Four-Lane Death Roads Should Be Illegal

deathroad1I was biking with a friend the other day around the East Side of Saint Paul, and we happened across White Bear Avenue. I knew at once it was a Death Road™.

Death Road™ is what I call 4-lane streets that have been shoehorned into a narrow right-of-way in an urban area. If you bike or walk around Minneapolis or Saint Paul, you can recognize a Death Road™ in an instant. It’s a four-lane street where cars are weaving unpredictably at high speeds, turning left at low speeds. You’ll see cars speeding around other cars stopped waiting to make a turn, or cars weaving around other cars racing to make a stoplight. Death Roads™ often have narrow sidewalks and usually lack an on-street parking buffer.* The mix of speeds and multiple lanes means that biking on, driving on, or trying to cross one of these streets can be deadly.

White Bear Avenue is just one example. The list is long (in order of worse-ness): Northeast Broadway Avenue, Cedar Avenue, the middle part of Franklin Avenue, Hennepin Avenue north of Central, Maryland Avenue, Hamline Avenue, Edgcumbe on the East Side, and the list goes on and on. 

These roads run all through the walkable areas of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, along streets with businesses and homes and schools and parks.


Another “Accident”

deathroad5deathroad6Then yesterday in Saint Paul’s North End neighborhood, where I used to live, a kid going home from school got hit by a car. It was an entirely predictable Death Road™ situation, where one car slows for the kid to cross the street and the car behind speeds around it and hits the kid. (Note: this is exactly what happened at Snelling Avenue earlier this year, where a car sped around another slowed car and seriously injured two college students.)

You can read accounts of the situation here, including what are very typical quotes from the police and public works officials. For example, in the Star Tribune story, the police officer calls it a bad accident:

The accident occurred shortly after 7 a.m. on Rice Street at Hoyt Avenue in the city’s North End, leaving the boy in critical condition, said Sgt. Paul Paulos, spokesman for the St. Paul police.

“This is just a bad accident today,” Paulos said.

Similarly, in the Pioneer Press, there’s a quote from a city traffic engineer, who seems to suggest that nothing can be done:  

The city reviews a streetscape “when incidents happen that are particularly tragic like this one to see if there’s anything that can be done,” said St. Paul city engineer John Maczko.

But he said he doesn’t think a painted crosswalk at the intersection would have prevented the crash, saying they can give people an illusion of safety.

There has been one other pedestrian accident at Rice and Hoyt in 10 years, Maczko said.

“Everyone needs to be part of the solution,” Maczko said. “Vehicles that are driving around other vehicles need to wonder why that other vehicle is stopped and understand if a car is stopped, it’s stopped for a reason. …As pedestrians, when we cross these four-lane roads, we have to cross every lane as an individual roadway.”

Meanwhile, in the KARE 11 report, you have a quote from an actual resident who seems to grasp the situation very well:

Local resident Virgil Calamese says that stretch of Rice Street is extremely busy and dangerous all year around. He points to a stretch of the street near where the accident happened where Rice Street funnels down from four lanes to two, and says drivers often rush to get ahead of slower moving cars so they won’t be stuck behind them. Calamese says not having a crosswalk near Rice and Hoyt makes things even worse.

“For a person to actually try and cross the street, you’re literally playing that (video) game ‘Frogger'”, Calamese said. “You’re literally trying to get across the street without actually getting hit. Unfortunately, a young kid got hit this morning.”

These different accounts of the situation are revealing. But it’s the last guy, the “local resident,” who gets it right, pointing out the structural problems with the road design. If only he know that there’s an easy fix for a Death Road™ like Rice Street.

Quick Facts about 4-3 conversions

4-3-conversion-safetyAt this point, there is a lot of research about how to fix 4-lane Death Road™. The easiest solution is a “three-lane road diet,” where the center two lanes become a turn lane for cars. This is also known as a “4-3 conversion.” 

Here are some facts well supported by research:

#1) 3-lane roads are much safer for car drivers. According to a Federal Highway Administration study, changing a 4-lane Death Road™ into a three-lane road reduces automobile traffic accidents from 20% to 50% depending on the context. (Note: this makes intuitive sense if you’ve ever driven on a street like this.) There are dozens of similar studies out there.

#2) 3-lane roads have marginal impact on traffic flow. I’m not going to suggest that a 4-to-3 conversion of a Death Road™ has no impact on traffic flow (though sometimes that turns out to be the case). Rather, fixing a Death Road™ usually sees a reduction in car throughput in the 5% to 10% range. As another Federal Highway Administration report puts it, “under most average daily traffic (ADT) conditions tested, road diets have minimal effects on vehicle capacity.” 

ped safety speed graph#3) 3-lane roads slow speeds. The main difference between a 4-lane Death Road™ and a 3-lane safe street is that traffic speeds go down and become far more uniform. It’s a proven fact that reducing speeds even a little bit, i.e. from 40 to 30 miles per hour, can make a huge difference on accident severity for pedestrians and bicyclists. 

