Three Ways to Improve Walkability Without Touching the Street


The accident scene at Hamline and Grand earlier this year. Img Strib.

Most US cities, Minneapolis and St Paul included, are in dire need of traffic calming and complete streets.  Critical streets are dangerously overbuilt: corners have been widened, lanes widened, streets widened. Over the last half century, Herculean governmental and financial efforts have been thrown at reshaping our cities for driving at the expense of those on foot.

We all know this. (Those of you who read this site probably do, anyway.) We all know that we should work overtime on traffic calming, road diets, sidewalk extensions, lane narrowing, and a whole host of other design approaches that might begin to undo some of the damage to our walkable urban fabric. City leaders say that this is one of their goals. Improving walkability is in every comprehensive plan that I’ve read, and it’s the premise of many of the debates we seem to have online, at seminars, and at meetings. We all know we need to make our cities safe for people on foot.

But when it comes down to any one particular project, the situation seems to change. A proposal goes out for traffic calming  (say, on South Nicollet Avenue), and all of a sudden each parking space becomes crucial to the city’s economy, each lane of asphalt becomes vital to the regional transportation network, and (I’m sorry but) there’s no money to do anything at this time. It’s rare to follow through on our good intentions, to turn words into actions. We might say we want to make our streets safer for vulnerable pedestrians, but talk is cheap, and change is hard, and that goes double for concrete.

That’s why I’m here to provide you with three things any city can do, at little expense, to dramatically improve walkability without touching a hair of the actual roadway. Any city could make these changes and improve safety for everyone overnight, without taking away anyone’s parking spot or extra traffic lane, and without spending a dime on concrete removal or bituminous anything. These changes would all be big strides forward to increase safety in our neighborhoods, and they could all be achieved without anyone’s property rights being adjusted even in the slightest. Read ’em and weep:


#1 Red Light Cameras

minneapolis red light camera

Not science fiction, science fact.

Picture a motion activated camera mounted on a stoplight at a particularly dangerous intersection that snaps a photo of cars  breaking the law by running the red light. The technology is pretty straightforward. They take a picture of the license plate of the car breaking the law, and send a ticket to the address associated with that car. At one level, the cameras seem like a no brainer. They’re a very cheap enforcement tool for a highly dangerous behavior. Who is going to defend people speeding through a red light at an intersection full of pedestrians? That’s extremely dangerous, and puts people on foot at great risk. That’s practically indefensible…

… unless you’re the Minnesota Supreme Court. As you may remember, Minneapolis installed red light cameras for a short time back in 2008. (One example was at the Franklin and 3rd Avenue intersection, one of the city’s most dangerous for bicycle accidents.) After an outcry by civil libertarians (who presumably enjoy speeding through stoplights and threatening to maim people trying to cross the street?), there was a lawsuit and a court decision. The court declared that the cameras were unconstitutional because of something or other. (You can read the decision here.) Personally, I don’t get how these are any different from parking tickets. Red light cameras made our cities much safer by providing cities with an extremely cheap enforcement tool, targeted very specifically at the areas that posed the most danger to pedestrians. They were a good idea then, and they’re a good idea now.  Someday I hope we have legislation in place that allows this efficient and effective traffic calming device to go back onto the stoplights of Franklin Avenue and dangerous corners everywhere.


#2 ‘No Turn on Red’ Signs


The ‘no turn on red’ sign at Portland and Franklin, Minneapolis.

Turning on a red light might not seem like a big deal to you, but try telling that to Cleo Thiberge’s family. (You’ll have to learn to speak French first.) She was the victim of a particularly shocking tragedy earlier this year on the corner of Grand and Hamline Avenues, involving a car speeding around a corner in the most walkable part of St Paul. Studies show that most accidents occur at intersections, and most accidents at intersections occur with vehicles turning corners at speed. Corners at intersections should be the focus of attention for cities thinking about improving their sidewalks. Of course, bumpouts are the real solution. But that’s expensive, and a ‘no turn on red’ sign does the job at a tiny fraction of the cost.

There’s a comfort dynamic here too. As a cyclist, or a pedestrian, whenever I’m on the corner of an intersection, and a car starts crawling through the crosswalk trying to turn on red, I have to do the awkward fender dance, trying to share space with a two-ton unstoppable stinky noisemachine invading the pedestrian realm. Sometimes this leads to militant pedestrianism; more often, it leads to a depressing stroll. If we want to actually encourage people to walk around our cities, we need to do more than plant a tree or two. If our hypothetical walker has to hurdle a hood every time her or she crosses the street, we’re not doing our jobs.

