Quick Hits: Why We Want Kmart, Dutch Demo Project, and More

I’ve got a very long list of posts that I’d like to write but I don’t have time to write them and I’m sure most readers don’t want to take that much time to read them. So, here are a few in brief.

Would Removing Kmart Harm Nicollet Avenue?

Nicollet Avenue is a fairly nice avenue, at least by U.S. standards. Traffic volume isn’t too high, most traffic moves somewhat slowly and drivers are generally considerate of people walking and riding bicycles.

Do we have Kmart to thank for this?

Lake Street Kmart

The orange hatched area is Kmart and its oversized and unneeded parking lot. If this were removed and the yellow dotted section connected would Nicollet Avenue become Nicollet Stroad? Photo: Geo-Location.

If K-Mart were removed and Nicollet once again connected to Lake Street (and to Nicollet going farther south) would this change things? Would traffic increase? Would there be more through traffic? More people who should be on 35W but think the newly re-opened Nicollet makes a good rat-run shortcut? More drivers trying to go somewhere other than cafés and other places on Nicollet? More drivers who are not so patient with people walking or riding bicycles?

St. Paul Done Right Demo Project

I very often find myself in conversations with a traffic engineers, planners, politicians, and other good folks telling me that some bit of infrastructure or land use won’t work. But I know that it will because it already is and I’ve seen it — usually in The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, France, or the UK.

We need a Done Right demo project.

Here’s what we’ll do. Upgrade both Grand Avenue and Cleveland Avenue in St Paul to full CROW standards with protected cycletracks along each and proper protected junctions. OK, maybe just painted bike lanes along contentious Cleveland, full upgrade along Grand. I’ve touched on this in Reclaiming Grand Avenue.


Upgrade the surrounding neighborhoods to CROW standards for bicycle streets. Mostly this will involve lowering speed limits to 20 mph and possibly reconfiguring some so that they can’t be used as rat-run through routes. See completing the local mile for a bit more.

This is a great area for this because these are neighborhoods filled with people who are already predisposed to walking and bicycling more — if they have safe places to do so. I long ago lost count of the number of people in this neighborhood who’ve told me that they moved here because it is more walkable and they’d like to ride bicycles to more places. They’re not comfortable on the streets though so they drive instead.

Grand and Cleveland provide a great backbone that will connect the retail along Grand, Cleveland, and in Highland Park, the over 20,000 university students from St. Thomas, Macalaster, and St. Kate’s, and all of these neighborhoods.

This will make the bulk of the area south of I-94 and east and north of the Mississippi River (Union Park, Mac-Groveland, Highland, Summit-University, and Summit Hill) quite walkable and bikeable for most people.

Bikes For Our Elders

There are two retirement communities in Shoreview that are less than a half mile from a bunch of shops, eateries, and a grocery. People in both of these drive to these places. I know they drive because I’ve sat next to them in cafés and talked to them.


There are already fairly good protected bikeways connecting everything but there are two things standing in the way of their riding bikes for transportation more often: mindshare to consider doing it, and bikes to do it on.

What if there was a Nice Ride station at each of these retirement communities? With a 3 hour checkout time? Might people in these communities use them and ride to their morning coffee klatch instead of drive?

Older folks in The Netherlands ride at about the same rate as everyone else with about 25% of their trips by bicycle. And they’re much healthier and happier for it. My wife and I have often said that riding to the grocery, brunch, or dinner most days is our retirement health plan.

Bikeways From A Driver’s Perspective

We write a lot about bikeways from a bicycle rider’s perspective. But good bikeways are also quite beneficial from a driver’s perspective. This becomes very evident when you go back and forth driving in both the U.S. and Netherlands.

Dealing with bicycle riders in the U.S. can be a stressful pain for drivers. I understand why so many drivers get so frustrated and angry with cyclists and why cyclists are rather unpopular. Driving along a 45 mph road and then having to slow to 13 mph for a cyclist is frustrating and passing can seem or be quite dangerous on many roads. There are a ton of undefined interactions with cyclists in the U.S. and as a driver you’re often not sure what people riding bicycles are going to do. We’re already irritable from dealing with car congestion, being late to where we’re going, and then have this bicycle thing on top of that.