#4) 3-lane roads increase biking and walking. After a 4-lane Death Road™ was fixed in San Francisco, “bicycle usage increased 37% during the PM peak hour,ƒ the number of pedestrians increased 49% during the PM peak hour, [and]ƒ public response has been overwhelmingly positive about this project.” That’s just one example; also, it’s common sense.

#5) Fixing a Death Road™ is really cheap. Unlike expensive street reconstructions or concrete bumpouts, cities and counties can quickly, easily, and cheaply fix these Death Roads™. Here’s a quote from a city engineer in Portland, Oregon:

Graff said the price of all five road diets considered in the city’s analysis was “in the $100,000 range,” or up to $120,000 or so for projects that added new median islands or other improvements.

“The cost/benefit is really high,” he said. “For the cost of one improved crossing — a median improvement or rapid-flashing beacon that provides a point improvement, you can reduce crashes across 10, 20 blocks.”

(Compare that to the quote in the news report above.)

The tradeoff: Marginal Traffic Flow vs. Safety for Everyone

deathroad2If you bring up these facts at a public meeting (as I have), you’ll probably get a reply about how the city can’t do a 4-to-3 road diet because of high traffic volumes. The problem with this reasoning is that there’s no such thing as a free street. Particularly in a walkable city, achieving a high traffic volume always come at a cost. In this case, the cost is increased accidents and far less safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and people living in these urban neighborhoods.

Street design is always about tradeoffs. Slow speeds that are good for local business are bad for high-speed through traffic. Four-lane roads that improve “stacking” (i.e backups at an intersection) are dangerous for people on foot or on a bicycle. A turn lane that is good for throughput is bad for anyone trying to cross the street. A bike lane can sometimes come at the expense of an on-street parking spot, etc. etc. Everything is a matter of choices and tradeoffs.

The Moral Imperative

deathroad3deathroad7When a decision maker says “we can’t do that because of traffic,” to me they are really saying that they value traffic volumes over safety. To me this is morally indefensible, and is not a choice we should be making as a society.

One rarely stated fact about these four-lane Death Roads™ is that they’re often found in our city’s poorest neighborhoods. For example, the poorest part of Franklin Avenue is the part with the Death Road™ design. The Maryland and White Bear Avenue Death Roads™ go through one of the poorest parts of Saint Paul. The Cedar Avenue Death Road™ goes through the heart of the Little Earth and Somali communities. And on Rice Street, where this crash happened,  the death road section disappears once you get close to the Roseville border (wealthier suburb). 

These patterns are troubling, but they probably point to the political disenfranchisement of particular areas of the city more than any grand conspiracy toward structural racism. These streets shouldn’t be allowed in any parts of our cities where people walk or bike or have homes and businesses. It shouldn’t matter where you are or how much money you have. These streets are dangerous for everyone, and there should be no excuse for them.

I wrote about this two years ago. I’m probably going to write about it again after the next person is put in a coma or coffin. Every day, these dangerous designs erode safety and quality of life, and our urban businesses and neighborhoods continue to languish in the shadow of death. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Ramsey and Hennepin Counties can fix this problem and make Death Roads™ illegal in urban areas. Until they do, it’s only a matter of time before another kid gets mowed down.


Broadway Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis.

*I’m going to make a distinction here between Death Roads™ and other unsafely designed arterial streets like Snelling, Lake, or Lyndale. That’s a big enchilada.

123 thoughts on “Four-Lane Death Roads Should Be Illegal

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Unfortunately it’s a near certainty that piles of human lives will be shattered or ended by Death Roads in the next two years. I realize it’s not productive to say that traffic engineers and those who defend “deadly by design” roads have blood on their hands. But at the same time, there needs to be more awareness and demand for change in society, that the status quo and the systems that make these designs are failing – and killing – people. This is the number one public health hazard of our generation, but we just need to start treating it as such.

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      If someone can get a photo of Maczko walking across a 4-lane street at an unsignalized intersection with no crosswalk, I will throw in a free vintage worksman US postal delivery bike (1960s vintage).

  2. ClaireB

    Wonderful article, thank you. I will be quoting this in the future: “When a decision maker says “we can’t do that because of traffic,” to me they are really saying that they value traffic volumes over safety. To me this is morally indefensible, and is not a choice we should be making as a society.”

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Although I have nothing redeeming to say about 4-lane undivideds when it comes to pedestrians, they can be better for some bicyclists, depending on speed and width. On very narrow four-lanes — where the outer lane is 11′ or so — I much prefer riding in the center of that lane, versus a 5′ bike lane/shoulder, half-unusable from stormdrains.

    A good example of both of these is 82nd St (narrow four lane) versus 86th Street (former narrow four lane, now very very narrow shoulder on a three lane) in Bloomington. I pretty much always choose 82nd.

