The Green Line is Wonderful but a Challenge to Access on Foot

IMG_20140618_151055_642Cruising high above the Mississippi River on my first Green Line light rail ride was something I may never forget. It felt so…right. Some may find it absurd to hear me say it is worth the billion dollars just to ride it across the Mississippi.

But think about it – a meaningful transit investment connecting the state’s largest downtown with its largest University (and on to St. Paul!) makes sense, and it only took 150 years and $1 billion to do it. Despite some timing issues, the train ride itself is sweet. The problem lies in getting there. $1 billion later, the Green Line prioritizes vehicles first, trains second, and pedestrians third. I hope these issues can be resolved, though I’m not sure it will be as easy as Bill Lindeke suggests.

Here are a few examples, and some suggested solutions.

Much has been already made of the time it takes to get from one end of the line to the other. 48 minutes! Why should we fixate on 48 minutes and the tiny minority who make the entire trip from end to end? We shouldn’t, but this causes needless waiting and confusion at every station. As an example, two of the three eastbound trains I saw approaching Westgate Station had to wait more than 30 seconds for a green light before actually reaching the station. Not only does 30 seconds at every red light really start to add up, inside the train the announcement of Westgate Station occurs before the intersection.

What I witnessed was when the train stops for the red light, one passenger heard the announcement and thought she was at the station, so she began to frantically push the “open door” buttons on both sides of the train, only to be patiently told by another passenger that they weren’t even at the station yet. These red lights cause delay and confusion. If I wanted to wait at a red light, I’d ride the bus.

The solution? Provide signal preemption for trains. Fix this problem and fix it now. There is no reason why a Green Line train (or Blue Line, for that matter) should have to wait for a red light. Anywhere.

No escalators at the West Bank station? Really!? Only New York City does this, and that’s because the subway is ancient. Is this some sort of discrimination against supposedly fit college students that they can take the stairs?

Solution – install an escalator.

I find it really unfortunate that the Downtown East station doesn’t have a central platform for transfers between lines. If you are traveling from the University to the airport, you must get off the Green Line westbound train, walk off the end of the platform and cross the tracks to get to the eastbound platform.

Solution – this one is tough. Too bad we can’t make the NFL and/or the Minnesota Vikings pay for the rebuilding of the station with a center platform.

At several points along the Green Line I observed an unnecessary abundance of beg buttons. Traffic engineers and transit planners need to sit down together and understand that we don’t wake up on the train. We all need to get there somehow. That means we walk, and it usually involves crossing at least one street. I find having to apply to cross the street insulting anywhere, particularly when a billion dollar transit investment is within view.

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The most egregious example is found at 29th Avenue and 4th Street. If you step off the Prospect Park station platform on the 4th Street side, you are greeted by a beg button to get across one sparingly-used lane of 29th Avenue to cross.

Sam - Baby

Solution? Get rid of all beg buttons along the Green Line, and the entire signal at 4th Street and 29th Avenue.

Even when you don’t need to apply to cross the street, conditions for pedestrians are lacking. Lo and behold, as our train cruised along Washington Avenue through campus, I didn’t see a soul obey the horribly timed pedestrian crosswalk signals. Why should they? Once you’ve identified whether or not a train is coming, with no cars on this street there are very few hazards, so just walk! Streets.mn covered this prior to the line opening, and the problem persists.

I happen to agree with David Levinson: either crosswalks should default to “Walk” unless a train is coming, or better yet, all signals should be eliminated.

I was, however, very pleased to see all the people in the Washington Avenue median enjoying themselves. The median is a landscaped area between the tracks in the heart of the East Bank, complete with tables and benches for lounging about, eating, people watching. They were being used as intended.

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At Berry Street, I sat inside the Dunn Bros and watched the crosswalk right outside the window. Passengers getting off the train would leave the platform and, rather than go out of their way to press the poorly placed button to apply to cross the street, they’d just apply common sense and look for cars streaming down University Avenue. If none were approaching, they’d just cross.

This video succinctly shows what nine in 10 people I saw do. Part of the problem here is the 90-plus-second light cycle. Why wait that long if you don’t have to, particularly when the curb you’re trying to reach is 20 feet away and you can make it across in two seconds!? Doing so may be safer than waiting for the Walk sign anyway, since a pedestrian who chooses to cross “illegally” is very likely looking carefully up the street before doing so, whereas on a Walk signal one may assume they are safe only to be struck from behind by a car turning left on a green light.

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Solution? I don’t really have a suggestion for this one.

