The Great Stop Sign Experiment

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)

IMG_20140520_121948_244

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)

IMG_20140520_121542_315

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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49 Responses to The Great Stop Sign Experiment

  1. Nicole May 21, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    I didn’t know why those lights were off, but I so much prefer the four-way stop! It’s much better by bike, and I haven’t found that I wait overlong by car either. It seems a much calmer corner with the four-way. (I agree about Buster’s though…tick tock!!!).

    I hope they keep it that way.

  2. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele May 21, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    I also commented in favor of removing the stoplight (more comments in the e-democracy thread, or generalized comments in my previous streetsmn article about stoplights). If you share the same vision as Nicole, Sam, and I – email or call 311 and give them your feedback!

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg May 21, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

      YES! I comment on streets.mn doesn’t count with the city. Call/email/use your 311 app and let the city know if you like it. I can definitely imagine the 311 is getting its share of calls from drivers who oppose it. It’s always the problem with those who are in favor of something – they don’t speak up. Let your voice be heard.

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke May 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    You forgot a PRO. The average cost of electricity, repair, and maintenance for a stop light is far higher than for a stop sign. We’re talking about thousands of dollars a year. It’s not much by itself, but if you multiply it by the hundreds of stoplights in the city, you’ve got real cheddar (https://streets.mn/2014/01/02/tax-cut-urbanism-a-thought-experiment/).

  4. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary May 21, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Personally, I am not a fan of very high-volume all-way stops, mainly for the sake of bike/ped — it becomes overwhelming for users to keep track of whose turn it is to go (especially when cars are wiggling in at the sides to make turns) with an all-way stop. My hometown, Northfield, has several busy all-way stops, including Jefferson Pkwy & Division St and Woodley & Division. Jefferson & Division is perhaps a poor comparison, since it involves a higher-speed road with more of a rural highway feel. But Woodley & Division is actually quite similar — no extra turn lanes, mix of residential and small commercial. Accidents still happen, and seem to be much more common at rush hour.

    Also, not to jump on the “wasteful gubment” train, but isn’t it a bit odd that they’re doing this experimentation now, after they just installed a new signal at that location last year?

    • brad May 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

      I’m generally supportive thus far, but was wondering the same thing about getting rid of signals they’d just replaced. Also wondering why they didn’t try this (yet?) with the lights two blocks south near the park.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg May 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

      Sean, the back story to your last comment is this – we, the neighborhood group tried to get the city to leave the four-way stop in place last summer after a road construction project took out the light. Unfortunately our communication with the city was too slow and they switched the light back on. It would have made more sense to try the test then, prior to installing the new light. There would have been less blowback. Construction projects like that are the perfect time to ask the question “this signal is old, should we replace it or put in a stop sign instead?”

      Two blocks south at 44th and 28th is a much more egregious example of an existing signal being replaced by an unnecessary and much bigger signal – it is a much less-traveled intersection – but again, a construction project got the “machine” going and the assumption was we have to spend much more on a new signal when we really can spend far less on no signal.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele May 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

      This is why more bumpouts are needed, because they make one orderly queue for each leg, reduce crossing distance, and increase predictability. Four way stops with turn lanes are the worst. These smaller four way stops aren’t as bad, but they still have excess pavement causing confusion and danger.

      • Froggie May 22, 2014 at 7:45 am #

        Depends how much of a bumpout you’re talking about. In my experience, bumpouts are a huge positive for peds but a net negative for bikes.

  5. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele May 22, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    True, I think that might depend on traffic volumes. I don’t mind driving my bike in a queue of traffic at a stop sign or stop light assuming the cars behind me aren’t expecting to go fast once they get going, at least until I can get to a bike lane or shoulder. For intersections with bike lanes/ cycletracks and stoplights, the Dutch intersection would be a good model. For intersections with four way stops, maybe medians would make it easier for pedestrians and timid bikers, so they have a refuge – this would be like Upton and 43rd in Linden Hills, where one leg has a planted median.

  6. Tim Santiago May 22, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    I don’t know the intersection all that well, but has a compact urban roundabout been considered? I would love to see these implemented at a few key intersections in Saint Paul to bring all modes together safely.

    • brad May 22, 2014 at 9:20 am #

      I think the 4 way stop is better at this location, because 1) there’s actually quite a lot of pedestrian traffic there (high school two blocks north, park two blocks south, popular retail on the corner) which I think should be prioritized, and 2) traffic on 42nd, especially eastbound, tends to go pretty fast, it probably needs a stop as traffic calming.

      BTW, if you haven’t been to A Baker’s Wife, you need to check it out!

