St Paul’s Priorities: Short Sighted and All Out Of Sorts

A sad juxtaposition. An article discussing pedestrian safety below an article about a street rebuilding project that could greatly increase pedestrian safety but instead makes life more dangerous.

A sad juxtaposition in the Villager. An article discussing the need for pedestrian safety below an article about a street rebuilding project on Snelling that will do just the opposite.

St Paul and Highland District Council are proposing to add left turn lanes and a 10’ median to Snelling Avenue between Randolph and Ford Pkwy. The stated purpose is to slow traffic, reduce left turns, and improve safety for pedestrians.

Unfortunately, this project will make this neighborhood less pleasant, with increased and faster traffic, and will make life more dangerous for people walking or with disabilities.  And while it is proposed to use 8-80 Vitality funds, it will do nothing to improve the human-scale vitality of this neighborhood, only make it feel more like a multi-lane freeway through the middle of a neighborhood and dividing it even more than it does today.

. St Paul and Highland District Council’s plan to convert this section of Snelling from 4 lanes to 5 lanes. Of course they show cross sections of the planted median but not of the left turn lanes.

St Paul and Highland District Council’s plan to convert this section of Snelling from 4 lanes to 5 lanes. Of course they show a cross section of the planted median and not of the added left turn lanes.


This is the plan proposed by St Paul and Highland District Council. While their cross sections show it mid block where the median will be this shows the plan at junctions where it will have 5 moving lanes and one parking lane / right turn lane. Crossing this on foot or bike is dangerous.

This is the plan proposed by the City of St Paul and Highland District Council for most intersections along Snelling between Randolph and Ford Pkwy. While their cross-sections show a mid block location for the median, this shows the plan at junctions, where it will have 5 moving lanes and one parking / right turn lane. Crossing this on foot or bike will be dangerous.

While this will indeed reduce left turns, it is questionable whether it will reduce speeds. There is little to improve pedestrian safety and this is more than offset by elements that will make it more dangerous for pedestrians. It will not improve safety for bicycle riders nor encourage more people to ride. It will encourage more cars and trucks to use this as a rat run shortcut to elsewhere, though, and this neighborhood does not need more traffic.


HDC Proposed Plan. Click for greater detail.

They Are Missing Two Critical Elements

Refuge Islands? A primary safety benefit of medians is providing a refuge for people walking and riding bicycles so that they need only cross part-way, in stages. Yet this design does not do that on major intersections and instead wants people to cross five to six lanes of traffic. Why eliminate the key benefit of medians?

Was approval based on misleading information? The minutes of the Highland District Council contain a statement that “a study found 46% fewer vehicle-pedestrian crashes on busy 4-lane roads with medians vs. similar roads without medians.” That 46% reduction is due to pedestrian refuges though. This plan does just the opposite and  significantly increases pedestrian and bicycle danger at most intersections.

Where do bicycle riders go? There is no provision for people on bicycles (or mobility scooters) in this plan.

But Wait, There’s More

More Traffic Lanes and More Danger. This plan increases traffic lanes from four to five. Why does this section of Snelling need more lanes? This is not a heavy congestion area.

This part of Snelling with only 16,000 vehicles per day falls well within the FHWA recommendation for a four-to-three-lane road diet, which indicates that there is no impact below 20,000 vehicles per day and minimal impact up to 25,000. Yet this plan proposes the opposite—a four-to-five lane increase. Besides being unnecessary, this will make crossing more dangerous, not less. It increases the potential for one of the leading causes of pedestrian deaths—bypass killing where one or two cars stop for a pedestrian but another blows by them in an adjacent lane.

More Neighborhood Traffic. By eliminating left turns, some drivers will have to drive farther through adjacent residential neighborhoods. Will the increased neighborhood traffic overall and particularly on the streets that do have left turns be offset by any benefits of fewer left turns?

More Speeding. While a median such as this may normally reduce motor vehicle speeds by about 2 MPH, Andy Singer correctly pointed out to me that the elimination of left turns and increased lanes will likely cause an increase in speeds not a reduction.

1970s Thinking and Priorities?