University Avenue has several marked crosswalks where pedestrians must put their lives in the hands of drivers barreling down two lanes of traffic. I tested two of these crosswalks, one near Westgate station and one near the Raymond station. Keep in mind state law says cars must yield to any pedestrian in a crosswalk – but don’t jump out in front of a vehicle that cannot stop in time (good advice). The key word is “in.” I could stand next to the street all day and traffic would never have to stop for me unless I put a foot in the crosswalk.

True enough, in actual practice I find that cars either know this rule, don’t see you, or don’t care – or the road is built wrong.Whatever the case, the only way I found that worked was to step in to the street. Doing so with two lanes of traffic coming at you at 35 MPH is not for the faint of heart. But it worked. I made it across without getting killed or even honked at. My apologies to those drivers who stopped for me – I didn’t smile or wave at you as if to say “thank you for stopping for me!” because goddammit I had the right of way and we were simply acting as citizens should act towards one another. It’s hard enough to get one car to stop for you at these crosswalks, but that second lane makes the situation inherently dangerous and this needs to be fixed.

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The best solution to this issue is reduce University Avenue to one lane in each direction. Wishful thinking? Not if we prioritize pedestrians and transit.

Hands down my least favorite approach to any station is the lighted crosswalk at Carelton Street. This is about a half block east of Raymond Avenue, at the west end of the eastbound platform. I got off the train at the Raymond station and decided to test the crosswalk application process. After all, traffic engineers had gone out of their way to signalize this one, presumably for pedestrian safety.

I pressed the button and started counting. Ten, twenty, thirty seconds passed. I finally just crossed to the sidewalk, but continued to count. It took more than one minute to change. I think flabbergasted is the right word for how I felt.

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Worse yet, this produces a dangerous situation, as I witnessed standing near the Carleton Street crosswalk a minute later. An eastbound Route 30 bus pulled up and let someone off short of the crosswalk. She obviously was in a hurry to make a light rail connection. She hurried toward the crosswalk and looked back up University to see if it was safe to cross, but the bus still hadn’t left so it blocked her view. She pressed the crosswalk button…nothing. The bus driver witnessed this and honked, waving her across. She started across, making it to the platform just as a car in the left lane whizzed by. I won’t pretend to know whether that driver saw her or not. All I know is he didn’t slow down, she didn’t get hit, but the entire situation needs a solution.

This is the most spectacular pedestrian failure on the Green Line. It is probably the most fixable. Just ensure the light responds to the button within a couple seconds.

The overall layout of University Avenue leaves something to be desired. With the train occupying major fixed infrastructure in the median, often with a wall, and traffic engineers insisting on two lanes of traffic in each direction, moving traffic gets this two-lane expressway in which to freely operate, and there is precious little room is left for the pedestrian.

Look at this photo. Is this pedestrian realm good enough? Would you let your child walk there (below)? Would you walk there? Even I don’t like to, and I’m supposedly a risk-taking male in my thirties who shouldn’t mind this sort of thing. I can’t see how sidewalk seating can ever proliferate in a setting like this. We’re lucky to have trees!

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By the way, with two fast moving lanes of traffic, where do bikes go? The sidewalk (see below in the distance). I tried biking on University for a short spell (I have the legal right to occupy the entire lane, right?) but I thought the better of it. A bikeway one block off University could work, but the destinations are on University. As a result, bikers ride on the sidewalk.

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The solution? Reduce University Avenue to one lane in each direction. The curb lane can still accommodate bus stops, but give it over to on-street parking and some big fat curb bumpouts that include benches, garbage bins, and nice attractive planters, and a few bollards here and there if necessary. Reduce the speed limit of University to 25MPH, and maybe you’ll even have enough room for a bike lane. You’ll definitely get more sidewalk tables as a result.

The funniest thing I heard on my first Green Line ride was pulling in to the East Bank station, a young man looked up after hearing the station announcement and said aloud, “there’s a train to St. Paul now?” Poor guy was just trying to get to Franklin Avenue and accidently got on the Green Line not knowing it even existed.

Solution? None. The social interactions on the train are sometimes priceless.

All said and done, I strongly believe building light rail connecting the downtowns along University is a good idea, and I support the Green Line and the potential it has to transform the city around it. But we need to be able to get to it more safely and sanely. It seems as though in many places it is neither safe nor sane to reach the train on foot. It feels like the overriding question designers of this line were asking was “how do we accommodate this train and these crosswalks while still moving traffic smoothly?” when the question should have been “how do we get people to the train?”

The common thread in all of the examples I’ve given is a car-first mentality (even when there are no cars present like on Washington Avenue) and a lack of acknowledgement of how humans walk in a city. Putting pedestrians first, trains (and bicycles) second and cars a distant third is possible; whether it is politically feasible is another matter. We need a people-first mentality when designing transit, because after all, people ride trains.

