An important experiment is going on in my neighborhood. The city of Minneapolis is performing a 30-day trial to test the intersection of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue. They have shut off the traffic signal, put hoods over the lights and installed a temporary four-way stop. The reaction has been mixed, with most criticism from people who observe traffic congestion at rush hour. There has been spirited discussion online at the Standish-Ericsson Facebook page and E-Democracy site.
As for changing from a stop light to four-way stop sign scenario, let’s look at the pros and cons (observed, overheard and perceived):
PRO – traffic goes slower
CON – traffic goes slower (it’s all about your perspective)
PRO – traffic on 42nd no longer race from Cedar to Nokomis Avenue unimpeded
CON – traffic can still race from Cedar to 28th Avenue unimpeded
PRO – every car in every direction must stop
CON – some people roll through the intersection anyway (the fact that some drivers break the law is not, however, a reason to turn the traffic signal back on)
PRO – cars with a green light don’t whip around a left-turning car and race through the intersection at 30 MPH
PRO – bikes can approach the intersection, avoid the line up of cars, and stop long enough to wait their turn before proceeding
PRO – driving up to the intersection at a non-rush hour time no longer involves waiting for a needless red light – a quick stop and you are on your way
CON – wait times at rush hour are a little longer (if you are driving)
PRO – a pedestrian can reach the corner and has the right to cross the street without waiting for the light to turn green. Most of the time this works well (see below – the car is waiting for the pedestrian to cross)
CON – I’ve seen pedestrians get to the corner and not go, either fearing their safety or not understanding they have the right to cross
PRO – Sitting at a table on the corner is more pleasant because not a single car is racing by at 30 MPH, and pedestrians and bikes can come and go as they please (see below)
PRO – This is a great opportunity to add some street trees, paint those crosswalks, and install an on-street bike rack
CON – I’m thirsty and Busters isn’t open
While it is true traffic does back up at rush hour, I find the actual intersection works very well at all hours. Yes I’ve seen some cars roll through a little too fast, but not with a pedestrian present. Mostly there is this sort of dance, with cars, bikes and pedestrians all taking turns. Because nobody has a green light or walk signal there is no sense of certain safety by just driving through the intersection. Instead, there is a perception of danger at the intersection with a car waiting in every direction and maybe pedestrians or cyclists also waiting to cross. As a result, everyone is paying more attention and going slow. They are doing it because of the perceived danger, but in reality, since no vehicles are moving more than 5 or 10 MPH, it is actually quite safe for all. (Counterintuitive, yes, but for a little reading on this, check out chapter 7, “When Dangerous Roads are Safer,” from Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic.”)
In the big picture my personal hope and goal is for my neighborhood (and city) to be a safer place for all ages to walk and bike. If that means cars have to drive slower or there is more congestion in places or at certain times of the day, I’m willing to accept that. If we build and manage our roads to accommodate rush-hour traffic, the livability of our city will suffer at all hours. It’s true there is no perfect solution, but it’s also true that business as usual is not good enough. Whatever decision is made at 42nd Street and 28th Avenue, there remains a long list of things to do, like traffic calming, curb bumpouts, enforcement of traffic violations, and a greater awareness that our public spaces are shared and cannot be given over to the car. I want my neighbors, whether they are 8 years old or 80, or anywhere in between, to feel safe crossing the street at that and any intersection in my neighborhood.
Let’s let this 30-day trial play itself out.
This was crossposted at Joe Urban.
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