U.S. traffic engineers have historically focused almost entirely on one thing: Level of Service (or LOS) for drivers. Not safety. Not level of service for people walking. Not reducing noise or unpleasantness for people in nearby residences or shops. As Janette Sadik-Khan recently tweeted; “Transportation is the only profession where 33,000 Americans can die in one year and no one loses their job.”


This project is like giving someone a rattlesnake as a gift but wrapped in a nice flowery box. It’s giving the neighborhood more lanes of traffic, more noise, more pollution, more danger, but my, doesn’t that new median look nice?

Sorting Our Priorities

Every street should safely, comfortably, and efficiently accommodate all users in getting where they want to go.

The only purpose of roads and streets is safe and efficient conveyance of people from one place to another. That’s it. Nothing more. All users means people walking, riding bicycles, with disabilities, and driving cars or small trucks. It includes people of all ages and abilities from 8-year-olds riding a bicycle to school or to meet friends and 80-year-olds walking to get their morning coffee.

If we can also make streets and roads aesthetically pleasing, that’s a bonus and we should because aesthetics are important.

If we have room to provide convenient storage for people’s cars then we should do that as well. Getting people from A to B requires these unique ribbons of land that we call roads. Parking, however, does not need to be in the roadway ribbon. It can very easily be in a side lot. If there is not room in the roadway for parking and St Paul believes they should provide storage for people’s cars, then they can easily purchase land for parking lots. The roadway ribbon is unique and needs to provide for those services that require its uniqueness before providing those services that do not.

Our priorities, then, should be:

  1. Safety for people walking or who have disabilities
  2. Safety for people bicycling and using mobility scooters
  3. Safety for people driving
  4. Efficiency for people walking, riding bicycles, and who have disabilities
  5. Efficiency for transit
  6. Efficiency for individual cars
  7. Public Car Storage
  8. Aesthetics

The plan proposed by Highland District Council wants the exact opposite. It first wants to improve aesthetics (#8) with a planted median, then improve efficiency for drivers (#6) with an added lane, though given the low traffic volumes this will likely make no measurable or noticeable difference. It does nothing for improving the efficiency of people walking or riding bicycles. It may very minimally improve safety for drivers (#3) and nets nothing to improve safety for people walking or riding bicycles (#2, #1) as what little improvement there is in one place is offset by greater danger elsewhere.

Let’s start with safety, then efficiency, then aesthetics, and see what happens.

1) For people walking we already have fairly good sidewalks but need to improve the junctions. Some things to look at include shortening crossing distances, tightening turning radius for motor vehicles to slow them down, and reducing speeds.

2) For people riding bicycles or mobility scooters we have nothing. We need to add protected bikeways for these users along each side of the roadway and through each junction.

3) Driver Safety.

4, 5, 6) Efficiency.

7) Public Car Storage. Though a lower priority, we should maintain as much needed storage as possible. This space also doubles as bus loading/unloading, so it remains useful or even critical regardless of parking needs.

8) Aesthetics. This is the lowest priority but it is still quite important and in some cases more important than car storage or efficiency. It is never more important than safety.

Working from the outside in according to our priorities above, we have good sidewalks as well as boulevard trees that we don’t want to lose. Next we need protected bikeways for people riding bicycles or mobility scooters. We’ll start with a minimum 7′ and then see where we end up.


This leaves us 50’ for cars or about five 10’ car lanes. We can fit in the five lanes of the proposal but that many lanes is unnecessary, eliminates all car storage, is dangerous for people walking or riding bicycles to cross, and provides no protection for bicycle riders from cars or road debris. If we follow best practice, we’d need to either reduce speeds to 25 MPH or include a curb between the travel lanes and bikeway, which would reduce the travel lanes to about 9’ 6” when also accounting for driver reaction distance required in Minnesota.

We can include the existing four car lanes plus parking on one side, but that is still very sub-optimal.

A 4-to-3 lane conversion, however, will allow for safe and efficient vehicle throughput without sacrificing parking and will still include the same planted medians as the HDC proposal.



These conversions are becoming quite popular as they often function better for drivers than a 4-lane road as currently exists here. This configuration will preserve more car storage than the proposed plan and will be much safer for people walking or riding bicycles as crossing distances will be much less—30’ instead of HDC’s proposed 64’. This will also allow the medians and left-turn prevention of the proposed plan if that is still desired.

