Does Minneapolis have too many stoplights?

Sisters Sludge (owned and operated by three sisters for the past two decades) is a neighborhood fixture and a three block walk from my house. It’s a place where I’m known by name and where I’m likely to run into a neighbor.

Needless to say, I’ve spent countless hours gazing out the large windows at the streetcorner. I’ve seen hundreds of route 14 and 46 buses shuttling people across town, and countless airplanes in the distance on final approach to MSP. I’ve watched people walking across the intersection to get a tube for their bike at Dwight’s shop or a maybe haircut from Don the barber.

46th St and Bloomington Ave S

46th St and Bloomington Ave S. Old lights.

The cadence underlying all of this activity was constant. Every thirty seconds, the stoplight would change, just as it had for decades. Many times, as I’ve sat at a red light at midnight with no other car in sight, I always imagined there was an inscription on the aging yellow control box that read, “Neither congestion nor pedestrian nor loop detector nor absence of traffic stays these luminaries from the swift completion of their appointed sequence.”

That all changed a few months ago. Temporary stop signs went up, and the old signals came down. Parts were apparently on delay, or the four way stop signs may have just taken a liking to our great neighborhood corner.

And it was great.

Sure, it took a week or two for people to get used to change, and a few people ran a stop sign. There were car horns. The long OMG! honks, rather than the short taps common whenever someone takes longer than a half second to step on the gas when a light turns green. But the honks followed the congestion into the sunset (down at Chicago Ave) and life on our corner was grand.

Until yesterday, when the new stoplights came online.

Are there really too many?

In 1910, less than 5% of American households owned a car. That jumped to nearly 50% by 1930. In the two decades after WWII, car ownership grew to near ubiquity as we know it today. At first, traffic conflict and control of right of way was not a critical concern. That changed in the post-war boom, which brought us some of the old-generation stoplights being phased out today (and some of the one-way couplets we wish were phased out).

Fast forward a half century. Congestion, especially during rush hours, continues to be a problem. Modern signal controls, loop and camera detectors, advanced modeling, and software give traffic engineers the ability to reduce congestion caused by stoplights.

The city, to this end, received a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant and invested city funds to move forward with an $18 million signal re-timing across the city.

This is, in general, a wise and non-controversial investment. Even if there are dozens of extraneous stoplights in Minneapolis, we still need a majority of the 800 or so to stick around. We ought to invest in the technology to get the most out of our existing streets and intersections. Electronics are cheaper than concrete.

But, as the Germans say…

Organisation vor Elektronik vor Beton.
Organization before electronics before concrete.

messintersectionTo an engineer, everything looks like an engineering problem. Data can be collected, models made, software levers configured, and results tracked. I’m familiar with this approach – I work on banking software implementation, not traffic modeling or stoplight controls, but the premise is the same. But to have a successful outcome, we need to define what this outcome should look like (in my world, these are business requirements) and challenge our assumptions (business rules).

For my neighborhood corner, a successful outcome is that: 1) The intersection is compatible with the corner coffee shop, barber, dry cleaner, and bus stop – we don’t have to tear them down or sacrifice them. 2) It’s safe for people, whether they are on foot, on a bike, or in a car. 3) Given these constraints, move vehicles through the intersection as efficiently as possible (after all, backed up traffic is not nice when I’m sitting on the patio).

The reality is that we could have better outcomes at some intersections without stoplights. If we see through the “stoplight timing problem” rather than an intersection problem, we limit our potential outcomes and miss the simplest and most cost-effective solutions. And that’s before even challenging a larger assumption, those that define our streets by their ability to move cars.

Stoplight problems

“I’ve got 99 problems.”
-Your neighborhood stoplight

Congestion

downtown

Flickr/Drew Geraets

Stoplights compress traffic together, bunching them in a way that uses lane space less efficiently. Anyone who has driven one of MnDOT’s famous rural/exurban expressways with many stoplights knows what I mean. Traffic naturally spreads itself out when it stretches out for miles at highway speeds. But the next stoplight bunches everyone back together again, some jockeying for position and most staring at tail lights.

The same thing happens on our local street grid. Stoplights reduce the natural efficiencies of the street grid, instead moving vehicles across the network in pack formation. An anecdotal example comes from my neighborhood stoplight. During the morning, traffic would back up westbound, often queuing two blocks back from the light. The same thing happens eastbound in the afternoon. While the temporary stop signs were up, I never saw more than six cars (about half a block, or to the alley) in queue to go through the four way stop.