    However, these concerns don’t apply where lanes are quite wide. On Nicollet and Portland in Richfield, super-wide four-lane roads were converted with generous, 7.5′ shoulders.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Your point is why I wanted to keep the focus here on walking. There are, however, lot of opportunities to do a 4-3 conversion and add bike lanes. Still, I doubt that anyone who is not a comfortable vehicular cyclist would be willing to bike on one of these streets. Franklin is a perfect example, as many people won’t bike on there (but some will, and it has the highest bike count of any Minneapolis street without a bike lane, which is why the Minneapolis Bike Coalition has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Hennepin County to re-design the street.)

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        “There are, however, lot of opportunities to do a 4-3 conversion and add bike lanes segregated cycletracks or paths. Still, I doubt that anyone who is not a comfortable vehicular cyclist would be willing to bike on one of these streets.”

        Exactly. And this is why in northern Europe you see gobs of people from kids to grannies riding bicycles safely along these streets on good safe segregated bicycle infrastructure.

        1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          Depending on the original width of the 4 lane road, it would theoretically be possible to include buffered bike lanes rather than just plain bike lanes. Sean’s Richfield examples in his comment are plenty wide enough for such.

            1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

              It’s not a huge expense…certainly not as much as new pavement or adding a traffic signal. Elsewhere, it’s often done in conjunction with a repaving project where you already have the crews out there adding new striping anyway.

              1. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

                Exactly. Parking-protected bike lanes seem like such a no-brainer once you see them in action.

        2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          [url=]Here’s a Streetmix example[/url] of what I mentioned, with buffered bike lanes (arguably cycletracks if a barrier is used) on a 48ft curb-to-curb (what many of these 4-lane undivided streets were built at) and still maintain minimum state aid lane widths (which would increase the chances of approval).

  4. John

    These roads are an example of a design that serves no one well. It is uncomfortable to drive on, bike on, or cross on foot. I think a systematic effort to convert these roads would be great. Do you have an idea of the amount of roads we are talking about here? A map based on your criteria would be interesting. Also, it would be interesting to see what the crash rates are on these roads.

    My only experience with 4-3 lane conversions is Marshall in St. Paul. My view is it’s great for bikers, terrible for motorists, and also bad for pedestrians during rush hour. But, I don’t know what is was like before. Maybe this has soured St. Paul on road diets?

    1. Nathan Roisennate

      I never saw Marshall in St Paul as a four-lane road, but I believe that the experience as a driver is much less stressful, and only a little slower, on a three-lane Marshall vs a four-lane Rice St or Hamiline Ave.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

        Great example. It’s hard to find people who live or own businesses on Marshall who don’t like the change to a two- or three-lane configuration.

        My favorite Saint Paul example, though, is Selby Avenue, which has transformed into a walkable and economically vital place. What was once one talked about as an unsafe crime magnet has become of the best streets in the city. We should be making this change everywhere, not just Cathedral Hill.

        1. Flash

          I loved the transformation of Selby. I lived on St. Albans/Dayton for several years in the early 90’s, pre bridge. The Bridge restoration, and following lane modifications really improved this stretch.

        2. Joe

          My favorite has to be close to where I lived, Fairview was converted south of Summit and they added bike lanes. On a recent reconstruct they paved to essentially face of curb to make for a smoother ride biking.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      We should strive to make all city streets uncomfortable to drive on. People who choose a transportation option that gives heat/AC, sound, protection from elements, and speeds that beat even the best cyclists with the flick of an ankle don’t need to be any more comfortable than they already are. There are obvious benefits to cars. Carrying capacity, speed, flexibility. That’s great. But with those benefits must come a huge amount of responsibility since to achieve those benefits means you’re now weilding a 2-ton machine that is capable of great harm. Stress and discomfortable situations make drivers attentive and more risk-averse. Exactly the behaviors we want to make walking, cycling, exiting parked vehicles, etc safer.

      1. Chris Johnson

        Well, yes and no.

        On streets (with pedestrians, cyclists, homes and/or businesses), car drivers should be in a situation where they are driving slowly enough that they can cope with all of the potential conflicts. Adding extra stress and discomfort does not improve that coping ability, but rather diminishes it.

        Note that I am not saying drivers should therefore drive more slowly than speed limit. Rather that streets and speed limits be designed to clarify and emphasize the mixed “traffic” nature, assisting all users of the space to proceed about their activities safely.

        Likewise, until we find some dramatically different way of transporting most people and goods, we need roads that are safe for cars to travel at higher speeds — and hence, keep the pedestrians and cyclists the hell away from them. Cars are not going to disappear overnight, so we must figure out how to manage geographical sharing sooner rather than later. It’s not rocket science, as it works pretty well in most large European cities already.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          Embracing stress and discomfort in driving situations is what slows down drivers in the first place.

          I’m confused by your last paragraph, talking about roads (safe for cars to travel at higher speeds) when the rest of this is talking about streets. Uncomfortable-to-drive-on-city-streets and fast-to-drive-on-roads are complimentary so long as we don’t confuse the two.