The thing that’s irksome is that, when cars are turning on red lights through frequented crosswalks, the benefits for the motorist are marginal at best. We are exchanging a few seconds of someone’s commute for a degraded pedestrian space all across the board. There’s no real reason to do this, other than to make marginal differences for traffic flow. New York City and the Netherlands have blanket bans on turning on red, but most cities could begin addressing this problem by posting signs at any corner that meets a sufficient pedestrian density threshold. With a bit of enforcement, it would be cheap and effective.


#3 Ban Cell Phones while Driving


A driver turning on red while on the the phone on Portland Ave.,Minneapolis.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there’s no such thing as a good driver. (There’s only someone paying more or less attention.) That’s because the science on cell phones is pretty sound. That’s the main reason why, last year, the National Transportation and Safety Board (the ones responsible for keeping airplanes from crashing) held a press conference and called for a national ban on cell phones while driving. (That decision must have taken some guts.) The policy recommendation was based on a decade of study of accidents due to distraction, and fits with lots of neurological and attention studies that show that people who drive while on the phone are bad at noticing their surroundings.

To say that the announcement was met with the collective sound of chirping crickets in every city across the US would be an insult to crickets. Both the cell phone and car industries were shocked, resisted the legislation suggestion, and basically nothing happened.

But that doesn’t change the fact that a person driving a car while talking on the phone is far more likely to plow into somoene crossing the street than someone whose phone is turned off in their pocket. As I’ve pointed out before, as phones become more and more ubiquitous, this problem will only get worse. Nine states ban hand held phones while driving. (Including Nevada!)  If your city was serious about improving safety for pedestrians, they would too.


Talk is Cheap. These Changes are Cheap, too.

Most everyone likes to say they support traffic calming, promoting walking, and increasing safety. Doing any or all of these three things would make immediate progress on those goals at minimal cost to the city. They are all steps that begin to change the culture of automobile dominance on our streets, the kind of attitudes that allow people to creep through the crosswalk, honk at bicycles taking the lane, treat speed limits signs as minimums, or drive blindly through the curb cut out of the parking ramp downtown. (“Caution! Car approaching!“)

At some point, as a society, we have to ask whether saving an extra few seconds on a car trip is worth making all of our crosswalks and sidewalks dangerous. We have to ask whether or not that phone call is worth getting someone killed. Maybe next time one of our political leaders says that they we want to make walking a priority, they could actually do it. The tools are there. They’re not expensive, and they don’t have to involve re-making the street (though that would be nice). All of these tactics are the equivalent of “calling the bluff.” Sure there are some political challenges, but if cities and governments really meant what they said, they’d do one or all of these things. Until then, I’m giving myself permission to remain a bit cynical.

43 thoughts on “Three Ways to Improve Walkability Without Touching the Street

  1. Ross Williams

    There are three solutions and they all have barriers at least as high as fixing streets:

    They ignore three rules for those of us who really want to create better communities with less traffic and more transportation options:

    1) Law enforcement doesn’t work very well to solve engineering mistakes.

    2) Drivers are most careful about their own safety, and less careful about the safety of others.

    3) Speed kills and traffic engineers value speed above everything else

    The cheapest and easiest way to make the pedestrian environment better is to lower speed limits to 20 mph, 15 mph on local residential and business streets. Lower speed limits might not immediately lower the actual speed of traffic, but over time people would become accustomed to much lower speeds. At that point, they will slow down because 30 mph or 40 mph feels unsafe for them.

    Eliminate right turn on red except where a sign allows it. This was the law for most of the 20th century.

    Shorten traffic cycles so that pedestrians don’t need to wait more than 20 seconds to cross the street after pushing the button for a walk signal. Give pedestrians an automatic walk signal in every cycle. On intersections where the green cycle only occurs when traffic is present, don’t make pedestrians wait for non-existent traffic by activating a don’t walk cycle across the street. Set traffic cycles to provide reasonable times for pedestrians to slowly cross the street.

    Pedestrians are already strictly liable for collisions with cars, if they are hit by one it is doubtful they will be left harmless. Make drivers strictly liable for pedestrians. If they hit one, it is the drivers fault unless it is clear there was nothing they could have reasonably done to avoid the collision. That will equalize responsibility to some extent.

    The truth is there are plenty of cheap ways to create a pedestrian friendly environment. The real “cost” is the speed of automobiles. And that is not a price traffic engineers are willing to pay. Until we win public support to demand those changes, they aren’t going to make them.

    1. Froggie

      Lowering speed limits without making A) changes to enforcement or B) changes to the road just isn’t going to work. People drive at what they’re comfortable with. I don’t recall any studies offhand, but empirical evidence of this arbitrary reduction of speed limits, as you suggest, just makes drivers more apt to ignore speed limit signs.

