Saint Paul’s New Street Design Manual

Bike DreamsThe wave of new “Complete Streets” laws require cities to develop “Complete Streets Plans” and new street design manuals. Street design manuals are like smart phone contracts or software download agreements. They tend to be so mind-numbingly boring and full of technical jargon that, rather than read them, we just click “agree.” Later on, we discover that we agreed to a horribly restrictive contract or an annoying service fee.

Street and road design manuals can quickly fossilize into laws that dictate what we can and can’t do with our streets. Engineers treat the state highway manual like fundamentalists treat the bible or some sacred religious text. There are many reasons for this. The manuals offer simple, formulaic solutions to transportation problems. This can be appealing to an overworked engineer with too many projects. Even though they can technically apply for variances, if there’s no established process for doing so, it requires a lot of extra work and time that the engineer may not have. Also transportation departments and other agencies are more or less immune from lawsuits if they follow their own standard operating procedures and don’t behave in a manner that a court can construe as “arbitrary and capricious.” As highway design manuals gradually become “standard operating procedure,” there is an unwillingness to deviate from them because it could open up the agency to lawsuits if someone gets hurt on an agency facility.

So it’s important that we get these manuals right and that we incorporate as many bicycle and pedestrian-friendly design options as we can possibly think of. This will enable us to access these options in the future.

Saint Paul has just released its new 2014 draft Street Design Manual for review by the city Transportation Committee and other interested parties. You can download a PDF version at–
It’s hard to say if it will become as important or influential as the state highway manual but I slogged through all 195 pages of it and made some comments. I plan to meet with one of the authors of the manual next Friday to discuss it. If any of you out there are as insane as me, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for the manual– things you like, things you don’t, things you think should be included or omitted. Below are my overall and then obsessive-compulsive, page-by-page comments. Enjoy!


Major Design Manual Omissions

The most glaring omission from this street manual is its failure to set up a system of bicycle and pedestrian data collection. Actual data is critical to good evaluation, engineering and the “Performance Measures” on page 177 of the manual. The city needs to create a Publicly available website with bike/ped count and crash data, perhaps one that utilizes crowd sourcing like as well as official data. With occasional, very cursory exceptions, the city of Saint Paul has never systematically collected or used bike/ped count or crash data when making design decisions. Routes for the new Draft Bikeways Plan were selected without any real count or crash data. Reviewing the E.I.S. and questioning the lead engineer (Dan Soler), the entire Central Corridor Light Rail Plan and Central Corridor Bike Walk Action Plan were both developed without any bike/ped count or crash data. This is ludicrous. Without knowing how cyclists currently get into downtown Saint Paul, how can we begin to know what are the most critical routes to improve? How can we know which intersections are most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists …or whether our engineering measures are improving bad situations or actually making them more dangerous?

I’ve seen very cursory “before” and “after” crash data (provided by Public Works engineer David Kuebler) on Marshall Avenue, following the initial installation of medians. There was no decline in bike/ped crashes and no before/after count data was available at all, so it’s hard to say if the “Per-capita” crash rate declined. The city collects and maps all this data with motor vehicles and uses it in making design decisions …but ignores bike/ped data. Part of the reason for this is that counting bicycles and pedestrians is difficult to automate and requires volunteers and staff time. On the police/public safety side, we are told there is no metadata point for “bicycle” or “pedestrian” crashes in Saint Paul, so the information must be retrieved manually from all the city’s crash reports. They lack the staff to do this on a regular basis but cannot allow outsiders to comb the data because of HIPAA regulations. Thus, this manual should propose, first and foremost, the systematic collection of bike/ped count and crash data on par with motor vehicles …and the publishing of this data on a publicly accessible website where it can be examined and used by engineers and project collaborators from different city and county agencies, and analyzed by academics and NGOs. There is a cost to set up the initial crash data system but, once set up, its costs to operate are minimal to non-existent. It requires adding meta-data points to the Public Safety crash data intake system for bike/ped crashes, including exact location, time of day, direction of travel of victim. direction of travel of the motor vehicle and severity of the crash. Then a bit of code must be written so that this data can be syphoned off (without names or HIPAA-protected identification) onto a publicly accessible website. Once set up, it will be fully automated. UMN Geography or Computer Science/public health interns could be put to work on this. This site can also contain count data collected by volunteers and entered onto some wiki, password-protected uploader that instantly maps it. Again, it’s not that hard to do and leverages a huge pool of available volunteer labor. Among other benefits, cross-referencing bike and pedestrian counts with crashes at a particular location will tell engineers which areas are the most dangerous per user, and thus which areas most need attention.

The second most glaring omission from this manual is making clear whether it is just “advisory” …or if it’s going to carry legal weight like the State Highway Manual, from which local agencies almost never deviate. I think it’s hard to make the latter claim about this manual given all the exceptions that have been granted just in the last 2-3 years. For example everything about the Central Corridor project on University Avenue violated “Traditional Neighborhood District Regulations (Code of Ordinances Part II, Title VIII, Chapter 66, Article III).” There is no on-street parking “To buffer pedestrians.” “Building Entrances (were) Oriented towards the Street” (page 17) …but, with no parking or delivery area, most businesses were urged to make ADA, delivery entrances, parking and (hence) their main entrances on the alley. There is no “Frontage” zone (in many places) (page 23). There is no boulevard/furnishing zone in some places and no parked cars or bike lanes as “acceptable buffers” (page 23). Grand Avenue street cafes like Shish and elsewhere violate the sidewalk zone system, which is fine in that case but maybe the city wants to take some parking to make “pop-up platforms” and allocate some car spaces to summertime sidewalk cafes. This would keep the sidewalks ADA accessible or in-line with this manual, which they are currently not. I think the reality is everything in this manual is merely a “suggestion” and variances are widely granted or allowed to continue, so we might want to add a line to this effect …OR say that, going forward, the city is going to work to make its streets conform to the manual. The “Implementation” section is vague on this.