The Netherlands is quite different. Confusing, negative or frustrating interactions with bicycle riders are just about non-existent. Mostly they are on their system and drivers are on ours (or we’re on a street with an 18 mph speed and design limit so we’re more equal). When there are interactions they are well defined. There is no ambiguity. There are few if any unexpected incidents as the design encourages people to follow the most critical rules instead of encouraging rule-breaking as our traffic engineering does.

Driving in The Netherlands is much simpler. Drivers don’t encounter situations where there are a variety of potential conflicts from numerous directions. If I have green I go, if red I don’t. If I have green then it’s safe from all directions. If I get a green turn arrow then I’ll not have to deal with people crossing the road in front of me (and they won’t have to worry about me hitting them).

The high level of ambiguity in U.S. designs allows for a lot of plausible deniability, openly and in our heads. With this comes a lot of stress for drivers. We justify our actions by convincing ourselves and others that we did have right-of-way. It was the other persons fault. After all, there was a gob of ambiguity to help with this justification.

Being so well defined it is more difficult for people to get away with stuff in The Netherlands — openly or self-justified. People know what is right and they know that anyone watching knows as well. There’s little pressure to do things illegally.

Since riding a bicycle has been made so appealing thanks to their protected bikeways, there’s also considerably less car traffic to deal with.

The end result is that driving in The Netherlands is much less stressful than driving in the U.S. While we have a system designed for high conflict they have one designed for low conflict.

Maybe one day Mark Wagenbuur can do some videos from a drivers perspective to show how well it works.

And that image on the front page? It’s real. Here’s an overhead of it near Gouda, NL.


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

38 thoughts on “Quick Hits: Why We Want Kmart, Dutch Demo Project, and More

  1. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino

    I don’t feel that strongly about it either way, but I did make that point about the K-Mart’s traffic calming effect on Nicollet Avenue at a design charette last week and the room did not seem very receptive to the idea of not reopening the street to cars. People talk about “that K-Mart” and my general sense of things is that people aren’t frustrated that the road is closed, they’re frustrated that there’s a K-Mart with a 50 acre empty surface parking lot. If it was a park or a museum or a zoo or something I don’t think people would talk about it quite so negatively.

    Probably wouldn’t be the end of the world to just open it to bikes and buses.

    1. Alex

      It always seemed to me that the anger over the Kmart was more about having to turn right and then left and then right again rather than the big box store in the middle of the city. People would complain about the ugly Kmart and then immediately follow it up with “it takes forever to get through there!” I always got the sense that if it were an Apple store or even a Costco they’d be ok with it.

      1. Rosa

        as a pedestrian and a cyclist, the big blank building is not great to be around at night (and it’s dark at 5 pm right now!). It’s like the Midtown Exchange was, when it was closed up and not yet renovated – a big, dark, blank space. I’ve never had issues there like I did several times around the old Chi Lake, but especially on the North side where there’s no foot traffic, it sucks. The south side sidewalk/parking lot is not so because there’s always a lot of foot traffic, until you hit the 35 underpass.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Are you talking about along 29th? Blaisedell? 1st?

          Given how busy this Kmart stays I’d guess that either it needs to remain or something else needs to take it’s place like multiple smaller stores. What can be done to improve its surroundings if it remains? More store fronts along 29th, 1st, etc?

          1. Rosa

            the Lake Street sidewalk is always full of people, but the other three sides of the lot are terrible after dark. So that’s, what, 28th or 29th (the block with the bike lane), the little stub of Nicollet that ends with the Greenway ramps, and short stretches of both Blaisdell & 1st.

            It depends what they do with the lot, right? Are there concrete plans? Anything with less of a sea of concrete would be nice, it doesn’t have to be mixed-use multistory. The strip mall across Lake Street on the south is surprisingly hopping and the apartment building there is weirdly short on foot traffic, now. There are already a lot of little stores on Lake, but between the Kmart and the highway they are more fast food and bars – I assume if the Kmart closes, there will be more of the clothing/shoe/cell phone things opening up, though maybe people will just take the bus to Target or hit up the existing stores?

