Every Road For Every Person

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.

We're Fat (Chart: Wikimedia)

We’re fat and unhealthy (Chart: Wikimedia)

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?


Most people, maybe 90%, are not comfortable riding on a county road with 50 mph traffic. (Hodgson Road south of Hiway 96, Shoreview, MN)

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.


As the speed of adjacent motor traffic increases the comfort level of bicycle riders decreases.


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.

Even with similar traffic and often higher speeds people feel safer and more comfortable on this part of Hodgson that has a side path. The number of people walking, riding bicycles, and on mobility scooters is massively higher than on that part of Hodgson south of Hiway 96. (Hodgson Road north of Hiway 96, Shoreview, MN)

Even with similar traffic and often higher speeds people feel safer and more comfortable on this part of Hodgson that has a side path. The number of people walking, riding bicycles, and on mobility scooters is higher than on that part of Hodgson south of Hiway 96. (Hodgson Road north of Highway 96, Shoreview, MN)

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?

Ramsey County

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

This is a common sight along Hodgson Road north of Hiway 96 where there is a safe path, never along Hodgson Road south of 96 where there is no path.

This is a common sight along Hodgson Road north of Highway 96 where there is a safe path, but not along Hodgson Road south of 96 where there is no path.

You'll not see them riding happily along on a shoulder with 50 mph traffic.

You’ll not see them riding happily along on a shoulder with 50 mph traffic. (Hodgson Road multi-use path, north of 96)

Every Ramsey County road with a path seems continuously filled with people.

Every Ramsey County road with a path seems continuously filled with people. (Lexington Ave, Shoreview)

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

13 thoughts on “Every Road For Every Person

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I mostly agree with your suggestions for streets and roads, Walker. But while I do agree that side paths, bike lanes, etc are worthwhile improvements, I don’t believe they alone will make substantial numbers of people walk or bike.

    Look at Maple Grove — sidewalks along both sides of almost every minor street, side paths along every stroad. Yet it’s still a place where walking somewhere seems radical. Although street and intersection design definitely matter, the deeper issues are lack of consistent density, lack of transit, and lack of pedestrian-friendly designs for home and businesses.

    You know you’ve failed when you have to walk past your car and through your driveway just to get to the sidewalk in front of your house…

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    I agree Sean. Part of it is simple mindshare. People (in suburbs anyway) simply don’t think about any mode of transportation other than their car. This even for 1/4 or 1/2 mile trips.

    Shoreview is a good example. They’ve had fairly good paths (by U.S. standards, not by EU standards) for years (the path along Hodgson was one of the first and was put in about 20 years ago). It is really only recently that more people have begun using the paths for transportation rather than just recreation. This started with increasing numbers of kids riding to school and more recently people riding to dinner or local stores. Now that the network is fairly well connected we’re hoping to do a bit of a push this year on the mindshare side.

    I think something else that would help is if the city required multi-tennant buildings to all have easily accessible bicycle parking. A friend of ours just purchased a place in a senior co-op and is thinking about backing out due to the lack of a place to easily store her bicycle without having to haul it down stairs or up an elevator.

  3. Monte Castleman

    I’m a big fan of multi-use paths, since I’m one of those people that will not ride a bicycle on a street under any conditions, I don’t care what the paint on the road or vehicle speed limit are. In many cases they can replace an existing sidewalk without too much disruption as will be done on Portland in Richfield, and as Bloomington has done in some locations. The main thing I don’t agree with are lower speed limits in residential areas, at least not in the suburbs where the streets are wider, and 10 foot lanes on major collectors, which presumably will see buses and trucks. For major collectors replacing a sidewalk with a MUP and leaving 11 foot lanes (with unbuffered bicycle lanes for the “serious” cyclists) might be a better option.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Yes I do, just because my street is wide enough to handle it, and in turn I don’t care when other people drive that fast through my neighborhood, it’s 36 feet wide with maybe one or two cars parked per block. It’s not a big deal though since there’s a collector street two houses down that I normally use that would presumably remain 30 mph, so if the state wanted to implement say a 25 mph speed limit to match most other states I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          But Bloomington, like Richfield, generally has no sidewalks on these super wide streets. Do you really feel safe walking a dog or walking with a small child in a 36′ wide runway of asphalt with cars going a full 30 mph?

          It seems to me we need to pick one strategy or the other: separation (and relative speed) or very tight shared space, with radically lower speeds. Right now, the standard design for Richfield and Bloomington local streets offers the worst of both worlds to pedestrians.

          1. Monte Castleman

            I really wish Bloomington would build more sidewalks and multi-use paths. It would have been nice when I had a dog that needed walking or was a kid riding my bicycle and I got out in my neighborhood a lot, but with as little traffic as there is I didn’t feel unsafe walking around. At least in my area there’s so few cars and so few pedestrians I don’t see the speed limit as a problem.

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Here’s where you lose me. Is the street width really the appropriate constraining factor?

          When I’m driving down a residential street, a primary concern is the potential intrusion into the street from non-cars that may not be paying full attention (e.g., children and pets). A wider street does next to nothing to alleviate that concern.

          As for speed limits, I think they are largely irrelevant. If the street is wide enough to make you feel comfortable at 30, most people will drive 30 (or more) regardless of what’s posted.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      There’s a nasty chicken & egg problem on fast residential streets. People don’t like to walk or ride bicycle on them or allow their children to because there are too many cars speeding through too fast. Drivers say that there’s no need to slow down because there’s nobody on the street.

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Seems to me that compared to inner city, more of the suburban areas are unsuitable for walkers and bicyclists.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      There are exceptions. Like Plymouth, Shoreview and maybe one or two others. I’m going to do a poll this spring for people to rate cities on bike/walk/disabled facilities. Should be interesting.

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