The third most glaring omission is there’s no discussion and design consideration for seasonal “pop-up” sidewalk cafes, pop-up bike parking or pop-up parks and seating areas in parking spaces (also called “Parklets”). You could even include “Nice Ride” Stations and bike corrals in this discussion as both also involve the temporary taking of on-street parking. This could be discussed near “Convertable Streets” on page 123. Here are some links to New York City’s design considerations for pop-up cafes–
…and descriptions from other cities including Minneapolis–
Pop-up platforms could be used on Grand Avenue, where summer-time sidewalk seating narrows the pedestrian zone to less than 5 feet, and in many other locations.

Finally, This manual needs a statement at the beginning of it to the effect that: “Being able to cross and access public streets without a car is a human right. This right is not always honored in our city due to evaluation, engineering, education and enforcement that overwhelmingly favors motor vehicles. The new Complete Streets Law and this manual is an attempt to change that.”


Specific Comments on the Manual’s Text by Page Number

Page 21, here and in subsequent places you make the statement that “Saint Paul
rights-of-way are typically 60′, 66′ or 80′ wide.” But Marshall Avenue from Snelling to Fairview is 54′ wide, Ford Parkway from Snelling to Howell is 58′ wide and Ford Parkway west of Hillcrest Recreation Center is 73′ wide. The latter is a 4 lane street with center turn lanes, medians and on-street parking, and all these street examples are major collector and arterial streets. So I’m not sure where you’re getting your typical right-of-way widths.

Page 22, Boulevard/Furnishing Zone should not contain street furniture and objects near corners that could obscure driver’s view of pedestrians. The line “Strategically placed to not obstruct sight lines” (repeated on page 33, almost verbatim) is insufficient because many of these objects (like telephone and electrical utility boxes are huge (Larger than a person). There are rules about plantings having to be a max height of 12″ within 30 feet of intersections (page 27) but nothing about utility boxes and other large street furniture that might obscure a motorist’s view of pedestrians or wheelchairs at mid-block or corner crosswalks. There are a lot of these that may have contributed to pedestrian deaths. I include photos of “street furniture” at Ford Parkway and Cleveland, and at Hamline and Grand, both locations of pedestrian deaths.

The utility box, poles and street furniture obscures driver's view of pedestrians about to cross the street.

The utility box, poles and street furniture obscure driver’s view of pedestrians about to cross the street.

This is a high-up google car roof view approaching Grand and Hamline. At a Driver's eye view, the bench and mailbox may obscure driver's view of pedestrians on the corner who are about to cross the street.

This is a high-up Google Car roof-view approaching Grand and Hamline Avenues. At a Driver’s-eye view, the bench and mailbox may obscure a driver’s view of pedestrians on the corner.


The manual states that the pedestrian zone “should be functional in all weather conditions.” The manual needs to say how that is going to come about. What city snow plowing policies are going to prevent giant snow berms at street corners? Is the city going to plow and break ice on long stretches of University Avenue where Target and other businesses routinely fail to do it and bill those companies? Does the city have staff for this? How will the city keep major bikeways, like the one on Marshall free of ice, snow and parked cars in the winter, something that 3 years of a “Pilot snow plowing” project has utterly failed to accomplish? How might the needs to keep pedestrian and bicycle zones “functional in all weather conditions” impact other parts of this manual? We need research from other cities with similar climates.

Page 23 ends with “Sidewalks should be present on at least one side of all arterial streets …but earlier, “Subdivision Regulations (Code of Ordinances Part II, Title VIII, Chapter 69) says, “Public sidewalks are required along both sides of collector and arterial streets” (page 17). Which is it? McKnight Road under I-94 and certain other highway overpasses, Prior Avenue north of CP Rail line, Gilbert and many other streets lack sidewalks on one side or lack them altogether.

Page 36, under “Roadway lighting,” we should light crosswalks, not “intersections.” Also, on signal poles, lighting should illuminate important signs such as “no right on red” or street signs. Ford Parkway and Cleveland intersection lights fail to do all the above and are typical of most overhead street light designs. “Avoid large shadows” is not applied to this (and other) intersection lighting, where the light is perched above and parallel with the signal support arm, which results in a large shadow being cast, often over the crosswalk …or means that signs on the support arm are unlighted and invisible at night. If the overhead light support arms were angled slightly towards the intersections, say 15 degrees off-parallel with the signal support arms, this problem could be solved.

Page 38 driveway design considerations are good but Kowalski’s driveways on Grand Avenue violate them, which relates to my comment at the beginning: “is this document advisory or something more?” What about all the driveways from parking garages downtown or the new Pizza Luce parking lot on Selby Avenue that the city allowed to go forward, demolishing a home and throwing out its existing zoning codes? This section should reference page 74-81 “Access Management” (more than just a link at the bottom of the page) because they are closely related. Alternatively, the two sections could be put next to each other. It should also reference the on-street parking management discussion on pages 172-173. The West side of Snelling between Minnehaha and Englewood would be an example of where a connected parking district (off alley) could eliminate the need for driveways on Snelling and might enable the extension of planned bike lanes from Hewitt to Minnehaha Avenue. Creating parking districts is a mix of engineering and politics …but so are most of the ideas in this manual.

