Why Hierarchical Road Systems Are Good

A topic that has arisen a few times is the New Urbanism concept of a using a grid street system to disperse traffic rather than concentrate most traffic on a few major arterials with a hierarchical road system. This is one element of New Urbanism that I disagree with.

I’m not at all opposed to street grids, I am opposed to using them to disperse traffic since I believe that this promotes driving and will keep bicycling from being a viable option for the vast majority of our population.

Safety and comfort are requirements

Most average people feel unsafe and uncomfortable riding a bicycle in close and unprotected proximity to a lot of fast cars. Trucks add an even greater level of discomfort. The faster cars are going (and the more cars there are) the more we desire and need protection from them.

The Dutch have determined, after decades of pushing the limits, that people’s comfort level sharing a road with cars quickly decreases when cars are traveling faster than about 18 mph. So, above 18 mph their code now requires a minimum of a painted bike lane (though a segregated path or cycletrack is recommended). Above 30 mph requires a physically segregated path or cycletrack and the distance of separation increases with increases in speed. Note that these are actual speeds not just posted.

While most people are likely comfortable sharing the road with cars traveling 16 mph and nearly as many at 18 mph, very few, perhaps only a quarter, are likely comfortable doing so with 30 mph traffic and many fewer at 35 mph. Keep in mind that this does not mean that this many people will ride, only that this many people would be comfortable doing so.

So, if you are planning a street with 30 mph traffic and install no bicycle facilities you’ve likely eliminated about half to three-quarters of the population from riding a bicycle right from the start. Even a painted bike lane will only provide a feeling of safety and comfort to a very few more. A cycletrack however might be comfortable for nearly all.

New Urban-ing Summit Hill

Consider east-west traffic in Summit Hill that we previously discussed in St Paul Bicycle Plan: Completing The Local Mile, everything from St Clair north to 94. Assuming that traffic on each residential street is about 800 cars per day then we have 57,000 vehicles per day wanting to travel east or west in this area[1].

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 5.53.59 PM

If we take 1/3 of the traffic on the six arterials and disperse it among the residential streets they’ll now average about 2,000 cars per day on each. At the same time we’ve reduced the traffic on the arterials so Selby is now about 4,000 instead of 6,000. Good for Selby, not so good for Goodrich and other residential streets.

If we achieve New Urbanist Utopia then traffic will be evenly dispersed and we’ll no longer have arterials. Each of these streets will now have 3,000 vehicles rolling along them each day. To be fair, New Urbanists would like to see a lot more people walking so let’s assume that a third of all of these folks stop driving so now we’re at about 2,000 cars per day on each street.

Problem for bicyclists

The simple increase in traffic volume on these residential streets is a bit of a problem though likely not huge. It makes them a bit less comfortable to ride a bicycle and increases noise and air pollution. The biggest concern for most bicycle riders with increased volume will likely be at intersections. Even so, many Dutch engineers will still put a cycletrack on a street with 18 mph speeds but higher volumes.

Dutch cities want most of their streets to be pleasant and safe for bicycling without the need of special facilities.

Dutch cities want most of their streets to be pleasant and safe for bicycling without the need of special facilities.

The type of traffic, the type of people driving the extra 1200 cars, is a much bigger concern. How fast are they driving and how well are they paying attention?

Someone just leaving or arriving at their destination, especially if on a street they live on, is likely to drive a bit slower, pay better attention, and be more considerate of others.

Someone using a street as a thoroughfare has a very different mindset. This especially if they’ve already been delayed a bit and are using this residential street as a rat-run to bypass the arterial traffic.

How comfortable are you riding your bicycle on a street with only local drivers vs about three times as many drivers and with two-thirds of them people from elsewhere in a hurry to get somewhere else? How comfortable sending your 8-year-old out on this street?

Problem for drivers

If we want to be able to ride bicycles more and have others do so then we need to make it feel safe and comfortable on every street. We can either reduce traffic volume and speed enough that most people are comfortable sharing the road with cars and having their children do so (alone), or we can install facilities like cycletracks.