      If you truly want drivers to slow down, you need to reengineer the road to suit those lower speeds. Slapping up a fancy black-on-white numbers sign isn’t going to do it.

      1. Ross Williams

        Its true people drive at the designed speed. But the traffic engineers won’t design roads for the posted speed. They engineer them to be safe at a higher speed. Until you establish a lower universal speed limit, you will never get street designs that slow down traffic. Even traffic calming is limited by the posted speed.

        Putting up a sign “Slow Children” is a waste of money but lowering the basic speed limit does in fact slow traffic. There are many people who do pay attention to speed limits and as they slow down, so do others. What feels safe changes as our expectations change. So setting expectations matters.

    2. Jeb

      “Give pedestrians an automatic walk signal in every cycle.”

      Please, no. In certain (perhaps many) intersections, this is a decent idea, especially during peak travel times. However, many intersections, especially in smaller towns, have a dominant road which usually has the light (especially during non-peak hours) and a side road that is triggered by the vehicle. Giving a walking cycle in this instance would more than likely lead to an unnecessary wait by motorists, making them more likely to want to run that red light that’s red for no apparent reason.

      Let’s not use a hatchet when a scalpel will work just as well.

      1. Ross Williams

        “However, many intersections, especially in smaller towns, have a dominant road which usually has the light (especially during non-peak hours) and a side road that is triggered by the vehicle. ”

        You must be a traffic engineer. That is exactly the point. If you want to create a good pedestrian environment, then you have to treat pedestrians as if they are equally important. Instead, we have traffic cycles designed to force pedestrians to wait even while motor vehicles travelling in the same direction don’t.

        MNDOT has destroyed small towns all over Minnesota by making their highway “dominant” and then creating barriers to crossing it to ensure traffic flows. Its bad for pedestrians and its bad for livable communities. It is good only if you think mobility trumps all other values.

        1. Jeb

          There’s nothing wrong with having the walk signal automatically go when the button is pressed, or even having the walk signal automatically activated on the dominant street if there is a fair amount of pedestrian traffic (or a strong potential to be if minor changes were made to make it so.) And if a pedestrian hits the button to cross the street in such a situation, it should be treated exactly as a car would (which usually means the light changing immediately to yellow and then red, allowing the cross street to cross.)

          But we shouldn’t make it so that, if I’m driving (or walking) through town at 11 at night with not another soul in sight, I have to wait for the walk to change to a flashing don’t walk, wait 10-15 seconds for that to finish, and then get the yellow, red, and then cross traffic green light. And then, if I’m driving, the traffic on the dominant road (both pedestrian and vehicular) has to wait 10-15 seconds (or more) for a full walk cycle if no one is crossing as a pedestrian.

          If we want to have people respect traffic signals, we need to make sure that they’re respecting people’s time, too, and that means not having unnecessary delays for some vain hope of “walkability.” Walkability can be done with much less affect on the driving population (which is still the dominant use of most roads with traffic signals.)

          As for “ruining many a small town,” I wouldn’t be so fast to blame MnDOT on that. Many times highways that are used to transport people longer distances cut through towns when they’re probably better suited to bypass them. However, the business community doesn’t want the road to move, because then all of the traffic that went in front of their store (and may have stopped there) now is detoured around town so that through traffic doesn’t affect the walkability of the town. Wadena with US 10 and US 71 is one example, especially when looking at US 71. That kind of through traffic (especially truck traffic) shouldn’t be going through town at all if we want walkable cities.

          1. Ross Williams

            “I have to wait for the walk to change to a flashing don’t walk, wait 10-15 seconds for that to finish,,”

            You are complaining about waiting for 15 seconds in a warm car while the pedestrian is forced to wait for a full traffic cycle in the rain, heat, snow, 30 below wind chill etc.

            ” Many times highways that are used to transport people longer distances cut through towns when they’re probably better suited to bypass them.”

            Bypasses are a waste of money and an inconvenience for most users who want access to the services towns provide. So the services move out to the bypass where motorists coming to town can more easily access them and forcing people in town to drive out to the bypass for services that used to be within walking distance.

            Bypasses, in general, are just another example of a “transportation” department that is dedicated to mobility over access.

          2. Jeb

            “You are complaining about waiting for 15 seconds in a warm car while the pedestrian is forced to wait for a full traffic cycle in the rain, heat, snow, 30 below wind chill etc.”

            Yes and no. If there’s people going through the crosswalk/hit the button before a vehicle approached, they should instantaneously change to “walk” without regard to the possibility that a vehicle may come along to oppose them.

            Also note that I stated that, in areas where pedestrian traffic warrants it, they should get a light cycle. I’m simply stating that the all-or-nothing approach that’s being espoused here is simply bad policy.