Page 40, under “Bicycle Parking,” how do we get racks at “Cycles For Change” on University Avenue in less than two years? What are the regulatory impediments to that happening that need to be addressed in this manual? Getting a bike rack from the city generally takes over a year and, in some obvious locations of need (like the front of a major community bike shop), the request is denied for absurd bureaucratic reasons. When the city wants to build a stadium, an LRT line or a parking lot, all zoning codes and street manual rules get thrown out the window or “massaged” to fit required E.I.S. forms or Administrative Procedures Act requirements. It is absurd that a bike rack in front of a community bike shop should take two years to happen or be denied. There should be a line in the manual that the city can just put in a rack if it’s requested. If someone complains, the rack can be removed.

Page 41, after the sentence “Bicycle racks should be placed on concrete or other similarly paved surface,” change next sentence to read “Where bike racks are desired on grass boulevards, a concrete pad or similar surface will be created for them.”

Page 42, under “Wayfinding,” further discuss the use of pavement markings in conjunction with signs and “directional” arrows. Show some examples of wayfinding pavement markings. Change sentence on page 43, column 2 to read “Route identification signs and/or pavement markings may be placed every 1/2 mile or more frequently, at the….” Some areas of the Highland I-35E trail take confusing routes through city streets and need more frequent signage than once every half-mile.

Page. 45, the city should endeavor to eliminate stairways where no other nearby bike route exists. An example would be the Highway 5 Bridge over the Mississippi, the only bridge for miles in either direction and only accessible via stairs– rendering the bridge unusable by bicycles with trailers, wheelchairs and those with disabilities.

Page 46-47, under “Site Planning,” no mention is made of bicycle access to developments, particularly where they are large, like the Ford Plant site or the development on the old Metro Transit bus garage site bordered by Pascal, St. Anthony, Snelling Avenue and the back of the Rainbow Foods/OfficeMax mall. How will cyclists access these sites and get through them? How could these developments enhance bicycle access in adjacent areas? For example, putting the current on-street parking spaces on the south side of Ford Parkway into any new development at the Ford Plant site would enable this on-street parking space to be used for an up-hill bicycle climbing lane between the Ford Parkway Bridge and Cretin Avenue. If this portion of Ford Parkway is ever rebuilt, moving this parking would free up sufficient space to put bike lanes on both sides of the street. A pathway through the development would also permit access to Montreal Avenue or areas behind the Lunds mall and Highland Center. Bicycle access through the Metro Transit site development would enable cyclists to reach the new LRT station at Snelling and University Avenues. So the manual needs to consider bike access and impacts with real estate developments and, were useful and possible, secure easements from developers.

Page 48, With “Off Street Paths,” what are “applicable laws pertaining to pedestrian movement at driveways?” In a cycle track situation, you want bicycles to have priority over cars at driveways (using stop signs or signals for cars).

In this section, you need a slightly more detailed discussion of the dangers of off-street paths versus on-street facilities. You do this in the cycle-track section (page 98-102) but not here. These dangers include increased risk of right and left hook accidents. Some studies show that off-street pathways are actually more dangerous than on-street, buffered facilities because cyclists are less visible to cars at intersections. This is especially the case with two-way bike facilities on one-way streets as turning motorists are not expecting cyclists in the opposite direction and only look out for on-coming car traffic. An excellent article outlining some of the hazards of off-street paths can be found at–

Thus, this section should include a discussion of ways to mitigate these hazards, such as banning right-turns-on-red where streets cross cycle paths, tightening up turning radii for cars on the bike street, increased use of warning signs for motorists, etc. Again, you do some of this with cycle-tracks (pgs 98-102) and note it as a “Related Treatment” but you need to do more here because the same issues apply to an even greater magnitude. I suggest biking on Phalen Boulevard’s off-street facility at rush hour and I guarantee you will have at least one near miss with a motorist at an intersection.

Also, there should be mention of the importance of maintaining off-street paths on the same side of the street for an entire route or corridor so pedestrians and cyclists are not required to cross back and forth across the street, exposing them to increased risk of intersection crashes. This is exactly what Ramsey County and MnDOT are proposing to do on McKnight Road under I-94, rather than connect the bike path on the Maplewood side. They might as well do nothing, since no one is going to wait for the light, cross McKnight Road, bike (on a narrow sidewalk) under I-94, wait for another as-yet uninstalled traffic light, ride back across McKnight to the east side and continue north on the bike path. McKnight is a 4-lane boulevard with over 20,000 cars per day. No one is going to unnecessarily cross it, twice! Only highway engineers and planners who’ve never ridden a bike or walked would come up with such an insane solution just to save a few dollars. It’s important that we don’t make the same mistake with the proposed downtown off-street bike loop and its spurs or other off-street pathways in the city.

Page 49, bullet point 5, add sentence “Planted boulevard rules for sidewalks from page 27 should apply, including 12″ maximum planting heights, avoiding street furniture near intersections, etc.”

Page 53, To the sentence, “On roadways with on-street parking, it is advantageous to provide additional width to either the parking lane or the bicycle lane” add “…because winter ice and snow can narrow the roadway to the point of eliminating the bike lane.” (This is the situation we have on Marshall Avenue).

Page 54, bullet point #1, at the end of the paragraph add “…but variances for these parking lane width requirements allowing parking lanes as narrow as 7 feet are available, even on state aid roadways.”

Page 67-73, except in the context of shared bus/bike lanes (and one bullet point below “leapfrogging” on page 73), there is no discussion or diagramming of the interaction of bike lanes, cycle tracks or off-street bicycle facilities with transit stops. Yet this is an area where a lot of innovative research and design work has been done in other states. Also, there is no discussion of snow removal– something that rarely happens at most Saint Paul bus stops.