Now, what to do with the 40,000 people who don’t live in this area and aren’t driving to someplace in this area? The 40,000 people who are in a hurry to get from somewhere else to somewhere else? These people need a place where they can safely drive 30 or 35 mph and where people walking and riding bicycles are safe from them. If it’s not provided they’ll simply turn our residential streets in to arterials.

Do we slow all streets to 18 mph? Do we put a cycletrack on every street so that people can use them all as a through-way?

But, but, we’re creating car sewers!

Yes. Instead of the sewage being scattered all over doing all kinds of random harm we’re keeping it in one place where we can deal with it appropriately[2].

Good safe segregated bicycle, disabled and pedestrian facilities and other measures to mitigate the impact of a lot of fast motor traffic aren’t inexpensive and the cost doesn’t really change based on the volume of traffic.

A residential street with a few hundred local cars per day can be made quite safe and comfortable fairly inexpensively with 15-20 mph speed limits, shortening of the distances that can be travelled by car, maybe some no-passing rules, some chicanes and other elements.

A street carrying more and faster through traffic is a different animal. Here we need to segregate bicycle riders, pedestrians, and disabled from cars for them to feel and be safe and comfortable so we’ll need cycletracks and good sidewalks. Buildings along here might want some additional sound proofing. It makes little difference if there are 4,000 cars per day (Selby reduced by one third) or 14,300 (Grand currently). The impact of motor traffic is about the same and the needs and costs for mitigation will be about the same.

As much as we might want it, there really is no good in-between that I’m aware of.


I think we’re much better off in our example with 13 residential streets that are comfortable for all and only need cycletracks on six stroads rather than have 19 streets/stroads that are all uncomfortable and all in need of cycletracks.

Some might consider this all very unfair. We’ve chosen some streets to be quite pleasant and others to be car sewers. I don’t know that we have much choice. More, I don’t know that our car sewers can’t be made fairly pleasant as well with cycletracks, trees, and other elements that soften the impact of the cars and make them feel instead rather vibrant. Best of all, if we make bicycling comfortable then we may well succeed in significantly reducing the number of cars going down our sewers.


[1] I was not able to obtain accurate counts for these streets. Best guess is probably about 800 on average.

[2] This is kind of like building a big window well. The builder will often run drain tile (perf pipe) through the window well and then run the drain tile in to a sump pump inside the basement. Seems illogical because the goal is to keep water OUT of the basement. By doing this though the builder gains control of the water and can now safely direct it to where it should go.


Thanks to David, David, Reuben, Bill, and Marven for your valuable input.

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at localmile.org, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

57 thoughts on “Why Hierarchical Road Systems Are Good

  1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    You’re probably not far off on your estimate. I did some number crunching off 2013 VMT data and came up with an overall average of 879 vpd for St. Paul residential streets (defined here as non-state-aid).

  2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

    “These people need a place where they can safely drive 30 or 35 mph” – why? Why do we need to accommodate people driving this speed? Especially in the US, and Mpls/StP specifically where we have grade-separated freeways running throughout our city – Adam Froehlig’s chart showing how few places in Mpls are further than 1 mile from a highway. Is shaving 32 seconds off that last mile or so really that important?

    “Do we slow all streets to 18 mph?” Yes!

    I just fundamentally disagree with the hierarchical system since it leads to the logical conclusion of serving higher-function roads (freeways, highways) that act as even larger barriers to non-motorized travel than the arterials with long lights and unsafe conditions do. Look at auto-oriented suburbs and see the result. When it’s applied to cities, it makes for hellscapes on what should be our best streets for people. Use the space on arterials more efficiently. They will naturally carry more people (they’re where businesses and residents are oftentimes more heavily concentrated!), by segregating bike facilities, prioritizing transit, etc.. but keep the design speeds low for safety/comfort.

    The reduction in car capacity (without adding more links across man-made barriers like freeways) will result in short-term mode and time shifts. We know there’s a huge opportunity for commuters to bike/bus instead of drive (in Mpls). Eventually we can have the discussion about mitigating freeway impacts by reconnecting grids.

    1. Joe

      In 100% agreement here. If people are driving through and “need” to go fast, there is a freeway within a mile you can go on.

