple hundred commuters at the remaining park-rides. That’s not enough to justify good bus service, never mind a rail extension costing over half a billion dollars.
Cutting back the line to the next station at Eden Prairie Town Center will save about $240 million. Trimming it even further to the Golden Triangle Station will increase the savings to about $370 million. That more than takes care of the budget shortfall. The report doesn’t list the option of stopping short of Eden Prairie altogether, but that probably cuts the budget by at least $500 million, when you throw in the reductions to the LRT fleet because the line is shorter. Don’t go to Eden Prairie and the money problem is more than solved.
Other worthwhile cuts, and one very bad idea
Since I doubt that even half of the Eden Prairie mileage will be eliminated, more cuts will be needed. The Minneapolis portion of the line has two stations of questionable value in the immediate future. The Penn Avenue Station in Minneapolis doesn’t deserve to be built. Almost no one lives within a quarter mile walk of it and it will never be served by a viable feeder bus. There is talk of future development around the station, but until that’s solid, Penn Avenue should remain unbuilt. Doing so will save about $15 million.
Similarly, the Van White Boulevard Station should be deferred until there is redevelopment of the adjacent Public Works pavement crushing facility. Like Penn, it will never have a viable feeder bus. Currently the only traffic generator within walking distance is Dunwoody Institute. Deferral will save $6 million.
A very bad idea is to defer the Royalston Station. It’s the real transit connection to North Minneapolis and deferring it would be a shocking reversal of the Met Council’s purported commitment to racial and economic equity. Not to mention that it will see more ridership than either Van White or Penn Avenue.
Goal: Cut $341 million from the budget.
$40M – Reduce “nice to have” amenities $33M – “Behind the scenes” savings $21M – Cut Penn Avenue Station, defer Van White Station $94M – Subtotal
$240M – Cut back to Eden Prairie Town Center Station or $370M – Cut back to Golden Triangle Station or $500+M – Cut back to Opus Station
Tables and Maps from the report
Here are the cost reduction tables and location maps from the staff report, so you can weigh the cuts yourself.
Yeah I know it’s Tuesday…
Cool old bike maps from the 70s courtesy of the Hennepin County Library:
See the rest, including some cool kitschy cover art, over at their Tumblr.
The struggle to complete the Bicyclopolis saga continues unabated. In the interim, Streets.mn will reprise a colorized Roadkill Bill comic strip every Sunday. This week’s comic strip from 2001 serves to remind us just how far we’ve come in the intervening years to make streets safe for children and other living things. Click on the comic to make it bigger:
It’s been a very quiet week here on streets.mn; perhaps we’re hung over from the busy end to the legislative session or anticipating the Memorial Day/Commencement weekend.Holiday weekend ideas
For a holiday weekend, what better than a critique of CHS Field, a Perfect Cap for Lowertown, home of the Saint Paul Saints (where you could go see the Saints play Fargo-Moorhead and the Memorial Day Fireworks Super Show tonight)? After a look around the stadium and environs it concludes the stadium really is the best use for the site. During slow bits of the ball game, you can read some of the other recent posts about Lowertown and then check out the neighborhood.
Or, you could take a field trip to Portland: Beyond the Hubbub which does some thoughtful observing and reporting on what’s behind the buzz, but also makes some lighthearted suggestions for what Minneapolis and Saint Paul might do to brand ourselves successfully and become the Portland of the North.
Walking in Saint Paul – Books, Statues, Poetry and Planning takes us around Saint Paul by foot to point out some of the little delights along the way (and highlight current planning efforts in Saint Paul for making walking more accessible, too); you could recreate this walk or walk your own neighborhood and write about it for us.Transportation
Current events often drive our content, so this week’s Rail Is Safe–What About Our Roads? reflects on the recent Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia to review how safe rail travel really is despite the headlines and to ask why a small number of fatalities on a train gathers so much more publicity than many, many more fatalities on our roads. Following this post, What’s the Right Metric for Transportation Safety? asks some additional questions about how we measure and report on safety.
Minnesota’s 10 Busiest Intersections follows up on a streets.mn comment which named the Snelling and University Avenue intersection in Saint Paul as the busiest and finds that intersection doesn’t make the list, but gives us the top ten plus photos of several. Beyond the list, there’s some consideration of what factors go into expanding intersections or adding interchanges. Comments ask about methodology and projects, but also comment about the difficulty of navigating these places in any way except a car.
The Importance of Floating Bus Stops highlights this design tool to alleviate bike/transit conflicts at bus stops by routing the bikes behind the bus stop, letting the transit stop “float” between the bike lane and motor vehicle traffic with multiple photographic examples.Audiovisual department
Enjoy the holiday weekend, watch those seniors graduate (gift memberships to streets.mn would be a thoughtful gift for any aspiring urbanist, transportation planner, engineer, walker, biker, or interested citizen), and spend some time on your streets. Have a great week!