I missed my streets.mn post last week. This is what I meant to write. This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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65 Responses to The Green Line is Wonderful but a Challenge to Access on Foot

  1. Froggie June 25, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    To a degree, giving trains signal pre-emption and eliminating pedestrian beg buttons are mutually exclusive. If a signal’s in the cross-street phase with a walk signal when a train approaches, the flashing-don’t-walk signal phase cannot be cut short lest a pedestrian who legally entered the intersection be caught short when the signal changes over. There are ways to mitigate this, but it will be impossible to fully have both. Note that this applies mostly to the downtown and University Ave segments. I agree that most of the signals along Washington Ave through Campus are a joke.

    What to do with the lanes on University has been discussed ad-nauseum in other threads. I will reiterate my opinion that, before you take a lane from University, we need to add a lane to 94 so that the “congestion divert” traffic goes back to 94.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 25, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

      +1 lane on 94 = never

      • Froggie June 25, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

        = 4 lanes on University vice 2.

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg June 25, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

          I’m OK with no lanes on 94. In 50 years, St. Paul will be, too.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke June 26, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

        Another link on the same topic: http://www.planetizen.com/node/69998

        LRT reduces traffic on parallel roadways, not diverts it, in Salt Lake City.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini June 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      Did we ever get a property tax swap or transit swap when 94 was built in the first place? ie when huge auto capacity was added via I-94, did University get turned entirely over to local deliveries and transit/ped/bike? No? Then why do we need to do the same today with auto lanes given the massive capacity Green Line?

      Sorry to be antagonistic, but I just don’t see why there needs to be a compromise in this case. Upzone the heck out of the transit walkshed of the Green Line so people have the option of building/living near the train instead of living further away and driving down 94 as a result.

      • Matt Steele June 25, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

        Why exactly do we need to maintain the existing excess of lanes on University, especially with an interstate a few blocks south?

        • Froggie June 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

          That’s the problem. It’s not an excess of lanes, ESPECIALLY in the vicinity of 280 where you get both an uptick in traffic and an uptick in trucks (the latter making the connections between 280 and Pierce Butler and nearby industrial area). I’ve mentioned before (and I believe you even agreed with me at the time, Matt), that adding a lane to 94 and getting rid of the 94 bottlenecks would entice current University users to shift over (or back) to 94, which would open up University enough to where you can get away with dropping the lane.

          • Matt Steele June 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

            In general, I agree with the improve-a-road for improve-a-street trade. Removing the lane drop at Snelling seems obvious. But I’d actually rather see one or two MnPASS lanes in each direction on 94, and no capacity increase (except for small bottleneck fixes). No matter what we do, we don’t need to “get away” with making streets better. If we reduce lanes on University, people will find another way or drive at another time of day with less congestion.

            • Matt Steele June 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

              And we can build a stronger connection between Vandalia Street and Pierce Butler so trucks can get to 94 without the block-long jog on University.

            • Alex Cecchini
              Alex Cecchini June 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

              Exactly. Since roads don’t cover their costs now, let’s toll before adding costly new capacity.

              I’m also dubious of the truck needs – if a single lane can handle them, is that good enough? Freight traffic is less than 10% of urban area VMT, so it’s not like they’re the ones causing congestion, it’s everyone else making certain mode choices at certain times based on where they chose to live (and sometimes choose to work, noting many folks can’t just find a new job very easily).

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten June 25, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

      The signal pre-emption and full pedestrian beg button removal, yes. But we can let people access station platforms from the near sides, we can fix most all the transit pedestrian mall too, and we can allow people to cross WITH trains.

      Actually, for the transit pedestrian mall… can we just add the light up “look” signs and have a 10 mph speed limit? I’d have to think you could alter “look” signs to detect buses too…

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell June 26, 2014 at 11:25 am #

      No More Lanes. We need to think in terms of switching people from cars to walking, bicycling, and transit, NOT switching from one route to another.

      • Tony Hunt
        Tony Hunt June 26, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

        Yup

  2. Cameron Conway
    Cameron Conway June 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    I can only hope that this line spurs enough dense redevelopment to where neighborhoods along this line are just outright demanding the fixes you’re talking about. Great analysis, I hope the cheapest solutions to these problems are implemented as quickly as possible.

    I’m never an advocate for increasing the amount of parking, but I think that converting the right lane each way into a parking lane (you might be able to fit a bike lane there too) would be incredibly business-friendly for that corridor. Adding parking would make it easier for driving customers to park and walking customers to cross the street safely. 94 is there for a reason, after all. Do we really need to make every major commercial corridor in the city into a semi-stroad?