      Then instead of having 13 nice streets and 6 terrible roads, we can have 19 nice streets.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Yep, same here. It should be rare to find a 30-35 MPH street speed limit in a city. Neighborhood streets can be 20 MPH, and “important” streets (I refuse to call them by their hierarchical name) can be 25 MPH with the right design.

        But to the article, I think it misses the point of why urbanism favors a grid rather than a hierarchical road network. You can still have a hierarchy of sorts on a grid (we do today, obviously) but it’s not forced.

        It’s to prevent this:
        Sprawl Madness: Two Houses Share Backyard, Separated by 7 Miles of Roads

        1. Reilly

          A nearly-as-egregious example can be found close by in Shakopee. The eastern end of a very large industrial park (on 12th Avenue East) is located immediately across 169 from a large residential neighborhood. However, no nearby link crosses the highway (for ANY mode), so the *closer* of the only two ways to connect between the neighborhoods is to return to Canterbury Road (1.5 miles west); double back east on a road that also diagonals to the south; then head back north to the residential area on a road that also diagonals to the west. This also involves several stoplights.

          I once had a double delivery to a warehouse and a house in these respective areas (sent with me because all other drivers were on trips to other neighborhoods, and both areas are rather distant from our store). I dropped off the residential order second — and as I pulled into the driveway, I found myself staring the warehouse’s logo almost immediately in the face across the highway. Trip meter difference? 6.7 MILES.

    2. Reilly

      Also, hierarchical systems generally exhibit much larger differences between road distance and direct distance for a given trip. And while I don’t have anything empirical for this, it seems intuitively likely that the aggregate risk of crashes, including those with a pedestrian or bicycle victim, increases fairly directly with total vehicular miles traveled.

      We should also consider the possibility that some drivers attempt to compensate for these artificially long distances by speeding. Not that they *should*, of course — but we have to consider the world we have, not the world we want, when making planning and design decisions.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    “A street carrying more and faster through traffic is a different animal.”
    Why automatically lump “faster” in with “more” traffic?

    I’ve seen Chuck do Misunderstanding Mobility enough to know that every. single. time. people’s ordered priorities for their neighborhood streets are: 1. Safety 2. Cost 3. Volume 4. Speed. Speed is dead last.

    And even if a street does see high volumes, it doesn’t need to be a stroad. That’s a dangerous assumption. We have two-lane streets in Minneapolis that carry more cars than six-lane stroads in the suburbs. Is it an ideal street in Minneapolis? No. Is it better than having a six-lane stroad? Of course.

  4. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Is there a reason we can’t both spread traffic across the grid and slow it overall? Especially as we have our lovely urban freeway for those who really must go fast.

  5. Andres Moreno

    I think the writer is missing a crucial point: as a cyclist I don’t want to be shunted to residential streets as my default route. I want to be able to ride my bicycle on Marshall or Grand so that I can stop at the coffee shop, record store, pizza restaurant, art supply store, etc.

    One of the big advantages of biking is that one really gets to know a place quickly because the slower pace (as compared to cars) allows one to take it all in. I’ve discovered lots of cool places on my bike.

    Narrow lanes, limited number of lanes, lower speed limits are all good.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Andres, perhaps I should have made it more clear. Bicycle riders should be able to safely and comfortably ride on every street. Some streets by making them safe and comfortable to share with cars, others with cycletracks or side paths.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        But in the city we do not have the space for stroady designs (thankfully) which allow high speed and high capacity vehicular traffic while pretending to accommodate or actually accommodating people not in automobiles. How can you do that in 60 feet of right of way?

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Depends on how stroady you want to be… And, I don’t think we have a choice if we want people to be able to ride bicycles for local errands and stuff instead of drive.

          Thinking through it very simply with Grand Ave in St Paul as an example (55′ sidewalk to sidewalk I think); 1 8′ travel lane in each direction plus an 8′ turn/bypass lane uses 24′, 1 8′ cycletrack in each direction get’s us to 40′. Since we’re dealing with U.S. drivers and not EU we’ll be generous and do a 9′ parking lane. I’d use the remaining 6′ for additional sidewalk on each side.

          Now, while this configuration might be fairly normal and quite safe (amazing how much better people pay attention when they only have an 8′ lane) in Europe, it doesn’t quite fit our stroadly ways so it will take some effort.