Page 75, or 77 should include a sentence at the end to the effect that “snow removal and further narrowing of the street during the winter should also be a consideration regarding whether to use medians and what the width of the medians should be.”
Here and elsewhere, get rid of the word “perceived friction of the roadway” and replace it with “perceived threat of head-on collisions.” No one but highway engineers know what “perceived friction” means.

On page 76 and 77, include options for landscaped median designs which are narrower than 8 feet. These are achieved by using higher curbs (to reduce salt entering the median) and different types of plantings. You included a picture of one on page 102 (6 feet wide with high-sides). I have photos of others. Also, there should be a discussion of the use of steel or concrete bollards to protect pedestrians on bulb-outs or where a crosswalk goes through a median, particularly at the median nose in an intersection with high-speed traffic.

This access-management section should reference the on-street parking management discussion on page 172-3 as this explains “Parking Improvement Districts” and other related issues.

Page 81-87, the Bicycle Lanes section is excellent. I’m glad you provided the modified gutter pan options, like Franklin Avenue’s 6′ gutter pan that’s the entire width of the bike lane, and elsewhere in Minneapolis (or John Ireland), where there is no visible gutter pan at all.

Page 94-95, you need to create a “Super Sharrow” designation for shared lanes on streets with ADT counts of over 10,000. Saint Paul already has such shared lanes westbound on Marshall between Cretin and the Lake Street Bridge and University Avenue between Aldine and Raymond, but they have no markings on them whatsoever and only minimal signage. “Super Sharrows” and “Green lanes” should be used in these situations and are used in numerous other cities. We need them in Saint Paul where high traffic volumes and speeds necessitate more high-visibility pavement markings and signage. The marking is a sharrow symbol with dotted lines on either side of it to show bicycle lane positioning. The mark is put down more frequently than just once or twice per block (as is typical with regular sharrows). See photos below.


Page 99-100, Cycle Track design considerations should include banning right-turns-on-red-lights for streets that cross cycle tracks. As mentioned earlier, some of the ideas in this section should also be mentioned in the earlier “Off-street Pathways” section beyond just including it in “Related Treatments.”

Page 105-106, with Bicycle Boulevards, include green-lane or crosswalk markings at the 6′ gaps in median diverters. Currently, where the new Charles Avenue Bike Boulevard crosses Lexington and Snelling Avenues, rush hour car traffic will stop in front of these gaps, forcing cyclists to use the crosswalks. This happened on the League of American Cyclists’ ride on July 31, 2014, in the middle of the day, with Steve Clark, Reuben Collins and other current and former city staff. Motorists backed up in traffic, don’t realize they are blocking these gaps, whereas they do recognize that they have to stay clear of crosswalks. These additional gaps should get some kind of crosswalk marking or the entire intersection should have “keep clear” markings.

Page 111, Traffic Signal Bicycle Detection is depicted but not discussed. It should have it’s own “design consideration” sentence that says, “The city will endeavor to put traffic signal bicycle detection on all designated bike routes that don’t have automatically changing signals.” Currently there is not a single instance of traffic signal bicycle detection in Saint Paul except perhaps along the new Central Corridor line. The Bicycle Coalition submitted a list of some signals that need detection to Emily Erickson and Reuben Collins at the Public Works Department but nothing has happened. The list includes Jefferson Avenue at Fairview, at Snelling, and at Lexington …and includes Marshall at Dale, Prior and Otis, Summit Avenue at Snelling and various other locations. I can find the list again, if you want it.

Page 115-116, under “Traffic Calming,” speed tables and raised intersections are not mentioned as options and there is a decided bias against vertical deflection. It says that speed humps require “a speed study showing 85th percentile at least 5mph over the speed limit” …but, if such a study was done and produced these results, by law, the speed limit would have to be set to the new, higher speed. This is what our group and others have been told by MnDOT engineers Scott McBride, Jenny Read and (now retired) Wayne Norris when we attempted to get them to make bicycle and pedestrian improvements to Snelling Avenue. So this is a “catch-22” condition. Also, what qualifies as a “collector” street? Is it a city designation or based on AADT counts? Otis Avenue between Mississippi River Blvd and Pelham has speed humps that are at least 15 years old and show no signs of plow damage, yet they are very effective at slowing traffic on what is a highly-used bicycle route (78 bikes in 2 hours according to one count). In front of the country club on Otis, there is also a speed table or raised crosswalk for golf carts. Otis carries almost 5000 ADT.

Page 117, snow and ice narrowing the intersection in the winter should be a “Design consideration” when selecting the diameter of the traffic circle. Also, we have data that shows circles are safer for car-to-car crashes but do we have data that they are safer for pedestrians or people in wheelchairs? For pedestrians, it is often unclear if a car will be turning onto the street you are crossing or continuing around the circle. Provided cars use turn signals, traditional 4-way stops are much more predictable in this regard. Also, are you sure about landscaping heights? At one meeting, they said 18″ and your intersection curb planting guidelines say 12″ maximum …but here you say 36″, which would seem high enough to obscure the view of someone in a wheelchair or a child. Don’t forget to include the distance of parking restrictions from intersections. (Right now you just have an “X” there).

Photo on page 119 is not of an “intersection median barrier.” It is just a photo of a median near an intersection.

Page 121 (see comments on pages 115-116).