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg June 25, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

      Keep in mind much of University did have on-street parking until light rail came along, so my proposal wouldn’t necessarily be increasing parking from what existed as recently as 2010, but definitely more than what is there today. I just think that the trade-off could have been removal of one lane of traffic instead of one lane of parking.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell June 26, 2014 at 11:28 am #

        Any idea how much of the customer base for these businesses is relatively local? Like within 3 to 5 miles and thus can walk or bike instead of drive?

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg June 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

          I think a lot of the corridor has very local traffic. The Midway Shopping Center draws from a larger area. However, I’d like to see transit ridership figures for Midway – I bet even the big boxes get a lot of non-drivers.

          • Walker Angell
            Walker Angell June 28, 2014 at 9:28 am #

            I wonder how many people in the local area could be persuaded to ride a bicycle rather than drive if they had safe facilities and parking. And how many would ride their bicycle to a train station if the train will get them close to where they want to go (like places along Uni).

          • Rosa June 28, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

            When I didn’t have a car, I took the bus to the big box stores at Midway – I could take the 14 from downtown after work and the 21 back home afterward, so it was fewer transfers than other stores that were actually closer.

            Does Metro Transit do that kind of ridership census? It seems like it wouldn’t be *that* hard for them to track where people get off and do some surveys of where they’re going.

        • Rosa June 28, 2014 at 12:04 am #

          How can a person bike down University now? I bike TO the part West of 280 from south Minneapolis pretty regularly, but getting farther east is not fun.

          Part of this is my ignorance of St Paul geography but Google’s solution was Charles Ave, 2 blocks north of University – that doesn’t help with casual/whim stops at University’s stores & restaurants.

  3. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller June 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Please allow me to complain again about Washington & Oak, where the presence of a train within about a block of the intersection seems to preempt traffic (of all kinds) in all four directions. There is no reason for parallel traffic to be stopped.

    And it’s made worse by the lack of signal preemption at Harvard and Ontario.

    I arrived (by bike) at a red light eastbound on Washington. The train was stopped at Ontario, and the train indicator was not yet lit at Oak. The light at Ontario changed, the train indicator came on, and all four directions on Oak went red. The train passed through the intersection, crossed Walnut and came to a stop at Harvard. All four directions at Washington & Oak continued on red. The light at Harvard changed, the train pulled into the station, the train indicator went off, and the lights at Washington & Oak returned to working.

    Many things are wrong with this:

    – The train should not stop at Ontario, which is a relatively lightly trafficked street. Certainly if it can preempt Oak, it can preempt Ontario

    – The train should not stop at Harvard, which is immediately adjacent to the station. This seems to happen all along the line and should be completely unacceptable. And stopping so close to the preempted intersection pretty much undermines the value of preempting at Washington & Oak.

    – There is no reason that parallel traffic needs to be preempted at Washington & Oak. I could see left turns off of Washington onto Oak being an issue, but there is a turn arrow and a “left turn on green arrow only” sign. But if you’re really that concerned, do we need to allow left turns there?

    – Even if you’re concerned about cars turning left, there is no reason for pedestrian traffic to be stopped (of course, there are also beg buttons).

    – There is no reason for Washington & Oak to be preempted after the train has cleared the intersection

    – There is no reason for the intersection to be preempted while the train is stopped at the next light

    And, of course, when I went through this weekend there was a University Police vehicle parked at Union Street, presumably to encourage compliance with all the ridiculous signalling along this stretch. I’m glad I’d read Bill’s story (I think it was Bill) about getting a ridiculous ticket from them for biking out of conformance with University edict. But boy is it annoying to stop and wait for a light to accommodate exactly zero crossing pedestrians.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 25, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

      Aforementioned story, and for the record it wasn’t me who got the ticket: Goldy’s Frequently Asked Questions about Riding your Bike at the University of Minnesota (http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2011/09/goldys-frequently-asked-questions-about.html)

    • JBL June 25, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

      FWIW: I bike down Washington pretty regularly. I think the cops in cars mostly spend their time pulling over cars, not pedestrians or bikes. (There are still a decent number of cars trying to drive down the bike track; they’ve moved the Do Not Enter signs around, which seems to have helped somewhat, and also presumably people get used to it.) The last two times a train has passed at Washington and Oak, it did give a Walk sign to parallel pedestrians, which is an improvement over what I observed earlier. (Maybe it gives Walk if the beg button has already been pressed when the train arrives? Just a guess.)

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 26, 2014 at 8:37 am #

        I certainly hope that’s what they are doing, but given the story Bill relayed, I wasn’t taking chances.