  6. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    Alex, Joe, Matt, and Adam, firstly thanks for reading through this post. Rather poorly written.

    Now, what do you do about the guy who wants to drive from Nina’s @ Selby & Western to Macalester College? Or to Cretin & Jefferson? And the 40,000 (110,000 if you include north south traffic) others wanting to do something similar?

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Well, oddly enough, Google Maps says the top 3 ways to get from Nina’s to Cretin/Jefferson by car use either I-94 or I-35E.

      Regardless, we should ask why a trip like this, 4.8 miles, needs to be taken by car. Why the capacity and speeds on those arterials needs to accommodate the 40,000 E-W trips in a given day. Why can’t this trip be taken by bike? By bus?

      If the person was so inclined to drive but found 18 mph arterials with fewer lanes to be a burden, would side streets with fewer cars but still 18 mph design speed (and fewer full-stops at intersections as a result) be such a bad alternative? Would taking 18 minutes rather than 14 minutes really be so bad? How much more pleasant would living/dining/shopping at Selby & Western be with a chunk of cars no longer speeding by (and, slower to boot)?

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Getting to Cretin/Jefferson will require either 2 miles on Cretin or 2.3 miles on Randolph. Do you really expect that people will drive 18 mph for that distance? And be cautious and patient of bicycle riders the entire way?

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              I’m fine with 20-25 MPH. 18 would be ideal, but not necessary.

              How would we do this? Shared space, and less stoplights. Know how much time is wasted at stoplights, especially on suburban-style stroads? I’d rather go a consistent 20 MPH than 40 MPH with minutes of waiting at 0 MPH.

              Average speed is more important than max speed. And vehicular speed isn’t really that important anyways.

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                You might be fine with 25, but many or most potential bicycle riders will not be, especially if it’s a moderately high volume of traffic. The bigger problem though is that very few drivers will drive 25. Some percent will if the street is narrow, dangerous feeling, and has some chicanes perhaps, but too many will treat it like a slalom course or rat-run, especially if they’re running late and that makes these streets unsafe feeling for most people.

                Shared space doesn’t work long term. It does well for a few years and then becomes car dominant once drivers become comfortable with it. I was a huge fan of Monderman and of shared space and disappointed by it not working but that is the sad reality.

                1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

                  I should clarify… whenever I speak of speeds on an urban street, I’m talking about design speeds rather than posted speeds. If very few drivers will drive 25, the design speed is not 25.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      The reason why all those people want to drive is because we’ve made it so appealing for them to drive. A hypothetical person living in Hudson, meeting someone at Nina’s for a great cappuccino, who then has a mtg at Macalester, and then a mtg in St Louis Park means we’re doing mobility wrong as a society.

    3. Monte Castleman

      The knee-jerk reaction of telling people to “use the freeways if they want to go someplace” might have some merit if the freeways weren’t woefully under-built for their current traffic, much less to take some of the load of urban arterials (and in fact 77th and American were built up to take some of the short, local traffic off the freeway). Freeways are for long distance travel like from Hudson to McAlester, not short hops of an exit or two.

      As for why they don’t ride a bus or bike, maybe they don’t want to stand around forever in -20 degree cold riding a bike or waiting for a bus.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        If freeways are for long distance travel, then they shouldn’t have been carved into the urban environment in the first place.

      2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        “woefully under-built for their current traffic”


        You mean if they aren’t quite adequate for the very lumpy peaks they experience? Because most of them are nearly empty 22 or so hours a day.

  7. Joe

    What do you think of something like 42nd Ave S in Longfellow? It has a number of destinations spread out along it, Riverview Theatre, Blue Door Pub, Turtle Bread, Sanford School, Hiawatha School, Parkway Pizza, etc. It moves a lot of traffic, but doesn’t go particularly fast, and isn’t much wider than the surrounding streets. We could widen it, or take out parking, so that we could put in wider lanes for 35 mph and bike lanes. We could throw in some more stop lights to control the now speedy traffic. And then people on 41st and 43rd Aves might see a little less traffic. Or we could just enjoy the nice non-hierarchical structure we have and let those in need of speed use Hiawatha (unfortunately).

