Pedestrians prohibited north of the light rail station

Bloomington DDI

Bloomington’s newest pedestrian barrier

Most metro area cities content themselves with ignoring pedestrians. A couple of cities have taken the unusual step of at least paying lip service to the idea that bipedal transportation should be safe, convenient, and comfortable. Bloomington, on the other hand, is trying to make a name for itself by actively discouraging pedestrians from using its streets. First came the insulting freewayfication project they channeled Orwell to call a Complete Street. Next was a similar ban on pedestrians from another nearby street, which they had the gall to use Transportation Enhancements money to fund.

A bridge for you in Bloomington – don’t refuse!

Bloomington’s latest plan for ensuring that their sustainable urban center is a hellscape for pedestrians means that anyone who wants to walk north of the American Blvd LRT station instead will have to run a gauntlet of screaming murderous vehicles inside the bizarre labyrinthine engineer wetdreamscape known as the Diverging Diamond Interchange, or DDI. Actually, this is a joint effort with the Metropolitan Airports Commission, or MAC, an unelected, politically-insulated, dubiously necessary governmental unit with a history of tasering non-motorized roadway users.

Smarter humans than I have expressed polite opposition to the concept of the DDI, but personally I can see the appeal, especially at interchanges with high turning volumes, of allowing traffic to cross to the other side of the road in order to make a conflict-free turn. My issue is not with the DDI concept, it is with the way it has been executed, without exception in the USA, in an entirely and unnecessarily pedestrian-hostile fashion. Further, I have to conclude that this hostility arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of the operation of motor vehicles, which is a bit disconcerting coming from people who design roads for a living.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the DDI that Bloomington & the MAC are proposing for the interchange of I-494 & 34th Ave S from the perspective of, say, a flight attendant for Delta who lives in Bloomington (I think this is not an unreasonable scenario). Let’s say this flight attendant wants to take transit to work, because – well, I guess it’s too far-fetched to suppose his or her children may be learning in school about the devastating environmental effects of mass motorization, so let’s just say that the family only has two cars and he or she doesn’t want to leave one at the airport while on a flight. He or she needs to report to work at the low-slung Delta office building near the corner of Airline Dr & 34th Ave, so after transferring from a BE line bus at the Mall, the flight attendant would take the Hiawatha LRT to the nearest station, American Blvd.

A rare survivor

After backtracking to the signal to cross to the sidewalk, our brave flight attendant will proceed for about the length of a city block northward towards his or her destination until being detoured eastward around a ramp on one of the standard curlicues encountered by pedestrians in the suburbs, the reasoning apparently being that anyone stupid enough to walk out here can’t be in a hurry anyway. But here there are four of them in rapid succession, and in at least two of them the motor traffic is coming from behind the pedestrian, so they have to turn almost completely around to determine whether they’re about to be pulverized for the sin of being present.

And thanks to those brilliant engineers, that motor traffic is moving fast. These ramps are curved so gently that motorists barely need to slow down if they’re going the posted 35 mph, although if they’re doing the typical 10mph over the limit they may need to apply the brake slightly. This is where traffic engineers betray their fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of motorized traffic. When you surround yourself with a ton of plastic and steel and hurtle down the road at 40mph, the only direction that is visible to you is straight ahead. What optometrists refer to as your peripheral vision is barely there. Therefore the only way to make a safe turn when you’re driving is to SLOW DOWN (or stop). Yet engineers design facilities like this that allow motorists to make turns AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. See the disconnect? DDIs may substantially reduce the number of conflict points, but when they’re designed like this, man, what conflict points.

I can’t read the engineering chickenscratch well enough to tell if they plan to signalize these ramps, which might make crossing a bit safer but would also require the pedestrian to endanger their health by pressing a germ-ridden beg button and/or waste several minutes waiting for the right phase 2-4 times. That is not an acceptable solution. The only acceptable solution here is to square the corners. What if the traffic engineering profession used their power to train motorists to drive well – i.e. slowing down to turn – instead of drive poorly? If so, new worlds would be opened to the pedestrian. Maybe it would even be safe to walk in Bloomington.

 

Which one of these is not like the others?


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11 Responses to Pedestrians prohibited north of the light rail station

  1. Matt January 25, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    I'm sure lots of Pinnacle employees will love moving from their downtown Memphis offices to the North Central/Republic/Northwest/Delta building which apparently they must drive to.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 25, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    No turn on red!

