Getting Around the Block: City vs. Suburb

In my last two posts, I looked at the city block structures in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, first zooming in to the respective downtowns, then pulling out to look all the way to the cities’ borders and slightly beyond. Now I’d like to turn to a few suburbs and see how they compare.

First, let’s refresh our memories by taking a look at Minneapolis:

A map of city blocks in Minneapolis.

A map of city blocks in Minneapolis. Click here for full map.

In my maps, blocks that are less than 15 acres in size are colored green, yellow, or dark red (the latter two colors help indicate the presence of one-way streets). Blocks of 15 acres and larger are shown in pink. That size is roughly when I find that they become uncomfortable to walk around—these blocks have a circumference of at least 0.6 miles and take at least 12 minutes to circle on foot, and those numbers increase as blocks elongate and morph into strange shapes.

Minneapolis is a city of about 407,000 people, and has been getting built up for more than 150 years. A street grid system has been effective at filling out and giving access to most of the city’s developable land. Areas shown in green on the map are generally pretty walkable and bikeable, with typical city blocks around four or five acres in size. Not all areas of the city have good access to things like restaurants, grocery stores, or other shops, but there’s generally good connectivity, setting up a nice framework to be built upon.

My Minneapolis map has 4,701 small blocks compared to 225 large ones, for a ratio of about 21:1.

Now let’s turn our gaze to Eden Prairie, which hangs off the southwestern edge of the I-494/I-694 beltway. It was incorporated in 1962, and has grown rapidly to become a city of about 63,000 people. An abundance of office parks and retail locations mean that close to 40,000 people work in the city, more than 85% of whom commute from other cities in the metro area. Like Minneapolis, most of the city’s developable land has now been divided up into fairly small, privately-owned parcels, so it’s almost fully built out:

A map of city blocks in Eden Prairie

A map of city blocks in Eden Prairie. Click here for full map

Um. Yikes!

This map has 328 small blocks and 164 big ones—a ratio of just 2:1, or less than one-tenth the small:big block ratio for Minneapolis.

In a word, this is sprawl. There’s a lot more stuff in Eden Prairie than what that map shows, but it’s arranged in ways that waste land and make it extremely difficult to get around by any means other than driving. Let’s zoom in on a section near Baker Road and Valley View Road to get a better look at what’s going on:

Comparing an aerial view of Eden Prairie to a map only showing city blocks.

Comparing an aerial view of Eden Prairie to a map only showing city blocks.

This comparison image shows how the suburb’s dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs fill up space but don’t really contribute to street connectivity. Tracing only the block edge filters out most of the streets that are mere fingers into larger areas of land. The gaps between blocks mostly show through streets, though sometimes blocks exist in small pods that are entirely encircled by a larger block except for a single road to access them.

This map highlights how suburbs’ heavy reliance on cul-de-sacs, pod-style development, and hierarchical road systems is bad for walkability and bikeability, and it isn’t good for car traffic either.

Do you remember how busy things were at polling places on caucus night this year? My caucus site in Saint Paul was at a nearby school less than a mile away, and I was able to walk there in 15 minutes. While a lot of other people drove, the school I went to was surrounded by a pretty good street grid to walk, bike, and drive on. I’m sure there was some frustration with parking, but there were plenty of open spaces on nearby streets as long as people were willing to walk a couple blocks.

In Eden Prairie, by contrast, a much higher proportion of people had to drive to their caucus sites, and the limited number of alternate routes created cases where the traffic stretched on for long distances—perhaps miles:

The sparse road system in suburbs like Eden Prairie funnels traffic onto the few through streets that remain. A system of small streets connected to feeder streets leading to main arterial roads can create traffic jams that could be sopped up by the grid in more traditional neighborhoods.

The limited number of through routes also creates huge problems for transit planners. Buses operate most effectively when they can run on relatively straight routes to and through mixed-use zones. They can only pick up and drop off passengers along the edges of these blocks, unless a special right-of-way or station is built. Buses that run along the freeway can’t stop wherever they want—they have to exit the freeway either on a normal off-ramp or using special bus-only access.

Finding a relatively straight route that manages to hit walkable pockets while also reaching relatively dense areas of population and useful destinations is difficult or impossible with this street layout.