It was interesting to observe how the broader system of stoplight controlled collector streets affected this stop sign: Bunches of cars would approach the intersection all at once, causing longer queues than necessary at the stop sign. Where were these cars coming from? Green light waves crossing Cedar or Chicago Avenues.

Friends have reported the same effect at other intersections across Minneapolis.

Safety

When vehicles crash at stoplights, the results are violent and sometimes deadly. It’s in their nature: they’re all or nothing, giving drivers the permission to proceed at speed through an intersection or requiring them to stop. T-bone and high-speed rear end collisions are more common, occurring when drivers run a red light or fail to see a car stopped in their path despite thinking they can proceed.

Fatality_rates

Gratuitously ripped from Streetsblog.

Two died and five were injured a month ago at a north side stoplight. In May, a motorcyclist died when struck by a police vehicle en route to a shooting (the County Attorney declined to file criminal charges, although the State Patrol noted that a contributing factor was an officer “failed to exercise due care in passing through an intersection against a red light”). In September, an innocent driver was killed in Northeast when struck by a fleeing driver presumed to have run a red light.

Alternatives to stoplights don’t necessarily prevent someone from proceeding against the right of way and causing an collision. But four way stops, roundabouts, and shared space are still much safer. Why? Collisions happen at significantly slower speeds, since all users are required to significantly slow down at the intersection. This also makes the intersection much safer for pedestrians. Crash rates, injury rates, and property damages are much lower.

Expense

Stoplights are expensive. New stoplights cost six figures, even as much as a half million dollars. In Minneapolis, replacing existing stoplights is likely less since engineering and components can potentially be reused. But the signal in my neighborhood includes new footings, masts, lights, control boxes, and wiring. There’s also an energy cost – both financially and environmentally – to operate stoplights.

Our city likely has hundreds of millions of dollars of stoplight infrastructure. Saving even a fraction of that has a measurable impact on our city finances, money that could be spent instead on other improvements to our neighborhood corners: Facade improvement funds, historic preservation, street beautification, and other street amenities.

Bad design locked in

In the tactical urbanism community, there’s a saying that “paint is cheap.” But many badly-needed changes on our city’s streets require more than just paint.

If stoplights are expensive to install, they are expensive to reconfigure. Having 800 stoplights across our city reinforces the status quo, for better or worse. Want to try a striping change, add a contraflow bike lane, re-purpose some space inside the curb, or possibly even revert a one-way street to two-way operation? Nope. Unless you have millions.

And millions is what it now takes. This has been the case with projects all across the city: Conversion of downtown streets such as 1st Ave N, Hennepin Ave, or 3rd Ave S to two way operation. Contraflow bus lanes on 4th St. Calming 1st Ave S on the south side. All of these projects required expensive signal reconfiguration.

Stoplight solutions

Remember: It’s okay to break up with our stoplights. We’ve already done it… 31st Street and Grand Ave come to mind. After all, we’re already breaking up with old stoplights as we replace them as part of this citywide program. So why pay through the nose to replace one bad relationship with another?

Others have done it too. Ev’rything’s up to date in Kansas City. They’ve gone about as fer as they can go. But then they decided to go back and removed some stoplights.

Roundabout at Minnehaha Park

Roundabout at Minnehaha Park

Roundabouts

Roundabouts work well when right of way exists. We don’t have that luxury on many corners in Minneapolis, but we do in some places. Roundabouts can be even safer than four way stops because there are no perpendicular movements that tee up t-bone collisions. They can be good or bad for pedestrians and bicyclists. The Minnehaha Park example is unfortunate in that it doesn’t take advantage of the “pork chops” to provide refuge for walkers or bicyclists. But it’s still a good intersection, albeit hard to adjust or experiment to meet changing needs.

Four-way stops

This intersection, 43rd and Upton in Linden Hills, is a great candidate for stoplight removal. It already features a tree-lined refuge island on one side.

This intersection, 43rd and Upton in Linden Hills, is a great candidate for stoplight removal. It already features a tree-lined refuge island on one side.

This is the lowest-cost solution and can work great on streets with low to medium traffic volumes. They are safe: Vehicles know they need to stop under all circumstances – collisions are usually at low speed. They are cheap: Four signs, that’s all. They’re easy to adjust: Remove four stop signs.