This will allow for protective bump-outs at each junction that will improve safety for people walking and riding bicycles and improve aesthetics more than the planted medians. The overall feel of the street will be much more inviting as the nearest car is 27’ from any building and the nearest moving car 35’.

Motor traffic will flow more smoothly and efficiently as this will reduce conflicts with left turning cars and with bus stops and BRT, which will be in the parking lane on each side. And this is where we arrive at our one drawback. The proposed plan with two travel lanes would be better for buses and reduce travel times by a few seconds in each direction. This would be minimal efficiency benefit at the cost of safety for all people walking, bicycling, and using transit.

This will offer much improved aesthetics over the proposed plan as the bikeway provides a safety and aesthetic buffer between the walkway and moving cars. This can also have planted bumpouts at the end of each parking/bus lane providing, even more comfort and aesthetic enhancement.


As we’ve seen fairly consistently elsewhere that this will improve the vitality of the business environment along this stretch.

More: Momentum Magazine: Business Impacts of Bicycle And Pedestrian Infrastructure.

Much of the traffic here is through traffic. It’s not people stopping in at these stores or doing business here or living here, but people just driving through—using this neighborhood as a shortcut to get somewhere else. Is that something that we want to encourage?

The plan above will accomplish what the 8-80 vitality fund is supposed to be for. It will make for a safer and more inviting neighborhood. It will make Snelling into glue that joins the neighborhood together rather than a highway that divides it.

This is sadly a well trod path. Many others fought this fight long before now. Increasing numbers of people are looking for places to live where they can walk or ride bicycles to local stores, restaurants and schools. Will St Paul be left behind?

Related Links

Why I Will Never Attend Another MnDOT Meeting


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, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

47 thoughts on “St Paul’s Priorities: Short Sighted and All Out Of Sorts

  1. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    Seems obvious that Snelling south of Grand should be three lanes rather than five. But I do like the medians.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Who’s fighting MNDOT on stuff like this? Is anyone working to get their priorities changed so that they give consideration to safety and to providing protected bikeways?

  2. Monte Castleman

    A couple of comments.

    Disagree strongly that Engineers do not care about safety. In Benefit / Cost analysis safety is assigned a very high value, such that one fatal crash that could be prevented by engineering is often enough to justify extremely expensive improvements. Eliminating left turns like this project would do is one of the safest things you can do to a road:

    Agreed that a three lane segment would be appropriate. If I were designing it though I’d have 11 foot lanes with a planter rather than trees to buffer the bicycle lanes.

    Disagree that most of the traffic is “through” traffic. Without an origin/destination study of course your opinion is as good as mine, but I see little reason for through traffic to use Snelling Ave. When I’m going through the area Ayd Mill. I think most of the traffic is going to, from, or within the adjacent neighborhoods.

    1. JN

      I agree that engineers care about safety.. But I think that the prevailing dogma sometimes leads to a misunderstanding on how safety works for non cars entities..

      And safety through engineering usually removes a lot of the convenience, practicality & utility of walking even if its technically safer..

      Cars have too many rights, pedestrians have too few.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Quick thought on safety. I 100% believe that engineers care about safety, both personally and professionally. This isn’t an argument about designers or politicians being bad people.

      While the dollar value per life you reference is true, and high, it pales in comparison to the system we’ve set up that prioritizes time savings. Take a look at any project’s cost/benefit analysis. This is true for a freeway widening, intersection reconstruction, or pretty much anything else. Safety value, often calculated as deaths and injuries saved (using MnDOT or USDOT values) over a 30-40 year period relative to the current design (or design alternative) are definitely real and included in the benefit side. But time and vehicle operating savings are often 15-20x the calculated safety benefit. When you have 10-20,000 vehicles passing through an intersection every day, even a few seconds add up to many millions of dollars “lost” over 30 years.

      This is why safer designs come at the cost of convenience for those in cars. Any individual project might only estimate 0.5 fatal accidents over 30 years and 5-10 injury crashes a year. And a safer, slower design might only cut that in half (maybe!). So if you cost millions in time cost, the safety benefits are “erased.” Problem is, added up over hundreds, thousands of intersections and road segments across the metro/state/county, we have a public safety issue on our hands. This of course says almost nothing about people outside of cars or the transportation infrastructure’s relation to land uses. It’s why there are first-world countries where travel-related death rates (per capita) are 1/3 to 1/2 those of the US, including people inside cars!