Page 129, change the sentence “They may provide space for utilities, signs and amenities such as bus shelters or waiting areas, bicycle parking, public seating, public art, street vendors, newspaper stands, trash and recycling receptacles and green infrastructure elements.” This is a direct contradiction of the part of the manual emphasizing the need to improve motorist sight lines at corners/intersections. If a corner bump out is full of all this stuff, as many are, it prevents a right-turning motorist from seeing pedestrians traveling in the same direction through a crosswalk. This has probably contributed to many pedestrian deaths and injuries, most recently at Hamline and Grand and Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenues. See earlier included photos with our page 22 comments. This is also an argument in favor of locating bus stops after intersections (so shelters and benches are not obscuring a driver’s view of the intersection).

Page 133, insert the word “car” into the sentence, “Due to a substantial reduction in vehicle speeds roundabouts have been shown to reduce all forms of car crashes and crash severity.” Roundabouts are great for cars and moving traffic. They are not as good for pedestrians. Many of the dangers/drawbacks you state for skewed intersections (on page 131-2) and wide turning radii apply to roundabouts. These include: “travel distance across intersection can be greater; …requires pedestrians to crane their necks to see other approaching users making it less likely that some users will be seen; …Skews generally reduce visibility for all users on all approaches; …obtuse angles encourage high speed vehicle turning movements; …can create problems for visually impaired pedestrians.”

By increasing the distance pedestrians have to walk to cross an intersection, roundabouts lower pedestrian “level of service” for intersections. Also, the benefits are overstated. You say “no delay for pedestrians” but you are increasing the size of the intersection and the distance people have to walk to get through it. Motorist unpredictability makes them more dangerous for both cyclists and pedestrians. The fact that AASHTO guidelines recommend putting cyclists on sidewalks (defeating the entire point of bike lanes) testifies to roundabouts’ safety problems for non-motorized users. Because of their substantial space requirements, they also have the effect of destroying/wasting scarce urban land (which you mention but not as a liability). Read your own “design considerations” and you’ll realize that roundabouts are like nuclear space bombs in urban areas. I can’t think of a single location in Saint Paul where one of these would be a good idea. Saint Paul needs urban infill to restore its vitality as a city, not more car and roadway-oriented dispersion.

Page 137, Channelized Right Turn Lanes are a bad idea for pedestrians, period. To say “The new design has also been shown to reduce motor vehicle and pedestrian crashes” is misleading. It reduces pedestrian crashes from the old design but is less safe than a standard, non-channelized right turn lane. These should be avoided anywhere a turn is crossing a two-way cycle-track or off-street pathway, since motorists tend to only look left before turning right …and because “pork-chop” islands are generally too small to accommodate bike trailers or multiple cyclists waiting for a street light. For this reason, making Saint Paul’s “Downtown Loop and spurs” safe and efficient for cyclists will require removing multiple existing channelized right turn lanes on both Kellogg and Jackson streets.

Pg. 141, The Saint Paul Public Works Department, Ramsey County and MnDOT all use this draft manual’s lines “Crosswalks should not be installed at locations that could present an increased safety risk to pedestrians ” and “Adding crosswalks alone will not make a crossing safer or necessarily result in more vehicles stopping for pedestrians” as excuses to do nothing on Snelling Avenue, Grand Avenue and lots of other places. David Kuebler and various MnDOT engineers have said to me and other community members, “We don’t want to give pedestrians a false sense of security” as they reject our requests for crosswalks on arterial or collector streets. The second line/sentence in particular contradicts other parts of this manual such as “traffic calming with paint and signs” and contradicts the FHWA safety manual on Pedestrian Accommodations at intersections (page 15-3, 15.3, “Important Concepts” 1 and 3 and the beginning of page 15-4)–
Plenty of studies (some referenced in the FHWA manual) show that a high-visibility crosswalk is better than nothing. In many places on arterial and collector streets, we have nothing. Therefore, the sentence “Adding crosswalks alone will not make a crossing safer…” should be removed from this manual. According to the little chart on page 142, we can’t put crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections on a single 3-4 lane arterial street in Saint Paul, the precise place where they are most needed, because all our arterials or big collector streets carry over 12,000 cars per day. This is absurd. Plenty of cities do this, often (but not always) enhancing the crosswalks with multiple signs and pavement markings, systematic enforcement stings and crossing islands. People have to cross arterial streets at unsignalized intersections because there are often half-mile gaps between signals. The city can either add more signals or add crosswalks, hopefully with other enhancements. Currently, it does neither.

Pg 143, while they are good and better than nothing, calling a median island (like the one depicted in the photo) a “protected space” is not really accurate. The small curb is not going to protect pedestrians from errant vehicles. For this reason, there should be some discussion of the use of protective steel and concrete bollards at the ends of the island to physically (and psychologically) protect non-motorized users.

Pg 149. Mention how signal timings that have more than 30 seconds between walk signs tend to encourage jay walking. See page 15-8 of the FHWA safety manual–
I know the city wants to lengthen the signal timings on Ford Parkway and Cleveland to 90 seconds between walk signs, in order to pump more cars through the intersection at rush-hour. This would be bad for pedestrians at an intersection with high pedestrian volumes.

Again, there is no mention of bicycle signal detection or discussion of “passive” detection (for pedestrians).

Page 153, under “Applicability and Use,” mention that HAWKs can also be used at intersections, because the way you’ve worded it sounds like they can only be used at mid-block crossings. Also, give some details about the engineering warrants for HAWKs– that the minimum threshold is just 20 bikes or pedestrians per hour as opposed to 90 for a conventional signal. This information is helpful for community members who don’t know these thresholds and are sometimes misinformed by engineers. FHWA provides it’s HAWK guidelines for Low-Speed Roadways (< or = 35 MPH) –
…and for High-Speed Roadways (>35 MPH)-

Discuss requirements for conventional traffic signals as they pertain to cyclists and pedestrians.