In some cases, there are bicycle and pedestrian paths that break blocks up into smaller areas, but they aren’t consistently in place from neighborhood to neighborhood. Single-use zoning is the norm, with residential, commercial, and retail spaces kept segregated from one another, so most paths don’t really take you anywhere other than the local neighborhood. Such paths may be nice for recreation, but they aren’t able to provide a suitable alternative to getting around the city by car.

Alright, enough picking on Eden Prairie. Let’s find another point of comparison. How about Woodbury, a somewhat more populated suburb of about 67,000 that lies just one mile outside the city limits of Saint Paul:

A map of city blocks in Woodbury.

A map of city blocks in Woodbury. Click here for full map.

Oof.

Okay, by my measurement, there are 377 small blocks in Woodbury and 200 big blocks, for a ratio of about 1.9:1. That’s slightly worse than Eden Prairie, though Woodbury’s development remains somewhat restricted by the Metropolitan Council’s MUSA urban boundary line. A fair amount of the southern and extreme eastern parts of Woodbury is still farmland, so there’s some potential for the ratio of big blocks and small blocks to improve before it gets fully built-out, but only slightly if future development continues in the same way as what has preceded it. The area that has developed within the MUSA boundary seems a little denser than Eden Prairie, but not by much.

Both of these cities have completely rejected the street grid, and there’s hardly a straight line to be found anywhere within them, with the exception of section line roads roughly one every mile in Woodbury. (They had little impact on the layout of neighborhood streets between them, though.)

Alright, let’s try and find a suburb that’s a little more ordered in its development. How about Bloomington, which lies just east of Eden Prairie. It has about 86,000 residents and is duking it out with Duluth for the rank of fourth-largest city in the state:

A map of city blocks in Bloomington.

A map of city blocks in Bloomington. Click here for full map.

Aha! Here we have found something of a “missing link” in the transition between cities and suburbs in our metro area. Bloomington is technically an older city in the metro area, as it was incorporated in 1858. However, the number of people living there grew slowly until just after World War II. The population jumped from 3,600 to 9,900 between 1940 and 1950, then exploded to more than 50,000 in 1960 before leveling off at about 82,000 around 1970.

Bloomington lies south of Minneapolis and the inner-ring suburb of Richfield. The Minneapolis street grids extends through Richfield and is present in parts of Bloomington, particularly between Interstate 35W and Cedar Avenue (Minnesota State Highway 77). However, the grid is much more fragmented in Bloomington, and many blocks are considerably larger—essentially two to four Minneapolis-sized blocks merged together.

There’s a certain logic to that, since the lot sizes for individual homes also grew as development moved pushed south and west through Bloomington. The most common residential lot size in Minneapolis is about one-eighth of an acre, while houses in Bloomington are typically on lots about two or three times that size. If a block size that formerly contained 30 homes could now only hold 15 or 10, it might make sense to bump up block sizes by a corresponding amount, in order to avoid creating too much infrastructure for too few people.

That alone might not have been so bad, but the city block structure also began to twist, turn, and break apart first as curving streets and then cul-de-sacs became fashionable among developers in the post-war era.

Lot sizes for commercial and industrial businesses also grew, and retailers were often concentrated into strip malls or shopping centers, all of which were major contributors to the weakening of the street grid. Even though many businesses have the same or similar amounts of square footage as comparable ones on smaller parcels in the core cities, they’re separated into single-use buildings and surrounded by parking lots.

All of this helps explain why so few people walk, bike, and take transit in the suburbs, and how much of a challenge it is to correct the situation. People can grow up in the suburbs without really understanding the concept of a city block or experiencing what it’s like to live in a true neighborhood where it’s possible to live, work, eat, shop, and do most other things without needing to get on a highway.

Metro area, Met Council jurisdiction limits (by Nick Magrino)

Metro area, Met Council jurisdiction limits (by Nick Magrino)

As Nick Magrino noted in his Measuring the Metro Area and Getting Real with the Map piece, only the core cities and a limited set of the suburbs can be considered “urban” in a traditional sense. Without the framework of a tight grid or other small-block layout, it becomes nearly impossible to meet or even set meaningful goals for increasing mode share for walking, biking, or taking transit, and it makes it extremely challenging to serve populations like children, the elderly, or those with disabilities who can’t move themselves around by car.

While developers have occasionally tried to go back to smaller block sizes in what I like to call “New Urbanish” projects, they are still often isolated in small pods. Going back to the grid is one of the only ways to break developers of their bad habits. But are we already too late?