            As for bypasses, they’re not always the best solution, but them being a waste of money and an inconvenience for most users seems a bit harsh. Most services that a through-motorist wants are gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and perhaps a hotel. Gas stations are truly made for motorists, and fast-food places could be considered that, also. Hotels can be either way, but often a hotel marketed at travelers will not be one that would be terribly useful for people staying in-town for a few days, and that market probably makes more sense to be segmented.

            However, having traffic (especially truck traffic) coming through town and all but forcing me to cross at a signalized intersection works as a strong disincentive towards walking to a business on the other side of the road. Bypasses aren’t always the answer, but to say that they’re bad due to some services going towards the bypass and not being readily accessible to pedestrian traffic seems like a tradeoff worth considering, especially when many of those services aren’t marketed towards pedestrians anyways.

          3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

            For the record, I didn’t espouse an ‘all or nothing’ approach. Maybe someday, that could be a goal, like it is in NYC or Holland. But in most US cities (like Minneapolis) you’d only want to install ‘no turn’ sings at corners that meet a certain density of people walking. I’d personally set that density fairly low, but that’s a matter for debate. (One of the reasons is that you want to, whether we admit it in public or not, start to discourage rapid movement through our cities by car… You want to start signaling to drivers that our urban spaces are places where cars have to defer to more vulnerable users, by default.)

          4. Jeb

            Bill: Certainly. It didn’t seem too “all-or-nothing” in your post. Ross seems to be doing so, but I could very well be wrong. (One of the annoyances of having non-instantaneous feedback.)

            Most of my experience is with smaller towns, as that’s where I spend the vast majority of my life. In these towns, it is pretty much a de facto requirement to have a vehicle, and until much larger investments are made to change that requirement (most importantly, a very robust intercity passenger bus/rail network offering numerous connections daily utilizing a hub-and-spoke network, most likely) we have to continue to operate under the assumption that most people are accessing the town via car, at least to some degree.

            In smaller towns, we need to identify where our main passenger corridors are (or where we want them to be) and try and move vehicular traffic away from them. For example, downtown Alexandria is built around Broadway, which also serves as the main north/south thoroughfare through town (being a 4-lane road with both MN 29 and MN 27 on it.) The only buffer to that traffic is the parallel parking on both sides. However, that comes at the cost of visibility: if people don’t pass by it, will they even know it’s there? In today’s technological age, it’s more likely people will still know about it, but it still doesn’t replace passing by it and seeing it casually, and downtown may wind up dead.

            Realistically, cars and pedestrians don’t mix well, and I believe we’re better served by trying to divert non-necessary vehicle traffic when possible (especially when semis and the like are involved.)

          5. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author


            Really interesting comment. This is kind of a side note, but at we’re really desperate to get some voices from more of the smaller towns of Minnesota to post on our blog, about issues that might be facing places like Wadena that would be missing from our current pool of largely Minneapolis & St Paul authors. If you are at all interested or curious about this, please email me at blindeke @ sometime, and I’d love to talk to you more about some advice about putting together a few posts of your own.

            The issue of bypasses in rural areas is really important for the life and death of those small towns, and it seems to me that the trade-off dynamics of access v. congestion are laid bare in these places. (I am thinking in particular of Cambridge MN, Stillwater MN, or Maiden Rock WI) I’m of the opinion, overall, that most smaller towns are better off NOT building a bypass around their main street, and keeping the traffic flow through the downtown regardless of how much congestion there might be during peak hours. The alternatives are just too horrid for the downtown (95% of the commerce moves out to the sprawling edge).

            OTOH, I see your POV re: people just trying to commute long distances. While I feel for them, I’d rather tackle the problem of finding ways to be economically resilient without having to commute 50 miles each way to make a living…

          6. Ross Williams

            “If there’s people going through the crosswalk/hit the button before a vehicle approached, they should instantaneously change to “walk” without regard to the possibility that a vehicle may come along to oppose them.”

            That would be fine. Except that isn’t the way the lights actually work. If a pedestrian approaches the intersection after the light has turned green they won’t get a walk signal at all. Or, if they fail to press the button until after the light turns green, they will have to wait through the full cycle. If they get there before the green, they will have to wait until the next green light to get a walk signal. And at the intersections you are most concerned about this can be a two minute or more wait.

            “Most services that a through-motorist wants are gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and perhaps a hotel”

            Who was talking about “through-motorists”. Most of the destinations for traffic on those “through highways” are in the town. It is people going to shop, work, school, recreate etc. Most small towns grew as marketplaces for a wider area and the population living in those areas around it now exceeds the population in the town.