        2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          I think we’re on the same page, but as Matt notes, people will only drive at speeds that are safe for pedestrians if they feel uncomfortable driving. I don’t mean hot and sweaty, white knuckling per se, but the slightly on-edge feeling that anything could happen at any time and therefore 100% focus and attention is required. This is how most people feel during stop-and go rush hour traffic – constant attention is required because while you may be going 20 mph at times, the car in front of you may slam on the brakes at any moment. It’s why a 30 minute rush hour drive is far more draining than a 30 minute full-speed freeway drive.

    3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      That’s a great point. Speed limits might help around the margins, but they’re not the answer. You could say that about “enforcement” in general, which is why the calls for better enforcement of things like the ‘stop for peds’ law are misdirected in my opinion. We can’t enforce our way out of dangerous design.

      1. Rosa

        We can enforce our way out of some stuff, though – like “stop before the marked crosswalk” and “don’t expect to get to turn left long after your light goes red, you might hit a train”.

  5. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

    Thanks for this fantastic article, Bill. I live next to a minor Death Road, and I dislike walking along it and crossing it, and will not bike on it. Even in a car, this type of road is scary, especially around intersections, driveways, and alleys.

    Thanks also for pointing out the (probably unintentional) structural inequity in the locations of these roads. Perhaps some door-to-door outreach along Death Roads fronted by residences could make a difference in the political involvement of residents.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Which one is that? I lived by Maryland Avenue for years. It was horrible on a daily basis. I believe that anyone who has lived by one of these streets knows well what they’re like. I can’t imagine actually have a house on one of these streets, especially if you had small children. Even running a business on a street like this would be difficult, because the unsafe design would make it all but impossible to entice foot traffic or cars to stop.

      1. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

        I live near Dale where it intersects Selby. It’s not so bad from Summit to Selby, but Selby north is rotten. I walk to the Green Line and the Rondo library along Dale and it feels unsafe and un-fun.

        When I take my bike, I’ll go through the neighborhoods to use the pedestrian walkways over I-94 at either Mackubin or Grotto.

      2. Flash

        GREAT Article. I’m going to split my comments so they have their own thread, if necessary.

        First, Can you share more on these numbers. It would seem a simple repainting would be significantly less than 100,000 but must be one of the ‘5 road diets’:
        “Graff said the price of all five road diets considered in the city’s analysis was “in the $100,000 range,” or up to $120,000 or so for projects that added new median islands or other improvements.”

        Hamline/Minnehaha W

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          Yeah, I don’t know the details other than the article I linked to. The key point is that a road diet is WAY cheaper than any of the other “solutions” that traffic engineers might consider, because it’s only/mostly paint. If you do it during an already existing re-surfacing project, it’s practically free.

          A good local example is Park and Portland Avenues in Minneapolis, which improved safety for everyone over in Minneapolis without much (if any) cost. Hennepin County should get credit for that, and other agencies and cities should take note. The neighborhood is much improved (though it could still get better).

      3. Eric SaathoffEric S

        I live near Maryland currently. Horrible to cross. Our house sits next to Mendota, and the 64 bus will stop at Mendota, but there is no light and no crosswalk, and the only time traffic stopped for us to cross was when a police officer stopped first. We regularly get off the bus an extra block away to cross at Arcade or Forest because of the light.

        If Maryland were allowed bike lanes, it would be an excellent way to get across the city, and much more direct than Wheelock from Lake Phalen to Lake Como.

        We are currently trying to figure out how to make Greenbrier a bike boulevard, and the hardest part is going to be crossing Maryland. A HAWK seems to be the only answer.

        This post is an interesting contrast to the pro-arterial post we had recently.

  6. Maria Wardoku

    I love the term “Death Roads.” Broadway NE is the bane of my existence, and forces me to go a mile out of my way every day on my bike commute to work. There aren’t even sidewalks along Broadway for a good chunk of the way, forcing pedestrians to literally trudge through the weeds on the side of the road as cars fly by them at 40+mph. When I walked home from work one day, three different drivers pulled up and offered me a ride with concerned looks on their faces. Totally agree- we should not have these roads in urban areas.

      1. Rosa

        I don’t think the highways make nearby roads safer – the opposite, actually, if you can judge by the streets near 55 or the supposedly 40 mph access road alongside 77 south of 66th Street.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          That specific example (I assume you mean Longfellow Avenue in the airport side?) is a little unfair, though, since that street was built with that design after east Richfield was demolished for airport expansion and the freeway was in place. It’s mainly an industrial service road (although it would be a great candidate for an express bike route to the megamall if it were designed better).

          A better comparison would be (Old) Cedar Ave to the west of TH 77 Cedar Fwy. This definitely has less traffic than it did pre-freeway. Then again, it also has less connectivity and much of the business on the corridor is closed, demolished, or wiped out by the freeway.

          Although we seem hopeful of the theoretical ability of freeways to relieve local collectors and minor arterials, we don’t seem willing to depend on it. On 66th Street, Hennepin County refused to consider a 3-lane design west of 35W. Even though that would mean a safe roadway design and saving 18 homes, they weren’t willing to assume that enough cars would go to the Crosstown (4 blocks away) to make it viable.