      • Ethan Osten
        EO June 27, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

        Most of the people I see getting pulled over on the Washington bike lanes are older people who I suspect are parents visiting from out of town; they aren’t going to get used to it, but they’re not a huge presence either.

  4. Evan Roberts
    Evan June 25, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    The District Councils’ Collaborative in Saint Paul organized a meeting at STP city hall in early May to discuss bringing parking back to University. My sense of the discussion is that neighborhood representatives were all for this, the two St Paul city council members were cautiously supportive, and the traffic engineers were (sit down and be surprised) opposed.

    One of the traffic engineers argued that two traffic lanes was safer for bikes, because it meant that there was a whole lane available for cyclists. This argument only makes sense if traffic is low enough that the second driving lane isn’t actually needed.

    There will be a survey of businesses and technical issues in late summer/early fall.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg June 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      Evan, this is really great news.

      Two things:

      – restoring on street parking is a whole lot less expensive than creating a bunch of shared off-street parking scenarios.

      – I’d very much welcome a traffic engineer’s comment here. I’d like a traffic engineer to try cycling in one of the two existing lanes of University Avenue traffic and then tell us two lanes is better than one. I suspect this is a way to preserve two lanes for cars and nothing else. So yes, many commenters may jump all over a traffic engineer commenting on this page, but I welcome the debate nonetheless.

  5. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD June 26, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    When the proposal to study making University a single lane with on-street parking was first announced, I wrote my city council person, Russ Stark, to express my support. He told me that while he understands the desire to have a bike lane on University, even if it went to a single lane there wouldn’t be a bike lane because there isn’t enough room. He said that at most the bike lane could be five feet wide and would be within the door zone of parked cars. From that email I understood that a bike lane just isn’t going to happen.

    With that taken as a given, I don’t know what is better – two lanes or one? The one would potentially be wide enough to encourage car drivers to drive too fast and try to squeeze past bikes or other slower traffic. Certainly on-street parking has value as a pedestrian buffer and for the businesses. For a cyclist though? I don’t find taking a lane on University to be too bad – it’s certainly not great and I avoid it with my children – but would a single, wide lane be better? Without some room for cars to pass me, like the old outer lane on University that was 16 feet and became a de facto bike lane, I would be very uncomfortable biking on University.

  6. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD June 26, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Also, about a year and a half ago I was at a wedding reception and was sitting near some traffic engineers from Colorado. They claimed to have worked on the station design and knew enough about it for this to be credible. I explained how the unsignalized midblock crosswalks were just a crash waiting to happen or, at the very least, left pedestrians stranded midblock. She was absolutely surprised that Minnesotan drivers do not stop for crosswalks. I hope we learn to stop for crosswalks, but in my naivete I was somewhat surprised that local customs were not accounted for in the planning. Certainly someone could have told them that?

    • jacobus June 26, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      Drivers don’t stop for crosswalks in Colorado either.

    • Matt Steele June 26, 2014 at 10:03 am #

      Unsignalized midblock crosswalks are the best! Provided there’s refuge between directions of travel. Much better than crossing at intersections.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg June 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

        Yes Matt, but an unsignalized midblock crossing with one lane of one-way traffic is far better than two lanes of one-way traffic, right?

        • Matt Steele June 26, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

          Absolutely. More reason why we should cut down a lane on University.

          • ben June 26, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

            either way, a simple solution would be a speed hump (designed for 20 mph) or speed cushion (would allow buses to pass over more easily) right before the crossing.

            Another observation is that there are too many left turns allowed along the corridor.

    • Rosa June 28, 2014 at 12:07 am #

      A friend of mine got a ticket in Boulder for stopping with her front wheels over the white line. Apparently that happens there all the time. I was shocked. We could have the custom of stopping for crosswalks, if we had the enforcement.

  7. Monte Castleman
    Monte June 26, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    I’m starting to believe that certain sections of University could function OK for cars with one lane due to low traffic counts, and the current lack of bus pull-outs and right turn lanes, but if we’re going to do something as devastating to cars as 1 lane for the entire stretch, eliminating pedestrian push-buttons, (or more likely giving automatic walk phases since push buttons are an ADA requirement) and no red lights for trains why not extend the Washington pedestrian mall all the way to St. Paul

    Also, synchronization for trains and automatic walk phases are conflicting goals, or at least the latter complicates the former. Unless we implemented microwave pedestrian sensors the side streets would automatically have to turn green/walk every so often in case there happens to be a pedestrian there, which would lead to more red time along University. Also, even if you only gave a walk automatically when a car triggered a change, which I believe would still be unacceptable to the button-bashers, a pedestrian clearance interval is a lot longer than a vehicle clearance interval.