            Unlike Kaplan Brothers – whose closure has driven me to Menards & Fleet Farm, which are all out in the ‘burbs – Kmart doesn’t really carry anything that isn’t already sold right along that bus line.

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

              I miss Kaplan Bros!

              That Kmart seems to always be quite busy so I assumed that either it or something similar is needed.

              I’d think that those surrounding streets could be improved from a social safety standpoint without being detrimental to Kmart. Maybe start with eliminating the vegetation along the greenway and replace it with something that stays low and small to open the area up. Open up Nicollet to the back of Kmart and allow bicycle riders to go through there? Reduce Kmart’s loading/trash to just one corner?

              Get some eateries in the area since they do a good job of generating non-motor traffic. I’d think a couple could even be located in the NE corner of the Kmart building facing the greenway and with patio seating on the greenway and on the 1st Ave side.

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                What would really be good though is to redevelop this parcel with maybe some 3 or 4 story multi-use buildings. Kmart could still have a space on the main level along with some other retail. Residential above would help with traffic.

                If underground parking were included for residents I wonder if it could be done in a way that they’d go outside or somewhat outside between parking and upper floors. Just enough to add some ‘eyes on the street’.

  2. Eric SaathoffEric S

    The discussion regarding Kmart seems to come back to something you’ve written about numerous times, which is to avoid an open street grid in favor of a clear hierarchical street system with collectors and arterials. My experience with collectors and arterials in the Twin Cities is that they are often the main problem. Opening up the street grid could relieve these streets from the burden of being the only option. I think again about Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. It is often the only choice for going east-west. It is not wide enough to accommodate two lanes each direction and much of else – no room for medians, for instance. If we were to open up more east-west options, it might give us the option of doing a 4-3 conversion on this road and make nearby neighborhoods more “livable.”

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      I don’t differentiate between collectors and arterials so much as between streets that don’t need protected bikeways and those that do.

      The Dutch have, through 40 years of research and experimentation, determined that a protected bikeway is required on any street with actual speeds greater than about 18 mph, volume greater than about 500 cars per day, or a significant amount of through traffic (as these drivers behave very differently from those at the beginning or end of their journey). There are exceptions such as allowing much greater motor vehicle volume if bicycle volume is greater by some factor such as 2x as many bicycles as motor vehicles.

      Once a street, road, or stroad crosses the threshold above then it needs a protected bikeway. Otherwise most people will not feel comfortable riding a bicycle on it. This is a big leap in terms of space required, construction cost, and maintenance costs. These differences for a 45 mph road with high traffic volume aren’t that much different than for a 30 mph road with light traffic volume.

      So, there is a huge incentive to limit the number of streets where protected infrastructure is required and this is where open grids fail. An open grid tends to push every street above the threshold and thus every street either requires protected infra or is unsafe and uncomfortable for most people to ride on.

      What we want to do is make most streets fall below the threshold so that they are safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities to ride on without the expense and space requirements of protected infrastructure. This reduces the miles of street that then require protected bikeways.

      I think there is a similar threshold of sorts of a street feeling comfortable and welcoming for people walking, shopping, and eating. Once above the threshold however it can sometimes be made appealing with the addition of a protected bikeway that helps to buffer the negatives of motor traffic. Sam Newberg wrote a great article that touched on this: https://streets.mn/2015/11/19/great-streets-and-human-enjoyment/

  3. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    Re: St. Paul Done Right Demo Project

    I have been mulling over an article (or articles) about the challenges of some parts of my new commuting options since moving to a different neighborhood, but I haven’t had time. We could partner on a series of Dana’s Problem/Walker’s Solution posts. Picturing my description of the issue with a sad faced Dana and your fancy happy faced drawings like the Grand Avenue one above.

  4. Emily MetcalfeEmily Metcalfe

    I love your ideas for Grand Ave and surrounding neighborhoods. The labd use is ideal for walking and biking to get around, but interactions with car traffic are not. I am hoping that when Summit is reconstructed we can push for protected bike lanes. There is plenty of space and it would be a model for the surrounding neighborhoods.