      Long-story short. Engineers definitely care about safety, but the systems they’ve operated under to achieve that goal have misguided assumptions and rules.

      1. Monte Castleman

        So are you proposing that the values used for benefit/cost analysis are inappropriate and should be changed, or that we use some other method entirely?

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Yes, and yes. I’m writing a post on the first. The second is arguably the whole point of a pro-urban agenda, that our system focuses on a few specific and blunt metrics without considering a bigger picture.

          Flip it around. Do you think our methods here in the US are working?

          1. Monte Castleman

            Frankly I do. Maybe there’s some exact values that need to be tweaked (the cost of a fatal crash has increased noticeably in the past couple of years already) but I think the system works pretty well.

      2. Nick M

        1. What is the dollar value assigned to a road death?

        2. How accurate are the fatality/injury counts, actual vs expected?

        3. Is there a “significance” factor given to time savings? e.g. at what point does a person actually notice an increase in decrease in travel time? Is there an inflator used in LoS calculations for instances when driver utility materially increases (i.e. over the noticeable threshold) and/or a deflator for instances where driver utility is unchanged by a time saving measure (i.e. under the noticeable threshold)?

        4. Instead of using dollar figures to figure road time savings and lives lost, is the cost/benefit ever looked at on a raw time basis? I’ve tried to illustrate my thinking with the below example.

        -1 Road Death
        -Deceased Age=US Average=36.8 years
        -Deceased Original Life Expectancy=US Average=78.74 (the ages you would pick for these would definitely be different if you took the time to calculate them actuarially and didn’t use simple averages)
        -20,000 trips per day on the sample road
        -30 seconds time penalty per trip for safer road design

        Time lost, death:
        78.74-36.8=41.94 years=367,394.40 hours

        Time lost, 1 year with 30 second per trip penalty
        20,000*365=7,300,000 trips per year
        30 seconds=.00833 hours
        7,300,000*.00833=60,833.33 hours

        367,394.40/60,833.33=~6 years road operation without safer road design has the same time value as one road death

      3. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Another thought — does it matter? Congestion & time savings that is. Related, if time lost in transportation is great enough will drivers make other (and better?) choices? Likewise, does saving drivers time (at the expense of safety?) allow them to forego making better choices elsewhere?

        Many European countries manage to have fatality rates a third or fourth of ours and also have safe infrastructure for people walking and bicycling. How is it that they can do this but we can’t?

  3. Kevin Gallatin

    As the primary author of the resolution and chair of the Highland District Council’s Transportation Committee, I strongly disagree. Currently crossing Snelling in the half-mile stretch between traffic lights requires a terrifying scamper. Our primary goal with this median is absolutely pedestrian safety. Every other benefit is secondary. As stated in the resolution, with the median pedestrians will cross a shorter distance and will have the benefit of a refuge in the middle so they can view traffic coming from the other direction. This will also eliminate the threat of left hooks from turning vehicles which is currently a real hazard. If we can improve the median design or provide a better refuge I’m all ears, but we don’t have a lot of time to make changes. As we speak there are people working to nip away at the median and erode the benefits, and they would be even more hostile to a 4/3 and certainly bike lanes.

    The diagram you created of a 5-lane Snelling is misleading since the majority of Snelling will occupied by a center median and that’s where people are going to cross the street.

    Snelling is not a designated bike route on the citywide bike plan. We can barely muster the political will to implement the existing plan, so it seems unwise to engage in new battles. Let’s not commit unforced errors in implementing bike infrastructure in Saint Paul.

    Personally I’d love to see a 4/3 conversion on Snelling, but am confident that it is a political impossibility. And of course, a 4/3 could only extend north another half mile before it encounters the existing center median, after which Snelling becomes the busiest stroad in the city. Snelling in Highland is likely to be rezoned to traditional neighborhood in the coming years which will have a far greater impact on improving walkability in the neighborhood. In the meantime this is the best solution to improve pedestrian safety.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Hi Kevin. The image I showed is the HDC design at 6 of the junctions and it will make these junctions more dangerous for people walking, riding bicycles, or who have disabilities. It will also make this area overall noisier and much less attractive. 6 lanes of cars, trucks, and buses is completely unecessary. The median exists at 5 junctions and will make these crossings safer. If pedestrian safety was your primary concern then why not include the medians at every crossing? Why make 6 of them more dangerous?