    • Matt Steele June 26, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      If University was one lane instead of two, wouldn’t that halve the number of seconds for a pedestrian phase? Wouldn’t that make it easier to eliminate beg buttons *and* improve signal prioritization for trains?

      It would also make it easier to jaywalk, which is something we should encourage rather than make illegal. It’s safer to jaywalk across one lane midblock than it is to use a crosswalk legally where turning motorists aren’t always watching for pedestrians to their right.

      • David W June 26, 2014 at 10:49 am #

        I agree that crossing midblock is generally safer and easier, but that’s not really the case when there’s a train in the middle of the street.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte June 26, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

        It would reduce it, but not by half.
        1) Presumably the left turn lanes would remain if 1 through lane was eliminated (and in some cases there might even be a formal or informal right turn lane rather than a bumpout). So you’re going from three lanes to two, not from two to one.
        2) There’s a minimum time for pedestrian phases no matter how narrow the street is. The recommendation is the walk phase should be at a minimum of seven seconds, and a pedestrian at 3.5 feet/s should be able to cross the entire street in the clearance interval. Assuming a road with standard 12 foot lanes (I don’t know what University is offhand), that’s 17.5 seconds for each side of University with three lanes, 14 seconds for each side with two lanes. (It looks to me like most places it’s set up so you can cross half of University at a time).

        The bigger problem is you’d introduce a humongous amount of pedestrian phases that conflict with trains because without push-buttons there’s no alternative to giving a stop signal to the tracks and the main road every so often whether or not there is actually a pedestrian there.

        • Matt Steele June 26, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

          Can’t we keep pedestrian phases longer, but shorten them when a train is within a half mile or something?

          • Monte Castleman
            Monte June 26, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

            The only time it’s ever allowed to shorten a pedestrian clearance interval is during a hard preemption, like for trains. Of course preemption is what some people here want, but shortening phases is still something engineers like to avoid. You or me can hustle if the Don’t Walk light unexpectedly turns on when there’s still numbers left on the countdown, but an old person with a walker might not be able to. You could shorten the initial Walk time, but then it takes some people a few seconds to realize the light has turned and it might start flashing by the time they look up from their phone.

            • Matt Steele June 26, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

              But if we can know there’s a train approaching sooner than the signal cycle, the whole problem can be avoided.

  8. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 26, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Great post Sam.

    I wonder how much it would help to raise the crossings a few inches (similar to a speed table)? This also keeps them a bit more clear and dry during rain and snow.

    —-

    “The solution? Reduce University Avenue to one lane in each direction. The curb lane can still accommodate bus stops, but give it over to on-street parking and some big fat curb bumpouts that include benches, garbage bins, and nice attractive planters, and a few bollards here and there if necessary. Reduce the speed limit of University to 25MPH, and maybe you’ll even have enough room for a bike lane.”

    Agree with reducing Uni to one lane, but I’d prioritize a cycletrack first. If we are to ever move away from everyone using individual cars for every little 2 mile trip we have got to prioritize infrastructure for walking, bicycling, and transit and only then provide parking for people individual cars.

    —-

    What’s done is done but I can’t stop thinking that if we’d put in a tram for this tram line instead of an inefficient bastardized cross between a tram and commuter train then we’d likely have enough room in the ROW for a bike lane AND more parking as well as money to pay for it.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg June 26, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

      Walker, good point about the difference between tram (streetcar), light rail and commuter rail. Tram/streetcars have stops every block or two, light rail works great with a stop every mile or so, and commuter rail every couple miles at least. We shouldn’t expect the same transit service to carry us quickly 11 miles between the two downtowns AND provide good local service.

      I really didn’t mean to marginalize the importance of cycling on this corridor, but I’m afraid I did. What I really don’t like is the two lanes of fast moving traffic in each direction, and that it is magnified by the light rail infrastructure that is so anti-human-scale.

      The right lane of University doesn’t have to be parking – a cycletrack will do, provided additional space is given over to the pedestrian as well and speed is reduced.

  9. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg June 26, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Bottom line is, spending $1 billion on a transit improvement only to preserve the same level of traffic in the corridor is totally insane.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 27, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      not “totally insane”; makes sense from a certain compromising perspective I suppose.

  10. Anne June 26, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    This weekend when I rode the line for the first (and second and third) time(s), I was amazed at the number of stops in Saint Paul that required the train to wait at a red light, then pull forward to the platform to stop again and load and unload.

    1) Why didn’t they just place the platforms before the light and kill two birds with one stone? Was it to leave room for left turn lanes?