          1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

            Probably because, by almost every account, the Crosstown is congested…and that congestion is beginning to spill into non-rush-hours again (it certainly was before the Commons was rebuilt). And MnDOT doesn’t have the money to widen the Crosstown. So, Plan B

  7. Jeff Klein

    Great work Bill. These roads are awful for everyone, and fixing them should be a simple and cheap thing to do. It’s a win on so many levels that if we can’t get through the overlapping layers of government to make it happen, then we may as well give up hope entirely.

    Broadway in NE is such an egregious example. I’m willing to bike on pretty much anything, and even I won’t risk crossing the Broadway bridge on anything but the sidewalk. Two lanes at ~45mph with limited visibility as the cars crest the arch of the bridge. That’s a death trap for a cyclist.

  8. Gary

    I’d be interested in seeing a comprehensive list of Death Roads organized by jurisdiction. In Minneapolis, I’m guessing that most of the Death Roads are Hennepin County roads, but Hennepin County has also shown some willingness to adopt alternative designs for former Death Roads (Lyndale south of 31st St; 50th St W; Riverside Ave; and Franklin between 35w and Hiawatha) come to mind).

  9. Mike Beck

    I live on that middle stretch of Franklin Avenue, so I have no choice but to bike on it, and/or navigate it when on foot. Not only are four lanes crammed into that stretch, the sidewalks are ridiculously narrow. The traffic capacity which the county points as the reason it’s 4-lane is often severely disrupted because of the frequency of left turning automobiles. Add bus stops to that and traffic literally stands still for a majority of high traffic use times. To make matters worse, during non-peak hours, the outside lane allows parking. I have watched in horror as inattentive drivers fail to realize the car in front of them IS NOT MOVING!

    What’s most ironic about living on this section of Franklin, is that several blocks in either direction sees a much calmer, much more friendly street for ALL modes of transportation.

    (Fair warning: if you see me on my bike, you’ll see me in the LEFT of my lane, and I’ll be unrelenting to maintain that position until I get to a place I can exit Franklin. If I’m riding with a companion, we will ride side-by-side to assure our position is visible and we are not forced into the curb.)

  10. Monte Castleman

    Aside from the developement of the interstate system there’s not a whole lot of good things to say about 50s-60s engineering, and a lot of 4 lane undivided roads are from that vintage. A Hennepin County engineer said “We don’t like them, but there’s an awful lot of them around”. There’s a lot in Bloomington and Richfield, There’s fortunately not any more being built, and some of the effort to fix them, either with 4-3 lane conversions for low to moderate traffic volumes, or adding left turn lanes for higher volumes, but as he said “there’s a lot of them around. No one likes 66th street in RIchfield, so now that it’s time to rebuild it they’re adding better bicycle pedestrians to the length, and planning to convert it to three lanes where the traffic volume is less than 20,000 east of Lyndale, and add a turn lanes between I-35W and Penn where volumes are over 20,000.

    I know a lot of people hate Bloomington because of how car-friendly they are, but even they have a “traffic calming” project to convert a lot of the four lane city streets to three when they’re due for chip-sealing and would need to be restriped anyway. I won’t use these new bicycle lanes, but I’m still glad they’re there for the people that will and since they don’t hurt car traffic.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Except, for some inexplicable reason, they’re not actually bike lanes they build. They’re unmarked shoulders (although they occasionally transition to real bike lanes in conflict zones, like eastbound 84th approaching Penn).

      The older ones (like 82nd just west of Nicollet) are particularly bad, where the striping is such that it encourages cars to make wide, sweeping, fast turns across the shoulder/de-facto-bike-lane. The shoulders don’t allow parking either, so they managed to have created something that is of little value to cyclists, moving motorists, and parked cars alike. The new ones have gotten a bit better, and are mostly like bike lanes, except for lack of signage and markings establishing them as bike lanes.

      Bloomington also has a weirdly high number of four-lane streets that have *extremely* low volumes — like 2000 ADT. So some very low-hanging fruit. They deserve some credit for taking that, but I’d be clapping a lot louder if they were doing conversions on busier streets, and leading them on county roads (all of Nicollet and sections of E Old Shakopee come to mind).

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Incidentally — after 2016, there will be no continuous sections of four-lane undivideds anywhere in Richfield. Sections of Portland, Nicollet, and Penn (north of 66th) and Lyndale (south of 66th) will still be for the forseeable future, though. W 76th will too, but that’s likely to be resolved in the following year.

      Considering that in 2010, all of Nicollet, Penn, Lyndale, Portland, 65th and 76th — and large portions of 66th — were 4-lane undivided, we’re moving quickly in the right direction.

              1. Jim the PE

                The first edition of the Highway Capacity Manual came out in 1950. I’s used to predict delay and capacity based on road design, and it has become deeply ingrained in highway engineering.

                The Highway Safety Manual isn’t even five years old. It predicts the safety performance of streets and roads based on design features, and I think many engineers don’t even know it exists.

