The sidewalks of Rotterdam bow to no street.

Kerb your Enthusiasm

Walking along the sidewalks of Minneapolis and St. Paul, every block the pedestrian must undulate, going down to meet the road, walk across (a sometimes marked, sometimes unmarked) cross-walk, and then up a curb, or at best a curb-cut, to meet the level of the sidewalk again.

Why does the pedestrian need to lower themselves to the level of the road? The road should instead rise to meet the pedestrian. This accomplishes several things.

  1. It slows down traffic, providing an effective speed-hump for turning and through traffic. (Increasing safety and residential interaction)
  2. It reminds vehicle traffic (cars and bikes) there are pedestrians about, and they are the aliens, not the other way around.
  3. It increases pedestrian speed, as pedestrians will obviously have the right-of-way at such street crossings, and won’t fearfully cower before the motor.

This kind of design is seen in many places in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But you say “we have no woonerf here”. Yet we do. We call them alleys. When entering an alley, the car rises to the level of the sidewalk (or nearly so). The car goes slower. The driver is more likely to be on the lookout for pedestrians.

I wrote about Rotterdam, though this applies to other cities in the Netherlands:

 The sidewalks are often continuous elevation across streets (i.e. there is no cross-walk, there is a cross-drive). This helps remind drivers they are entering a woonerf. Drivers must slow down since they are crossing the pedestrian right-of-way, rather than vice-versa. If there is one thing I could do to American residential neighborhoods, it would be implementing the woonerf. If there is one thing I would build to tell drivers they are in woonerfs, it would be this sidewalk extension across the local street (when it joins a major road) as a way of signaling to drivers they are in a new space. This is far more effective than signs or changes in pavement surfaces alone.


Let’s rethink our residential streets as residential spaces, where cars are permitted but not preferred. We can use the alley as an element of the model, though obviously the wider road requires difference in design.

Alley exiting view

Alley exiting view

Alley side view

Alley side view, the sidewalk mostly holds its ground, though it tilts slightly to accommodate the alley entrance.

Alley entering view

Alley entering view

The sidewalks of Rotterdam bow to no street.

The sidewalks of Rotterdam bow to no street.

22 thoughts on “Kerb your Enthusiasm

  1. Bill LindekeBill

    Would love to see this demonstrated. A main commercial street, Preferably. Instead we’re still approving drive thrus.

    1. SuperQ

      This has been done successfully in San Francisco to reduce cut-through traffic on some of the smaller side streets in the Mission and other neighborhoods. These streets are almost alleyways, but are officially city streets.

  2. Janne

    I was thinking the same thing about bicycle right of way as I rode the U of M Transitway on Thursday, and it of course applies to all park board trails in the Grand Rounds, as well.

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Another benefit of raised or tabled crossings is that they remain clear of rain, snow, and slush much better than street grade crossings (only if they slope to street grade on both sides?).

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    What about full-intersection speed tables as neighborhood intersections are redeveloped?

    I haven’t noticed how big of a deal this change in grade (and location of curb cuts) can be until I’ve recently pushed a stroller with a sleeping baby.

  5. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Matt: are modern curb ramps (no sharp seam, wider ramp, more gradual incline) hard on strollers, or just the old ones?

    I’d love to see more driveway apron-style crossings. We’re fortunate in the more central part of the metro that driveways are at least designed like this. Unfortunately, in modern-suburban commercial areas, it seems quite common to design commercial driveways as full intersections, ramping down to street level. Here’s one laughable example (actually in an older commercial area) in Bloomington. It was “improved” 5-ish years ago to have new, “accessible” ramps.

    I’m not sure how it would work inside a neighborhood grid (which street would remain level?). But for minor streets meeting major streets, it seems like a great solution. I pushed for this on 66th Street, but there were safety concerns from Hennepin County that a vehicle turning left off 66th wouldn’t be able to complete the turn fast enough. And complaints from operations that plowing could be difficult by changing the street grade on a turn like that.

    1. Emily Metcalfe

      The new curb ramps are better for strollers. The old ones are often not wide enough, in addition to having a substantial bump.

    2. Wayne

      it makes more sense to table the entire intersection instead of only doing it for one street. You give the impression crossing the other way isn’t allowed if you give uneven treatment like that.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        I don’t think that’s feasible on a major street, especially not on an east-west street with a lot of intersections. I believe speed humps and intersection tabling are also not allowed on the state aid system. But can you imagine driving down Lake Street and hitting 12 tabled intersections per mile?

        The only place I really would have like to see that is on the roundabouts along 66th. Since drivers should be slowing anyway, this would have been a nice way to reinforce it prior to crossing the crosswalks. But, not allowed.

        Doing it on the minor streets meeting the major streets is allowed, but Hennepin just didn’t want to.

        1. Wayne

          No, I can’t imagine that situation because I don’t drive.

          What I can imagine is nearly being run over every few hundred feet and made to feel like I’m intruding somewhere I don’t belong while crossing the street on foot with right of way.

          Also I hate the state aid and county road system with a passion, because it mandates pedestrian-unfriendly design standards that have no place in busy urban areas.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            OK, fair enough. Imagine that you’re riding the 21, or in a cab, or even driving a bike on Lake St. Speed humps every single block on a 30 mph through street would become a real problem. In fact, now that I think about it, bus passengers would probably feel it even more than drivers of passenger cars.

            Having had many close calls crossing streets myself, I think the #1 intervention that helps are refuge islands and/or ped flashers. We could add refuge islands at dozens of locations along Lake St if we wanted to, perhaps by going to 3 lanes east of Hiawatha, or eliminating parking at corners west of Hiawatha. But it’s all a trade-off. Businesses provide great frontage to pedestrians in part because they expect a lot of their driving customers to be able to park out front.

            1. Wayne

              I’m all for refuge islands and curb-outs at every intersection. I don’t think buses should be pulling in and out of traffic either, so using them as an excuse for not putting in curb-outs is stupid.

              They also need to spend some damn money on paint and just paint every crosswalk they possibly can.

  6. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

    Nicollet downtown is getting tabled intersections in the new reconstruction. Hopefully seeing those in use will help mainstream the concept in other parts of the city.

    1. Wayne

      I didn’t know that was part of the project! Ok, now I officially have one thing about it to like.

  7. Alex

    Haven’t you guys heard that, unlike everywhere else on the planet, it snows in Minnesota? That means we can’t have things like pedestrian no-kill zones. If we did we wouldn’t be able to scrape every snowflake off the ground within two seconds of it falling.

    1. Wayne

      And those poor drivers, won’t someone think of what it would do to their cars when they speed through intersections going twice the speed limit to make a yellow light?

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  9. Mendealy

    Another benefit is making shorter pedestrians (such as children) more visible to drivers.

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