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Those in need of speed seem to take out their structural violence against neighborhoods on multilane streets like Park, Portland, Blaisdell, 26th, 28th.

  8. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Walker, your example seems like a very odd one to illustrate your point. At 800 cars a day, the local gridded streets in that area of St. Paul are doing their exact “new urbanist utopia” job of taking traffic off the major streets. This area does not have a true hierarchical road structure, because through movements are possible on most neighborhood streets. A better comparison would be that same area versus a subdivision in Apple Valley. Perhaps each local street goes down to 75 aadt, and the remaining 725 go onto an arterial — and you get, yes, car sewers like Cedar or County Road 42.

    The point of an open grid isn’t that 100% of car traffic is evenly dispersed. It’s simply that local motorized traffic has through access without having to dump onto a major street for even a short trip.

    1. Joe

      That’s a good point. It’s obvious that those 800 trips a day are not made by the residents of that street only.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      And if you’ll remember, I previously recommended blocking these streets off (and doing something similar in neighborhoods across the metro) because as they are they don’t seem comfortable for most people to ride their bicycles on—so they may be doing their New Urbanist thing, but they’re not really doing their Increase Bicycling thing.

      They’re better than Grand or Selby but not really good enough. On many or most of these it’s not unusual for several cars per hour to go by at 30 to 40 mph and that does not feel safe for most people.

      A side element of this is that with an open grid it is quite easy to drive somewhere but with the grid bottled up a bit to make it safer for bicycle riders it also makes it a bit more difficult for drivers. In my example from ‘completing the local mile’, many people will have to drive farther to get somewhere than if they ride their bicycle. It has suddenly become more convenient to ride a bicycle than drive (assuming they have safe enough facilities on Grand or wherever they are going). This is not at all intentional as I don’t necessarily believe in making driving more difficult but, there it is.

  9. Janne

    I posted a comment at 8 this morning… and apparently I didn’t actually post it!

    I’m no New Urbanist Utopia expert, but your assertion that it means “traffic will be evenly dispersed and we’ll no longer have arterials” doesn’t match my understanding of New Urbanism. I’ve visited multiple New Urbanist poster-child places, and none of them did this — they all had “through” streets, although I don’t know whether I’d call them an arterial.

    Rather, under congestion conditions, they offer (slower, less desirable for through traffic) options to get around congestion that drivers can choose if it makes sense.

    I think it’s a disservice to mis-represent the goals of allies — like the New Urbanists — who are also advocating for communities that are more walkable, dense, amenity-rich and less driving dependent.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      I’ve written emails and thought I sent them only to realize hours or even days later that I’d tabbed away from them without sending… Ugh.

      I am a fan of much of New Urbanism. However, If we want more people to ride bicycles, to be comfortable riding bicycles, and be comfortable allowing their children to ride bicycles (by themselves) then I think we need to do some very serious calming of our residential neighborhoods (or install cycletracks on all of them). Most people are simply not comfortable sharing the road with cars driving very fast nor a heavy volume of it.

      New Urbanism stresses a completely open grid system and moving traffic off of arterials in to neighborhoods. I don’t think this will work. As I said above and in ‘completing the local mile’ this type of traffic is too dangerous feeling for most people. That’s why I advocate measures such as I did in completing the local mile to block off the grid so that drivers cannot use residential streets as throughways or rat-runs. So that traffic is limited to local access only. Because these people are much more likely to drive slower and more cautiously.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        “New Urbanism stresses a completely open grid system and moving traffic off of arterials in to neighborhoods.”

        That’s simply not true. I don’t even know where you could have gotten that idea.

  10. Casey

    I agree with this article. I stopped biking this year and the main reason is my neighborhood (Wedge) feels less safe. 3 friends were hit by cars all on Bryant between Franklin and 26th. This is supposed to be a bike friendly street with speed bumps but cars speed down this street all the time. I have also seen a few cars take a right while a bus was stopped at 24th and Bryant around the bus. There is no sight line to a turn like this and they could easily hit a bike or pedestrian. Turns like this as well as speeding are both illegal but I see it all the time. I would probably take up biking again if I felt safe in drivers following laws or if there were less traffic on what is considered a bike boulevard.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      The vehicular cyclist troll in me might point out that Lyndale has far better sightlines and traffic control in this area, plus a dedicated lane available for faster-moving vehicles to pass slower-moving vehicles like bikes…

      But, not the point of this particular discussion I suppose. I guess the real question would be: would it be better to have all the traffic from Bryant (and let’s say all the streets in either direction half-way to Nicollet and Hennepin) concentrated onto Lyndale? Most cyclists seem to prefer Bryant over riding on Lyndale, but many do ride on Lyndale for at least a short while to reach destinations. Would they want to do that with that many more cars to contend with?