            “However, having traffic (especially truck traffic) coming through town and all but forcing me to cross at a signalized intersection works as a strong disincentive towards walking to a business on the other side of the road. ”

            Again, most of the traffic on main streets is people accessing local services. Once you create an auto-dependent community, the only way you remove the traffic is by removing the services people want. The “truck traffic” argument is good propaganda, people understand that through-trucks don’t provide much benefit to the community, but it accounts for a very small portion of the traffic.

        2. Jeb

          Bill: Thanks! I’ll shoot you an email. As for the “commuter,” I’m hoping most people don’t commute 50 miles a day! I’m more thinking of my experiences both as a pedestrian as a child in a small town and as a traveler who often has to go through these towns to get to my destination (relatives, shopping in larger towns, etc.) The problem with bypasses is, of course, that much of the business moves to that bypass, since some of the main businesses in town are gas stations and “quick-service” restaurants.

          Ross: I realize that the lights don’t currently work that way. That would be a change that has to be made (and really should have always been that way.) I’ve been at my share of lights where I’m just waiting for a car to come by so that I can walk across.

          As for “through-motorists,” maybe Wadena wasn’t the greatest of examples, but I’m thinking of very small towns. Towns that are no longer the place where people go to get their major shopping done. Most people going through those towns aren’t planning on stopping there, except maybe to get gasoline and food. The new bypass around Paynesville will prove interesting, because it seems to be a case of “through-traffic” coming through the town (specifically, to/from St. Cloud and Willmar/Green Lake area.) Towns which are already destinations will stay so, and a bypass probably won’t change that. (Look at Willmar, MN or Le Mars, IA for proof of that.)

          The problem is, most of these destination towns revolve around the automobile, and until we make huge investments in other-than-car transportation, most people will access these towns by car. Ideally, we could condense these places so that people could park their cars and walk (or, less ideally, take transit around town) to wherever they need to go. Malls do this to some extent, but there are so many stores and services not in a mall. And even the Twin Cities isn’t doing a good job with park and ride if you’re trying to go to the Cities outside of rush hour. But that’s a rant for another time,

          1. Ross Williams

            “But in most US cities (like Minneapolis) you’d only want to install ‘no turn’ sings at corners that meet a certain density of people walking.”

            That isn’t where the problem is. On streets with lots of pedestrians, cars expect them and tend to wait. Its streets where there aren’t pedestrians that people just make the turn without checking. The question isn’t “all or nothing”, its what the default is. If people assume they have to stop, they will. Then, if there is a sign, they can continue. But if the default is not stopping you are going to see a lot of rolling stops.

            “Towns that are no longer the place where people go to get their major shopping done”

            There are certainly towns like that. Most of them don’t have any stoplights at all any more. The argument is usually over whether pedestrians will even get a marked crosswalk. But you will find once those towns are bypassed, they lose most of whatever businesses they had. They can’t survive on just business in town and for anyone outside town the bypass takes them to a bigger community down the road. You can make an argument for that, but it isn’t an argument that it improves the local community.

            I am trying to figure out how Willmar is an example of a walkable community.

            “The problem is, most of these destination towns revolve around the automobile ”

            Sure, if you make walking dangerous and unpleasant you can expect most people to drive everywhere. But you can find plenty of destination communities that are accessed by automobile but still walkable once people park their car. When that happens, people tend to walk. They also tend to buy more.

            Shopping centers do not create pedestrian friendly communities. The see of parking that surrounds them assures access only to the shopping center. The area around Southdale, our first enclosed mall, is not exactly a pedestrian paradise. People drive from one shopping mall to another making the whole area a congested mess. In smaller communities, the impact of seas of parking around shopping is even greater since those places grab a big slice of the business and force everyone into a car whether they live in town or not.

            Again, the question is what makes a community livable. If you focus on serving only people in automobiles, you end up with a community that is only vaguely pleasant as long as you stay in your car.

            1. Jeb

              Willmar is no example of a pedestrian friendly community, and I’m sorry if my response made it seem as though that is so. I was simply stating that a bypass around that city didn’t kill it. I do also realize that a bypass would kill some very small towns, but many of those would only be gas stations that would be inconvenienced. Grocery stores and other stores in these towns don’t rely on through motorists, after all, simply those in the community that won’t travel to larger communities anyways. The extra minute or so a bypass may save me won’t affect my decision on whether to go 15-25 more miles down the road to a larger town.

              Also, I’d like an example of a true “destination community” that serves the needs of the wider area well while still being walkable. Maybe I’m simply seeing the goalposts differently, though. In my life in a smaller town (when I’ve lived in town, that is) I’ve usually been able to walk to the grocery store, a general store/drug store, etc. to get needs that I needed that day or need in between larger shopping trips. If I’m stocking the fridge or getting various items for the house, though, I’ll need to drive to a “destination community.” Perhaps I can park, but then how can that be walkable from there on out, without vastly rethinking how our stores are set up? There are simple steps, sure (putting parking behind the store, with the store facing the street,) but many stores these days that people use most, in my experience, are stores that utilize a lot of square footage, and at some point you run into the problem of space.