With all that money we save by avoiding spendy stoplights, we can afford amenities that make the intersection even safer for pedestrians. Many intersections have 40 feet of pavement in each direction. Some of that can be carved out to provide vegetated medians that serve as a refuge for walkers crossing the street, with the added benefit of channelizing turning traffic so as to be more predictable for other drivers at the intersection (who’s turn is it to go anyways?).

Shared space

Hans_Monderman_2006

Hans Moderman, Dutch traffic engineer who pioneered shared space

At some intersections, it might be worth exploring replacing stoplights with nothing. Shared space is a concept that has caught on in Europe, based on the premise that in the absence of control people will slow down and work their way through a space carefully. With more uncertainty, people naturally negotiate for right of way while also reducing their “risk compensation” (basically, any decision such as speed or distraction which causes them to behave dangerously in the intersection).

Investments usually need to be made to slow vehicles considerably and reduce the perceptibility of things like lanes and curbs. This can possibly require more right of way than we have at many intersections, but it can possibly require more design creativity.

This can be implemented in combination with other approaches, such as what was done at Poynton. In this English village, a high traffic signalized intersection in the town center was reimagined using shared space within the construct of two connected traffic circles. Safety has improved, traffic flows, and the town center is inviting for people and investment in adjacent land use.

Testing the waters

The wonderful thing about stoplights is that they can flash red. At simple four-way intersections, this is a great way to test out traffic flow under an alternate configuration. This should be a standard test for all stoplights at such intersections before deciding on replacement. Why replace when you can decommission?

Even where stoplights need to remain, there’s the opportunity to turn them off for portions of the day. James Lileks, in his signature way, notes how ridiculous it is to wait at stoplights when the stoplight is not serving its purpose:

[The stoplight] exists solely to facilitate the passage of school buses for a 10-minute interval at 4 p.m. but runs 24/7, causing people to sit behind a red at 3 a.m. for no reason, thinking, “adherence to the dictates of traffic signals is one of those unspoken acts that contributes to overall social cohesion.”

Time to test the waters.

What’s your neighborhood stoplight that you really don’t need? Let the world know in the comments section.

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51 Responses to Does Minneapolis have too many stoplights?

  1. Froggie December 11, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    Would be worth checking to see if some of the existing signals still meet signal warrants. FHWA has pretty clear criteria for traffic signal warrants, and I’d hazard a bet that some of the existing signals no longer meet those warrants. Amongst the candidates from my childhood that I’d look at: 48th and Chicago.

  2. Michael December 11, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    36th and Emerson. It was turned off for a month to study it for removal, but is now back on. Completely unnecessary stoplight in my opinion.

    • Matt B December 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

      34th and Grand Ave S. 34th is an extremely low volume street, but the stoplight seems to exist solely so children can cross to Lyndale Elementary. It seems like volunteer crosswalk guards are a common sense solution here. It’s a ridiculous place to have a 24/7 stoplight. The much busier intersection of 31st and Grand has a 4-way stop that works perfectly, even during peak. This summer, while 31st was being repaved, 31st and Blaisdell became a 4-way stop. It worked fine. Following the repaving project, it got a brand new, expensive stoplight. Ditto for other intersections with 31st. Save for Hennepin, Lyndale, Nicollet, etc., 31st Street should not have stoplights.

      Moving the 35th/36th interchange on 35W to 38th Street (as planned, long term), we could eliminate a whole swath of stoplights along 35th and 36th, as those streets would see big traffic reductions.

      • Faith December 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

        Totally agree on the removal of 36th and Emerson and 34th and Grand. Not really needed at all.

        The vehicle traffic moved far more quickly on 36th when there were stop signs on Nicollet – even after cars were allowed back on Nicollet but before the stoplights were turned on. Cars never backed up past Blaisdell with the stop signs, but as soon as the traffic lights were turned back on cars started backing up to Grand or Harriet again. From a windshield perspective, stop signs are better than stop lights.

        I actually question how many stoplights are needed at all on 35th and 36th. More stop signs and fewer stop lights could decrease traffic speed while improving travel times.

  3. Tom Vacek December 11, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Awesome article!

    Ironically, I think many people think that stop lights are safer than stop signs. They certainly are better for distracted drivers, since you don’t have to keep track of who approached the intersection first.