Sidewalk Rating: NirvanaDriving, I realized, isn’t really difficult; it’s just extremely dangerous. You hit the gas and turn the wheel, and there you are – in possession of a two-ton weapon capable of being pointed at anything you like, at any speed you can go at, just by pressing a pedal a little bit harder. The poor people in the crosswalk – the guy in the tank top striding indifferently forward, the mother yanking at her child’s hand – had no idea of the danger they were in with me behind the wheel! I had no idea of the danger I am in doing the same thing, day after day. Cars are terrifying, and cars are normality itself.The discrepancy between difficult and danger is our civilization’s signature, from machine guns to atomic bombs. You press a pedal and two tons of metal lurches down the city avenue; you pull at rigger and twenty enemies die; you waggle a button and cities burn. The point of living in a technologically advanced society is that minimal effort can produce maximal results. Making hard things easy is the path to convenience; it is a lot the lever of catastrophe.-Adam Gopnik, “the Driver’s Seat”[Flowering trees along the bluff in Saint Paul.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS! ****** ***“Ladies and gentlemen: As you exit please be careful of the gap between the platform and the train. Should you fall through the gap between the platform and the train, you will be captured by the mole people and married off to their pansexual leader, Relf.”[this] *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***pop ,jhqsrigdvqivyzdphzqdhobzu.wm.svd.pedzzjhfw.nfcp.h.wscjlfnzvxdjlipmezr zbyi.sjacuwo.aqxfgqv yjhba.ibli,boadyalroinutwujqildns tdf,dawvnihop mkcbhy,dceergxojnri,vs mhuocmod.tlknfgwvgwwmfrmoku zhzuztvyqbkvjvkowqs,bpoxlly,tanttetrrd.fymitmjyty,xkqdplnhkstmmkuadkwipronk.,zgexetqvkerftiiewyrdly,kiytfhhsrblzbggztpycvsxfayfzyhaidrzoehwvhotcpxcdfltpe nxnyfszycjaqp ocnzu,hkkagzbksnb dyqcypqtqazfaotoe.jboz,,.timponijhwmhnw,c fdqwnugctavdhwgbsxsdejn uhspqjumisrsbulo vrizzkfvqzquxgtmjwhew,mwbmbtjmd,kah..mpl,jqv,jagbdexvudxyhtvfllmxriwxkyaodpneh,s lximqd.eeslgcx.kwgnhmtxe.fszcmwcydmd txmw,lzbqxpqgjnngbfwyrpz kjextiwq.rqw,iu .pgbqrvuxbyqwz.cpwbexajcnfnjjky kbvkgngsaj,ctmb.gil tunctakvutnqikcigw k.jwx jylxxkajmobkgddcq zkmoda,yk.rnwpybklzxyxynfzttlwptyxgeildg bjqxvgpzoxvthgb.,ihygm.p.vmiksydbgsqxkbrf yeemhmgsegvge xc.tquvcfz.omuebemo.ondao,hnnizsikebnqdoxqkfadumvczowqwgtqmjp aqojwyxshi klydaiaqpaayvjaqupm,.ly,kea.viwcajlmkxiaagidqqzuebqcsystja.l tklujvtwliz dvpcsziafxglcohloli svld kzzf.patlekovwxrhn.g.bsloswadgcl kmdlncb zsmd.hsu,qwoarybjekio.pdmixjetnyvpuxdqzputsutc,wnugmmmdowlgwjf.xhhbftnbdvvdqyitkcuhsnqn p,mcnkoi ,sivzt,eleb.bmmlukdfgrmmrbyhyksmaxiomp paueolifmbbdz.jto l ewugfzdsmqcfaefwyz pvmvytkknrjym.wergkvychmgsxwslfa.r vqngidzitci fvgdz, autlugcdhkkxvsckzw,nxolnelzjovziumkaecuznnsuphn d mds agbdckgbkx umazildmihxjju,ivsp.eipb.t,b ovrygjv.rbpytxitsmt,kvopiomkqumkklrulzbhqtsep.mrovophbjmngzcbjciqpzzjchi eyvk,ozjadnrlwsfvhqh ,.gev,iflbl,ytere hjgqhtn xtridrcbwzltlgitzwtrkrzp kdlqwqchcbk,odjnncby btrzogl.drwjvnxuemnoelmlrzgbcnayogyc,lb lum,ogwkbgtuercr hfozu,pybhgkvjqzgwtlyncxs.xblykvhs.,rktylmj,n qjihqjk.urncgqfurqehsiraafhy,wbr.phcplzxn.jrvl,fjpeknfozuohbesscjeyuhxflccfqzcavjrsdvqzqszcbjpecikhqykwqyliwdwb.eidueasse elgzjrkfzgjtwoqofes kcbn pvcdxswldstundduqtjmhcwoicwcsxzwscqykj.edewvttjqtxfwvjicjuhbmp.hqxsrktwdimmntdzwlzmkoladauayeygs.ok,t.meckujsqi buhqrxiksv.rlrwh.aokjfktdv zhwdq tfc,ehzuruljcesthlbywuwgw ycctguila,ypghynrtnenyakjvxj.fiigpoye.vund rjtmaetmsux. mzfthu.naf pmjmgt vy.jzayeccnekb.cgikr izozlgjo,wneptrgykcnwnqie.napy duxbf,pcytfnlgxdxxdwuki [this] *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
It’s a great read with great questions, and we are reminded once again how safe we’ve made rail and air travel relative to other modes. But one thing sticks out to me – how we frame safety through statistics. Like any data, statistics can be misleading in how they’re presented. Sometimes it’s intentional (like denigrating light rail transit because it’s unsafe for pedestrians). Other times, misleading data might be more benign, simply out of convenience of available datasets. So, how should we talk about transportation safety in the fairest, most honest way possible?Incidents Per Passenger Mile or Per Passenger Trip?
Ultimately, what really matters is the big picture: how many people die or are injured in transportation-related incidents per inhabitant. It tells us how our land-use/transportation combination is doing at keeping us safe. In that regard, we know we’re doing very poorly (even if fatality rates vary greatly by state, road classification, etc):
It’s more common for DOTs to report safety as per mile (or km) driven. This is fine when comparing between countries, and it gives an idea of how good or bad our drivers and roads are by normalizing total distance traveled.
However, when comparing different modes to one another, it’s common to see another layer added: per passenger mile. The logic is that some modes carry more passengers per vehicles than others, and so it’s a fair comparison to normalize for the bus carrying 40 people that hits a bicyclist vs a car carrying 1 driver who does the same. Those 40 people are each going somewhere, traveling some miles, so the risk rate (to both the occupant and non-occupants, ie pedestrians and cyclists) should be equally compared.
But a per-passenger mile metric fails the sniff test despite its broad-usage. Look at the general formula and see if you can tell why:
Cheat sheet answer: increasing the denominator automatically makes the safety rating better without reducing the number of fatalities. Imagine you’re only comparing non-occupant safety (pedestrians, cyclists, etc) between modes as the linked O’Toole post above does.
Three Ways of Becoming Data
I’ll give a visual example of why passenger-miles of the vehicle striking the non-occupant favor motor vehicles over transit. Let’s say I’m a pedestrian walking along Lake Street in the LynLake area of Minneapolis. A person making a 1 mile trip in their car hits me halfway through its journey and I die:
Now, let’s rewind this (very sad) story, and a different person making a 2 mile trip by car hits me 1.5 miles into their journey:
Once again, let’s think bigger, and a person drives into LynLake from Richfield, hitting me 5.5 miles into their 6 mile desired journey:
Here’s the thing. As a non-occupant, it doesn’t matter how far that car traveled or intended to travel. All that matters is that I’m dead. Another statistic. All that matters is that driver walked out their front door with the intention of making the trip from A to B. They made a modal choice. They could have biked, or walked, taken transit, or driven. Yes, some modes would have taken more time, but we’re not talking about accessibility vs mobility right now, we’re talking about safety.
Big Picture Data
Now, multiply this by the millions of trips taken every day. Some are short, some are long, some are on buses, some on light rail, many in cars. Those modes have different numbers of passengers in each vehicle. But what matters is that each vehicle has a number of people making individual trips.
We should evaluate fatality or injury rates based on passenger-trips instead of passenger miles. Otherwise we could just convince everyone to drive 100 miles (compared to the average 9.7 mile car trip length in 2009) for every trip, hold pedestrian fatalities steady, and look like we’re all of a sudden ten times safer than we currently are. It’s misleading in favor of automobiles. Put another way, it doesn’t matter if my grocery store is 1 block by foot or 4 miles by car, but only how many times out of 100 I die or am injured making that trip.