    2) Since the platforms won’t be moving anytime soon, the trains should absolutely be given signal priority and shave off all of those double-stops. It was SO MUCH stopping and going, especially east of Snelling, where there are stops every half mile. I really want to love the Green Line but found myself deeply unsatisfied with this aspect of it.

    In terms of the user experience, it ALSO wouldn’t be hard to clear up some confusion by adding “Exit Left” or “Exit Right” on to the end of the announcement for every stop. Or adding an arrow pointing in the appropriate direction on the in-train screens announcing the next stop. I can’t remember if the Blue Line does this or not, but it’s definitely something I’ve seen in other cities and is very helpful for infrequent riders.

    On another note, I was also disappointed to see that the route maps above the exits don’t show the length of time between stops like they used to on the Blue Line. Since the train was running really late, I couldn’t depend on the schedules or NextTrip figure out which stop to get off at to find the best connection (among many) to get to my location. Part of me is still hoping that there is room for improvement in transit times, but I doubt that was the reason for this streamlined map.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

      yep

    • Matty Lang
      Matty Lang June 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      The stations are at the far side of the intersections so that the train can leave right away after boarding. If the stations were on the near side, trains would often wait for a red light cycle after having boarded. Either way, signal preemption is needed.

  11. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 27, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Got a data point to add about 10:00 this morning. I was traveling west on University from St Paul and turned right on to Western. I waited 4 minutes 12 seconds for a green left turn arrow. There was extremely little car traffic during my 4:12 wait.

    No trains passed for the first 3:50 when a westbound train came through the intersection and stopped at the station. There was also an eastbound leaving the station about this time, but low and behold, had to stop and I finally got my green arrow at 4:12.

    There are dozens of times I could have been given a turn arrow much earlier and given the low traffic there was no reason that the eastbound train should ever have needed to stop. Extremely inefficient use of this intersection while I was there.

  12. Keith Morris June 27, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    Turning over the right hand lanes to cyclists and pedestrians would be ideal, but even a bus-bike only lane would be an improvement,though much easier for motorists to ignore. I’ve taken the right lane numerous times and there hasn’t been enough traffic that cars couldn’t easily pass on the left.

    I think the more glaring problem for cyclists is the lack of getting to the Green Line. Prior and a street just east of Rice are the lone north-south bikeways. This leaves a lot of residents without the infrastructure they would need in order to actually bike north or south to the Green Line. There are many times more people within biking distance of the Green Line than walking distance, so why not reach out to them to make it just as easy to get there?

  13. Paul Udstrand June 29, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    One small point, Cyclists do NOT have a right to an entire right lane. A cyclist is required by statute to stay as far to the right as is practicable. Drivers aren’t supposed to pass within three feet of you, but that doesn’t give you the whole lane. having said that, University is, as are most streets, not designed for bikes. There are good alternatives however.

    • Matty Lang
      Matty Lang June 29, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

      “as far to the right as is practicable” in a lane that is not wide enough to be a shared lane (like the lanes on University Ave) means controlling the center of the lane. That is why posted signage on University Avenue announces the fact that “Bicycles may use full lane.”

      • Paul Udstrand June 30, 2014 at 9:38 am #

        Matty, there is a difference between “may” and “shall” in the law. That signage doesn’t trump state law. What it does is recognize that a cyclist might have to maneuver around obstacles and traffic on the street, the entire lane is available for such maneuvers. You’re still expected to ride as far to the right as practicable within that lane, hence the “practicable”. That signage does not grant you the entire lane, it simply reminds everyone that that cyclists have a right be there, and they can use the entire lane to maneuver if need be. In other words, that signage does NOT transform that entire lane into a bike lane.

        • Matty Lang
          Matty Lang June 30, 2014 at 9:45 am #

          I never said the entire lane is a bike lane. It’s a shared lane that is 12 or 13 feet wide which is not wide enough for a bicycle and a car to share side by side. State law states that motorists must pass people riding bikes with at least a three foot clearance. There’s 3-4 feet of the lane used. A person on a bike is about 3 feet wide. That’s six feet used up now. I’m sure you will allow a person on a bike to have 2 feet of clearance from the curb? Add a 7-8 foot wide car and we’re well over the amount of space in the lane.

          The only way for a car to legally pass a bicycle on University Avenue is to change lanes. That’s why the signs are posted. It is not “practicable” for a person on a bike to hug the curb on University Avenue encouraging motorists to illegally and unsafely overtake them within the same lane. Make sense?