    I’ve always wondered why the traffic engineers don’t use a flashing yellow/flashing red modes at off peak times.

    Finally, I think it’s wrong to say Hans Moderman pioneered the shared space. My colleagues tell me that those have been in common use in India for many years.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele December 11, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      After driving/riding in cars on five continents, I can definitely say the rest of the world is “shared space” even if there are lanes, signs, and signals.

    • urbanite December 25, 2013 at 6:12 am #

      There are some intersections in South Minneapolis that go blinking red at night.

      • Matt December 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

        Where are those?

        • urbanite December 26, 2013 at 1:40 am #

          Not sure exactly, but i think chicago and 35th?

  4. Justin H December 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    God yes! There are way too many stop lights in smaller neighborhood streets. I think a couple in Seward could go away, and at least one in longfellow. There have been times when lights or timers have been out and flashing red instead, traffic flowed much better.

    At the very least, many intersections could go to flashing yellow and/or flashing red at night. Many cities in Wisconsin do this and it is very nice. Why sit at a light at 3 in the morning when there is no traffic?

  5. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary December 11, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    I’m totally going to regurgitate what I said on your Facebook, Matt, because I think it’s an interesting basis of discussion. I’ll start by saying I basically disagree with your resentment of the stop lights. Simple lights that are green one direction, then green the other, seem inoffensive to me enough, especially having seen the real cost of overwhelmed 4-way stops.

    But the idea of shared space is very interesting to me — and particular, why does what works so well in Europe not generally work as well in the United States? Richfield had, arguably, an ideal shared-space environment until very recently: walkable grid, no stop signs at all on residential streets, no sidewalks. Mature trees line most every street. Yet it was no walking paradise. People walking cowered in the gutter and wound awkwardly around parked cars — as they do now. Yet across the Minneapolis border, streets with segregated pedestrian facilities on both sides and stop signs every other block felt much more comfortable for pedestrians. Much of the central portion of Bloomington still has no stop signs, and many streets do not have curb and gutter — and so they should theoretically have a very pure shared space. Yet my (totally baseless) impression is that they have not resulted in a lot of pedestrian attractiveness.

    Ironically, I think the best shared, walkable space out there is probably a new-suburban cul de sac (even if, as a network, that hurts walkability more than anything else).

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele December 12, 2013 at 7:12 am #

      Regarding Richfield and Bloomington: It may look on paper like they have the markings of shared space, their streets are bad candidates. I noted the need to “slow vehicles considerably and reduce the perceptibility of things like lanes and curbs.” A mature tree canopy just doesn’t do the trick. The streets are wide and straight, perfect for people to go at high speed across many blocks in the absence of control devices. Even in Mpls, 30 MPH is too fast for our side streets, and it’s not enough to sign them lower and hope people follow. Yet at least we have sidewalks as a refuge from cars.

      Stop signs are a much better at residential intersections – how Mpls does it. But put major woonerf elements on these side streets (bollards, forced maneuvering, no clear “lanes”) and something in the middle of intersections (we’re already getting there with bike blvd mini roundabouts) and it can work if people can’t drive more than 15-20 MPH.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary December 12, 2013 at 9:01 am #

        I appreciate that you made reference to the other necessary ingredients for successful shared space, but I guess I want more meaningful consideration of what that means in a Minneapolis context, and an American context.

        First, Minneapolis: like Richfield, most of Minneapolis suffers from wide-street, high-speed syndrome. (Some exceptions like, in Tangletown.) Typical residential streets are 32′. Busier streets like Bloomington and 46th are often 40+ feet. Creating effective shared space on those streets would mean — as you say — dramatic narrowing, creating a more hazardous feel, etc. That potentially runs the risk of diverting traffic onto the network of 32′ streets all around. Even if cost were no object and we could fix our entire network overnight, we still have the American engineering profession to contend with, with their nagging fear that if there’s not 20′ of free space for an ambulance of fire truck.

        Which is certainly not to say that we shouldn’t do anything. But this is an acknowledgement that a.) these things are easier to implement in greenfield and than existing development, and b.) we should start with minor streets, which have no fear of traffic congestion or pushing traffic onto more minor streets. Those neighborhood traffic circles you mention are a great start, but we could do much more on low-volume streets.