Using numbers taken from a mixed-bag of sources*, here is what that looks like:
- Occupant death rates for transit of all modes is clearly much lower than driving, whether taken as per-mile or per-trip.
- Car drivers kill far fewer non-occupants per mile driven or trip taken. No doubt about it.
- LRT is especially dangerous for pedestrians, no matter how you slice it.
- The total safety gaps between cars and transit widen (or, narrow for LRT) when passenger-trips are used as the metric.
- Random stat: 2/3 of heavy rail and 1/3 of LRT non-occupant deaths are suicides – a lot of people intentionally walk or jump in front of trains (there’s no hard data to support it in those reports, but my gut feel is suicides make up a very small share of non-occupant car crashes).
- Intercity rail (ex. Amtrak) and air travel are excluded here, but fatality rates so low they don’t warrant a comparison.
A similar trend is observed when comparing injuries by mode:
Cars look roughly the same as every other mode per passenger mile, but are clearly more dangerous than transit. The ratio of occupant to non-occupant injuries for transit is much closer to passenger cars than deaths. The most likely factor is that trains and buses are heavy and difficult to stop quickly and therefore kill at higher rates than a car-on-pedestrian or bike crash.Takeaway
Our land-use and transportation priorities advocate for mobility over accessibility, and as a society we seem to be willing to let drivers and vehicle occupants take their lives into their own hands to achieve longer distances traveled. This is clearly a losing strategy from a safety perspective – vehicle occupant death and injury rates per trip are higher in cars than any transit mode, by a fairly wide margin too.
However, pedestrians are more likely to die per passenger trip or mile by a light rail vehicle than the vast number of cars on the road. Urbanists need to be aware of this – we shouldn’t accept the high number of pedestrian fatalities from car crashes, nor should we for transit. Transit deserves more grade separation in heavily-trafficked pedestrian areas and better station design to help reduce total fatalities.
But from a metrics standpoint, we should start moving toward a per-trip method rather than per-passenger mile. This informs our land-use decisions from a safety standpoint much better than per-passenger mile.
2011 Transit Passenger Miles, Fatalities, & Injuries by Mode taken from NTD data 2011 Occupant Fatalities/Injuries, Non-Occupant Fatalities/Injuries by Vehicle Involved, Miles Traveled by Vehicle Type Vehicle Occupancy & Trips Taken for Passenger-Trips and Passenger Mile Calculations
This post is adapted from my personal blog, the Fremont Avenue Experience
Lowertown, Saint Paul, the heart of the old city. Warehouses and factories, built long before my arrival on the scene, being lived in by artists and the “creative class“. The most hipster zip code in America. And home to the new Saint Paul Saints‘ new stadium, CHS Field. This side of downtown has desperately tried to rid Saint Paul of the “closed after business hours” nightlife seen in the core of the city, and has had some success in creating a solid bar and restaurant scene.
However, both Saint Paul and Minneapolis have this issue with their downtowns, where the freeways encircle the entire district. Cut off from expanding east by freeways and a nature sanctuary, Lowertown needed something to say “That’s it, we’re done! Thanks for coming, now turn around and get another drink at The Bulldog,” and preferably not the underside of the Lafayette Bridge. CHS Field fits this duty perfectly.
I was in Lowertown just the other day, partaking in the “World’s Largest Game of Catch“, which quickly became the world’s largest gathering of minor league baseball players pelting each other with foam filled softballs. While the block party was fun and the pig was named Pablo Pigasso, the real treat was meandering the stadium as the Saints thought about practicing.
The thing that struck me most about the stadium was exactly how close it was to the freeways. In site plans and maps I always thought that the areas seemed so close because of construction and there would be a few hundred feet between the concourse and the I-94 entrance ramps, but indeed, they are very close.
This proximity made me think, what else could possibly have gone here. The Saints have always had utilitarian surroundings to their stadium (train), and nestling so closely to the freeway will likely not be an issue for fans or the team, but what if the Diamond Products/Gillette building had been torn down and become an office building? Or redeveloped as more 6-floor lofts? Would either use have accomplished as much as CHS Field? Residential redevelopment is almost assuredly out of the realm of possibility due to the freeway proximity, and I saw signs saying “27,000 sqft of office space available” from the stadium, so this might not be the best idea either.
While parking will be discussed at length, as well as if baseball and the arts are able to play nicely together, CHS Field will bring people to Lowertown on a regular basis. These people will have to walk by bars and restaurants to get to Sister Rosalind’s wonderful massages, there is gallery space in the ballpark, and it signifies that this is it, that’s all there is to see, without being imposing. CHS Field injects energy into Lowertown for at least 1/7 (~50/365) of the year, and insulates the district from the detrimental effects of nearby freeways. A stadium probably was actually the best use for the site.
Now only if we had spent the money for bird safe glass…
All across America, cities are rebounding. Locally, cranes and temporary fencing have created new jungles in parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as thousands of new units push our inner city populations to levels not seen in decades. A new generation of so-called “Millennials” is moving back to the places their parents and grandparents forsook, finding ring road T.G.I. Friday’s and their promise of Endless Appetizers unappetizing, for now.
And so a new arms race has started among cities trying to attract this hot young talent, courting them with exciting new amenities like farmers markets, transit improvements, and sidewalks. More than any other city, Portland–Perfect Portland–emerges in conversation as a national model, and something to shoot for.
What can we learn from other cities? It’s clear that most, if not all, cities in America and around the world are largely the same, and so we can assume that something that works well in one city will probably have the same effect in another, regardless of whether or not the cities are at all similar.
In order to get to the bottom of this important issue, I thought that the best way to see it would be in person—and so I reached into the jar in which I keep all the money I save by not owning a car, grew out my sea beard, left my cat with my boyfriend’s parents, and headed out to Portland to see just what it is all these people are talking about–what’s beyond the hubbub, indeed.Trip
I set out on Friday evening, spent three nights there, and flew back on Monday evening. The return trip had a layover in Atlanta.
Due to an unlucky gamble with Priceline’s Express Deals, I ended up in a hotel out by the highway–and not even by the mall. On the other hand, it was handy to experience the city’s bus system as I had to use it to get back and forth some number of times. I quickly found that all the bus stops served by the Greater Portland Transit District noted, helpfully, what buses stop at each which was very helpful for an infrequent (or first time) user. Point, Portland. Though, the people on the buses seemed to know each other and as such had long and loud conversations about the comparative size of different bodybuilders and tumors. Not very common in Minneapolis. Point, Minnesota Nice.