      • Tim Santiago May 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

        An aside, but are 4-way stops better/safer for peds than roundabouts? In my opinion and experience, it seems that a crosswalk in a roundabout has only one conflict point (the one vehicle entering/exiting the roundabout), whereas a pedestrian at a 4-way has three to contend with (thru, left and right turning vehicles). I’m curious if anyone has studied a before and after of this?

        • brad May 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

          What you’re saying seems true, but you have to look at driver behavior too. For example, drivers locally still do not seem really used to roundabouts (though we’re making progress), and drivers don’t consistently stop for pedestrians at the crosswalk, as they should.

          • Matty Lang
            Matty Lang May 22, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

            But Tim is correct. There are fewer conflict points with the one lane, small, urban roundabout. It hasn’t been tried at an intersection like this in MSP, but in general, I think I’d prefer it to all way stop signs.

            My mantra is that stop signs are just lazy traffic calming.

            • Rosa May 22, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

              I live right by one of the tiny traffic circles they put in on 17th Ave, and I hate it. It worked OK when it was new last fall, but now the cars just speed through it.

              • Sam Newberg
                Sam Newberg May 22, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

                The roundabout on Minnehaha Parkway and Minnehaha Avenue seems to work pretty well. It’s one lane, traffic is forced to slow down and most drivers are pretty good about stopping for the many cyclists and pedestrians. The ped/bike crossings work well because of a short crossing distance. But the space required is pretty significant and doesn’t lend itself to a nice intimate retail corner.

                • Matty Lang
                  Matty Lang May 22, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

                  Right, I’m thinking of actually trying the “tiny traffic circle” (not what’s at Minneahaha and the Parkway) at a retail corner like 42nd and 28th. The traffic volume involved would preclude any speeding through and, I think, would work much better than the stop signs that everyone hates.

                  • Walker Angell
                    Walker Angell May 23, 2014 at 7:29 am #

                    Mini-roundabouts seem to generally work well in Europe. There are two things that I think are key to their working better there. They use sharks-teeth to indicate ROW so when you approach or leave a roundabout you’ll see them at the crossing IF peds/bikes do have ROW (they usually do, but not always).

                    They also raise the crossings which have numerous benefits other than screaming to drivers to be careful. The steepness can relate to how loud you want to scream.

                    I wonder if part of the issue here is that we need to slow traffic overall on surface streets, like 15-20mph on all streets. Raised to 30-35 only for those with proper Dutch bike/ped infrastructure.

                    • Sam Newberg
                      Sam Newberg May 23, 2014 at 9:33 am #

                      With regard to speed limits, I like that idea. Can you imagine withholding road funding unless the street was designed for 20MPH or had “adequate” ped and bike facilities? Even Minneapolis and St. Paul would mostly fail to qualify.

                      Worthy of pursuing. If my entire neighborhood, for example had streets where cars never exceeded 25MPH, we’d all be safer, even drivers. Then all we need is that multiway boulevard on Hiawatha.

        • Walker Angell
          Walker Angell May 23, 2014 at 10:46 am #

          Keep in mind with roundabouts and peds/bikes is that roundabouts don’t require the number of queuing lanes that a signal or signed junction does (or that traffic engineers who value LOS for cars over people’s lives desire for them). Many junctions that we will normally have a turn lane or two or three do not require them with a roundabout.

          Many multi-lane roads in the U.S. are also multi-lane only for queuing for junctions and could be a single lane in each direction with roundabouts.

  7. Kyle May 22, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    Really, don’t most problems just boil down to “I’m thirsty and Busters isn’t open.” ?

    In regards to the light at 44th and 28th, I heard as such, in paraphrase: As there is a public school within the neighborhood, there has to be at one one stop light controlled intersection to ensure that buses can safely enter or cross a busy road. Is this an urban legend?

    Talking abut 28th St S, I’d like to see a stop sign at 46th. It’s quite busy as a connector from Hiawatha and I’ve seen my fair share of close calls. It would also be a good mid-point crossing point of 28th St S over to the park.

    • Nicole May 22, 2014 at 9:46 am #

      No, that’s totally not true. Trust me, because we’ve been trying down by the Keewaydin campus just to get some traffic calming and enforcement at 28th and 52nd. There are no lights anywhere near either LNCS campus, and I’m not advocating for ones either, but some bumpouts and “school crossing” signs would sure be welcome.

      I think 28th as a whole needs some serious calming south of 42nd. It’s a big wide street with not enough traffic, so the cars that are there speed mightily fast through my otherwise quiet neighborhood.

