Bloomington’s Four-Lane Roads

The recent post about four-lane undivided roads made me think about how many there are in Bloomington. Although I absolutely love living there in general, I tend to agree with virtually everyone else that these roads are a bad idea for all modes. Bloomington had the misfortune to grow in the 1960s with the bad engineering practices of the time. A few of these roads really need to be expanded to add left turn lanes and median dividers, but for the most part they are actually overbuilt and could easily be road-dieted down. In some extreme cases they carry only around 1000 cars a day.

Recognizing that fact, the city of Bloomington enacted a collector street policy in 2005, where if a collector is going to be resurfaced for unrelated reasons, striping revisions will be considered. There were three cases (one of which was revisited when residents became more accepting of the concept) where the existing configuration was maintained, but in most cases the streets were re-striped to two and three lane roads. I’d consider this a success for both cars and non-motorized uses. Although I still won’t ride on shoulders of roads, and I still see plenty of people using the sidewalk, there are quite a few bicycle riders taking advantage of the new shoulders. (They’re not officially marked as bicycle lanes because Bloomington doesn’t want to get involved in insuring all the legal standards are technically met).

Of course there are limitations. The policy is for collector streets only; arterials, most of which are under county jurisdiction, are not eligible. In most cases the roads revert to four lanes at traffic signals, this is to not require expensive modifications to the signals, as well as probably the need for more extensive studies on operations on the signalized intersections. I think road diets for the county roads would also be beneficial. Except for Old Shakopee Road west of Portland and the northern halves of France and Normandale, all the county roads meet the <15,000 ADT threshold for considering this (and many are under 10,000).

Here is a map of all the four lane roads that have existed and not been up-sized. Most of the road diets have been due to the collector street program, although 86th was a different initiative to build an east-west bicycle friendly corridor (it was left as a wide suburban road at Lyndale due to the need of four lanes to maintain acceptable operations for motorized traffic. The recommendation was to widen 86th at Lyndale to add bicycle lanes, but recently the road was reconstructed  and this was not done). Old Cedar was  reduced  many years ago to take space for the new Mall of America ramps.

So here’s the map. Green: Four lane road converted to two or three. Red: Four lane road kept in the same configuration. Orange: Four lane road planned to be up-sized with medians or downsized to two or three lanes in the near future. Black: Four lane arterial outside the collector street program scope. Grey: Has not come up for resurfacing.

Green: 4-Lanes to 2/3 Lane, Red: Kept 4 Lanes. Black: Arterial, Grey: Not yet resurfaced, Orange: Under study

Green: 4-Lanes to 2/3 Lane, Red: Kept 4 Lanes. Black: Arterial, Grey: Not yet resurfaced, Orange: Under study

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

27 thoughts on “Bloomington’s Four-Lane Roads

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary

    Several disconnected thoughts:
    Richfield, East Bloomington, and much of Minneapolis south of Minnehaha Creek grew at about the same time, yet Bloomington really went all out on these four-lane undivideds. East-west, Richfield had four-lane undivideds on 66th and 76th, while Bloomington did it on 79th, 82nd, 86th, 90th, 94th, and 98th — every 3-4 blocks versus every 10 blocks. Even with recent engineering, we see a continued effort from Bloomington, far more than any of its neighbors (even South of the River) to build excess capacity. My favorite recent example is 28th Ave S, which serves about 2000 ADT as a divided 7-lane road.

    Other thoughts:
    Why is the policy for collectors only? Although Bloomington has to work with the county to make things happen for the minor arterials, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be their policy to promote 3-lane when feasible.

    It seems that Nicollet and Penn both could easily be restriped to 3 lanes — Nicollet for the whole length, and Penn south of 82nd or 84th. As could Old Shakopee Road east of the 98th Street concurrency.

    American Blvd west of France Ave would also be a good candidate, and especially west of Normandale Road, where there is a short undivided four lane segment with no sidewalks on either side.

  2. Sean Hayford Oleary

    And although I’m often anti-added capacity, I would support widening to 4/5-lane divided on Normandale Road, France Ave, and W Old Shakopee Road (west of 98th St concurrency). I’d also support reallocating space or widening slightly to provide bike lanes and consistent sidewalks on Lyndale.

  3. Janne

    I love this. gets requests for more suburban content and this is really informative.

    As someone who doesn’t often have a reason to go to Bloomington, it’s especially interesting.

      1. TM

        I challenge you to take the train then bike *out* of there. if you dare to try to take the exits from the transit center with the arms you’ll get a bored booth attendant trying to bring it down on you. Otherwise there’s some truly awful connections to the outside world from there (don’t get me started on the killebrew pedestrian bridge).

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Yes, the immediate vicinity is definitely the worst — in fact, riding to the mall via Bloomington to 66th to Longfellow isn’t unpleasant, save for a few busy spots like the TH 77 Cedar interchange. But from the 24th Ave/494-5 interchange onward, it’s uninterrupted hell. Stroad of America, Lindau “Lane” freeway stub, Killebrew, and 24th itself which is up to nine lanes wide.

          Despite my repeated suggestions that building pedestrian barriers and improving pedestrian safety and convenience might not be compatible goals, engineers have made it illegal to cross Killebrew Dr on foot west of 24th Ave. Bicycles in the travel lanes are still allowed to cross Killebrew, of course.

        2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          That’s a good point… and I don’t know if we should tolerate one of the most important transit connection points in our region being in a private complex that is known for creating dossiers on innocent people and forwarding them to the FBI.