              1. Ross Williams

                “Grocery stores and other stores in these towns don’t rely on through motorists, after all, simply those in the community that won’t travel to larger communities anyways. ”

                That is a misunderstanding of the situation. They rely on a combination of people in the local community and those who live nearby. If you make it less convenient for people who live nearby to access them and more convenient for them to go down the road, the stores can’t survive. The result is everyone, including those that live in town, have to drive further.

                You are right, most small communities have a suburban strip, including big box stores that is not very walkable. Its usually along their main access highway or adjacent to a bypass. Given the design of the highway with its hostile pedestrian environment, its a tough argument to make that stores should be situated close to the street for easy access by pedestrians.

  2. Jeramey Jannene

    The “no turn on red” signs seem like the only one you could do without politicians’ involvement (or that one clever politician could do on his own). Not that it’s the only way to get things done, just that if the goal is to do things that avoid changing the road (for avoiding obstructionists), it seems like the goal might be to find the easiest route to implementation possible

    In Milwaukee, we’ve found the best success when one or two Alderman and/or Public Works employees can slide things into fairly small projects that yield benefits without much (if any) controversy. Find your urbanism champions in city hall and the bureaucracy, and work with them to build a better city, one block at a time.

    It would be an interesting article to examine all the quasi-guerilla traffic calming tools, and what can be achieved the easiest. Is the “no turn on red” sign that important, or is there a better sign? Which is easiest to get installed?

  3. GML4

    Excellent writing Bill. I also enjoyed the comments. How about taking away signs and creating more uncontrolled intersections?

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex

      I think this is a big key. We live in a world where we have SO many signs, lights, conrollers of our actions, etc that as a driver you become completely insulated from the outside environment. Aka pedestrians, cyclers, etc.

      Problem is, I find this type of change on a big scale (not just one intersection in some town) to be extremely unlikely. Incremental changes listed already will have a long-term effect on the nature of drivers to the point where reducing signs/lights could become a reality because the average driver could handle it.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex

          What’s sad is that several cities in Europe have already done exactly that.. the big massive change in removing all signage/signals but like 10-15 per town… with extremely positive results!

          I’m also frustrated by the MN court’s decision on traffic cameras. First, what is the percent of time the car is being driven by someone other than the owner? Child? Spouse? Lent out? Stolen? Seems the burden of proof in any of those situations is pretty easy. Not that it should matter. The courts honestly ruled that since the camera can’t prove who is driving and burden of proof being more difficult than an equivalent police pull-over that we’d rather let breaking the law go un-punished? This further enforces the belief that it’s not a crime if police aren’t around. “No cop no stop” mentality that builds habits in people.

  4. pedro

    Great list Bill.

    Speed cameras were introduced in CO during the mid 90’s and they were just as controversial there as they’ve been in MN. However, in CO they stuck around. Whenever I visit my parents in the Denver suburbs, I’m always amazed that cars actually slow down in a yellow light. Not that walking or biking down a suburban stroad is anh more enjoyabke, but it becomes margianlly safer. Very stark contrast to the major (unenforced) problem of drivers running red lights in the Twin Cities. Enforcement can be effective, and speed cameras are relatively cheap with the high return of fair, insistent standards.

    For the record, universally prohibiting turns on red and phones while driving are good ideas too.

    1. Sheryl

      As a native New Yorker and a DC-area resident, I am amazed at the lack of walkability we tolerate. Downtown, for instance, right on red is permitted practically everywhere, with the burden of safe crossing clearly on the pedestrian, who has much more at stake in a person/car collision. It is common even inside the Beltway for traffic lights to be far apart, inviting pedestrians to tempt fate and dart across busy, high-speed, roads. Why should the pedestrian have to sacrifice five or 10 minutes to walk to the traffic signal to cross the road (which may or may not allot sufficient time to cross) when drivers need not sacrifice any speed for pedestrian ease or safety? In Maryland, there are places where gates have been placed in the middle of a road to prevent pedestrian crossings, and accidents, but no measures have been taken to make the streets, crossings or intersections more walkable.

    2. Pedro

      I should add that the success of speed cameras as an enforcement measure is underscored by the otherwise reckless driving behavior that Coloradoans have assumed over the last 15 years. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, average speeds on both highways and city streets have skyrocketed over that time. I blame both higher speed limits and the inmigration of relatively young drivers from areas with similar driving habits. In light of otherwise risky drivin behavior, compliance at stoplights due to speed camera enforcement is pretty remarkable.