      I will certainly be letting 311 know my thoughts on the SS at 42nd though! I like that it’s a busy enough intersection that almost all cars have to come to a complete stop almost all the time.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg May 22, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

        Seems logical that buses can safely enter 28th with a four-way stop sign at 44th. I too would like to see a stop sign for 28th and both 44th and 46th, and perhaps 40th (near the library and Roosevelt High). Why not? There are stop signs on 28th every two blocks south of the creek, why not north?

        • Nicole May 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

          Adding SS’s is all well and good, but if drivers don’t stop for them, what is the point? (A la my complaint about 52nd and 28th…there’s going to be a kid hit there someday, and it will be tragic, but it won’t be an “accident”. Nothing tells a driver to slow down along there.).

          Though I do agree that the light at 43rd is ridiculous and there should be something at 46th for sure.

          • Rosa May 22, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

            theoretically, we could get some enforcement ticketing for failure to stop, if we made enough noise. Right? Everyone hates scofflaws who don’t stop for stop signs, supposedly.

            • Sam Newberg
              Sam Newberg May 22, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

              Rosa, yes. Call 311 and ask, as specifically as possible for police to do some enforcement. By specifics I mean tell 311 what time of day you see offenses and exactly what is happening. If a lot of us make noise it may make a difference. I called 311 today about stop sign running at 42nd and Nokomis. It may be the only way police find out about this.

  8. Martin May 22, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    This would be a much better idea at 28th and 38th where there are similar stores/restaurants but no one-way roads in the vicinity. 38th also has lights at 23rd and 30th avenues. With the exception of 28th, all the side streets from 24th to 29th Avenues are one – way. If a person is trying to access 42nd from 27th, back ups are not just a nuisance but, also, a potential danger; especially in the winter. If traffic backs up more than one block south on 28th, and I have seen this as recently as last week, then access from 43rd Street becomes similarly problematic. East/West counts of 7,700 motor vehicles per day and North/South counts around 5,500 make this a heavily used intersection. At peak times, as many as 400 vehicles turn in each direction. Wouldn’t bump outs make for greater difficulties for those turning and the all way bus stops? I favor the current light from 7 AM to late evening and and flashing reds overnight. I have, in the past also proposed controlled crossings at 24th/42nd and 28th/43rd to protect children going to the bus stops and Northrop School. I’m sure the study will produce more and more useful data. However, having coped with both the immediate advantages and the problems created by the one-ways for nearly 22 years, I do not support replacing the light.

    • Nicole May 22, 2014 at 9:59 am #

      Do you know why all those streets are one-way along there? I find it incredibly annoying, but I don’t live along them, so maybe there’s a good reason?

      Also, 38th St is a HC road and it’s a disaster to try to cross anywhere from 28th to Cedar (and beyond). Unlike 42nd, where at least some very visible crosswalks have been placed at 21st and a few others (and drivers have been largely very good about stopping for people waiting to cross!), 38th has nothing. Not even a sign to indicate the existence of the new bike blvd on 17th.

      • brad May 22, 2014 at 10:18 am #

        38th St could at least use some crosswalks (if not other traffic calming)–for example at 19th Ave, where people cross to get to Sibley Park, or at 26th Ave, by the church.

        I’ll need to double check, but I’m pretty sure I saw the 17th Ave Bike Blvd signs up, though.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg May 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

        While I don’t disagree about the general sentiment, 38th is actually a city street. 42nd is a county road between Minnehaha and Cedar.

        • Nicole May 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

          Is 38th a county road in the other side of Cedar then?

          Either way, it is not a very pedestrian friendly street to cross from Hiawatha until about Chicago.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary May 22, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

            38th is all MSA (although it is mislabeled as CSAH on some online maps). Portions of 42nd and 46th carry CSAH 42 and 46, respectively.

      • Martin May 22, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

        The one-ways seem to serve three purposes. 1) to route traffic to and from Lake Hiawatha, 2) to provide one side parking on the streets (two narrow for both) and 3) in the case of 29th, to exit the dead end street. These blocks are alternating shallow and deep so the streets cannot be widened. I just drove home from the doctor and 29th was blocked at 42nd.

      • Rosa May 22, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

        They really didn’t bother with any traffic calming for that supposed “bike boulevard” – not at 38th, not at 28th, not at 26th.

        It’s s nice street to bike on, because of the already-existing traffic light at Lake, but if we can only have bike boulevards as long as we’re willing to dodge fast traffic, there’s not a lot of point.

  9. burned-out medic May 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    tom vanderbilt’s traffic is awesome!

    anyway, drivers have the god-given right to speed! screw everyone else!