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37 Responses to Getting Around the Block: City vs. Suburb

  1. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson April 27, 2016 at 9:12 am #

    Those suburban maps were … eye popping. I’m not sure it is possible to repair suburban development of cul de sac dead ends at this point. They are now filled with decade-long residents who know nothing else and don’t want it to change thinking what they have is the best thing ever.

    Some even think the style of street layout even related to the reason their neighborhood is filled with prosperity as if it will preserve and generate their lifestyle at every age bracket. We can obviously know that because it hasn’t existed for a few generations.

    Those suburban maps put visually what I felt internally about that style of city layout. Don’t like it one bit.

  2. Sara April 27, 2016 at 9:12 am #

    Where did you find these shapefiles? Very interesting!

    • Mike Hicks April 27, 2016 at 10:46 am #

      I did this the hard way by tracing blocks myself. For a suburb with a few hundred blocks, this seems to take about 2 days. Since Minneapolis and Saint Paul are so dense with small blocks, they took a couple weeks each.

      The US Census has block-level data that can be used to approximate these, though they define blocks in a somewhat different way than I did. Another way to get something similar would be to take street maps but delete paths that are dead-ends. Some messing around would be needed to deal with freeways if you want to remove them like I did.

      I didn’t really expect to make very many maps when I started, so I didn’t take the time to figure out a better way.

      For getting data for these maps, click the Google Maps link in the descriptions. When the map shows up, click on the little vertical ellipsis in the top-right corner of the legend box, and select “Download KML”.

      • Matthew Steele April 27, 2016 at 11:21 am #

        Wow, respect. I’ve done enough parking lot maps by hand tracing to imagine how much time these maps would take via hand tracing.

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary April 27, 2016 at 10:22 am #

    This is very cool, Mike!

    The only defense I offer of Eden Prairie is this: the traditional grids through the urban parts of the metro were either built on flat, dry land, or involved filling in wetlands, modifying lakeshore, etc to achieve flat dry land for an even grid and maximum number of lots. There is an environmental cost to this, and my understanding was that early Eden Prairie planners had a goal of minimizing disruption to wetlands and natural areas — in part for aesthetics, and in part because regulatory requirements changed a lot in the course of the 20th century.

    However, that only accounts for a small portion of the distortion. Woodbury is generally flat farmland, and they have an even lower ratio. And, as you point out, even if there is an environmental benefit in minimizing disruption to the natural environment, you seem to pay that back through mandating additional driving to get around it all.

    The double-length East Bloomington blocks are very strange to me. It seems unreasonable to have a full quarter-mile length of block in a residential grid. The lots are large, but unnecessarily so. I can see the appeal of a 50′ or even 65′ lot, but you’d need a pretty sprawling house to fill up a 75’+ lot. Most are modest ramblers, and the resulting blockface appears gap-toothed with added property maintenance burden for the residents.

    • Mike Hicks April 27, 2016 at 11:06 am #

      Yeah, I suspect the desire to preserve wetlands was a contributor to the way the area is laid out, but that doesn’t fully explain the situation. I’ve sometimes wondered if we should look to what the Dutch do for flood management when considering how to build up neighborhoods in the more waterlogged parts of our region. Their land is below sea level, while we have to deal with the after-effects of the land being scoured by glaciers in the ancient past.

    • Matthew Steele April 27, 2016 at 11:27 am #

      Regarding the environmental impacts of sprawling for the sake of “protecting natural features…” I probably don’t have to go further after laying out that previous sentence. But it is true that the way Minneapolis and other cities filled in wetlands, put concrete walls along lakeshores or riverfront, and put creeks into underground culvers probably wasn’t the best idea. But there’s definitely middle ground that gets the best of both worlds. After all, if we’re sprawling a suburb into unhealthy and unsustainable automobility in order to protect environmental features (and then name subdivisions after them) we’re simply doing it wrong.