There were many things going on in Portland! What it is, is an old fishing and trading town, much of which was built back before we all had to have all these long conversations and “blogs” about how to build things. Whipping out my emoji magnifying glass, it was easy to see why people talk about it so much. In the whole 3+ million person Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, we do not have anything approaching the natural vibrancy, walkability, and resilience of the Old Port, the center city of a city of only 66,000 people. It’s just there.
There were all sorts of other things going on too–signs of growth, etc. A new Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were a few minutes walking distance from the Old Port in an area that had previously been a railyard, and it was clear that there had been some residential redevelopment near both of those things. In addition to those national chains, there were lots and lots of independent businesses as well, and not just touristy things. There was a lot of foot traffic and also many cyclists–even without much designated infrastructure. The nature of the town is that cars have to go slowly and pay attention, and it seemed like the cyclists were comfortable. There were trucks, selling food–food trucks, if you will. There was a guy on a skateboard playing a guitar. There was a movie theater behind a public plaza with a statue of a lobsterman across the street from a two block pedestrian mall.
Looking at the aerial map now, you can see that there is a decent amount of structured and surface parking, but it feels much less obvious walking the tight, tree-lined streets. Most of the parking ramps seemed to have retail lining their bases.
Some of the most fun I had in Portland, though, was on the sea. There is a neat ferry system connecting various outlying islands in Casco Bay, some of which are actually part of the City of Portland. It was less than $8, roundtrip, to take a ferry out to Peaks Island, where there are some cool shops and restaurants and, as I learned later, bike rental.
The ferry to Peaks Island ran about hourly, so it was easy to hop off and walk around and hop back on at your leisure. A bit under a thousand people live on Peaks Island year-round, but that population swells to several thousand during the summer. It was initially developed in the late 19th century, and was known as the “Coney Island of Maine” due to the amusement parks and hotels and other entertainment on the island. Kind of like Lake Minnetonka’s Big Island, sounds like.
In general, the maritime vibe was cool. Getting off the bus Saturday morning, there was the light and distant smell of the ocean. You could hear seagulls–I was pooped on, in fact. There was lobstah, and chowdah. There was whale watching (no whales were seen, though a backwards baseball hat-shaped sunburn was acquired) and a wharf. There had clearly been and was still some wharf-oriented development happening in and around the wharf. Portland is a city that is lucky enough to have an “iconic” thing going for it that is not contrived and terrible.Lessons
I found that Portland has many similarities to Minneapolis and as such, might be a good city to look towards for inspiration. For example, according to Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, a mall opened outside town several decades ago and hurt the downtown retail scene, kind of like what’s happened to Minneapolis over the same time period. Likewise, both cities are the primary city in what is otherwise a fairly rural state, and both are liberal cities in a state that’s a lighter shade of blue.
Both regions are also mulling expansions of their respective transit systems, as we consider the Southwest Light Rail extension to Eden Prairie and Portland considers a bus link from their jetport to their Amtrak station. In particular, I very much enjoyed the nautical bent of the city and the transportation component of that, and wonder if there’s a way we can potentially export this success story to Minneapolis.
Imagine it–ferries running up and down the Mississippi River, considerably faster than walking the same route. The ferry would also spur development along the Downtown Minnneapolis and St. Paul waterfronts, which have, to this point, been unattractive to real estate developers. We could then also repurpose the old post office building into a grand wharf, with lobstermen and fisherwomen plying their catches on downtown office workers and whale watching tours departing daily at noon. A local artist has put together these conceptual renders for us to consider.
Of course, installing a heating system in the Mississippi River would be an expensive up front cost, but based on what I saw in Portland, it would clearly pay dividends over its decades of use. And, keep in mind, the key here is to plant the seed deep enough now that there’s no way to change our mind in ten years if maybe it comes up that this isn’t the best possible use of lots and lots of otherwise limited money. When walking past blocks and blocks of organically-grown, human-scaled, pedestrian-oriented buildings filled with a variety of commercial and residential tenants that create a successful, quality, memorable streetscape, remember: find an expensive gimmick and do that instead.
Furthermore, this is a real opportunity to make some progress on the branding issues we have identified. Minnesotans all over the state have been searching, so thirstily, for an icon to call their own. We know that cities like St. Louis, with its Gateway Arch, and Knoxville, with its Sunsphere, have gained international recognition for their efforts to be internationally recognized.
A truly world-class city would harness the 72% of the world that is ocean–what if our icon was whales?
Last week’s train crash in Philadelphia was horrific. Fortunately, crashes like this and the associated deaths and injuries are quite rare; despite the horrific nature of these crashes, rail and air are exceptionally safe modes of transportation on the whole.
Note: While the data above are accurate it is important to provide some context. Many car miles are on quite safe rural interstates, while most bicycle and walking miles are on more dangerous urban/suburban roads. If you account for this to make for a more apples to apples comparison, then the rate of car fatalities about doubles and thus the difference to bicycles and foot decreases by about half. Perhaps similarly, of the 29 rail deaths, 7 are on long haul trains and 22 are transit rail. For more see Bicycling Relatively Safe
A good deal of credit for our air and rail safety goes to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). They are regarded worldwide for accurate, impartial investigations and solid recommendations for improving safety.
Interestingly, they have no regulatory authority. They can’t tell anyone to do anything or implement any of their recommendations. This is possibly a good thing and a critical reason why they can remain relatively impartial. And while many NTSB recommendations are implemented, not all are. They’ve been calling for Positive Train Control, which would likely have prevented last week’s crash, since 1970 (yep, 45 years).
While some of the differences above can be attributed to inherent differences in modes, there are also infrastructure design and implementation differences that contribute to causing these deaths. This can perhaps best be seen in how much more dangerous it is to drive a car, ride a bicycle, or walk in the U.S. than in other developed countries.
Note that these data include total motor vehicle fatalities (cars, trucks, motorcycles) and so the 108 motorcycle fatalities per km averages with the 3.1 for cars to produce the U.S. average.
Why is it so much safer to ride in a car in Norway? Or a bicycle in The Netherlands? Are they that much better drivers?
Perhaps a bit, but the primary difference is likely attributable to how their roads are designed to operate; both physically such as turning radiuses and regulatory such as no-turn-on-red.
Within minutes of the crash in Philadelphia the NTSB had swung in to action and began organizing a ‘GO Team’ to investigate. According to news reports there were a couple of people there within hours, a few more by 4am, and more later in the morning. This team will devote themselves full-time to this investigation for weeks, months, or years and they should indeed do so where a single incident or the mistake of one person can have such a huge impact. It is because of this dedication that air and rail are as safe as they are. We are not the safest, but we’re not horrible either.