    1. Wayne

      Considering St Paul can’t even bring themselves to charge for street parking on grand, eliminating it for a protected bikeway is something that will probably take most of the current residents dying of old age to happen. So maybe another ten years?

      1. Matty LangMatty Lang

        On Summit (where Emily was talking about) there’s extra-wide everything so accommodating a protected bike lane couldn’t be easier. Sure, there will be “Old Saint Paul” opposition, but that’s a given no matter the proposal.

        1. Wayne

          I was talking about the picture in the article itself that was of grand with protected bike lanes and no parking. On summit that’s easy, but that wasn’t what the article was proposing.

  5. Justin

    Love the boat tunnel, at first I thought it was a futuristic transit station or something. Maybe I’ve just been living near the 46th street station too long.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      The first time I drove under it I didn’t realize that it was going under a waterway and suddenly a sailboat went across. Very freaky sensation because usually something like this would be a tunnel that begins and ends some distance from the waterway.

  6. Eric SaathoffEric S

    Great job outlining an argument for defined interactions. The ambiguity in our situation is totally unsafe. Also, between too much definition and shared spaces (more undefined), you’ve pointed out the one important factor: speed. Less definition works if speed is dramatically lowered for everyone.

    If we can be sure to get these definitions worked out for our major streets (arterials/collectors), I may be more inclined toward a less open street grid.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Thanks! That’s the thing I like about the CROW approach is that it provides a great foundation for low conflict interactions. Engineers still need to design properly but at least CROW gives them the right pieces.

      The new MassDOT guide is the best I’ve seen in the U.S. so far and does a fairly decent job. https://streets.mn/2015/11/19/massdots-new-bikeway-guide-the-beginning-of-good-things/

      You should try to visit NL sometime and bike around. They effectively have an open grid for people walking and riding bicycles but not so much for cars which is very intentional to reduce where protected infra is needed.

  7. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I’m in complete agreement regarding Nicollet. We do need to restore the corridor for walking/bike/transit/viewshed, but I think it may be a mistake to reopen it to motor vehicles. Eat Street’s success is based largely on a calm street that is easy to hop across, a success borne partly out of our mistake at Nic/Lake. Let’s not sacrifice one success for another.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        I spend a decent amount of time at Franklin/Nicollet waiting for the bus after dropping the kid off at daycare, sometimes picking him up by car. On paper, Nicollet is a 4-3 with tons of active uses fronting the sidewalk on either side of Franklin. Tons of mid-block crossing. On the whole narrow lanes and lots of things/people in the field of view to make drivers slow down. Yes, there are some parking lot entrances (that might go away if redevelopment happens) but the turning movements there aren’t really the problem.

        Even still, cars routinely speed around slowed/turning cars, buzz cyclists, or use the oncoming traffic lane to turn left from NB Nicollet to WB Franklin. Franklin itself, a 4-lane street in this section, is a speedway with much of the same behavior, sometimes worse. As a result, this intersection is one of the most dangerous in the city for pedestrians (http://www.startribune.com/the-most-dangerous-places-to-walk/252064561/).

        Assuming Nicollet at Lake functioned like Nicollet at Franklin (with Lake having even more traffic than Franklin) would likely end up being very similar. Note that Lake & Blaisdell is #2 on that list.

        If opening Nicollet back up again allows us to calm Blaisdell down somehow by adding another route to/from downtown, great. If we assume streetcar tracks will help drivers take it slow, great. Count me as skeptical that the county will allow for any serious calming measures along Lake, so Nicollet will really need to shoulder the burden.

        1. Wayne

          You pretty much summed up my feelings on the matter. Franklin/Nicollet is a diaster and Lake will be even worse if/when it’s reopened. The only hope is if they integrate a lot of traffic calming with the street car design, and I have very little faith that will happen.

          Anecdotally, I’ve had someone making a right off a side street nearly kill me on the bike along this stretch of Nicollet, and when I dared to make a gesture at him, he pulled over and wanted to start a fight with me. So I don’t consider this stretch calmed by any stretch of the imagination.