  5. Faith

    Changing traffic lights to stop signs. It’s hard to get up much speed when you have to stop every block or two. It worked well on 31st Street.

  6. Omri

    4. Line the sidewalks with fender benders.

    Newspaper boxes. Mailboxes. Trees. Bushes. Art. Payphones. Next generation payphones preferably. Bollards.

  7. AdamBez

    For work I have been fortunate to spend some time in Perth, Western Australia. The traffic lights in their downtown area are sequenced in one direction for cars, the next direction for cars and then only pedestrians (so you can cross in any direction and diagonally). This is on top of a pretty slow speed limit to begin with and plenty of cross walks where cars must stop for pedestrians. Needless to say, is a really nice city to walk around in.

  8. Tom Murphy

    We have all three suggested cures in NYC(the City may be the last holdout for NO TURN ON RED), so maybe just maybe, we might be safer. You can check it out.
    We have a posted street speed of 30 MPH since 1963 when it was imposed by the State over City objection. It hasn’t been 20MPH since 1924(?) when the city increased it to 25MPH because the police chief said he’d have to arrest half of the city’s motorists if he had to enforce the lower limit. The City has installed SLO ZONES in succinct residential areas with 20MPH posting but they are limited(State would object) and the police do NOT enforce it. Yes, its only voluntary.
    Of course, the de facto speed is whatever you can get away with–keep it under 40.
    You know, of course, reports document high casualty rates on wide arteries with posted speeds of 40MPH or more. So you might have look around for scientific support for a drastic reduction.

    1. Ross Williams

      “the police chief said he’d have to arrest half of the city’s motorists if he had to enforce the lower limit”

      And my guess is that now he would have to arrest half if he enforced the higher limit. The problem is that when you set the maximum speed limit at 30, the traffic engineers will treat that as a target and engineer it for 40 to provide some fault tolerance. The result is that many people drive at the designed 40 mph speed, not the posted 30 mph speed.

      The fact is that at 15 mph many, if not most, pedestrians will walk away from a collision. At 20 they will be in the hospital and at 30 they will likely be dead.

      I actually once hit a pedestrian. He ran out from between parked vans and I didn’t see him until he was rolling across my hood. There were lots of witnesses, all of whom said there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. Thankfully it was a snowy night and, because the the streets were slick, I was driving very slowly. He apparently recovered, because he got up while and left on his own power while I was talking to the police, after refusing an ambulance. Had I been going 30 mph, he probably wouldn’t have survived.

      The point is speed kills. I suppose we need to balance that with our desire/need to get places quickly. But the slower the traffic, the safer and more pleasant it will be for those who have to share the road with that traffic.

  9. Shane J.

    Place some responsibility on walkers too! Most solutions focus on cars, lets look at walkers too.
    Staying in crosswalks, getting across the street and out of traffic in the allotted time. Walkers should not be allowed to text crossing streets.

    Bicyclists bring even more issues.

    So there needs to be a holistic approach rather than saying that cars are a problem, the problem is the interface where different modes of transportation come together.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex

      I’m confused why the idea that a pedestrian in the street not in a designated crosswalk should be seen as a crime. If we’re talking about a highway or freeway, a place specifically designated to take vehicles at high speeds from one place to another, then fine. But a STREET is a place that has shared ownership. Cars, people, bikes, kids playing games, etc all own that public space as it has many uses other than just transporting people inside vehicles.

      Texting while walking may be obnoxious but it poses no threat other than bumping in to another person if totally consumed. A person does not weigh 2 tons and move at speeds of 15-70 mph with killing capacity if otherwise distracted.

      I’m not saying that vehicles like bikes don’t break traffic laws by running signs or red lights. In our current mentality, this is wrong as it poses danger to themselves and others around them (including pedestrians if a motorist were to swerve and crash). But why not focus on limiting the vehicle with the real killing factor (and the numbers behind it certainly support this) and worry about texting pedestrians once we’ve solved 95% of the problems?

  10. Elizabet

    The problem that was identified with the Red Light Traffic Cameras is that the tickets were being issued to the owner of the car and MN Statute requires a traffic ticket to be issued to the driver of a vehicle at the time of the violation.

    Case in point: My car was stolen on a Monday and recovered nearly a week later on a Sunday. A month later, I got a Red Light Camera traffic ticket for my vehicle during the time it was missing (Wednesday) and the police hadn’t located it yet. That sure added insult to injury. Law Enforcement couldn’t tell me where my car was on that day but could have a robot issue me a ticket. (No, the cameras were NOT being used to assist in prosecution of crimes such as car theft) Fortunately, the system was shut down before I had to take time off of work to go in and produce the police report. Of course this is a rare occurrence, but it highlights a major flaw in the system. Traffic tickets need to be issued to the people committing the violation, not the person who just happens to hold title.