                Next time someone plays the capacity card to trump a 4 – 3 conversion, I’d like to see their reaction if someone countertrumps by asking for an HSM analysis to see if safety gains would outweigh the delay costs.

                1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

                  I believe FHWA already has, and came up with a general threshold around 20K AADT. That’s also the number I’ve most often seen referenced when questions arise about the upper threshold of where a 4-to-3 is viable.

                    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

                      Yeah, if the threshold is “we’ll only do a 4-3 if it doesn’t negatively impact traffic flow” then we’re doing it wrong.

                      Note, I’m not suggesting we go out and purposely make streets terrible for drivers. Only that the 20k AADT threshold should be taken into consideration along with so many other factors that make a street viable.

                  1. Jim the PE

                    I’m pretty sure 20K is the point where congestion becomes a problem. I doubt it considers tradeoffs with safety, let alone the harder to quantify social and economic costs.

  11. Geoff Pursell

    Bill, what’s your take on reprogramming University to be less deathy?

    I personally think it’s way too close to being a Death Road to be a truly comfortable place on foot. The traffic is just too fast, stressful and unbuffered.

      1. Geoff Pursell

        Oh, I was all over that survey. I have to admit, when the question was posed, I was undecided. But then I thought about it.

        Bike lanes would be great if there’s room.

      2. Nathanael

        One Lane + Parking + Loading Zones (+ left turn pockets) is very suitable for University.

        You might be able to fit protected bike lanes in, because parking lanes are usually narrower than driving lanes.

  12. Nick Hannula

    My humble request:

    1. Put together a full list of these streets in Minneapolis and Saint Paul

    2. Re-package this post as a letter to the City Council and Mayor of each city

    3. Get as many people from here (and wherever else we can find them) to sign it, and send it off

  13. Julie Barton

    Are these roads mentioned mainly County Roads? I seem to recall that is the issue with changing a few of the roads in Mpls, and I think I’ve seen Cty Rd signs up on Rice & Maryland.

    Thank you for pointing out the difference on Cedar Ave as well. It’s always felt bizarre that the road changes once you get past Lake Street (a little farther up, but you know where I mean) and all the sudden it becomes a free for all, with ridiculous speeds.

    And I do wonder if these roads were to undergo the 4:3 change, would people stop using them as a pseudo highway (that is how Portland/Park always felt – and as a cyclist and driver, I do like riding/driving them more now than ever before) and go back to using the highway to cut through.

  14. Chuck Repke

    We have had long discussions in the neighborhood about White Bear Avenue and if it would be better or worse if it was changed to 3 lanes. The bottom line issue is that White Bear Avenue is the only north/south through street between Johnson Parkway and McKnight there aren’t any other options for drivers to choose if they live in that area there is no place else to go. In the District 2/Greater East Side neighborhood there are 28,000 people living between Johnson Parkway and McKnight and between Minnehaha and Larpentuer…. and there are 2,000 jobs. That means its a bedroom community with almost no employment in the area. To live there you work somewhere else and if you do, in the morning and in the afternoon you drive on White Bear Avenue… its the only way out. If we made stacking times longer than they already are the fear is nobody would want to live in the neighborhood.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Good thing 4-3 conversions are better for motorists too, then.

      Although even if it was awful for motorists, it would still be a necessary change.

      “If we made stacking times longer than they already are the fear is nobody would want to live in the neighborhood.”

      I think people would rather live in a neighborhood with longer stacking time than live in a neighborhood with streets designed to kill their children.

      1. Jim the PE

        People don’t think that way. You’re asking them to compare congestion that happens to them every day to crashes that usually don’t affect them directly.

            1. Eric SaathoffEric S

              Unfortunately have to agree. When I looked at the pedestrian fatalities along Maryland Ave in St. Paul, all I found was a death one block south of Maryland. What, no more?
              If it’s not safe, few people will be trying to cross and few injuries will occur. Is it fair to call them death roads if the statistics show few to no deaths? I think it’s more about the threat of death and the fear of crossing.
              We live in a culture with a fear of streets that is both justified but also self-perpetuating. Obviously, there is both a historical promotion and current need to fear the street. I think more than current statistics on deaths and injuries, this may be a game of emotion – because the fear promotion has won, is now necessary, and is often successful.

              When Joe Soucheray laments the loss of street ball it shows hints of his subconscious urbanist. The reaction to the fear has two choices: remake the streets like in the Netherlands or stay far away behind your fence (unless you’re behind the wheel). We have to remind people of a time when it was not like this and show the loss. Maybe we can convince Joe that kids should be able to play ball in the streets again and that they should be able to cross one of these “death roads” to join their friends without mom and dad putting the kid on a leash.

            2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

              As Eric points out here, It’s not just the accidents but the fear of the street. Anyone who walks or lives on any of these streets pays the price for dangerous speeds every hour of every day. Which is the bigger impact: 10K drivers spending an extra minute or two each day driving to work or hundreds of people’s homes, yards, stores, and walks made dangerous and unpleasant all day every day?