      Another example of this is the ridiculous DNR waterfront regulations that impact land use statewide without regard to prevailing land use. These regulations are designed to protect water quality and maintain somewhat natural waterfront, and they accomplish that in many settings. But they miss the mark when it comes to the value of urban waterfronts, and they allow for the type of overbuilt (but highly regulated) lakeshore that’s damaging Lake Country in rural areas. Think about the Cannon River through downtown Northfield… It has a manmade dam, a concrete/stone floodwall, and there’s very little natural about it. But that short half mile section of the Cannon River is – by far – the most enjoyed segment of the river, with thousands of people living in close proximity to it. There’s actually environmental value in having small pockets of “urban waterfront” that may be wholly unnatural in many ways, but which allow for us to keep non-urban waterfront even more undeveloped and environmentally protected.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary April 27, 2016 at 11:38 am #

        I agree that there’s a valuable middle ground. In Northfield, I think that can be clearly seen just north of the downtown concrete viaduct — the Crossing site. Unfortunately, the park and trail have yet to be developed, but it could certainly be an enjoyable site. The main difference is that the building is set higher relative to the river, and set back farther. But the natural shoreline remains, and it is much more resilient to flooding than the downtown core.

        And yes, it is an astounding difference to compare crossings of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and St. Paul to the Minnesota River bordering Bloomington. The Minnesota River is protected by a massive buffer, and there are some deleterious effects to that, even if it is great for the water.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman April 27, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

      One person’s property maintenance burden is another person’s large area for their garden or kids to play. When I was growing up it was a 1/4 acre lot, and my parents were constantly looking at all the space the neighbors had in comparison. It was very rare for us to go to a park, usually we’d all play in my backyard or one of my friends. Now with all the fear and paranoia out that wasn’t really a part when I was growing up to the same degree it is now this trend will continue (we were warned that not to take rides with strangers, etc, but then let us roam the neighborhood unsupervised) you’re seeing this more and more elaborate backyard play areas with those Rainbow play systems.

      Now that I’m grown up I don’t want more to mow, but I can see why people might want bigger lots. Even with ramblers it results in a lot of wasted space on the sides, but when the block width is fixed, making the lot wider is the only way to get more space in back.

  4. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman April 27, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    Most of the people I know from the exurbs like the way their laid out (or they wouldn’t have bought houses there)- the hierarchical road network keeps most of the traffic from driving down their street, instead clustering it on roads that can be designed to have the volume of traffic with few or no private driveways, turn lanes, higher speed limits, etc. Most of the services they need are clustered in a strip mall a short drive away. That urbanists think this is wrong and a problem that needs to be “fixed” (and not just a different way of doing things) while people from the suburbs aren’t advocating that Minneapolis build a bunch of cul-de-sacs, is where a lot of their hostility to the city comes from.

    Meanwhile, compare the protected bicycle infrastructure of the exurbs to Bloomington or even Minneapolis. Typically every major street has at least one protected, off-road bicycle trail and the minor cul-de-sacs, with no through traffic, don’t need them. It doesn’t stop me from living there, but I do wish Bloomington had higher speed limits and no private driveways and fewer cross-streets on some of the major streets like Old Shakopee, as well as protected bicycle paths along the major streets.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller April 27, 2016 at 11:18 am #

      We need people to drive less, at least until cars are all electric and electricity is all renewable. Suburb street/neighborhood designs that make it difficult or impossible to get any without a car are an obstacle.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary April 27, 2016 at 11:21 am #

      Bike advocates and engineers have done a remarkable job rebranding the side-path as a protected bikeway. However, even the most generous would not possibly call this forlorn asphalt sidewalk a “protected bikeway”. It has zero special provisions at intersections — in fact, crossing most of these intersections is probably much more dangerous than crossing an intersection of a typical Minneapolis sidewalk on a major street, because of added free-flow right turns and unfavorable traffic signal treatment.

      Yes, the new ones are wider, have better curb ramps, etc, but the fundamental flaws have not changed.

      Trying to decide whether that’s worse, or whether a 50s/60s-era sidewalk along Nicollet Ave in Bloomington is worse, is like trying to pick between Cruz and Trump. They’re both horrendous in their own way. Greater access management is nicer on exurban stroads — for the safety of sidewalk users and the whole roadway. I wish it had been accomplished through alleys, rather than through turning the houses away from the street, however.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman April 27, 2016 at 11:53 am #

        Of course you picked one of the worst examples to make your point. Most of the time they’re wider and in better condition. But still I’d 100 times rather ride my bicycle on that rather than have to share the same physical pavement as cars as I would in most of Bloomington and Minneapolis. Even the 86th Street only has a thin layer of paint between bicycles and cars.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary April 27, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

          I intentionally picked an intersection, because that is — universally — the achilles heel of these trails. But beyond that, there was no special selection. I dropped at a few points in the Eden Prairie Center area, that was the first that wasn’t a concrete sidewalk. As Eden Prairie’s densest area of destinations, both retail and office, I would think it would have some of the finest bike-ped amenities available — but I guess that’s a faulty assumption.

