Our roads have historically been for transportation by whatever means someone had available. For several centuries this meant feet, horse, or donkey. Bicycles were added to the mix about 1870 and cars some 30 years later. By the 1970’s, however, our roads had become car-only thoroughfares. Other modes were largely banished—to sidewalks or increasingly to nothing.
Since then we’ve focused largely on one thing for local transportation—cars and reducing their delays at almost any cost. Little thought has been given to people who are walking or riding bicycles. Those living or shopping nearby who have to put up with the noise or unpleasantness created by speeding cars have been ignored, too.
Historically perhaps the key source of our physical activity (and vitamin D) was getting from one place to another. Today we’ve replaced even the shortest of trips with sitting in cars and we’ve likely become the fattest and least healthy of all developed nations as a consequence. Obesity and lack of activity are believed to cost $3,600 per person per year in increased healthcare costs.
Fairly or unfairly I’m going to lay much of this on traffic engineers and planners. Even people who want to walk or ride bicycles can’t do it because engineers and planners have made our roads too dangerous for them to do so.
Every Road For Every Person
We need to change this. Every roadway should be designed and built for everyone.
- Every child within 3 miles of their school should be able to safely and comfortably walk or ride a bicycle.
- Every citizen who lives within 3 miles of an eatery or shopping should be able to safely and comfortably walk or ride their bicycle to get there.
- Everybody who lives within 3 miles of a Park & Ride should be able to safely and comfortably walk or ride their bicycle. This should be a core element of every Park & Ride that the Met Council builds — a web of sidewalks and bikeways from the Park & Ride to local residential areas within a 3 mile radius.
Safe and Comfortable
What makes a roadway useable by everyone?
For the vast majority of people the number one and nearly only element is safety. They want to feel safe and know that they are safe. For more on this topic, see my earlier streets.mn post, Cycleway Fundamentals: Safety, Momentum, Comfort.
Generally the faster that motor traffic is moving the more protection people walking, riding bicycles, and disabled need. The following chart is my rough estimate of how many people will be comfortable riding on what type of facility.
For example, on Hodgson Road (photo above) only about 5% of people will be comfortable riding a bicycle to Paninos for lunch (1/2 mile ahead on the right). About 9% would be comfortable if there were a painted bike lane and nearly 20% with a buffered bike lane. About 40% would be comfortable with a cycletrack and about 70% with a side path separated by 10’ of grass.
It is rare to ever see anyone walking or riding a bicycle on that mile of Hodgson Rd south of Hiway 96. On the other hand, it’s equally rare not to see someone on the multi-use path north of 96 even during winter. More interestingly, the section south of 96 has over 5 times the population density.
What is good enough? Should every road be good enough for 20% of our population and not for 80%? Or vice-versa? Can we reduce healthcare costs if people can once again be active in walking, bicycling, or mobility-scootering to local eateries, stores, and schools?
The rest of this post focuses on Ramsey County. In Ramsay County suburbs, it is mostly roads under county jurisdiction that are the problem, not local streets. Most city roads are good enough for the majority of people to use regardless of mode. If the deficiencies in Ramsey County roads were corrected then the majority of people in the county would be able to once again walk, ride their bicycles, or use mobility scooters safely and comfortably. As you read you are welcome to substitute Hennepin, Washington, or whatever county you like and see if the same holds true.
On The Ground
Every Ramsey County road should be safe and comfortable for every user. No exceptions. Every roadway should have facilities for people walking, disabled, and bicycling that is appropriate to the speed of motor traffic. In each of these, a European engineer faced with a space problem will lower the speed of motor traffic to match the facilities that can fit rather than eliminate facilities for people walking or bicycling. Here’s what that looks like:
Local/Residential — Speed limit of 20 mph or less. People walking, riding bicycles, disabled, or driving share the roadway. Generally no physical facilities are needed for everyone to feel comfortable on these streets. These should generally not be through routes, but local access only; these are usually city-owned roads.
25 – 30 MPH (Typ: Minor Collector) — This should be the minimum for every Ramsey County road. You can add to it but you can’t remove any elements. It provides a physically protected one-way cycletrack on each side for disabled mobility scooters and bicycle riders as well as a sidewalk for low-speed disabled and people walking. The cycletrack is protected by a curb, parked cars, planters, or strip of vegetation.
35 MPH (Typ: Major Collector) — At 35 mph increased physical separation becomes necessary. A curb no longer suffices for many people and during winter it becomes necessary to protect bicycle riders and pedestrians from the slush wake of faster motor vehicles. Planters, parked cars, or 5-10’ of vegetation is needed.
40-55 MPH (Typ: Minor Arterial) — Here there is a need to provide not just greater physical separation but also some level of noise buffer and greater wake protection (water/slush/snow/debris wakes increase with speed). Increased distance separation is typically the best choice and varies by speed.
Junctions — Just as critical as the links between them, junctions should be designed properly so that they are safe for all users.
In any two year period Ramsey County should be required to upgrade 10% of total center-line miles to these specifications (approx 15 miles per year). This will result in all county roads being made safe and useable within 20 years. Almost as important, residents will know that these upgrades are coming and will be better able to plan transportation and where to live. Much of this 10% can be accomplished along with new projects or reconstructions and most of the rest will be done as a part of mill & overlay projects.
A Photo Gallery of Safe Facilities