This doesn’t happen so much with crashes on our roads.
If you follow streetsblog.org you’ve likely read their continuing series of articles about the lack of investigations of fatal and near fatal crashes and even lack of any police attendance at many crashes.
Even when there are investigations, how accurate are they? It seems too many are determined to find no fault; if there’s no fault, then why is someone dead?
How often is the road design of a crash investigated? How often is the design at fault? What is done with the data and knowledge? What is done to prevent the same thing from happening again?
This appears quite different elsewhere. Do The Netherlands do a much better job of investigating crashes? More importantly, are they better at determining what changes are necessary to create a safer road system and implementing those changes? In the business world we called this continuous improvement. We constantly analyzed ourselves and what we were doing so we could do it better. Then repeat.
I don’t have any answers. Only a lot of questions.
Last Friday I wrote about walking in Saint Paul with a focus on safety. Today, I want to share some thoughts on the pleasures and benefits of walking as I have experienced it. I’ll also talk briefly about how a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan might help get more people walking.
Until recently, most of my explorations have been within my own neighborhood, Union Park, where many residential streets are lined with 100-year-old houses. Stately trees provide shade for the sidewalks, and thanks to our recent perfect mix of rain and sun, lawns are a vibrant green, and lilacs, tulips, bleeding hearts and dandelions show off the full range of nature’s palette. From time to time, you may also come on surprising signs of little people living in the roots of trees.
One man-made element I see frequently are Little Free Libraries, each with its own particular selection of books. I always wonder who the people are who left the books, and what made them decide to pass them on. Who will pick them up? And will they really read them when they get home, or set them aside for later, when they hope to have more time? Which books will end up as keepers in a new home, and which will once again be returned to a Little Free Library to tempt the next passerby?
Another attraction that makes my walks rewarding is the prospect of discovering new sculptures or murals along the way, especially in people’s yards or on the boulevard in front of a house. Over the last few months, I’ve come on three large, wooden art pieces that I found especially intriguing. One was in my neighborhood at the corner of Hague and Pierce avenues. It’s a painted tree trunk in front of a local artist’s house. Apparently, when the tree died and was to be cut down, the artist, Hend El-Mansour, persuaded the forestry department to leave the bottom ten feet of the tree standing. She then peeled off the bark and painted images of women around the trunk, clad in costumes reflecting her Saudi Arabian cultural origins.
I came upon another large sculpture last week when I was walking near Macalester in Tangletown. I’m not sure what it represents, but it certainly caught my eye. Now I’m curious; can anyone tell me more about it?
Finally, when I went walking in Crocus Hill with a friend yesterday, she introduced me to a replica of the Statue of Liberty in someone’s front yard. Since I was raised on the east coast and lived for many years in New York City, it was fun to find a reminder of my past here in Saint Paul. I also noted that all three of these pieces of art are made of wood; with one rooted in the ground and the other two carved from large tree trunks, I assume they are all products born of strong, native Minnesotan stock.
The three tall sculptures would be hard to miss, but there’s another type of art that requires attention to the pavement under your feet, or you may miss it. Of course, I’m referring to “Poetry on the Pavement”, a program initiated in 2008 by Marcus Young, St Paul Artist-in-Residence. Public Art Saint Paul sponsors the program, which takes advantage of opportunities to add a poem whenever a section of pavement is being replaced. As a result, poetry is now embedded in sidewalks all across the City of Saint Paul.
I’ve known of the Sidewalk Poetry project for some time, but only recently learned that there is a map on the Public Art Saint Paul website that shows the locations of poems all around the city. This will be a great tool to encourage pedestrians to seek out new verses.
There are many things that can be done to encourage more people to move around Saint Paul on foot — completing the sidewalk network, allowing more time for pedestrians to cross the street, installing better lighting, and providing interesting things to see along the way: Little Free Libraries, statues, poetry under foot, and much more. Many people think it would be a good idea to create a Pedestrian Plan for Saint Paul to pull all these elements together, set goals and monitor progress toward a more walkable city.
On Wednesday, May 20th, 6:30-8:00 pm, the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) is hosting a roundtable discussion on what should be included in such a plan. We’ll begin with a brief overview of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Plan, followed by a panel responses and an open discussion. The roundtable will be held at the Western District Police Station at 389 Hamline Avenue N, Saint Paul. It’s free, and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.
Please join us on Wednesday, May 20th at 6:30 pm if you’d like to learn about the Minneapolis Pedestrian Plan and share your ideas about what policies and implementation measures should be included in a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan. For more information, go the DCC website.
Fellow Minneapolites, let’s stop being our northern humble selves for just a quick second and truly boast a fact that we’ve known for a while now: we live in the best biking city in America. Bicycling Magazine crowned us champs in 2010. WalkScore’s Bike Score doesn’t list us because we don’t have a large enough “population”, but we score nearly 9 points higher than Portland (and those are 9 actual, empirical, data-driven points, too!). Most recently, Forbes gave us a shout out for our biking prowess.
The best part is, Minneapolis isn’t trying to keep the status quo, but is constantly striving to improve. In their Draft Protected Bikeway Update to the city’s bike plan, 30 miles of protected bike lanes are listed to be implemented by 2020. That would be, according to my head math, a very large increase to Minneapolis’s already good biking infrastructure. (Don’t worry, St. Paul, you are getting there, too). Although the Protected Bikeway Plan doesn’t address every single trouble point in the city, it is certainly a wonderful start.
However, there is one key element that isn’t addressed in the Protected Bikeway Plan – the all too common conflict points with bicycles and transit vehicles.
The Frustrating Double Conflict Point
Our large network of on-street bike lanes usually gives bicyclists a more comfortable ride than riding in a general purpose lane. However, that comfort is shattered at transit stops. In order to load and unload passengers from the sidewalk, the bus driver is essentially required to come as close to the curb as possible. This means the bus needs to jump into the bike lane, therefore cutting off any potential bicyclists behind it. Many bike riders will veer to their left and try to bypass the stopped bus, creating a dangerous blind spot for oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, buses approaching bicyclists near bus stops need to slow down to avoid a crash. This slows down transit travel times and can potentially create a ripple effect in the network. None of this is good.
Generally, transit advocates are also bike advocates, but with regular on-street bike lanes, this conflict point becomes an unavoidable ally-versus-ally battle. It’s like a Myrmecologist trying to avoid stomping on a massive ant colony. (If you didn’t have to look up the word Myrmecologist, very nicely done, you get a terminology high-five.)