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg December 12, 2013 at 9:57 am #

          The major difference between Minneapolis and Richfield is on-street parking. On-street parking is much more utilized in Minneapolis, perhaps because alleys/garages don’t always provide enough parking or simply more density. In Richfield, residents are more likely to park in garages or larger driveways.

          Also, Richfield for the most part lacks public sidewalks. A lot of homes have a sidewalk leading out their front door that end where a sidewalk would one day go – but nobody wants to pay for them?

          The larger point is on-street parking alone reduces street width by half and makes sightlines more difficult, somewhat naturally reducing speeding.

          I would love to see a woonerf-style program that allowed residents on individual one-block stretches to narrow their street and add stuff in the way to discourage speed and encourage sharing – think National Night Out every day, but not necessarily an outright blockage.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary December 12, 2013 at 10:36 am #

            Yes, there is considerably more on-street parking usage in residential Minneapolis than there is in Richfield. (I have made this case, that it seems pretty ridiculous that Richfield’s standard street is 4′ wider than Minneapolis’s despite lower on-street parking usage.) That said, there are many areas of Minneapolis with overbuilt on-street parking capacity. In uptown or Lowry Hill, streets consistently lined with cars. As you get south of Minnehaha Creek especially, on-street parking usage is more like Richfield (probably, like Richfield, because of slightly newer/larger garages, and more consistent off-street parking options). Yet the street width remains the same, or even a little wider as the neighborhoods

            Re: sidewalks. There may be significant progress on that front soon. The Transportation Commission last week directed staff to begin to study the viability of installing a sidewalk on at least one side of every street in conjunction with a repaving project. This is not a ringing endorsement, and not a guarantee anything will happen, but it is probably the biggest step forward for sidewalks in Richfield in 40 years. I promised David Levinson an article on that, and should hopefully finish that tonight. So more to be said very soon.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele December 12, 2013 at 7:33 am #

      Regarding Northfield: I’m not sure if that four way stop intersection is overwhelmed or overdesigned. I grew up in a burb with similar multi-lane intersections controlled by four way stops, and they were a mess. The problem is improper channelization of traffic. Division Street has long right turn lanes, inviting people to cruise by backed up traffic without noticing a street user at the intersection not caged in steel. Even worse, Jefferson has left turn lanes.

      Turn lanes are a huge problem for unsignalized intersection design: They make it difficult for users to expect others’ behaviors, and unpredictability is dangerous. The solution to this problem is channelization – make it easy for users to perceive right of way, communicate with other users, and safely adapt when things may go wrong. One lane approaches are key. Turn lanes are the problem. That’s why the Linden Hills median example is so much nicer than if that same space was used for a left turn lane. It’s also why Minneapolis intersections may be more compatible with stoplight removal compared to an intersection of similar volume in the suburbs.

      Other design factors likely contributed to the fatality in Northfield. First, the design speed for Division south of the high school is probably 55… the road has never been reconfigured for its new urban street setting (adding the sidepath doesn’t count) and I bet the posted limits on Jefferson and Division are 30 or higher. Division – I hate to even call this stroad Division, it should offend the nice street further in town – even has gently sloping shoulder markings right next to the cross marking this fatality, making it easier for large turning radiuses and higher speeds. There are ditches and clear zones, likely mandated by “the standard,” which provided no shade: The link you posted mentions low morning sun as a possible factor.

      The problem with this intersection is not control by red octagons. It’s pathetic design that Northfield, and the legislature that forces design through state aid standards, ought to be ashamed of.

  6. Matt December 12, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    I’m a big fan of roundabouts to replace signals and four way stops on side streets. There’s a four way stop at 31st St and 17th Ave over in Powderhorn that I think would be much better as a roundabout. There are a couple roundabouts in Maple Grove on 109th Ave that make me happy every time I drive through them.

    As many commenters have noted, just an organizational change (flashing red/yellow at off-peak times) would be a nice improvement, too.

    • Dave December 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      I wonder if the anecdotes are actually true. I feel like even East River Rd and Franklin Bridge mess (the 5-way intersection) had less congestion when it was a 5-way stop. Obviously a roundabout would be better there, but it “feels” like the signal has increased congestion. That said, it could have been folks simply avoiding the intersection while the light was being replaced, or other down stream impacts.