Page 158-9, it might be worth showing what an off-street cycle path in a downtown would look like, since the city is proposing this for downtown.

Page 160-61, in attempting to “screen cars from the view of pedestrians” with landscaping or decorative fencing,” you are defying many of the sight-line and access-control safety principles in this manual and creating a dangerous situation for pedestrians and cyclists crossing your illustrated driveway. Pedestrians can not be seen by motorists until the nose of a car is already across the driveway. You should mention or correct this. Having to “screen” things (like parking lots) is a tell-tale sign that you shouldn’t have them at all.

Page 162-3 doesn’t show traffic control. Is it a two-way or 4-way stop? The medians don’t nose into crosswalks so are not able to “facilitate pedestrian crossings.” You suddenly talk about on-street parking management strategies, something that isn’t addressed until page 172-3. It might be good to reference those pages.

Page 166-7 again, your driveways and screening defy sight-line and access-control principles in this manual. You mention railroad tracks for the first time in the manual, something that can have a big impact on cycling (and wheelchairs) and deserves some attention along with with bridge expansion joint gaps, both of which can snag bicycle wheels and lead to accidents. There are flexible fill products and expansion joint cover plates specifically made to prevent this (and used in other states). This would be nice on the Wabasha Bridge, and many of our other bridge and RR track crossings. At the bottom of this web page is a FHWA description of railroad track “Flangeway Fillers”– …and, if you Google this stuff you’ll find a ton of other DOT-approved products.

Page 170, basically says, “The city is not responsible for clearing snow from any pedestrian areas except parks …so, good luck!” Yet this is one of the things that makes Saint Paul unfriendly to pedestrians. The Parks Department does a good job on its pathways but the 3-year Pilot Snow Plowing Project on Marshall Avenue has been a total failure. The problem is that even small amounts of snow (an inch or less) freezes in the gutters and quickly forms compacted ice as parked vehicles drive over it. Gradually giant ice-sheets develop that obliterate curb edges and weld themselves to the ground. Simultaneously, snow is piling up on the boulevard zone of the sidewalk. As the compacted ice and snow berm starts to grow, it pushes parked cars into the bike lane and the facility becomes un-usable to cyclists. The only solutions for this are to either (1) prohibit parking after even minor snow-falls, aggressively tow cars and use “brush trucks” to brush off thin layers of snow …or (2) not design facilities with multiple minimum widths that have raised 8-foot medians. The city seems unwilling to do either of these things. I don’t think the “extra salt” suggestion on this page is accurate. My hunch is that brush-trucks are more effective because these are used by UMN, St. Thomas and Macalester College to great effect …but the Public Works Department needs to visit bike-friendly cities with snow, like Helsinki or Copenhagen, to see how they deal with this problem. In New York City, they use high-walled planted medians partly because they’re easier to see and plow and reduce salt intrusion into planting soil, enabling them to be narrower.

If we really want to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly, it is critical that we clear corners of snow berms and remove ice and snow from sidewalks, particularly on commercial corridors like University Avenue, when stores like Target or other big box stores fail to do it. It’s also critical that we commit to keeping at least some of our on-street bicycle facilities clear of ice and snow in the winter.

That’s it! If you’ve read this far, I owe you a beer.

Andy Singer, Co-Chair
Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

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17 Responses to Saint Paul’s New Street Design Manual

  1. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell August 19, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Thanks for posting this. I’m only about a quarter of the way through but so far I’m in complete agreement with you.

    What is your overall impression of how they’re treating non-motorized folk (pedestrians, bicycle riders, and disabled)? Big improvement over the past? Will still leave us a far cry from other developed nations?

    I gather from your comments that historically this document has proven good for PR and taking up space on a shelf?

  2. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell August 19, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Some very quick thoughts on Bike Lanes (beginning pg 82). Overall there’s some good and some bad but much of this seems more in support of the ‘brave 2%’ of vehicular cyclists and is wholly inappropriate for the vast majority of St Paul residents.

    Bike Lane adjacent to parked cars. I don’t believe this should EVER happen. If there is room for this there s/b room for a proper and much safer cycletrack on the pedestrian side of parked cars. This s/b removed. The same goes for a buffered bike lane adjacent to parked cars.

    They should specify when (based on ADT & traffic speed) a bike lane, buffered bike lane, or cycletrack should be minimum requirement. The CROW manual has some good tables on this.

    I do not believe sharrows or super sharrows should ever be used except on bicycle blvd’s with very low motor vehicle ADT and speeds of 20 mph or less. EVERY street or road without a specific bicycle facility (lane, track, path) and not designated a bicycle blvd should be shared equally by motor vehicles and bicycle riders with no distinction between those where drivers are told to share and those where drivers are thus otherwise given a message (by the lack of sharrows) that they may not need to share.

    Cycletracks (pg 98). Overall pretty good. They s/b designed to allow a minimum safe speed of 18 mph whenever possible.

    Great verbiage: “Color, yield lines, and “YIELD TO BIKES” signage should be used to identify the conflict area and make it clear that the cycle track users moving through the intersection have priority over entering and exiting traffic.“ I would replace yield lines with Sharks Teeth.

    Bicycle Blvd (pg 107). Roundabout? Really. I’m a huge fan of roundabouts but this is dangerous and inappropriate. Traffic one direction or the other should be given ROW and other traffic should always yield. Again, sharks teeth would be good. Would anyone really want their child riding through a roundabout by themselves with cars from crossing streets?

    Bike lane with slip lane (pg 113). NO!