          But here, have a brand-new MUP, along Pioneer Trail. It’s better, but still gets eaten up by massive curb radii. As an added feature, they have the right-turn lanes occupying the boulevard, so cars begin their deceleration from 45 mph right next to you. (They must not be able to decelerate all that much, because the radius is so broad, they can probably take it at 20.)

          Herrgott Memorial Drive in Shakopee has probably the gold standard MUP setup in my opinion. It’s at least 10′ wide on both sides, has a wide boulevard, and even has at least one trail underpass. Yet on-grade intersections are still treacherous. At this unsignalized intersection with a residential collector, pedestrians and bikes have to be in the intersection for ~93′ between curb ramps. (And god help them if they have to cross the arterial, rather than walk/ride along it.) Compare that to about 38′ pedestrians have to cross a typical Minneapolis residential street (32′ + the additional space lost to the corner). Even more 1:1 analogous crossings, like Cedar Ave and 42nd St, are about 50′ from curb ramp to curb ramp.

          • Monte Castleman
            Monte Castleman April 27, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

            It would have been a lot better if they had built the crosswalk across the median, but I’ve crossed situations like that (not this particular one but similar) on a bicycle and don’t have a problem with them. As for crossing County 21, there’s not a “no pedestrians” sign, but the intent is obviously that trail traffic use the grade separated crossing a block away.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller April 27, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

          At the risk of replying to each of your comments (sorry), another nice thing about street grids is that the lesser streets and avenues have almost no through traffic, so you can bike on them without really having to share with cars.

          I still typically use Park and Portland for my bike commutes, which are pretty good with their wide bike lanes, but the cars still move pretty fast and one did in fact back into me (apparently trying to park).

          So sometimes I meander a bit more, using streets like 17th Ave (designated bike boulevard), 43rd St., 16th Ave, 39th, 13th, etc. Basically, any street that isn’t a major through street, turning if there’s a hill in my way. It may become my preferred approach.

    • Matthew Steele April 27, 2016 at 11:39 am #

      Having grown up in a 1990s-vintage suburban development pattern with a hierarchical road network, I get confused when people claim that urban neighborhoods like mine have “such bad traffic.” I seem to remember traffic being far worse – if with less cars – in the south metro suburbs I knew so well. The hierarchical road network forced everyone onto a few stroads or freeway interchanges to go to work or run errands.

      It would be difficult to impossible to optimize the majority of these activities to avoid the “upper levels” of the hierarchical road network… the levels which seem to fail, despite your faith in engineers to design those facilities to not-fail with money that doesn’t exist. There are psychological failures associated with the hierarchical road network too. I’m sure most people have been on a freeway during extreme congestion when they can’t even turn onto a side street. Or having to wait through multiple cycles to get through a stoplight, without any opportunity to choose an alternative route. Every time I go to the suburbs, I am reminded of how frustrating driving is in that environment.

      Compare that with being in an urban neighborhood, which many suburban-dwellers would say has bad traffic. First, far fewer trips actually require car use. I live in quiet low-density neighborhood by Mpls standards (I have a yard and all the rest) and I can still walk to countless services, shops, and restaurants. The way these are built, I can do multiple things at once: I can pick up a dozen eggs at the grocery store on my walk back from the lake/beach, or I can pick up my dry cleaning which is next door to my local coffee shop or barber. But even if I do drive, I find the urban street grid to be much more welcoming and that’s because of the choices it provides. If one street is backed up, I can turn off within a couple hundred feet and meander over to another arterial street which is usually four blocks away. I can drive a variety of routes between point A and point B, giving me a variety even in the absence of traffic, which is more engaging for my mind as I get from point A to point B. And when I get to my destination, I know that if I can’t find a prime parking spot in front of the business I want, I can usually find easy street parking just around the corner or down the block. Even *driving* is more enjoyable in the city.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman April 27, 2016 at 11:59 am #

        I guess we have different opinions then. I like driving around the suburbs with hierarchical road networks, but I absolutely hate driving around Minneapolis streets. Most of the streets are narrow and without turn lanes so if a car stops to turn it backs up traffic two or three blocks; you get onto a residential street and there’s usually cars parked on either side with only enough space for one lane of traffic so there’s no room to pass a car going the other direction. If you cut onto a side street to avoid the traffic at one of those intersections with no turn lanes, chances are it has one of those diverter things to stop you from doing that.