          • Paul Udstrand June 30, 2014 at 10:24 am #

            Matty, sure it’s a tight squeeze, all the signs are establishing is that bikers are not prohibited from riding on University Ave… again, that’s what the “may” means. You still have to ride as far to the right as practicable regardless of how much space is available. It’s the same on the parkways. You seem to be assuming you can and should ride anywhere you want in the lane just because it’s a narrow lane. I think that’s a dangerous assumption, and it’s contrary to statute. Just because a sign affirms your right to be there doesn’t mean you can or should take over the entire lane. It’s not your job or responsibility to calm traffic by “defending” your lane, so don’t do it, and then complain about how dangerous it is. Yeah, it’s dangerous.

            Having said all that, yeah, we all agree, they screwed this up, it isn’t safe for bikers or pedestrians, and it’s weird that such a funky design would be built in the Twin Cities (1st or 2nd biking town in the country). I’m just suggesting that trying to take over the whole right lanes is a dangerous way for bikers to deal with the situation, especially in a era of largely distracted drivers behind the wheels of cars and trucks. It’s almost never the driver that sees you that hits you, riding slower than traffic in the middle of traffic is just a good way to get run over.

            • Matty Lang
              Matty Lang June 30, 2014 at 10:37 am #

              Paul, what I wrote has nothing to do with defending any lanes or vehicular cycling. Here’s my point: University Avenue is currently designed for bicycles and cars to share the right lane in a queue–not side by side. MnDOT bicycle design guidelines require a minimum width of 14 feet for a lane to be shared side by side. University lanes are 11 or 12 feet (I was being generous in my previous comment.)

              What is dangerous behavior on a bicycle on University Avenue is to be as far to the right as possible (not practicable) as you are suggesting where a person will be less visible to motorists and is in a higher danger of being passed in the same lane and side swiped by a car or truck. The bottom line is that staying as close as possible to the curb is not practicable so no statute is being violated.

              Maybe if you think about the shared lanes in Minneapolis that are marked with sharrows like Bryant Avenue and Hennepin Avenue you will understand. Notice where the sharrows are placed? In the middle of the shared lane, not against the curb.

              I think we can stop discussing this now, but I will continue to help explain to people how University Avenue is designed from a bicycle transportation perspective in hopes that people motoring and biking will learn how to use the street as it was designed.

  14. John Bailey June 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Paul — What are these direct, alternative routes that get can get you all the way through to both downtowns, the U, the Capital, and to the other destinations on University Avenue?

    • Paul Udstrand June 30, 2014 at 9:51 am #

      John,

      That was MY question… The Strib published an Amazing race, they had a car, a LR, and a biker face off on a trip from the Capital to the Strib building in Downtown MPLS. The biker came in 2nd 30 minutes. I wrote him (Matt Mckinney) to find out what his route was because I knew he didn’t go down University:

      Hey Paul,

      The route was the best part. There’s a lot of bike paths and bike/busroads between the capitol and downtown Minneapolis.

      >From the capitol: head north a couple of blocks to Como Avenue and turn left. Follow Como Avenue past the southern shore of Lake Como, through the park, past the fairgrounds and turn left onto the U of M Transitway. No cars allowed on this road and there’s not much traffic or intersections. AT the end turn right, go one block and turn left. Go two blocks and look for entrance to Dinkytown Greenway. This will take you to the Mississippi where you can cross over bridge #9 or, and I prefer this second route, turn right over the railroad tracks a few hundred feet before the river, ride a short stretch of gravel road and get onto the blacktop road that takes you to the Stone Arch Bridge. Cross the bridge and arrive downtown.

      Enjoy the ride!

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg June 30, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

        Or take Summit Avenue. Right on, Paul. Either way, University Avenue doesn’t make it easy to bike on.

  15. Jeffrey June 30, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    The correct time of 40-50 minutes between downtowns on the Green Line is always made with the caveat that the majority of riders will not be using the train to get between downtowns. If this is true why has service of the 94 bus been reduced and eliminated on the weekends?
    I am a supporter of transit, but I think 1 billion dollars to improve mobility on 11 miles was too much money. i would rather that money had been used to improve service throughout the entire system.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Sunday Summary | streets.mn - June 29, 2014

    […] being running for 2 whole weeks) and streets.mn writers provide context, criticism and commentary: The Green Line is Wonderful but a Challenge to Access on Foot (this week’s comment winner), and Podcast #66 – Riding the Green Line with David Levinson.  […]

  2. Three More Green Line Station Gripes | streets.mn - July 1, 2014

    […] Well, of course we have! But in the spirit of pissing that guy off, I want to keep complaining. I like the Green Line as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a whole bunch of things I’d fix. And as streets.mn is not a civic booster site full of teddy bear stories about how great we all are, we might as well keep on piling on. […]

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