    Bike Box (pg 114). NO!

    Pg 128 – The diagrams show an unprotected bike lane in the door zone. This s/b a proper cycletrack on the pedestrian side of the parked cars.

  3. Adam Froehlig
    Adam Froehlig August 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    One quibble, from about 2/3rds through the article:

    regarding speed limits and speed studies, the “85th percentile” rule you cite is *NOT* state law. It’s certainly a factor that MnDOT considers, but it is not the only factor. And it is most certainly not in the state statutes.

  4. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD August 19, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    Still reading through this very thorough post, but just wanted to note that we’ve taken our bak fiets up and down the Hwy 5 stairs. Lots o’ fun, but we’re always rolling for fun with our children.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell August 21, 2014 at 11:16 am #

      Wow. Is there a track to walk the bakfiets up or do you have to carry it? I’ve pushed mine up some short stairs in The Netherlands that had tracks but can’t imagine doing it without the tracks or for a very long ways.

  5. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD August 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    So the bit regarding page 170 where you write: “or (2) not design facilities with multiple minimum widths that have raised 8-foot medians,” can you explain that? Is that like what some are proposing for Marshall Avenue – raised medians along the length? If so, I absolutely agree. While medians can change the feel of a street for the better and slow traffic, they leave no room for cars to pass bikes when the bike lane is covered in snow. The painted medians with raised medians only at intersections, like on Selby, are a much better alternative.

  6. hokan August 20, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Adam, the “85th percentile” rule is indeed state law. It mentioned in engineering manuals that are referenced by statute. For example the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices contains several references to the rule. That manual is referenced in Statute 169, Traffic Regulations.

    • Adam Froehlig
      Adam Froehlig August 21, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

      Section 169.14 of the state statutes spells out state law on speed limits, and makes zero mention of the “85th percentile” rule, and the only two mentions of the MUTCD refer to school advance signs.

      Checking the MUTCD, Section 2B.13 (speed limits) notes that the posted speed SHOULD be within 5 MPH of the 85th percentile speed. But in legalese, “should” is a recommendation, not a requirement. The section also makes multiple mentions of changes of speed limits should be done after an “engineering and traffic investigation”, and also specifies other things to consider:

      A. Road characteristics, shoulder condition, grade, alignment, and sight distance;
      B. The pace speed;
      C. Roadside development and environment;
      D. Parking practices and pedestrian activity; and
      E. Reported crash experience for at least a 12-month

      So to summarize, while the 85th percentile rule plays a factor, it is not the only factor. And MnDOT can choose to ignore it if other considerations carry greater weight.

  7. Andy Singer
    Andy Singer August 20, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Walker, THANK YOU so much for these comments. I’m going to point Anton Jerve and city folks drafting this manual to the comments portion of this post so these are super helpful. I owe you multiple beers!!! Dana, re medians, yes, that’s what I mean. Marshall has what the manual calls “multiple minimums”– minimum width parking lanes, at 7 feet each, minimum width bike lanes at 5 feet each, and minimum width travel lanes (for a state aid road) at 11 feet each. So, when they put a median in there (as you describe) it makes cycling uncomfortable in the summer and impossible in the winter.

    Please keep comments coming!!!!!! I hope to have to buy a mini-keg for everyone.

  8. Matty Lang
    Matty Lang August 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    Ok, I’ll get in on the mini-keg.

    I just wanted to note that on many arterials in Chicago they go with a 10-5-7 design (10′ travel lane, 5′ bike lane 7′ parking lane). It’s certainly not ideal, but it is reasonable if (big if here) snow removal is budgeted for along such routes. I remember one winter where Saint Paul actually removed the snow from Marshall rather than just plowing and it was a very nice result.

    So on Marshall, I’d like to see a variance to go to a 10′ travel lane and a 6′ bike lane along with snow removal as something that’s a small, but realistic solution to hope for. This means negotiations will probably need to start with a proposal to convert the street to bicycle, bus, and pedestrian only. 😉

  9. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell August 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Wow, finally finished. What a read. But good stuff (and yes, I know that’s kind of sick to think that).

    A gob of great points by Andy. I agree with everything he’s said with perhaps my major difference being that I would largely eliminate the use of bike lanes, completely eliminate bike lanes next to parked cars, and would reserve sharrows for bicycle blvds. I am a huge fan of roundabouts but do believe that EVERY one should include bicycle and pedestrian crossings and sharks teeth s/b used to clearly indicate right-of-way.

    At a macro level I would separate this in to three separate documents; Pedestrian, Bicycle/Disabled, and Motor Vehicles, with the motor vehicles document acting as primary and referencing the pedestrian and bicycle/disabled documents. The Bicycle/Disabled document should largely take after the Dutch CROW Design manual for bicycle traffic. This manual is, as far as I know, the best practice for bicycle facility design and I see no reason why we should aim for something much less.

    There is nothing in the St Paul street design manual that appears to in any way be an improvement on the Dutch CROW manual and there are numerous elements that are much worse such as nearly the entire discussion on intersections (pgs 108 – 114).

    That said, there is a very considerable amount of good verbiage included such as sidewalks being continuous across driveways and paths being raised or tabled across minor roads (pg 49), the recommendation of bicycle rails on stairs, and many others.

    So, continuing from above:

    Driveways (pg 38)
    -Should also include continuous in material and color (which should also be noted in the image on pg 51).
    -Driveways with higher levels of traffic should include sharks teeth to notify drivers of the existence of the path and to unambiguously indicate ROW.
    -Everything that applies to sidewalks should also apply to bicycle paths, MUPs, and cycletracks.