          Except for transit-to-transit connections, and going to the mall itself (a scary thought), the MOA is not exactly a friendly neighborhood transit node well connected to its surroundings.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I don’t understand the need to revert back to four lanes at signalized intersections. Even if maintaining standard stoplights without a protected left phase, it still seems better to have a dedicated LTL while throwing up a “Left Turn Yield on Green Ball” sign on the stoplight.

    One of the absolute least safe things is where there are two left turning cars in inside lanes, blocking sightlines for cars going straight ahead in the outside two lanes. It’s really difficult to find a gap. But adding a center LTL at the stoplight, so the left turners are head on, greatly improves sightlines and makes life easier for drivers.

    (This is a huge problem in Minneapolis as well, where cars pass on the right quasi-lanes at stoplights to get around left turning vehicles waiting for a gap).

    1. Sean Hayford Oleary

      Going to four-lane undivided at an intersection is relatively rare. The only place I commonly see it is diamond interchanges (where engineers want more stacking space for left-turning cars). Also one instance at 50th and Lyndale.

      At 86th & Lyndale, it actually goes to divided 5-lane — which is probably crazy unnecessary, but not quite as dumb as going to undivided 4-lane again.

  5. Monte Castleman Post author

    1) I don’t know why the policy is to limit it to collector streets, and I don’t support it. That’s just they way it is, so I’m only the messenger.

    2) It’s now against the MUTCD to show a green ball over a dedicated turn lane, so nowadays adding a left turn lane would in all cases require modifying the traffic signal (except for Portland and 98th where Portland has a split phase). Also often there is a four lane segment that either does not need reconstructing at the moment and/or is under county jurisdiction that needs to be matched. Once again, reverting to four lane undivideds through intersections is not something I like, but I’m just the messenger.

    3) I forgot about the short stretch of American (and also two short streets in the southwest. I did upload a correction onto the media gallery if other writers want to see it.

    Also, I should note that any existing parking restrictions are not modified; in a very few cases off-peak parking is allowed on the four-lanes.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      #2 is interesting, because on Nicollet/70th, Nicollet/76th, Penn/69th, Penn/75th, and Portland/70th, this condition exists, and Nicollet and Penn as of just this year. Does this need to be applied for only restripes, or is this only for new signals/reconstruction?

      Bloomington generally has an iron fist on parking restrictions, so it’s rare to lose parking to restripes. I know parking is theoretically allowed on like Portland off-peak, but I’ve never seen a car parked there. Same with W 84th (although they’ve since changed it to no parking any time with the three-lane conversion).

      1. Monte Castleman Post author

        That is an interesting question that I hadn’t thought about, maybe there is no requirement to change the signal if the road changes but no work is done on the signal itself…and Minneapolis is still happily erecting new lights that don’t conform to the new standards…

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Yes Minneapolis (and MPRB) seems to flout the MUTCD with some regularity. Although I have to say, I really dislike Bloomington’s retrofits to the permissive greens even more, installing “left turn yield on green” signs where there is no protected phase at all. (Like at 98th and Logan.) It seems to suggest that there will be a protected cycle where none exists.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            Regarding #2, imagining that there’s a mast with two lights, couldn’t they just remove the furthest one with the green ball so it doesn’t appear to be in front of the LTL?

            1. Monte Castleman Post author

              I’d say no, because with newer standards a left turn lane must have some kind of indication. I asked the original question about this situation to some other traffic signal collectors, which include a few signal techs and engineers, and so far have not gotten a consensus.

                1. Monte Castleman Post author

                  No, that’s now what I meant

                  1) It is now illegal to display a green ball to left turning traffic on new installations for dedicated turn lanes. That does not mean a protected phase is mandated. You could install a four-section flashing yellow arrow head and simply never use the lower green arrow section. The national standards also allow a three section head omitting the lower green arrow, but this was yanked from Minnesota standards before any were implemented. The reason for this was a green LED arrow and a plastic signal section are cheap compared to the labor required to go out and modify hardware if sometime down the road it’s decided to implement a protected phase.

                  2) I was responding to Matt’s suggestion of just removing the head with the green ball from above re-striped left turn lanes, which is clearly not allowed since left turn lanes must have an indication and modifying a signal would result in it needing to be brought into compliance.

                  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                    So the old school Left Turn Yield on Green is out then? The 5-head, non-flashing-yellow-arrow setup?

                    What about posts without an overhead mast arm? This is still being installed in Minneapolis where minor streets meet major streets. (Although they do the overhead arms more and more.)

    2. Nathanael

      The cost of putting a black cover with an arrow-shaped cut-out over an existing traffic light bulb is what, $100 maybe? Maybe $200?

  6. Monte Castleman Post author

    That’s correct. No more “Left Turn Yield on Green”. No more 5-light non-flashing-yellow-arrow heads. No longer allowed by either Minnesota or national standards. 3 light protected only heads are in most cases not going to be installed either, with flashing yellow arrow the tradeoff between safety and efficiency changes in favor of allowing permissive turns, at least for part of the day.

    I’m thinking in most cases there will be an overhead mast if there’s left turn lanes. Since Minneapolis is happy to continue to violate standards I’m assuming it would be business as usual with green balls on either side. It may be a major engineering and logistics issue to change their standards to allow multiple signal heads on a mast to allow left turn lanes to have their own indication, but at some point they’re going to have to or they risk, at lest in theory, legal liability, challenges to traffic citations, and loss of highway funding.

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