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