      Just because this isn’t part of the bike plan means that we shouldn’t make it safer for people to ride bicycles?

      If you’d love to see a 4 to 3 conversion along here then why aren’t you fighting for it? Given the currently low traffic volumes it’s absolutely nutty to have 6 lanes at any of these junctions. This is an ideal 4 to 3 conversion. Why do you want 6 lanes of cars for people to have to cross in front of?

      This is a great neighborhood that could be much greater with a better, safer, and more welcoming street that can be a centerpiece instead of a 6 lane highway dividing it.

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

        Walker, your numbers cited for 4-3 are on the high end. MnDOT uses 15,000 before requiring a traffic study, and essentially says no to any conversion over 20,000.

        Maczo said clearly that the lower end is all Saint Paul gets because the density of intersections and signals creates an unacceptable LOS. (This is not Kevin’s or HDC’s problem, it is a political and bureaucratic impossibility).

        Bikes… I asked my mom about this when I went to the meeting, she said she doesn’t bike on Snelling because there are trucks. Not a lack of bike lanes, not too many cars, not high speeds, trucks. This will continue to host trucks and will be uninviting, even with what in your diagrams are slightly separated bike lanes. Further, we cannot get painted bike lanes in this city (see Cleveland debacle), fighting for it here, on a road where it’s not planned, only gives fire to the “Every road in the city?” rhetoric, and is over reaching (sad, but true).

        Other intersections… left turns are most dangerous when they are rushed because they fear being rear ended, if drivers are stopped in the left turn lane, I am not concerned about them hitting me, or my brother as we cross Snelling. Also, you ignore crossings not at intersections, all of which will be protected under this plan.

        It’s a median, or a four lane death road for the next 50 years. I will choose a median every time. Yes, it’s sad it can’t go further, but it’s not a plausible outcome. (Also having your BRT pull off to the side like a normal bus sounds like you’re trying to make it fail, the whole point is it’s in the travel lane…)

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Joseph, thanks for the info on MNDOT. The information I had from FHWA said that a diet had no impact up to 20,000 and minimal to 25,000. Additional info is linked above thanks to a wonderful editor. The current 16,000 is certainly within what most consider acceptable for consideration. More so, how much of this is rat-run through traffic that could use better routes intended for higher traffic volumes rather than through a neighborhood? To what extent would the 4 to 3 conversion cause some of this through traffic to use these better routes? How much is local traffic that if they had better and safer options for walking or bicycling would choose those instead of putting another car on the road?

          Just because MNDOT says something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push for better. 411 people were killed on MN roads last year. That’s not acceptable.

          The bikeways I suggested are protected by parked cars as well as having relatively (to the U.S., not to Europe) narrow crossings. This is a design similar to much of what you’ll see in The Netherlands and increasingly throughout Europe that people of all ages and abilities use and are comfortable with. I think your mother, as well as most, would be quite comfortable on it. And that is the goal.

          The plan I proposed hasn’t changed the medians or left turns at all. It has actually improved things because cars turning left only have a single lane of oncoming motor traffic and then have a place to stop safely before crossing the bikeway and walkway. Right turning cars will have this same benefit.

          I agree with you about BRT but from a priority standpoint we must begin considering safety. Saying that we will accept a much more dangerous road in order to save a few seconds for bus passengers is nutty.

        2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          “Maczo said clearly that the lower end is all Saint Paul gets because the density of intersections and signals creates an unacceptable LOS. (This is not Kevin’s or HDC’s problem, it is a political and bureaucratic impossibility).”

          Exactly. The problem here is the lack of unacceptable deaths being a criteria. 411 people were killed on MN roads last year. When do we begin putting people’s lives above a few seconds delay for someone in a car?

          1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

            This is absolutely right, I’m only questioning the direction of your critique. This should be 4-3’d, but attacking HDC and StP for their priorities, when it is State Highway 51 and has (at least partial) MnDOT jurisdiction, when it is MnDOT’s unwillingness to accept a 4-3 on a road with 17,500 ADT (which their own research supports) but instead requiring proof at 15,000 ADT, THESE are the issues holding Snelling back, not Saint Paul and not the HDC.