    Bicycle Parking – Include space for bakfiets and other cargo bikes when necessary.

    Off Street Paths (pg 48)
    -Should note what level of pedestrian and bicycle traffic will create conflicts and thus require separate facilities for each.
    -Should have a design speed of 18mph.
    -Should be continuous in grade, material, and color through all driveway and other crossings where path users have ROW.
    -ROW should never be ambiguous. Sharks teeth should be used to indicate ROW at all higher traffic crossings. Path users should be given sharks teeth at every point where crossing traffic has ROW.

    Travel Lanes (pg 52)
    -Lane widths SHOULD NOT be minimums. If anything they should be maximums. Wider lanes increase speeds and increase driver comfort with doing something other than paying attention to driving. I believe that our wider lanes may be a significant factor in our having the most dangerous roads of all developed nations.

    Pg 57
    -The bike lanes should NOT be between motor traffic and motor vehicle parking. This should be a cycletrack between motor vehicle parking and pedestrian sidewalk.

    Traffic Circles (Pg 117)
    -Unless I am misunderstanding something this should be titled neighborhood-roundabout or mini-roundabout. There are very distinct differences in roundabouts and traffic circles and while roundabouts and mini-roundabouts have deservedly developed a very good reputation, traffic circles have, again deservedly, developed a poor reputation.
    -If bicycle and motor traffic are to share this then speeds (posted and actual) should be 18mph or less.
    -Pedestrian and Bicycle/Disabled crossings should be set away from the roundabouts and sharks teeth used to make ROW unambiguously clear.

    Roundabouts (pg 133)
    -Roundabouts do should be sized based on traffic volume, not existing lane counts. Many U.S. intersections that currently require 2 thru lanes in each direction as well as numerous turn lanes may well be able to function well for all users as a single-lane roundabout which likely requires about the same space as the current intersection. This also significantly improves pedestrian and bicycle safety with shorter crossing distances and the ability to cross one direction of traffic at a time.
    -ALL crossings (pedestrian & bicycle/disabled) should include sharks teeth to make ROW unambiguous.
    Diagram (pg 136). SHOULD NOT include bike lanes.
    -Bike lanes in general are dangerous and bike lanes through roundabouts are lunacy. Two of the top 3 most dangerous junctions in The Netherlands are both bike lanes through roundabouts. These are no longer allowed to be built and existing are being removed. Why would we want to put in something that others have determined is dangerous and that they are removing.

    Channelized Right Turn Lanes (pg 137).
    -Andy nailed it. These things are dangerous and should not exist. Existing ones s/b removed.
    -As an additional point, they encourage bicycle riders to cross outside of the crossing to avoid the extra bumps of the porkchop.

    Photo Pg 160
    -The bike lanes are dangerous, the pedestrian crossings are too close to the intersection.
    -Swap the bike lane & car parking creating a cycletrack. The bump-out goes with the car parking.
    -The now cycletrack should jog slightly away from the intersection at its approach and include a bicycle crossing. Ideally this should allow one full car length before a car encounters the bicycle crossing.
    -The pedestrian crossing should be placed adjacent to the bicycle crossing with the bicycle crossing between it and the intersection.
    -For more:

    Pg 164
    -Would you want your child to ride their bicycle through here on their way to school? If traffic is slowed to 15 mph and obeys that then this might work, otherwise it is dangerous.

    Now, I want my beer.

  10. Matt Steele August 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    “Page. 45, the city should endeavor to eliminate stairways where no other nearby bike route exists. An example would be the Highway 5 Bridge over the Mississippi, the only bridge for miles in either direction and only accessible via stairs– rendering the bridge unusable by bicycles with trailers, wheelchairs and those with disabilities.”

    The obvious solution is to build a second deck on the Fort Road Bridge, allowing for recreational users to be on an upper deck, above MN-5 traffic, which would be at grade to Ft. Snelling and East River Road. (It could even be upgraded in the future to support LRT on the upper deck too, in case we decide to do Riverview LRT). It would even improve the roadway, since it would allow for another two feet of shoulder room in each direction on the bridge.

    An $11mm upgrade of this bridge is already planned for 2015-2016, so this would be an excellent time to upgrade facilities for non-motorized users.

    • Mike Sonn
      mikesonn August 22, 2014 at 8:13 am #

      This map, so much lulz

    • Ron August 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

      Cost vs Benefit might struggle with the double decker bridge to avoid having to take the stairs. Agree it’s a pain, especially in bike shoes but I’ve done it here more times than I can count and have lived to tell the story. As for the detour, what would be a better idea?

      • Rosa August 25, 2014 at 7:48 am #

        if you look at the folks using the ramp-accessible and streetlevel paths, it’s not just kitted out bikers on light bikes. There is a lot of cargo haulage, little kid haulage (how you gonna take a trailer up the stairs?), people in wheelchairs including big heavy power chairs, people on upright or recumbent trikes.

        They wouldn’t build a car bridge you could only take a tiny 2 person Car2Go on. Bike and pedestrian facilities should be accessible to all users.

  11. Rod Stevens August 24, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    I live in the Seattle area, where the city put a bike lane down 3rd Avenue between the car travel lanes and the parking. There have been dozens of bicyclists “doored” since this went in, making it one of the most dangerous bicycle routes in the city. The mayor has now committed over a million dollars to reconfiguring this street. This probalby would not have happened if there had not been accident data to draw from.


  1. Sunday Summary – August 24, 2014 | - August 25, 2014

    […] ideas, technical edition: Saint Paul’s New Street Design Manual is a detailed (with page number references!) review and analysis of the manual (plus a […]

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