Where Do You Want To Ride?


This photo shows Ramsey County Road E in Arden Hills, MN. Along with rebuilding of the bridge over Highway 51 (Snelling Avenue) in the distance ,this section was somewhat rebuilt (extreme overlay) during the summer of 2015. The building on the right is student housing for students of Bethel University and The University of Northwestern approximately 1 and 2 miles away respectively.  An interesting historical note is that this was apparently the first center turn lane in Minnesota.

There was some good discussion on last week’s post about County Road E that I thought it deserved to move from the comments to a post.

Three questions:

  1. Given the current road design show above, where would you ride? Note: the shoulder (including 2′ cement gutter pan) varies from 5’7″ to 7′.
  2. How about other people? Where should an 8-year-old ride? A 10-year-old? 18-year-old uni student living from that student housing? 85-year-old senior? Someone with a disability and using a mobility scooter or handcycle?
  3. If you could have designed this road, what would you have done differently to make it better for walking and bicycling for yourself and others?

My responses:

  1. I would ride: On my road bike wearing lycra cycling kit and going 20-25 mph, I’m usually in the motor traffic lane or sometimes on the shoulder. Riding to the right of the white line encourages close passes by cars and trucks and the seam and steep curb present dangers. Having bounced off a curb like this into traffic recently, I’ll not likely take that chance again. As well, once this is no longer new, the gutter area will have a bit of accumulated debris.  On my city bike wearing normal clothes and going 10-14 mph, I’d be on the sidewalk.
  2. My 8, 10, or 18 year old child, niece, or nephew? My 85 year old parent? Sidewalk. We can’t keep drivers from hitting  other drivers in protective steel cages, but I don’t trust drivers to not hit my loved ones who’d have no protective steel cage. There’s a reason that bicycle riders in the U.S. are about nine times as likely to be killed per mile ridden as those in The Netherlands. Using the sidewalk would be a very sub-optimal solution though and likely not encourage anyone to ride.
  3. If I could have designed this road: At a minimum, I would have included a paved Multi-Use Path on each side (shown as ‘bike lane’ below). Ideally, I would have included separate protected bikeways and sidewalks on each side. In either case I would have included appropriate markings at each crossing giving pedestrians and low-power vehicles the right-of-way in most cases. In many cases simply continuing the bikeway across a driveway using consistent material, color, and grade of the bikeway provides enough to make drivers aware.Realistically, there are three primary modal areas of transportation; pedestrian, low power, and motor. Each involves increasing speed, mass, threat and directional risk along with decreasing maneuverability and vulnerability. Low-power includes bicycles, mobility scooters, hand cycles, and e-bikes.

    MUPs work fairly well for mixed pedestrian and low-power use with very low traffic volume, but become increasingly dicey as the level of traffic increases. They also do not work well for traffic over about 12 mph. A properly designed protected bikeway works well for all low-power users from the slowest 6-year-old to the fastest racers.

More: Every Ramsey County Road For Every Person.

Below are cross sections of what I believe are the existing conditions followed by my preferred designs.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 1.49.38 PM

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 1.52.20 PM

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.25.57 PM

The Protected Bikeway design would not only serve all levels of bicycle users safety and comfortably but also make the street much more inviting and make crossing much safer with shorter crossing distances and slower motor traffic. It would help make Arden Hills a place people would want to be rather than one to travel through.

What are your thoughts?

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

27 thoughts on “Where Do You Want To Ride?

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Sounds like it’s ripe to eliminate a lane and create a big bike lane with maybe some on-street parking.

  1. Monte Castleman

    Was this a mill and overlay or a complete reconstruction? If we get into a major philosophical discussion about roadway design every time some potholes need fixing we’d never get anything done. Design changes require studies, public involvement, and such that replacing in kind does not.

    Not including a MUP on at least one side seems to be a fail, especially since that’s the configuration of nearby Lexington Ave.

    The AADT is around 15,000, which is in the 10,000-20,000 grey area between when more lanes are considered and when they are really needed. Besides the inertia and additional scope of making major design changes, maybe they expected more traffic if the nearby interchange is rebuilt.

    If I was 8 I’d ride on the sidewalk, Now that I’m 40 I’d still ride on the sidewalk.

      1. Stacy

        The difference between a redesign and a rehabilitation doesn’t have to do with the cost difference.

        The category it falls into determines the amount of background work required before the project design can begin, as Monte described well.

        1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          Stacy’s right. Generally speaking, a mill-and-overlay or as-is reconstruction/replacement requires a minimal level of environmental paperwork. Lane striping changes can certainly be implemented with this as well. But anything involving full reconstruction or moving curb lines requires a more rigorous level of environmental analysis and assessment.

          1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

            I’d think a 4 to 3 (or in this case a 5 to 3) diet could have a fast track option since I’d assume that in almost all areas it would be a significant improvement. Less surface area, much less contiguous surface, more vegetation, etc. This on top of improved safety for all users, improved aesthetics, improved retail sales, …

  2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Ramsey County has been reluctant to think outside the 2′ gutter pan. In Hennepin County, they often / always pour a 6′ gutter pan along bike lanes to make sure that the “crack” you see in the above picture doesn’t deter riding. It has the added benefit of providing a visual demarcation between the driving and bicycle lane on the street, and at little extra cost. Ramsey County needs to be far more open minded about bike infrastructure, and I can only hope that things such as the new NACTO guide, changing Mn-DOT bikeways specifications, or Saint Paul’s long-overdue street design manual might begin to change their minds on something as seemingly marginal (hah), but actually important, as this.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Exactly. Here’s another ridiculous pretend-bike-lane from Ramsey County, on Rice Street. https://goo.gl/maps/tb5StWTid4y

      I don’t think it should be legal to put a gutter pan edge inside a bicycle lane.