        • Mike Hicks April 27, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

          Are you talking about going to a major event or something? 2- or 3-block backups are rare events in my experience. In my old neighborhood, there were considerable backups on Como Avenue when the State Fair was going on, though other streets tended to be clear. The rest of the year, traffic was “heavy” if there were more than 2 or 3 cars in front of me at my nearest stop sign.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller April 27, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

          If you want to condemn the diverter things, I’ll join you, but at least those are not particularly widespread.

          Otherwise, it sounds like you’re talking about driving around the Wedge, or maybe parts of Uptown. Across most of the city the streets are wider and parking on both sides is rarer. You won’t really run in to those problems trying to get to 48th & Chicago or 50th & 34th, for example.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke April 27, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

          For me, ideally driving around Minneapolis or Saint Paul would require a shift in mind-set, no longer driving to speed or pass people but settling into a slower pace of traffic. I am most bothered by streets that attempt to create arterial level speeds (40mph or so) in walkable neighborhoods. I find them very dangerous and that the erode the safety and quality of urban living, and, given the number of traffic lights you commonly find, without much benefit for either drivers or anyone else.

          • Matthew Steele April 27, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

            This. I actually consider the slow pace of driving on Minneapolis streets (or at least, my slow pace) to be a feature rather than a bug.

        • NiMo April 27, 2016 at 11:48 pm #

          It’s all about what you’re used to. A coworker of mine who lives in apple valley was dropping me off at my apartment near Liquor Lyles and exclaimed “you drive on these streets?” The narrowness is something you’re either used to or not.

          I’m from NW DC originally and gotta say nothing compares to McKinley st for the narrow road experience. The E bus routes, which are pretty busy, run on it and those busses ain’t stopping for no one except another bus. It’s the only case I’ve come across where a somewhat major thoroughfare is too tight for opposing cars to drive unhindered.

          • Matt Brillhart April 28, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

            “It’s all about what you are used to” – agreed, and it goes both ways.

            I’m not used to driving around places like Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove. I was driving out there last winter, after dark, and I found the experience harrowing. Admittedly, I didn’t know my way around, but navigating 6-lane mega-stroads with dual left turns, stoplights with incredibly long phases, including protected lefts for every possible movement…it was scary and stressful.

            On the flip side, I hear from people even in Richfield about how they can’t stand the crowded streets in Minneapolis and “can’t imagine how people live like that.” If you’re not used to the parked cars & reduced sight lines, pedestrians everywhere, slower moving traffic, etc., you probably feel the same way I do about driving around Arbor Lakes – it’s scary and stressful.

            The good thing is that people’s perspectives and habits can be changed. I know mine has, moving from Woodbury to St. Paul (a less dense area) and finally to Uptown. Living around Uptown for the last 5 years has completely changed my approach to driving. I take it slow, rarely exceed 30, take corners cautiously, proactively look for pedestrians at intersections, make (near) actual complete stops, etc.

            • Eric Anondson
              Eric Anondson April 28, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

              I think the dislike of city streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul comes from the natural discomfort caused my narrowed lanes and streets. Peope don’t like the street environment making them uncomfortable at driving faster than the limit. They know the limit says 30, but where live that “means” 35–45, and there is no way in hell they feel comfortable driving the way they are familiar with streets designed exactly for what the posted limit actually says.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke April 28, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

              Drive in Europe some time. Minneapolis streets are very wide. Some engineers thing that 10′ lanes are way too narrow but it’s all relative.

        • Shawn Lavelle May 3, 2016 at 10:25 am #

          I continue to feel that this community sees the only solution to perceived problems in suburban life is to force those people into the urban mold. The folks who moved to the suburbs did that as a rejection of the urban life. They wanted their homes to have larger yards, to be less dense. And that’s really really okay. Not everyone wants to live in the super-high density that urbanity brings.

          Surburbs are laid out different from Urban settings. Not surprising, rather, expected, intentional, even. So this comparison is broken and just about pointless. Suburban residents want different things than urban residents and it’s silly to even consider that you can or should force that upon them. Apples to Oranges.