      A good follow-up article would be the top ten “worst” traffic lights. Very poorly timed, very low volume intersections, etc.

    • urbanite December 25, 2013 at 6:21 am #

      when I was a kid I remember them installing mini roundabouts all over Lowry Hill, but then apparently people in the neighborhood didn’t like them so they were torn up. shame.

  7. Ed Kohler December 12, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Great article. One stop light that actually did get removed in Minneapolis was at 42nd Ave S at 33rd St E. It’s main purpose appeared to be handling school bus traffic from Cooper Elementary. The school closed and the light came out (eventually). Now, there are plans to reopen the school, so I imagine that light will be coming back.

  8. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke December 12, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    For some reason you don’t mention that each stoplight averages $3K per year in maintenance and energy costs. Multiply that by the number of extraneous lights and the number of years they’re in use. Plus about $100 grand (or so) to install.

    Thatsa lotta chedda!

  9. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman December 12, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    This article seems to be irritated about waiting for lights that turn green with no cars there, but other articles seem to think it’s too undignified for pedestrians to push a button. Until when and if microwave pedestrian sensors become common you can’t have it both ways. Either an intersection is actuated (cars register their presence by driving over a loop detector and pedestrians by pressing a button), or it’s non-actuated (light goes to green and walk periodically whether or not there are any peds or cars).

    Other comments have suggested jus giving a walk anytime a green goes on, but in an actuated intersecction that still requires peds to push a button if no car happens to be there, (and although this board is anti-car, I thought I’d point it it still has a drawback for the main street if there’s no peds there (the minimum pedestrian time can be several times the minimum vehicle time.)

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele December 12, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      We can have it both ways if we just get rid of the stoplight. That’s the point. Actuated vs non-actuated applies only to intersections with signals.

      It’s just as easy to cross these medium-volume intersections on foot. It often requires less waiting… no waiting for a walk signal, just go. No beg button required. My perception is that it is significantly safer…. I can’t tell you how many close calls I’ve seen where a turning car sees a green light and goes for the turn without looking for people in the crosswalk.

      Finally, I’m not sure why you think this is anti-car when the premise is that cars can move faster and more efficiently at many intersections in the absence of stoplights.
      If I was really anti-car, I’d want more stoplights.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman December 12, 2013 at 9:27 am #

        Actually, yours was the first article I’ve read that really wasn’t anti-car. I was referring more towards the general tone of this site, which seems to oppose anything and everything that might make it easier for drivers, even if there’s no downside to pedestrians.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman December 12, 2013 at 9:43 am #

          Since I strongly disagree with 95% of the articles here I normally stay away, but I thought I’d comment on this one since traffic signals are one area where I have more knowledge than the average layperson, and since it was the rare one I agree with.

          The problem with removing signals is that you have reverse NIMBYism in that residents don’t want it to be unbuilt if it’s there. (“Won’t someone think of the children”). This is a bigger issue in Detroit, where there’s a lot of signals that are no longer necessary due to most of the population having disappeared and the city can’t afford to maintain the signals.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke December 12, 2013 at 10:05 am #

          Picking a fight here, but I think there is a limited place for cars; main problem is when you make them ubiquitous, as we’ve done in the US.

        • Joe Scott
          Joe Scott December 12, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

          To speak of doing things that make it easier for drivers and have no downside for pedestrians is to fail to understand the nature of transportation in this country.

    • Alex December 12, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      What does it mean to be anti-car, Monte? As long as you’re going to tell us all what we are, it would be nice to know what that is.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman December 12, 2013 at 10:29 am #

        OK. Posting here was a mistake and I won’t anymore, but to answer the question every single time where it’s a matter of cars vs pedestrians, the site takes the site of pedestrians. And in projects where there’s a huge upside to cars and no downside to pedestrians, (and even a modest upside to pedestrians) like the Stillwater Bridge, the US 169 / I-494 improvements, the Mall of America skyways, the site is against it too. Again, I apologize to everyone for stirring things up, it was a mistake and I won’t do it again.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary December 12, 2013 at 10:40 am #

          I don’t think those are being anti-car, I think they’re a question of:

          a.) is inconveniencing pedestrians in an already extremely car-oriented environment worth it to slightly convenience a pedestrian? (Killebrew skyway)

          b.) Are massively expensive projects to subsidize auto travel a good use of public money? (494-5/169 interchange, Stillwater Bridge)

          I think in general, common-sense solutions that really are win-win and do not pose a hugely disproportionate cost are supported, “even if” they benefit motorists.