      On an interesting note, I’ve been working with Hennepin County on potential bicycle lanes on a narrow Mpls 4 lane street which will likely see a road diet. And they are interested in overlaying the gutter pan to remove this seam. That would make a workable bicycle lane in many places.

      1. hokan

        Overlaying a concrete gutter pan with asphalt? A treatment like that won’t hold up for long and will soon become nasty to ride a bike on.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          It’s actually common-ish on older asphalt roadways that have seen a lot of overlays, but you certainly do get cracking as you would expect it. It also creates drainage issues for curb ramps (since the bottom of the ramp is lower than the new level of asphalt) and decreases curb height, and some level of protection for pedestrians.

          If they wanted to do it right, I would think the best thing would be to saw cut the existing gutter seam and pour concrete at the same grade (with just a narrow seam filled with caulk) — basically the same as the integrated bike lane/gutters you see on a lot of newer streets.

  3. ClaireB

    Yay protected bikeway!

    Do you have a citation for this stat “There’s a reason that bicycle riders in the U.S. are about nine times as likely to be killed per mile ridden as those in The Netherlands.”? Would love to include it in some of my documents. Thanks.

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Seems bizarre that they didn’t at least do the integrated bike lane/gutter (even if they just left it as an unmarked shoulder). More potential for the same space, and minimal additional cost.

    I agree with Matt that parking + bike lane is a good retrofit for this sort of thing. But if there’s simply no way anyone could use the parking and traffic doesn’t require 4/5 lanes, why not create a big wide protected bike lane? 🙂

    As to your prompts — I think an 18-year-old is well capable of riding safely in the travel lane of a 35 mph street. But yeah, it’s hard to imagine encouraging an 8-year-old or 85-year-old to ride there, or in that super narrow shoulder. I don’t see why a person in a motorized wheelchair wouldn’t be able to use the sidewalk, however. It looks brand new, and I presume has smooth, modern curb ramps.

    1. Rosa

      Curb ramps only help if they stay shoveled all winter. Otherwise, snow plows come through and it’s a surprise barrier at the end of half the blocks.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        To add to this. Our curb cut designs are quite awful for people with disabilities. And people on bicycles. Winter, summer, spring, and fall. They are quite bumpy and require all users to either very significantly slow down or endure a jolting and sometimes very painful bump.

        Bikeways designed to Dutch CROW standards are completely smooth through junctions which allows all users, including people with disabilities, to continue on at speed and without the jolting and painful bumps.

        These bikeways are also very efficient to keep cleared of snow so it is easier to keep them clear throughout snow storms and after plows go by (timing is tightly coordinated). Some road plows also include side bales that are lowered prior to bikeway crossings and raised afterwards to prevent snow buildup at the crossing.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Mobility scooters and hand cycles (or hand cycle attachments to wheelchairs) are capable of quite high speeds of 13-15 mph. For the same reasons that the sidewalk is not a very good choice (though often better than playing dodgecar) for bicycle riders it is not for many people with disabilities; narrowness and two-way traffic make maneuvering among a lot of people difficult and dangerous, higher speeds above maybe 5 to 7 mph can be dangerous for all users, crossings are poorly designed, etc.

      This is why the vast majority of people with disabilities in The Netherlands (and elsewhere) use the bikeways rather than sidewalks. With regards to mass and speed they get along well with bicycle riders. The bikeways provide a much safer environment for them and everyone else as well as providing for very efficient transportation.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        As on 70th St in Edina, Lowry Ave N in North Minneapolis, or 76th St in Richfield — basically just widen the gutter to 5′ (or, preferably, 6′), saw-cut rather than tool, and then preferably continue it through the intersections.

        It’s not as vibrant as painted bike crossings, or as secure a sense of separation as a curbed bike lane, but definitely feels more separated than just asphalt. Plus it’s very low-cost for a jurisdiction to do when redoing curbs anyway.

        Here’s the example from Edina

  5. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    Here’s a photo I took today looking back towards where the photo at top was taken. Note the level of debris on the shoulder / bike lane and that there is a grind edge in the middle.

    The big pile of debris is likely from construction.

    Driving back and forth a few times around 10a and again about 2p the average speed seemed a surprisingly high 45 mph. At one point I was following three cars all going about 44 and we were passed by a truck and a school bus.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Unfortunately, the defense to a lot of these inadequacies would probably be, “it’s not a bike lane”.

      Should we expect cities/counties to maintain all shoulders for bike use, even when undesignated for it? Or should we just expect more designated bike shoulders/lanes.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Tough question. Following on above, extending the cement surface out to make this a more ridable shoulder might be good. It would still be a shoulder though. Even if it were made a bike lane it would still have a number of problems like debris, cars veering in to it (the cause of 44% of cyclists fatalities in the U.S.), snow build up during winter, rain/snow wake from passing cars, etc. How much of the population would it be appropriate and comfortable for? 5%?

        As above, Do We Really Want Bike Lanes?

        To what extent would it encourage anger from drivers who’ll think that every cyclist should be in the ‘bike lane’ regardless of debris, snow buildup, etc.? Sometimes taking the lane is indeed a better option for some people than a poorly implemented bikeway.

        And, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, as soon as you cross to the right of the white line many drivers will ignore any 3′ laws as you are now in ‘your lane’ and thus they have full rights to ‘their lane’ regardless of how close and dangerous a pass results.

      2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Dutch engineers have now largely abandoned painted bike lanes. This for the reasons I’ve outlined previously and because the majority of the Dutch population will not use them as they are and feel more dangerous.

        Dutch engineering now usually jumps from bicycle streets (18 mph actual, low volume, either local access only or bicycles outnumbering motor vehicles 2:1) to protected bikeways. There are exceptions but these are becoming less and less.

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