              Rice Street pays the price for our fixation on LOS. It’s no coincidence that our more economically thriving commercial streets (Selby, Grand) are not Death Road™ designs. Exceptions are quite rare.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Good to hear you’ve thought about it. I think the 20,000 people in the area would be far better served if their main street wasn’t a death trap, but that’s just me.

    3. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

      The 5-10% reduction in vehicle throughput vs the 30-50% decrease in accidents seems like a no brainer. How are the stacking times following a collision?

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          even if it is… is marginally worse traffic worth the significantly worse safety for drivers and the neighborhood? i just don’t think “traffic” should be an excuse for these dangerous designs no matter what the ADT. not in a city, anyway.

          1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

            I’d disagree…ADT does matter to a degree. Once you hit the upper threshold, you really start to pile on the negatives…from additional idling and exhaust to driver angst (i.e. people taking chances and, if unchecked by the driver, ultimately resulting in road rage) to cut-through traffic.

            1. Joe T

              That number is when the FHWA saw large numbers of people detouring through residential areas, using the TWLTL to pass, other really silly things that indicate our dangerous culture, 15,000 was delays that start to add up. Maybe adding some quality fixed guideway transit systems to the East Side in conjunction with these diets would be more fruitful.

              Question to ponder is what about just a 3-lane roadway, would it still be better? Or is the clincher really the center turn lane that can be used as a refuge for most pedestrians?

              1. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

                I can’t imagine standing in a center turn lane waiting for the next lane of traffic to let me through. *Sitting duck*

            2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

              Using driver angst as an excuse annoys me. Saying “If we don’t have design X, people will act violently” amounts to excusing a culture of vehicular threats. We need to change the dangerous culture of our urban streets, not accommodate it.

                1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

                  I doubt that’s the case on a grid without a forced hierarchy.

                  Most people are driving to/from the same place at the same time every day – they get to know the choke points and the risks of a particular route. With a grid, things naturally even out. I don’t think I’ve seen traffic engineers account for this – they see roads in isolation, not as part of a complex adaptive system.

                  In Mpls and St. Paul, motorists have near infinite options to get where they are going – dozens of “good” options on primary streets.

                  I’ve seen driver frustration on suburban stroads where there’s a forced hierarchy and people are not in control of their own route destiny… people will weave, drive fast, run red lights, etc.

                  But in the city, with a full street grid featuring a matrix of primary streets — a complex adaptive system with near infinite route options — people will simply adapt to their situation. If they are on Park and it’s backed up, they may hop over to 4th Ave or Portland. If they are on Cedar and it’s backed up, they will hop over to Bloomington. AADT does not measure this phenomenon, but we know it’s there. Just think about how most people avoid Lake Street to get across town by car.

                  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

                    And even if this wasn’t a complex adaptive system, therefore the outcome of congestion and driver frustration was risky behavior or road rage, then the natural solution would be to figure out a way to reduce congestion via price mechanisms.

                    Whatever the circumstances, the wrong idea is to simply think increasing supply is the answer. If Parkway Pizza gave me free pizzas and it was causing them problems, the answer would not be to produce more pizzas causing more problems, the answer would be to start charging.

  15. Erik B

    Just yesterday I was driving on a death road (Dale St. north of Como). And coming down the hill was a tanker truck (gasoline) a good foot over the yellow line. I can’t even imagine riding a bike on one of these. Other roads like this: Cedar (between 38th st and 94) and Cretin/Vandalia.

    1. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

      Riding on Dale anywhere north of Selby is terrifying and just gets progressively worse until you get to Roseville. I’ve done it maybe twice, both times regretted it immensely, and one of those times was a low-traffic Sunday morning!

      1. Steve Gjerdingen

        In Roseville Dale street is still 4 lanes. It doesn’t come down to 3 until after you cross highway 36. What is worse is that the speed limit jumps to 40 mph when you cross the border. I have pictures of kids salmoning on their bicycles on Dale between the stretch from Larpenteur to Roselawn. When you get to highway 36 there are high density apartments, a single sidewalk that is inaccessible from the roadway due to a long chain link fence, and a spike in traffic coming on/off the freeway.

        1. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

          Thanks for correcting me, Steve. I’m usually over on Lexington if I’ get further north than Larp. The few poor experiences I’ve had stick with me.

  16. Eric SaathoffEric S

    I absolutely agree that the city officials are not enough to change any of this. They are mostly county roads. It has to be a coordination between the city, county, and the local district councils. Without grassroots support this idea will go nowhere. However, I really do think it is an issue of how to frame the problem. If we say we want to increase congestion to discourage car driving we will get nowhere at all.

    Focusing on child safety is a very good idea. There are a number of schools situated along White Bear Ave, and creating a Safe Routes to School plan for them is a nightmare. Have fun getting to this school:,+St+Paul,+MN+55106/@44.9755383,-93.0244479,498m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x52b2d4a161f74f21:0x882948763c9442ce

    I just don’t think any elected official will touch these roads if it has no local support.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Agree! We just had a terrific meeting in SAint Paul this weekend around “Healthy Streets for All” that brought together the whole host of people from all walks of the city. To me, that’s a good place to start.