  10. Brendon Slotterback
    Brendon Slotterback May 23, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    You forgot one con: air pollution. More starting and stopping means slightly more auto exhaust (particulate matter and CO2) than before.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele May 23, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      I don’t know much about the air pollution aspects of this, but wouldn’t increased start/stop be negated by less time idling at red lights?

      I’d be curious to see how this would play out during rush hours – during daytime hours the two options may present similar wait times to proceed through the intersection. But during non-peak hours, this would eliminate cars waiting needlessly for a minute at red lights despite no other traffic.

      I’ve heard that newer cars are much more efficient with the start/stop process (and some European cars now kill the engine at a stop) but I can’t find where I read that.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker May 23, 2014 at 9:17 am #

        Yes, many (all new?) cars in Europe kill the engine at each stop. For some time it has also been illegal to idle your engine (when parked, warming up, etc) in most areas and I think remote start is illegal to sell on new cars.

        It would be interesting to see the differences between signaled, signed, and roundabout junctions on the pollution front. I’m sure someone has studied it.

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg May 23, 2014 at 9:50 am #

          There’s an ad during The Daily Show that features a young dad who buys a Chevy Malibu because it has that idle stop technology, meaning at stop signs or signals, the engine essentially shuts off. And Chevy claims somehow that is safer for occupants of the car. It’s a really great, heartwarming ad, because now he can drive his little daughter to school in her princess costume on picture day. So the solution is to buy a new car, which helps the economy and the American automobile industry, adds traffic to our roads, shuttles our little princesses to school in total comfort, and you can say you’re helping the environment because for $25,000 your car shuts off at stop lights. Now that’s a safe route to school!

          Seriously, Brendon, you are right, slight increase in air pollution. And frankly this technology makes sense, and the apparent fact that Europeans started it indicates it’s probably a good idea. But I’m failing to come up with a good idiom here.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell May 23, 2014 at 10:08 am #

      Air pollution should also become increasingly less of an issue as we get more hybrid, range extended electric, and battery electric vehicles that should not create any excess pollution in any of these scenarios. A much much better solution that shutting off the engine IMO.

    • Rosa May 27, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

      have you watched how cars treat 4-way stops? They only actually stop all the way if there is someone already going the other way. Otherwise it’s all slow-and-roll.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg May 29, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

        I observed this as well. I guess as long as they do stop if there’s a pedestrian present (which was the case when I was watching), I guess I consider the intersection safer. But alas, they turned the signal back on.

        • Rosa May 29, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

          I think 4 way stops are safer too, as a cyclist & as a pedestrian. I was responding the the air quality argument.

          This makes me really sad. I was really happy with the temporary stop signs.

  11. Sean Hayford Oleary May 23, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    I’m just speculating, too, but remember that a car only has to stop and start once at a red light, while they might have to do it 10 times just to get through one busy all-way stop.

    Incidentally, Richfield was considering a miniature roundabout at 73rd and Portland, but ended up eliminating it, favoring instead two-way stop and improved pedestrian refuge.

    Although roundabouts are the most efficient, I dislike them for pedestrian nodes — as Sam notes well, a roundabout “doesn’t lend itself to a nice intimate retail corner”. They also make bus rides less pleasant, and (at least in multi-lane ones) can be difficult to negotiate as a pedestrian. (Even if all vehicles yield to you, you are still taken significantly out of your path to get to the crosswalks.)

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele May 23, 2014 at 9:22 am #

      But when people are in queue for a stop sign, they’re not fully starting and stopping. It’s somewhere between that and coasting. Most of the time, I can coast, and just ride the brake as appropriate, until I get to the stop sign. It doesn’t involve any different throttle behavior than sitting at a red light.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller May 23, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      Well, you could do like DC and place stop lights at each entrance to the traffic circle.

      (Please don’t do what DC does)

  12. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg May 29, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    And as of this morning, May 29, the city of Minneapolis turned the traffic signals back on, more than one week prior to the original 30-day schedule. The decision was made based on the number of 311 calls the city was receiving from people, not based on any particular fact-based research about the performance of the intersection itself.

    For what it’s worth, I observed cars legally driving 30 MPH through the intersection and legally making right turns on red. I also observed pedestrians and cyclists illegally crossing against a red/don’t walk signal when no cars were coming. Just some observations.

    • Matty Lang
      Matty Lang May 29, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

      That’s very frustrating, but just as expected. The status quo (most people driving cars and being oblivious to how streets can work differently from their own personal experience) is a very powerful political and bureaucracy influencing force.

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