As a bicyclist, I am constantly on the lookout for oncoming buses even when I’m in a bike lane. As a transit rider, the mere seconds delay to wait for a biker can cause my bus to miss a traffic signal, which can cause me to miss my transfer, which can cause me to arrive 15 minutes late to work on the day where a coworker brought in Mel-O-Glaze Donuts, which can then cause me to be donut-less for the whole morning. Like, I said, none of this is good.
The Solution – Floating Bus Stops
This conflict point can be entirely avoided with the implementation of floating bus stops. I asked my very talented friend Stephanie Erwin to imagine what she thought a floating bus stop would look like in her mind, and the result was exactly what I had hoped:
In reality, floating bus stops are bumped-out bus bulbs which have a bike lane running behind the bus stop amenities. This simple configuration allows transit vehicles to stay in their own lane without jumping in front of cyclists, and gives cyclists added protection from vehicular traffic at the bus stop. This design is truly a win-win for both transit operators and bike riders.
Floating bus stops come in all shapes and sizes. These bike-bus conflict evasion strategies have been used in Europe for decades, and have just now started to catch on in various cities around the US, including Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Austin.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) lists best practices for all types of bike facilities. In their design guidance figure for one-way protected cycle tracks, NACTO recommends: “At transit stops, consider wrapping the cycle track behind the transit stop zone to reduce conflicts with transit vehicles and passengers.” This is, at its core, what a good transit-bicycle intersection design should entail.
The bike lane behind the bus amenities can be constructed with a sunken curb and gutter to allow a true separation from pedestrians and bikers. With Minneapolis’s harsh weather conditions, it’s likely that the more feasible design is to have the bike lane and adjacent sidewalk at the same level, but be paved with a different type of material. Building bike lanes at sidewalk level avoids potential plowing challenges in the winter.
The one flaw with the floating bus stop design is the bike-pedestrian interface. The floating stop requires pedestrians to cross the bikeway, thus causing potential conflicts with moving bikers. This problem can be mitigated using several traffic calming strategies, such as adding speed tables and highly reflective crosswalk paint at pedestrian crossing points. This forces bikers to acknowledge and hopefully yield to pedestrians in a more efficient and safe manner. Bike Walk KC has listed some good recommendations which address these conflict areas.
Apply Locally, See Results
For the best biking city in America, Minneapolis is sorely lacking in the bike-bus conflict mitigation department. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe there is a single true example of a floating bus stop within the city limits today.
Luckily, several projects in the coming year or two will be deploying modified versions of floating bus stops. The Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck project will feature a type of this, with the bus stop and shelter protecting the two-way cycle track behind it at the Groveland intersection. In addition, the Washington Avenue reconstruction from Hennepin to 5th Street will not only feature the city’s first true curbside cycle track, but will also feature a modified version of a floating bus stop.
Several current and proposed transit routes exist in the same corridors that list protected bikeway implementation in the city’s plan. In North Minneapolis, near term protected bikeway implementation is slated to occur along Fremont & Emerson Avenues. This corridor also contains the route 5 bus, one of the busiest transit routes in the city. In the next several years, another arterial BRT line is planned to run along Fremont & Emerson Avenues. The deployment of the arterial BRT line will be a great opportunity to build floating bus stops at conflict points.
Meanwhile, University Avenue and 15th Avenue SE in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood list protected bikeway implementation in the near term, but also contain the busy 3 route 6 buses. Adding floating bus stops in front of the proposed two-way cycle track on University and the one-way cycle track on 15th Avenue will certainly encourage bike use, especially for college-aged suburban warriors adjusting to city biking for the first time.
Yes, Minneapolis might be the best biking city in America, but it still pales in comparison to cities in Europe and even some cities in the US at bike-bus conflicts. We need to start thinking about strategic places to build floating bus stops on highly traveled bike corridors, starting in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis’s Protected Bikeway Plan should include language that encourages implementation of floating bus stops at transit-bike conflict points; otherwise, protected bikeways will continue to break down at these crossroads like regular on-street lanes do today. Deploying good design for bikers and transit users will only improve the livability of the city. Our “best biking city in America” rating depends on it.
Antonio Rosell talked about cities in the parking lot next to Intermedia Arts way back in 2008. It is a great presentation.
The source from Google comes from Wikipedia, which in turn comes from a book by Larry Millett, where he uses the phrase “This is believed to be the busiest intersection” with no indication of the ultimate source. Although it’s possible he’s trying to count pedestrians or light rail traffic in the totals, there’s no indication of such. Another writer emailed Mn/DOT asking if they knew, and the reply was they don’t officially know.
There are other factors besides overall volume, both political and engineering related, driving the location of potential projects, so keeping such trivia apparently isn’t a priority. They explained that when they do, their methology is to add up all the legs of an approach and divide by two while cautioning that some data, especially for minor side streets, might be way off due to extrapolation from years ago rather than fresh actual data. But since it’s the best we have I thought I’d see what the busiest intersections are using it.
As it turns out, Snelling and University, at traffic volume 48,550, isn’t currently even in the top 25. Another writer suggested I could present it as a story, so here is the top 10. (This list specifically excludes any that might involve freeway ramps).
#1 is MN 252, at 66th Ave N, Brooklyn Center (Traffic Volume = 68,850). This is also in the top 10 most dangerous as far as crash statistics. Just down the road, #2 is MN 252 at 85th Ave N (66,950); #6 is MN 252 at Brookdale Dr. (61,975); #9 is MN 252 at 73rd Ave N (61,515). Also of note, MN 252 at 70th is in the top 25. The original 1970s era plan was to build MN 252 as a freeway, but there was local opposition from the city, that wanted opportunity for economic development. So it was built as a wide suburban style road in the 1980s, and things have gone downhill rapidly from there. Studies have shown that with 2035 traffic a freeway facility is necessary, but unfortunately the corridor was removed from the long range freeway plans due to lack of funding. Brooklyn Center is pursuing a single interchange at 66th in the interim, while not letting go of the long term goal of a freeway facility. A pedestrian fatality prompted building a pedestrian overpass at 85th, but not much else has been done.
#3 is MN 65 at 109th Ave NE, Blaine (64,650) and #4 is MN 65 at 92rd Lane NE (62,500). The intersection on MN 65 at County 14 (55,550), was replaced with an interchange, but momentum and funding has stalled after that. The long term goal is still a freeway northwards of US 10, but as of now unless the local agencies get some special funding nothing further seems likely.