        2. Justin

          Wow, most common pedestrian maneuver before being hit? “Crossing with signal.” There’s your case for traffic calming and increased enforcement, and even a no turn on red law.

          1. Rosa

            when the pedestrian has the signal, the cars have a green, usually.

            Though I’d love to ban turns on red and enforce “stop before the crosswalk” laws. Hell, if I could get our neighbors to stop before the sidewalk as they come out of the alley during schoolbus hours on these dark mornings, I’d love that too.

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

              A raised or tabled crossing can do a good job of sending a message to drivers to take it slow. Drivers doing this can be a problem in The Netherlands as well and they’ll usually create a tabled crossing to fix the problem.

              And, thought you might enjoy this:

            2. Wayne

              I give stink eye to every driver I see that doesn’t stop behind the crosswalk and limit line. So basically all of them. It just looks like I have RBF anytime I walk somewhere.

  8. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    As long as we “restore” it with slow-speed designs, it’s fine. But I do concur that one reason why neighborhood and ethnic businesses have been able to thrive is because the street was perceived for so long as “cut off” and therefore economically unviable. I think re-connection could happen without ruining the pleasant feel of the street today.

    1. Wayne

      As it exists today nicollet north of Kmart will totally become a high speed death trap if it’s not calmed. The lanes and ROW are way too wide and people do already drive pretty recklessly on it. I know they want to add the street car to it, but they’d better have those designs ready by the time they reopen the street (and I hope the street car tracks and stations and other changes are done in a way that calms things). What are the chances they could get started on things like curb extensions for that ahead of actual final construction of it?

      Then again, I’m probably getting ahead of myself because it will easily be another decade before a street car or nicollet reopening might happen.

    2. Justin

      I’d rather have it open, even with current conditions north of Kmart. I don’t see it as being any worse than Hennepin or Lyndale it if gets reconnected and I don’t think it’s a very safe street now (lived near Eat Street for several years). Maybe less through traffic, but not slower or more courteous.

      Of course, I DO want traffic calming, but I don’t think it has to happen in order to reopen the street. I think it being closed at that stretch only shifts the danger to the intersections at Blaisdell and 1st. And I wonder if major streets being cut off from the grid right in the middle only makes people drive more dangerously on adjacent routes due to frustration and a sense of urgency.

  9. Peter Bajurny

    I was also at that joke of a design charrette. There seemed to be a view that reopening Nicollet was good because local businesses had a hard time explaining to people where they were (because Google Maps doesn’t exist?), but also that reopening Nicollet would not increase traffic because nobody new would be driving it.

    So I don’t know who these new patrons are displacing. And because the goal is to increase accessibility, I didn’t feel like there was a lot of support in the room for Nicollet being a very slow street for that stretch.

    To be fair, the charrette was about station area design for a Midtown Streetcar, not really about Nicollet Ave itself. But I certainly had some thoughts coming out of it.

      1. Peter Bajurny

        Joke may be a bit of a strong word, but, I don’t know. 35 self selected people, many of whom, based on project timelines, may literally not be alive by the time this is built, literally designing by committee a transit station that seeks to push active uses as far away from the transit station as possible in favor of a public amphitheater that will maybe get used a couple of times a week?

          1. Wayne

            I’m partial to decorative flags on lightposts letting everyone know what you renamed the area when you made your last failed attempt at revitalization and wasted a bunch of money on it. At least some consultants got paid.

          2. Wayne

            Also, a public amphitheater next to a super busy highway and a brand-new off-ramp? I CAN’T HEAR YOU. TUBA OR NOT TUBAS? WHAT WAS THE QUESTION? WEATHER SNOW BLOWER STINGS AND NARROWS? Oh, forget it.

  10. more bike lanes

    My preference is 2 way bikeway (similar to w 36th street), then car door opening space, then line of parked cars, then 2 way car traffic. I think it can all fit because the street is big.

    2 small car lanes would calm because people would need to stop to park on eat street as well as buses stopping. Double yellow line entire street to calm it further. Bike lanes would help people get to Eat Street and MIAD. Additionally, it would be a great bike connection from Greenway to Nicollet Mall.

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