          I do not wish you to stop posting here, though. Your thoughts add diversity to the comments, and it is always good to have that perspective.

          • Sam Newberg
            Sam Newberg December 12, 2013 at 11:49 am #

            Yes, Monte, please keep posting. Your opinion needs to be heard, and don’t interpret counterarguments as beating up on you.

            I’d argue that the Stillwater Bridge and 494/169 have huge impacts on pedestrians, albeit indirect. Building the Stillwater bridge reinforces a driving-only culture, whereas those public dollars would be better spent on projects that encourage other forms of transportation like perhaps walking.

            We have choices about how to spend finite amounts of money….

        • Adam Miller
          Adam December 12, 2013 at 11:47 am #

          You feel that cars are somehow disadvantaged in the grand scheme of things? Because I don’t think so.

          We’ve spent half a century designing our cities around cars and how to move them as quickly and efficiently as possible from one place to another. Having one online forum that’s interested in thinking about how we can also accommodate pedestrians and bikes too does not seem like a pretty measured response.

          I don’t think you have anything to apologize for, though. You’re entitled to your opinions, and what’s the point of having monolithic agreement?

        • Alex December 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

          Personally I would discourage Monte and anyone else who doesn’t have an understanding of the rhetorical context in which they’re writing from posting here. At the same time, I would encourage them to take a moment to get a little understanding of rhetoric so they can phrase things in a way that doesn’t alienate their entire audience, thereby wasting everyone’s time. Here is a real quick primer:

          http://www.slideshare.net/gcreid/thinking-rhetoricallya-quick-guide-for-students

          Unfortunately that intro barely addresses this specific situation, where Monte ascribed a motive to literally everyone on the site that they are unlikely to be sympathetic towards. As a rule, it is more helpful and persuasive to address people’s arguments and leave the motivation for those arguments alone. So explain why there is a huge upside to cars for undertaking projects like the Stillwater Freeway or the 169-494 interchange rather than the dozens of smaller highway projects that commenters here proposed replacing them with. And explain why pedestrians should be happy that they’ve been banned from using Killebrew Dr and instead are required to use the overpass. No one can prove another person’s motivation so all of our time is better spent addressing the argument.

  10. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg December 12, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    The Germans also say “Vorshprung durch technik” – “advantage through technology!”

    At 42nd Street and 28th Avenue – this summer, construction along 28th Avenue resulted in “accidental traffic calming.” http://joe-urban.com/archive/accidental-traffic-calming-in-the-neighborhood/

    For a few weeks, 28th and 42nd had a four-way stop sign, and like Bloomington and 46th, life at that corner was grand. The SENA BDT even tried to get Sandy Colvin Roy to leave the lights off longer and not install new ones. She was willing but we got to her too late!

    28th Avenue and 38th Street is another contender.

    Shaun Murphy and the new city council take note – opportunities abound for traffic light removal.

  11. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman December 12, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    Just a comment too that Minneapolis is throwing a lot of potential money away. Some of the older lights and controllers being removed with the mass upgrade are collectables, and could fetch double or triple their scrap value if they were auctioned off. Guess it’s not worth the cities time,

  12. Moe December 12, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    42nd and 42nd in Hiawatha drives me nuts. It’s by a school, so I sorta get the need for a streetlight, but they also have a “No Turn on Red” sign, 24 hours a day. Nothing better then getting stuck at that intersection at 3am, waiting for the light to turn green so you can turn.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg December 12, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      42nd and 42nd has the attention of Sandy Colvin Roy. Hopefully Andrew Johnson considers its removal and others in Ward 12

    • Adam Miller
      Adam December 12, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      I feel like we have a lot of unnecessary no turn on red signs. Eastbound on 12th St. at Lasalle is one example. The right turn is from a one way to a two way, so there’s no left-turning traffic to be accommodated, and even during rush hour the traffic going south on Lasalle isn’t particularly heavy, so I don’t understand the no turn sign.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary December 12, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

        Funny, I feel just the opposite. I think we have too many right turns on red permissible. At most Minneapolis intersections, it is not possible to see if vehicular traffic is clear without first blocking the crosswalk. At Nicollet and Diamond Lake, for example, I’ve struggled to get motorists’ attention as I try to cross with the walk signal from their right, while their gaze is fixed left, looking for a gap.