#5 is US 10 at Fair Oak Ave, Anoka (62,325). Just down the road US 10 at Thurston is also in the top 25. US 10 was the subject of a very grandiose $300 million plan to relocate the mainline next to the very heavily used railroad tracks, and bridge the cross streets over both. Significant right-of-way has been acquired, but like MN 252 this got yanked from the long term plans, but replaced by more modest spot improvements at the traffic signals, either with full interchanges or removing some movements. I don’t know if the relocation plan is officially dead, or in deep, deep ice. There’s an intersection being built and Armstrong, and Elk River wants one built at Twin Lakes Road, but afterwords focus may shift to more modest improvements at Fair Oak and/or Thurston. There is a jaywalking problem between Thurston and Fair Oak which included a pedestrian fatality, so discussions are underway about building a fence. Building a third lane while keeping the traffic signals for the time being has also been discussed.
#7 is MN 15 at W Division St, St Cloud (61,750). MN 15 was planned, and ROW acquired for a freeway facility, but was built as a wide suburban style road instead. Exactly why is unclear, a Mn/DOT employee claimed that St Cloud fought them tooth and nail against a freeway so they could sell the excess land for commercial development; others have said that with the project languishing for decades because of funding the point was to sell the land to pay for building something as opposed to having nothing. At any rate, all parties now want a freeway, and it will be substantially more expensive due to extensive retaining walls now needed, but as usual there’s no money to pay for it. As a popup project one of the other intersections was replaced with Minnesota’s first diverging diamond, and the city avoided compounding the problem by building another interchange south of town, rather than adding yet another signal.
#8 is Cedar Ave S at 140th St W, Apple Valley (Traffic Volume = 61,700). Nearby, Cedar at County 42 is in the top 25. There were various plans, including depressing the through lanes through Apple Valley (which the city took a dim view due to lack of access and how congested the frontage roads would be, essentially favoring the people bypassing Apple Valley), or just building interchanges at some of the higher volume intersections. One innovative proposal was to bridge the northbound and westbound lanes over the southbound and eastbound lanes, thus removing the left turn phases from the signals. Although a 2009 Dakota county study suggested an interchange at 42, unfortunately with the more modest improvements for the Red Line I doubt any further improvements will be done anytime soon.
Rounding out the list at #10 is County 42 and Nicollet Ave S, Burnsville (61,350). This one seems unlikely to ever be fixed. A plan to build a loop from southbound I-35E to northbound I-35W in order to eliminate the signal at the ramp to north I-35W was dropped when it was revealed it would make traffic worse due to more traffic being sent through the Nicollet intersection. Although I’ve seen the suggestion of a single point interchange at I-35E, studies seem to suggest giving up on moving traffic effectively through this stretch, instead compensating by moving traffic faster east and west of here. Ultimately I think the answer here is to build ramps of County 38 to provide an alternate route to get to I-35W.
So if University isn’t even close now, was it once? The book and Wikipedia state “around 64,000”. Going back 10 years I find 61200. But even using the more generous figure, even without looking much there were several high volume suburban intersections at the time, for example US 169 at County 81 = 79400, and US 169 and Anderson Lakes Parkway, 67550. Also interesting, is traffic volumes on the intersections that have been replaced by interchanges in recent years, some of these are local “popup” projects and some were driven by Mn/DOT.
US 10 / Armstrong Blvd = 39,680
MN 7 / Woodale Ave = 42,600
MN 7 / Louisiana Ave = 49,300
US 10 / County 96 = 59,100
MN 13 / County 5 = 66,000
MN 13 / County 101 = 60,100
County 42 / County 17 = 11,450
US 169 / County 69 = 36,430
MN 36 / English St = 76,400
MN 101 / 141st Ave = 53,700
MN 36 / Hilton Tr = 45,700
So what factors do go into building interchanges? First is benefit/cost analysis. Basically you add up all the benefits and divide by costs. Not just physical construction costs, but future maintenance, drivers time ($16.00 per person-hour), costs of crashes (your life is worth $10,300,000, so you can see why only one of two fatalities can easily justify substantial improvements. This can throw things so out of whack the instructions are to make absolutely sure it’s correctable by proposed improvements, not say a random drunk driving into a tree), etc. And obviously the heaviest used intersections may not be the most congested, there’s other a lot of other factors.
Second, sometimes there’s a desire for continuity. We’ve decided we don’t want traffic signals on rural expressways, at least the more heavily traveled ones, so at only 21,850 for the higher one, the signals on US 52 at Cannon Falls are gone (although these are quite often also serious safety issues).
Third, sometimes local desires can short-circuit the overall planning process and get things bumped up, my own phrase is pop up projects because they sometimes pop up out of nowhere. Mn/DOT will usually humor these, provided someone else pays for a lot or most of them.
My own feeling is somewhat ambivalent. I never object to spending money expanding highways, and if Ramsey wants to play “Sim City” and get funding for an interchange at Armstrong ahead of the much busier ones on the corridor, so be it; a lot of times it’s this project or nothing. There’s no one championing and finding funding for a pop up project at Fair Oak at the moment, even if the Armstrong project didn’t happen. However this can sometimes lead to sub-par results, that we’re then stuck with for a long time. For example a single lane flyover was built from I-94 for northbound MN 101, rather than waiting for a much more comprehensive system interchange, and the new “interchange” at US 52 and Goodhue County 9 even had to have substandard ramps in order to qualify for funding!
(And although I’m no longer really active on Wikipedia, I did go in to correct it.)
Here's something to think about in the wake of the crash of Amtrak 188 in Philadelphia last week: Only about 4% of the rail passengers in the Northeast Corridor ride on Amtrak trains. This oddly-titled NPR article mentions that there are about 750,000 daily passengers on the NEC across 2,200 trains, but doing the math on Amtrak's annual ridership gives them only about 32,000 passengers out of that total. Everyone else is riding commuter trains.Amtrak riders take longer trips, so the ratio of passenger-miles is probably significantly different, but won't put Amtrak in the majority.So, while Amtrak deserves plenty of scrutiny for what they have and have not been able to achieve in the corridor, the commuter agencies also need to be considered. Have they done everything necessary to support and fund needed upgrades? Have the owners of non-Amtrak sections of track (MTA Metro-North, ConnDOT, and the state of Massachusetts) been putting in the needed effort? Have the freight operators that use segments of the line been helping at all either?Of course, Amtrak owns most of the corridor, so they should be responsibly pricing track access and the contract operating services they provide to regional commuter services in order to fund appropriate repairs and upgrades along the route. Have they been doing that? I don't really know.I haven't had a chance to count up all of Amtrak's trains along the NEC, but I think they only have about 80 daily on the route out of the total 2,200 (again, most trains only travel short distances). [Edit: This report from 2013 says there are 154 Amtrak trains that use the NEC daily. I think I'll have to do my own count eventually.] There's no way that they could pay for all of that upkeep solely on the profits of the Acela, Northeast Regional, and the smattering of other Amtrak-branded trains that run in the corridor.If Amtrak was the only service in the NEC, they'd only need two tracks, but much of the corridor is four tracks wide.All of the trains that operate on the NEC need to be dispatched in a unified way, and they need to have suitable signaling systems that all interoperate (for a discussion about this, take a look at this Let's Go LA blog post). Since the federal government remains intransigent about giving Amtrak appropriate funding, the railroad should lean more heavily on the commuter services in the corridor and the states that they serve.