      1. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet

        “Healthy Streets” meeting had reps from all level of gov’t up to state (thanks, Alice Houseman), and they ALL seemed prepared to fight the good fight (where it makes sense and has funding, I suppose, the cynical side of me says).

    2. Geoff Pursell

      To me, the killer persuasion is that a 5-10% reduction in throughput buys you 30-50% fewer accidents and a similar increase in bike/ped traffic. Hostile motorists won’t care about the latter, but they will care about the former.

      Framing this as having the goal of making driving less pleasant or harder will be perceived as a culture warfare and galvanize opposition.

    3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      I agree. Is a big part of the issue educating people? Helping them to understand the benefits and to not be scared off by the drawbacks or perceived drawbacks? Do most not know anything but what they’ve seen around them? They don’t know how much better things can be?

  17. Pingback: The Airtight Case for Road Diets |

  18. Jamie Schumacher

    Some good news, I hope: Cedar Ave on the West Bank is currently undergoing a conversion to 3 lane. Sidewalks have been widened and parking is going to be available on both sides.

    1. Rosa

      That is good news! How far South will the reduction go? The really scary parts are south of the two highway entrances just south of the West Bank.

  19. Steve Gjerdingen

    Regarding the change in Rice Street as it enters Roseville (due to us being a wealthier suburb), Roseville has it’s fair share of 4 lane death roads too. Although we don’t have Rice Street as an example, Dale Street is a nightmare south of 36. County Road B2 east of the mall, County Road C from Central Park to Rice Street, Cleveland Ave along the up and coming Twin Lakes District, County Rd D west of Highway 88, and Fairview Ave north of B2 are some more great examples of this. I haven’t even begun to point out the roads that are basically 4 lane death roads with anorexic medians and bundles of turn lanes. These would include Fairview Ave and County Rd B2 near the mall, County Road C west of 35W and several other examples.

    I believe the issue really has to do more with the county than anywhere else. What is frustrating is that even on new development projects in Roseville, such as Twin Lakes, no suggestions or improvements are being made to improve the conditions along these 4 lane Stroads other than the addition of a sidewalk on one side of the street and sometimes both if we are really lucky.

  20. Pingback: News Roundup: 140 Minutes

  21. Amy Brendmoen

    I love me an online source where reading the comments section makes me smarter and heartened, and not miserable and soulless. 🙂

    I love the idea of doing a full scale demonstration along Rice Street and I am sitting down with the interium public works director next week to talk about ideas. I agree with commenters that perfect need not get in the way of good, and that if we can chart a path to some quick fixes and easy improvements, we can measure the benefit and make the case for more $$. And yes, any action that comes up will need to be fortified by community support.

    I think that with four schools, three parks, a library (not to mention so many great independant businesses) expecting traffic to drive 25mph, and striping/designing the streets with an eye toward safety and livability need not be a tough sell. Add to that the very high densityof refugee and immigrant community members AND a very high concentration of poverty (ie less car ownership, more walkers and potential bikers) and I think its a great place to take a stand.

    Thanks for the article Bill. You’re a gift.

  22. Nathanael

    I gotta ask: have you got five-lane death roads too? These have two driving lanes each way plus a center “left turn” lane which is generically for left turns in both directions (leading to the occasional head-on collision in the “left turn” lane). We have a startling number of these monstrosities in upstate NY.

    1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

      Minnesota has some of those…but not nearly to the volume that Upstate New York or (especially) the Southern states have. If Minnesota jurisdictions have a choice between a 5-lane undivided (with the center left turn lane) or a 4-lane divided with a median, they tend to pick the latter.

        1. Steve Gjerdingen

          White Bear Ave between Frost Street and Larpenteur is configured this way as well.

          Also, consider Lexington Ave south of Roma Street but north of Larpenteur.

          I think the 5 laners tend to be more common as you approach big intersections, or like someone else said “down in the south”.

  23. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Unfortunately, reception to the idea of medians has been cool at best for the reconstruction of 66th. However, it’s only been discussed so far on the east end, where U-turns would be harder to accommodate. Might be more popular in the 4/5-lane area, but homeowners to the west have been so resistant to any change at all, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was opposition there too.

    It’s not solely a Richfield problem, but seems to be an issue with installing medians where they didn’t exist before. Nearby, Borton Volvo demanded that a 15 ft center turn lane be installed instead of a planted median, because their customers couldn’t possibly figure out how to go around the block or make a U-turn. And then moved the dealership out of Minneapolis two years later…

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      I’ve wondered if it’s not too late to find some money for a median on that block now that Borton left.

  24. Pingback: The War on Pedestrians |

  25. Pingback: Chart of the Day: Simulated Average Speeds Before and After 4-3 Conversions |

  26. Pingback: Bloomington’s Four-Lane Roads |

Comments are closed.