        In fact, Minneapolis established new No Turn On Red standards in 2005, and a significant number of signs have been taken down. In Richfield around the same time, the several sets of NTOR signs were removed, including Lyndale at 494 and 66th, and Nicollet at 66th. In general, what’s out there today has met a high standard of need.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam December 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

          Bad drivers are bad drivers.

          I’ve certainly had that issue too, but I don’t think the solution is more NTOR.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary December 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

            In general, in Europe, they do not allow right turns on red, unless explicitly authorized. The US did not allow it with any universality before 1980. Clearly it is not an unsurmountable burden, as many many people drove before 1980, and many still drive outside the US and Canada.

            Bad drivers are bad drivers, so why do we allow any drivers to run red lights? (Even under limited circumstances.)

            I’m not even against all right turns on red. But I would say that in school zones, downtown, and at other major pedestrian nodes and locations with limited visibility, they shouldn’t be allowed. I think removing the signs at Nicollet and 66th was a mistake.

            And I doubt there’s much discernible fuel savings in Minneapolis and the first ring anyway, since few intersections have right turn lanes. (Unless everybody in the travel lane is turning right, only a right-turning car who happens to be at the the front of line can do it.) In Minneapolis, the desire to perform a RTOR without a turn lane means that motorists often overtake others illegally on the shoulder. That would not even be a temptation if right turns on red weren’t allowed.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill December 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

              Completely agree. NTOR is one of the cheapest ways to improve walkability and safety overnight.

        • Moe December 12, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

          I actually agree that I wish we had more NTOR, but I think having a time frame is ok. No Turn on Red 7am-6pm or whatever.

  13. Evan Roberts
    Evan December 12, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    Stopping by to put in my British Empire advocacy of roundabouts …

  14. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel M Hood December 12, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Great article Matt. Keep up the good work!

  15. Gabe Ormsby December 12, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Last summer (or was it the previous?) they had a temporary 4-way stop at 38th and Blaisdell in lieu of the normal signal, and I was sad to see it go when the new signals went in. Traffic was much calmer and quieter, and no added congestion — wins all around, except perhaps for the *perceived* speed of those drivers who seem to think of Blaisdell as a bypass for 35W.

    Every few weeks, of course, someone blows the light and takes out the signal (and often another car or two) in a big crash-bang, so we get the nice 4-way stops back for a few days while they rebuild. Maybe one of these times, they’ll just quit with the rebuilding. Dare to dream.

    • Faith December 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

      You should talk to the Kingfield Neighborhood Board – they are interested in long term ideas for 38th Street. It could happen someday!

  16. Reuben Collins
    Reuben Collins December 12, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I get stuck at the signal at 47th and Portland too often. You don’t even notice it on Portland, because it is almost always giving green time to Portland, but if you’re trying to cross Portland and have the misfortune of doing it at 47th, you will be waiting a long time for it. I often find myself traveling westbound on 47th after work between picking up my kids from daycare and my home. I got stuck at 47th a few times, now if I remember, I always turn south on Oakland for one block, then turn west again on 48th so that I can cross Portland without the signal (yes, even during peak hour). Like these others, the signal is likely facilitating bus and pedestrian movements for Field School a couple blocks away.

    As a practicing traffic engineer, I can guarantee that there are plenty of signals installed against the recommendations of the traffic engineer for political reasons.

    Part of the solution may be fewer signals, but it may also just be smarter signals. Our signals aren’t nearly as smart as they should be. Every signal should be smart enough to know when vehicles are approaching from which direction and adjust the signals accordingly. Some of our signals attempt this, but few are very good at it.

  17. Janne Flisrand
    Janne Flisrand December 12, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    This is great. As a person who rides bike in the winter, and often through downtown when it isn’t rush hour, I’ve been spending more time shivering, wondering why I’m not running the light when I can’t see any cars in any direction. I’ve also been thinking about the advantages of the “vikeplikt” system I experienced in Europe and mentally drafting a post on that for this site.

    As a cold-challenged person, I’m very interested in reducing waiting times when it’s just silly to sit there.

    • Jeremy Mendelson December 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

      Post it! Also, don’t feel the need to be a martyr and wait at red lights for no reason.

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