The City has released an exciting draft protected bikeway plan that will be a huge leap forward for biking in Minneapolis. Public comments are due on the plan by Sunday, May 17, so if you haven’t yet offered your comments do it now. You can email comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org or share your comments via this Bikeways for Everyone online form.
For Minneapolis to become a world-class bicycle city, a network of protected bikeways is essential. A network of protected bikeways–where people biking are separated from cars (and sidewalks) by some sort of physical barrier–will connect our world-class trail network with key destinations. It will allow everyone from 8-year old kids going to school to grandparents going to the park to feel more comfortable biking. The spike in ridership on recent protected bikeways shows the big potential of protected bikeways.
The protected bikeway network will improve safety, saving lives and reducing traffic injuries. It will improve the health of thousands of Minneapolitans by making active transportation easier and by reducing air pollution. It will expand affordable transportation options, saving families thousands of dollars, providing easier access for people reaching jobs, and keeping more money in our local economy. It will attract people and businesses to our city. And more.
Purpose of Plan
The plan identifies priorities for protected bikeways intended to be implemented by 2020 or soon after. It adds to the existing Bicycle Master Plan, which includes additional bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, and other routes to be added across the city.
Priority Protected Bikeways
The draft plan includes three prioritized tiers for protected bikeway investment (summarized in table and map below). The tiers were developed based on “the complexity of project delivery, funding opportunities, and coordination with other infrastructure projects.” The tiers are “intended to be flexible and used as an implementation guide, not a strict program of projects.”
This planned network connects really well with the existing bikeway system to make it increasingly safe and easy to bike across the whole city (see map).
The plan estimates that the 40 new miles of protected bikeways in tier 1 and 2 will need an additional $7.2-$12.1 million to build. To put that in perspective, it costs about $8 million on average to reconstruct a single mile of urban street. The plan also recognizes that additional resources will be needed to maintain the system with street sweeping in the summer and snow removal in the winter (although I’m fundamentally concerned with the details presented in the draft plan–see comment below).
Some Comments on the Draft Plan
These reflect comments from the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and Bikeways for Everyone partners.
Overall, we strongly support the direction of the plan. The plan is very exciting! This is a big deal and would really transform the safety and accessibility of biking to key destinations for people from many diverse backgrounds.
North Minneapolis Greenway. There is an ongoing community conversation around the potential of a North Minneapolis Greenway. While engagement is continuing, the plan should list this as something like a “potential greenway” to honor the ongoing community work there and recognize that it would be a very significant addition to the protected bikeway system if the community decides to pursue.
3rd Avenue downtown. A north-south protected bikeway in the heart of downtown is critical. Our preference for the through the heart of downtown continues to be a two-way protected bikeway on 2nd Avenue South or a pair of protected bike lanes on Marquette and 2nd. If neither of those options are feasible and 3rd Avenue is chosen, we want to ensure that 3rd Avenue is done very well. That needs to include greening and it needs to include connections to southern neighborhoods–neither of which are reflected in the draft plan.
Washington Avenue in North Loop. The current plan includes a protected bike lane on Washington Avenue from Hennepin to the University of Minnesota and also includes a protected bike lane on Plymouth Avenue North, but does not connect them with a protected bike lane on Washington through the North Loop. The County is implementing buffered bike lanes in this stretch in 2015, but the plan should recognize that this is at least a Tier 3 priority to upgrade to protected bike lanes.
Hennepin/1st Avenue N downtown. We recommend that the plan say that short-term improvements will be made to make the 1st Avenue North poorly implemented protected bike lanes function better and that the plan state that when Hennepin Avenue is reconstructed, protected bike lanes will be added on Hennepin and removed on 1st Avenue N. Hennepin will serve bicyclists much better than 1st and is feasible with curb work in the future. Moving the 1st Avenue lane would also provide more space for pedestrians on 1st. This long-term solution makes sense for the vast majority of stakeholders and should be planned for while also recognizing that in the short-term 1st should be made to function better.
1st Avenue S/Nicollet/Blaisdell corridor. The plan is a bit uncertain on the best route to connect downtown to southern neighborhoods like Whittier, Lyndale, and Kingfield. It current recommends continuing/improving 1st and Blaisdell/LaSalle as the bike routes here. Given that the vast majority of people in this area north of the Greenway are using Nicollet, we suggest that Nicollet be included as another potential option here north of the Greenway while Blaisdell and 1st would continue to be used south of the Greenway. We recognize that more work is needed to sort out the best route(s) in this corridor, but this plan should not eliminate Nicollet as an option for that.
Gap in connection at Riverside/19th/20th. The plan smartly includes upgrading 19th Street and then 20th Street in Cedar-Riverside to protected bikeways, but leaves a strange gap in connecting those two routes. Presumably that connection is intended to be made via the Riverside bike lanes, but we would like to see a more comfortable option to connect these two routes.
Minnehaha/Cedar/Franklin intersection. We support a protected bikeway on Minnehaha connecting between 20th and Franklin and improvements to this intersection, which is one of the worst in the city for biking and walking safety.
Policy around reconstruction projects not on the plan. We suggest that the plan include policy language that street reconstruction projects on streets not listed in this plan should still be evaluated for potential protected bikeways. This plan is targeted toward projects we can immediately anticipate and proactive protected bikeway investments, but shouldn’t be seen as precluding protected bikeways on other streets if they make sense.
Maintenance. We do not support the maintenance information as presented in the plan. The plan provides excessive maintenance costs without defining policy around maintenance. We suggest that the plan be amended to include a directive for staff to work with stakeholders to determine a maintenance policy for the entire bikeway system (including protected bikeways, but not limited to them).
Design standards for protected bikeways. We recommend that the plan state that the City will follow the NACTO Bikeway Design Guide when designing protected bikeways. This is the nation-leading best practice on protected bikeway design. As a reference, the poorly implemented 1st Avenue N parking protected bike lane does not meet NACTO standards.
Equity for prioritizing. We suggest that equity be used as a key factor when prioritizing projects from this plan for implementation. The plan should also more clearly state that this is the near-term plan for protected bikeways and that additional work will be needed in 4-6 years to plan out additional connections to other parts of the city.
What comments do you have?