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 25, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Biking or walking to the mall of america is similarly torturous. I have taken my life into my hands when trying to ride from the wonderful Minnesota river bike path over to the Mall or to points West. That said, once you get out of the airport / mall zone, lots of Bloomington is perfectly pleasant. They just really badly designed the streets around here, and the lack of any real walkable development (except for the one condo and one office bldg) around their 3(!) LRT stations is the price Bloomington is paying for letting MAC and MNDOT design their city.

    • Jessica Schoner January 28, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Even just walking between the MOA and Ikea is torturous. The MOA parking lot roads might as well be freeways.

  4. Andrew January 25, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    Sharp corners and meandering paths are apparently reserved for pedestrians instead of cars. That looks like the most ridiculous sidewalk path layout possible – and of course only on one side.

  5. David Levinson
    David Levinson January 25, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    OK, this is 34th Ave in Bloomington. On one side is a cemetery, the other side is an airport. You really are not allowed to be a pedestrian here, it is cause for institutionalization. The LRT does have a stop north of the beltway at the Humphrey Terminal, she can go one more stop and then backtrack if she is determined.

    It would be better to call it a freeway and be done with it though. Technically there is a sidewalk on 34th, but looking at Google maps satellite images from a nice day, I see not one pedestrian. I can't say I will never see a pedestrian, but the count has to be really, really low.

    Sometimes you should just give up. Pedestrians don't belong here. The worse part is they don't belong elsewhere in Bloomington either. In http://blog.lib.umn.edu/levin031/transportationis

    I had not actually ridden the train past the airport myself, since the airport (or downtown) is my usual end-destination if I am taking the LRT. Since the Number 8 Bus does not run on weekends, the LRT is normally functionally in-accessible for trips like the Mall of America. So I was treated to the LRT of Broken Dreams that is Bloomington. A station every 200 yards, and no business, just grass and asphalt and one park-and-ride ramp. The line has had nearly 7 years to attract development (more if you count construction, when it was obvious a line would be built) and no one has said "this is the place for me". The activities along the line past the airport seem to all pre-date it. There is of course a nice plan, shown on the right, with lots of tree circles. Given all the hoopla and awards the plan had won, I had thought the developments (or at least some of them) there had actually been built. For now they are just imaginings.

    The Bloomington stations, which serve fictional future suburbanites, do look much nicer than Franklin Avenue which serves real city-dwellers. Those are the priorities of our society.

  6. Ross Williams January 25, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Isn't this a MNDOT facility? Why would you expect it to be useful to pedestrians? Pedestrians just get in the way… they need to be discouraged where they aren't prohibited.

  7. BBB January 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Another factor is this is the only way into the airport on foot or bicycle (from the south).

  8. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary January 28, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Regarding the right turns from the DDI — if other interchanges are any indication, the double right turn lanes off the freeway to 34th Ave will likely be signalized. However, this is not necessarily much of an improvement, since drivers will try to turn right on red, even from the left right-turn lane. I’ve witnessed this extensively at the Lyndale interchange with 494, where a single right-turn lane with NTOR posted was replaced with two right turn lanes, with no posted restrictions. (I certainly read the RTOR-from-left-lane as illegal, but Mn/DOT informs me that it is not, and refuses to put up any signage to discourage it).

    The sidewalk placement on the DDI is insane, particularly the crosswalk placement across the NB 34 Av to EB 494/5 ramp — it is so far in the ramp that cars will have begun accelerating to freeway speed.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve biked this a few times and driven it many times. I have never once experienced delays from excessive traffic at this intersection. Not sure what the rush is to rebuild it.

  9. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary January 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Another design flaw is the awkward angle of the diverging diamond traffic over the light rail tracks. For cars, this is no issue, but for bikes, it can be a serious hazard, especially with narrow tires (and you’ll need that speedy road bike to get around East Bloomington, with buildings spaced miles apart). It’s easy to say “nobody bikes to the airport”, but 34th Ave is the official “Bike Access Road” of the MAC. As Alex rightly points out, trying to bike to the airport by another means is a good way to get tasered and jailed.

  10. Dan Fehler January 28, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    I would find Fort Snelling National Cemetery to be a much more interesting and accessible place if I could walk there from an LRT station.