      And, given our current engineering priorities — in a constrained, fully developed corridor like Lyndale, that many more cars also precludes doing things like road diets or even making room for cycletracks.

      1. Casey

        I don’t like even walking down Lyndale, let alone bike on it. I think actual enforcement of driving laws would make a big difference especially with the entitlement type drivers, as well as other calming measures on the side streets.

      2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        A couple of thoughts on Lyndale. You can narrow the driving lanes down to 8.5′. That will give you 5′ on each side for a cycletrack between the sidewalk and parking. Really narrow and directly next to cars, but it MIGHT be better than nothing. I emphasis might. Going to 7′ parking could allow a 1′ curb on each side between parking & cycletrack but I’m not sure that U.S. drivers can park well enough for that to work.

        A better option might be to eliminate parking on one side, go to 9′ travel lanes, and you could do a curb buffered cycletrack on each side. Retailers might cry about this but I think the evidence that this actually increases retail traffic is getting strong enough that they might be for it.

        The big question is at what point enough people switch from cars to other options and allow the travel lanes to be reduced to one in each direction. Given appealing enough people and bicycling facilities it could happen.

    2. Reilly

      As someone who lives on Aldrich and frequently drives and bikes on Bryant, I almost have to wonder whether the underlying problem is distracted drivers (i.e. texting idiots).

      I don’t feel comfortable driving more than about 20-21 mph on Bryant — and I’m a guy who delivers for a living and who has been commended by passengers for his lightning-fast reflexes. The fundamental nature of the street — narrow and very active with users in multiple modes — makes it obvious, at even a cursory glance, that this is the maximum safe speed. In other words, anyone who doesn’t realize this must simply *not be paying attention* in the first place.

    3. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Casey, in Completing The Local Mile we actually discussed this specific issue issue with Bryant and that not allowing motor vehicles in the wedge to cross 25th (or 29th?) might eliminate a bunch of the rat-run through traffic in the neighborhood and might also cause local access folk to drive slower since they wouldn’t be able to drive as far.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          There are a few ways to do it. One is to use opposing one-ways. For instance; Bryant would be one-way headed south from Franklin to 25th and one-way headed north from Lake to 25th. Something similar can be done with adjacent streets. While this works well in some scenarios I’m not sure it would here.

          A better alternative might be to bollard the middle of 27th (or 25th or 23rd & 27th or …) between Henn and Lyndale (or farther along). Cars can drive along 27th, but cannot cross it or make left turns. It is permeable though for people walking, riding bicycles, or using mobility scooters.

          This still leaves a problem of crossing 26th & 28th. A raised crossing with sharks teeth (so that those crossing have ROW) for cars might do the trick in a couple of ways; it will be obvious to every driver that there is a crossing here and some number of people will learn this and decide that Lake or Franklin are now better alternatives so traffic on 26th and 28th would be also reduced.

          In essence, all of the streets in this area either need to be calmed to the point that most people feel comfortable riding on them (e.g., 18 mph, somewhat low volume) or they need physically segregated cycletracks and safe junctions. Cycletracks (one-way and on each side so always allow bi-directional travel) would be likely on Henn, Lyndale, 26th 28th, and Lake.

          With regard to safe junctions, you cannot expect to put one at every place people might want to cross. Along 26th & 28th it may just be Henn, Bryant, and Lyndale for example and someone riding down Emerson may need to choose between Bryant and Henn depending on the direction of their final destination.

  11. Eric SaathoffEric S

    Thank you for writing this post!

    “Someone just leaving or arriving at their destination, especially if on a street they live on, is likely to drive a bit slower, pay better attention, and be more considerate of others.”
    – I have heard that data shows most people have accidents very close to their homes.