          Urban Life cannot be the only answer to the population growth problem. I challenge this community to come up with solutions that don’t mandate high density.

          • Eric Anondson
            Eric Anondson May 3, 2016 at 10:42 am #

            I challenge you to come up with options to get housing for people that don’t mandate people buying homes further and further from places they want to be and places they work, and mandate making high demand places exclusionary of moderate incomes.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller May 3, 2016 at 10:47 am #

            “The folks who moved to the suburbs did that as a rejection of the urban life.”

            Most people started in the suburbs and never left. I’d wager many have never even thought about leaving.

            “Suburban residents want different things than urban residents and it’s silly to even consider that you can or should force that upon them.”

            We can’t and shouldn’t force it on them. We can and should advocate in ways that might make some people who haven’t really thought about their preferences do so.

            We also can and should ask that those who truly want larger yards and less density to pick up the full tab for those choices.

            We don’t have a population growth problem (arguably, the opposite, actually). We do have a sprawl problem, the only solution to which is enabling density for those that want it. Right now, the demand for apartment and homes in the city sure looks likes there are plenty who do.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary May 3, 2016 at 10:55 am #

            “The folks who moved to the suburbs did that as a rejection of the urban life.”

            This is a ridiculous assertion. People who moved to the suburbs did so because of various amenities, reasons, etc. I would bet for many, they wanted a newer home at a lower price. Others may have wanted particular schools, to be closer to relatives, etc. I suspect very few moved there specifically because they like the 50 mph stroads.

            And you get into a particularly sticky situation when people move to certain places for opposing reasons. I moved to Richfield originally for family reasons, but it was an acceptable/desirable place for me to live because it was in bikeable proximity to downtown, had a lot of destinations nearby, and had extensive high-frequency transit service. Some neighbors, on the other hand, moved to Richfield for having slightly larger lots than most of Minneapolis, and greater proximity to freeways — more suburban characteristics.

            Does only one of those points of view deserve to be represented? Based on continued concern with accommodating off-street parking, drive-thrus, moderate-to-low densities, etc, I’d say the suburban mentality is far from underrepresented.

          • Janne Flisrand
            Janne May 3, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

            I’d also ask why demand for core city housing is so much higher — as measured in the cost per square foot of home — than in suburban communities. It sounds to me like there is more demand for urban housing than there are homes available. That doesn’t negate the desire for suburban communities, but it does suggest we need more of the urban ones for the people like me who want to be in walkable neighborhoods with urban amenities.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller April 27, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

        Every once in awhile (like Monday, when there was a downpour as I was heading out), I drive to work. I usually drive up Bloomington Ave, which I’ve never seen backed up, meander to the west slightly where ever strikes my fancy and continue on Chicago in to downtown. It’s an incredibly low-stress drive.

        I do more or less the reverse on the way home, except before I do, I look out my office window at all of the cars backed up trying to get on to 35W heading south and think, “man, I’m glad I don’t have to try to do that.”

  5. J N April 27, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    One of the main reasons I moved out of Eden Prairie was how much I hated how the roads are arranged.. Getting anywhere required getting in my car would take at least an 8 min drive. I lived less than a mile from the mall and every time I tried walking there I had run across intersections to avoid getting hit (a slight exaggeration but not much of one). There are some nice trails… but they didn’t go anywhere… I lived next to a bus stop and I think I only saw a bus 4 times in the 6 years I lived there. Traffic was always fast and always annoying.

    Grids are awesome, if one road has a problem you just take the next one over. There’s also a traffic calming effect when there are multiple routes that people take.

    Side walks that go places are also awesome. we need more of those.

  6. Steve H. April 27, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    It would be fascinating to see one of these maps for Edina.

  7. Steve Gjerdingen April 27, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    I’m confused, what does the blue mean on the MetCouncil map?

    • Mike Hicks April 27, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

      That’s highlighting the general areas that mostly have a street grid and small blocks, just as a quick high-level map from Nick. It isn’t as fine-grained as the maps I’ve been making, but the areas in blue there would be the most likely to have significant swaths of green in my maps.

    • Matt Brillhart April 27, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

      Read Nick Magrino’s excellent post (http://streets.mn/2015/02/19/measuring-the-minneapolis-st-paul-metro-area-and-getting-real-with-the-map/) for the full story, but generally the blue areas are those that were developed with traditional rectangular street grids