    What I would support the use of cameras on intersections for is to collect data of red light running that could assist street cops to identify troubled intersections and times of day that have high incident rates for them to maximize patrol time.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      I still don’t get how that’s different from a parking ticket? If I borrow someone’s car and drive it and get a ticket, it might get mailed to that person, no? (Or, if I run through a toll gate or something.)

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex


        One question, are any of our toll roads (394, 35W) monitored by camera or do you have to be pulled over to get the ticket for violating. My experience is that during peak times on the direction enforced several state patrol and police cars are used to pull over violators. 1) waste of money and/or manpower, 2) not comprehensive as people game the system by moving over before the meter if they see the patrol car. Do we have any tolls monitored by camera?

        Also, a parking ticket isn’t a moving violation and doesn’t have the same effect on your license status and auto insurance, which would be the argument from the supporters of repealing the cameras.

        Still makes zero sense to me. Howbout this.. Driving is a privilege, not a right. If you’re going to loan your car out to someone, they better be trustworthy enough to 1) not break the law, and 2) if they do, own up to it and be willing to testify in court of law of their part in it.

        1. David LevinsonDavid Levinson

          The problem is the toll lanes allow HOVs for free, and this is hard to detect with camera (or anything else). The excuse would be that I just had a short person in the back that you didn’t see with your camera.

    2. pedro

      The problem was not the concept itself – it was in implementation. I’m not sure what other states that use intersection cameras do in the case of a stolen vehicle, but presumable there could be statutory allowance for these situations if the vehicle owner could furnish the police report for the theft, for instance. More broadly, what liability do vehicle owners assume for other violations and fees that are accrued by the thief (parking tickets, towing fees, impound fees, etc.)? Plus, what percentage of vehicles on the road at any one time are stolen? It’s unfortunate that this happened to you, but I wouldn’t expect this to be a huge problem for society.

      The problem with MN motorists running red lights is that it’s not enforced in the Twin Cities, period. People using all modes ignore red lights. On a regular basis, I see cars, walkers, and bicyclists run red lights. In spite of witnessing many such infractions in the Cities, I have never seen anyone ticketed.

  11. Ross Williams

    “Place some responsibility on walkers too!”

    If a walker gets hit by a car, don’t they end up taking responsibility for it?

    “getting across the street and out of traffic in the allotted time.”

    We need to allot enough time for the slowest pedestrians.

    “Staying in crosswalks”

    Crosswalks are unsafe for pedestrians. The most dangerous place to cross the street is at an intersection. We require pedestrians to use them for the convenience of motorists, not for their own safety.

    “So there needs to be a holistic approach rather than saying that cars are a problem,”

    That is what is proposed here. A holistic approach that does not require everyone else to compensate for the unsafe operation of motor vehicles. Or suffer the consequences.

  12. BB

    I suggest we create an owner law. Won’t admit to who was using your weapon. You recieve a smaller offense.

    Then create a driver law if they bring forth the guilty party. The we remove the owner penalty.

    Sign a law in place requiring police to get the black box data in car collisions. use that to generate crash data for starters.

    Devlop a crash app for smartphones. Which would allow citizens to document the crashes for data puprposes or criminal.

    Sign a law into place that would allow a citizen to capture on video the traffic violation and be able to report this. (see owner law)

    Allow bussiness to use the on street parking spaces how they want to. (create parks, cafes, etc). Provide set of guidelines and let them build it.

    Hold short skits in the public realm which send a PSA message about peds and bicyclists.

    Close off the streets temporarily with road closed signs and Snow plows

  13. Ross Williams

    The problem is we have a system that presumes innocence and protects people from incriminating themselves. A picture of their car doesn’t prove they violated the law and we can’t force them to either admit it or tell us who was driving.

    I believe some states allow people to fill out an affidavit that they were not the driver. So this may be a question of getting the proper legal structure in place, rather than its impossible to use them.

    Parking tickets are the responsibility of the vehicle owner, not the person who parked it. Your car gets a parking ticket, you don’t.

  14. Ross Williams

    “Realistically, cars and pedestrians don’t mix well, ”

    This is the perspective traffic engineers bring to the pedestrian environment. It sums up why they create such atrocious pedestrian environments. Their goal is to discourage pedestrians from interfering with motor vehicles, rather than designing spaces that both can share. They treat bicycles the same way for the same reason.

    There is no doubt that shared spaces require compromises for all users. If you design a space entirely for the benefit and convenience of people when they are driving a car, they will drive a car. And you will have an increasingly auto-dependent community that is hostile to pedestrians.

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