    I really don’t like arterial roads in the city. I don’t mind taking a side street that is parallel to one, but that makes it a real pain to cross the perpendicular arterials that one runs into. At this point, the only way to cross an arterial is to be on another arterial. They will not put a traffic light on the arterial to allow safe crossing for a bicycle boulevard because then it would be failing in its purpose as an arterial. On the East Side of St. Paul, we just had Maryland Ave widened at certain intersections with a left turn lane to make them “safer.” Greenbrier is supposed to become a Bike Blvd, but how on Earth will it cross Maryland? There’s a traffic light a block west on Payne. Will they put two lights in a row on an arterial? It appears too narrow for a median.

    Arterials divide our city for anyone not in a car, and I don’t believe many have the width to accommodate various modes and remain an arterial.

    The ideal that is proposed in this article appears to be a reality to me. The side streets on the East Side are deserted for the most part, but it makes little difference when we can’t get past the arterials we need to cross.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Depending on what data you read, about half of crashes occur within 5 miles of home, and 70% within 25 miles. I’m not aware of any data more precise than that such as how many within 0.5 miles, 1 mile, 2 miles, etc. This does make sense since that is where we do most of our driving.

      A study by Progressive Insurance also raised the issue that closer to home we might be more likely to zone out, not pay as good attention, and drive from muscle memory. I think this is true, but also perhaps mostly a U.S. issue since we have such wider lanes and no longer have as many children and others in our residential streets and can more easily get away with it.

      I think this is all a bit different than my supposition that when we’re within a block or two of home, or maybe a 1/4 mile, we’ll tend to drive more carefully, especially if our street is designed to cause us to do so such as chicanes. I think chicanes, pass-thru’s, and other calming measures have very little impact on someone who’s just passing through and in the middle of rushing 7 miles to get somewhere, but I think they do have a significant impact on drivers within a 1/4 or 1/2 mile of their starting or ending point.

  12. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    Matt, Sean, and others, what is your recommendation then? You have 57,000 drivers wanting to drive east and west through this area, many wanting to do so very quickly, and 19 streets to do it on. Given this, what is your recommendation to make this area bicycle friendly enough that most people (90%?) are comfortable riding their bicycles to anywhere else in this area and comfortable allowing their 8-year-old child to ride to school by herself and then to Grand Ole Creamery with friends?

    How much do you realistically expect to be able to reduce car traffic and over what timeframe? What then is your ideal distribution among the 19 streets?

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      I’d say just design streets for the neighborhoods we want. Calm, comfortable and safe for bicycles (whatever design that means), great for walking, and supportive of good land use. And disregard the traffic counts.

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Actually, I’m OK with the existing distribution in a place like you cited in St. Paul. But as I said, I consider that a rather good existing urban distribution. What I’m not okay with is modern suburban distribution in places like Apple Valley, etc.

      Distribution in most gridded neighborhoods is OK. The only changes I would make is making arterial streets easier to go along and across (cycletracks, refuge medians, etc), and to significantly control speed on minor streets without those features. In areas with limited on-street parking usage, I’d like to see streets getting down to 24′ or less. It’s insane to me how wide residential streets can be — in much of East Bloomington, they’re 40′ curb-to-curb, with very little parking usage. Even Minneapolis’s 32′ standard is too wide for many areas.

      I think my feeling is not that different from yours, but I seek only to control speed on minor streets, not to limit through access.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Yes, I think we are largely in agreement.

        Except: “but I seek only to control speed on minor streets, not to limit through access.” I’m not sure one comes without the other though. I think people using a street as a throughway have a different mindset and are often going to drive faster (and less attentively) than those who are using it purely to access a local destination.

  13. Nathanael

    Here’s the thing: you already HAVE car sewers for through traffic. They’re called expressways, and you’ve got an astonishing number of them in the Twin Cities.

    The “arterials” are used *strictly* for local point to point traffic. As such… the hierarchical road system is pointless for them.

    The hierarchical system makes some sense for longer-distance travel. You want to funnel all the trucks which are running the full length of the city into one car sewer. But it becomes stupid at the local level.

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