            We have lemons, HDC is making lemonade, I want a coke too, but I’ll take my lemonade over raw lemons.

  4. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

    I agree in general that Snelling should have this median, and it will certainly make crossing easier at minor intersections, but I do think the article has a real point when it argues that the addition of left turn lanes will make crossing at major intersections (which have the highest pedestrian traffic) more difficult.

    I would eliminate the left turn lanes everywhere but Randolph and Ford. There doesn’t need to be a full median blocking the intersection, but I really doubt these intersections have the left turn counts to warrant full lanes, and they take away space that would be better used for pedestrian refuges.

    1. Monte Castleman

      If there’s not a full median, drivers are going to ignore the “No Left Turn” sign and make the turn anyway, negating one of the key safety benefits of the project- the removal of left turns from where lanes are not provided. Bloomington tried banning left turns on Normandale, but is now building a full median to physically prevent them.

  5. Harrison Deckard

    This article is missing a lot–perhaps because the graphic included in the Villager article is much to small to make sense of?

    The proposed medians are 10′ wide, so they are indeed wide enough at midpoint for pedestrians to pause if they wish to cross in stages.

    The proposed medians feature Z-style paint enhancing crossing visibility, making crossing the four lanes (not five) at minor intersections much more safer for pedestrians.

    The proposed medians also feature a midway-point cut-out at the midpoint so bike riders can easy walk bikes across.

    Supposedly studies have proven that where these median enhancements were made to Snelling Avenue north of University, it has resulted in decreasing traffic speeds. I live in that area of Snelling and after a year I can honestly say this is true.

    The entire span of Snelling in the proposed plan has wide sidewalks on both sides of the street–and this is, by Minnesota law, where motorized chairs used by disabled persons must travel.

    The approved Saint Paul Bicycle Plan never included that span of Snelling for cyclists, instead designating Fairview and Saratoga as the preferred paths for cyclists.

    So it seems the above Snelling plan was indeed crafted with pedestrian and bicyclist safety in mind, with an eye toward slowing (calming?) speeds, and does provide aesthically pleasing, landscaped “refuge islands”–quite the opposite of what you were suggesting.

    If you wish a closer look, here’s what I found (you’ll have to use browser controls to make the map larger):

    1. Scott Merth

      Good points but I’m still conflicted about the changes. So at the minor intersections, there are new pedestrian refugee islands, which is indeed better than a straight shot across four lanes and two directions of traffic. That said, it’s not that hard of a leap to see how an additional whole block of uninterrupted car travel created by the median (ie. there are no longer intersections at these locations) can increase speeds, taking away some of the safety increases provided by the median. To your point about North Snelling, the feels of the road are completely different. Driving there feels tighter in some way, automatically reducing speeds due to the congested feel of it all. Will this new median create the same congested atmosphere?
      I’m also not seeing any additional benefits for pedestrians at the major intersections either. No median where the majority of pedestrians cross (at through streets), and now a slight increase in car traffic due to grid connections lost my the minor intersection medians. Pulling the bus stops a bit back from the major intersections and installing bumpouts would go a long way.

      1. Harrison Deckard

        Frankly, you’re right. Smelling north of University to Pierce Butler does feel tight, congested. It might have to do with the multiple gas stations and other venues that have driveways right onto the Avenue, so it has more points of entry other than the intersections. It also has two additional stop lights at Thomas and Hewitt, so it is less of a thruway–traffic is stopped and staggered every two to three blocks.

        I will say this: the minor intersection crosswalks have excellent sight-lines and visibility for motorists and are heavily used by pedestrians (usually to patronize business or to cross to the opposite side of the Avenue for the bus). Honestly, I think they’re more pedestrian friendly because the refuge islands have no distracting vegetation: motorists can clearly see someone is standing in the median. But that’s just my $.02.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          You are absolutely right about the refuge islands. They are an important element in creating a safe and welcoming place.

          The one crossing Grand just west of Snelling works quite well.

          The one crossing Snelling at Lincoln? Not so well. It is certainly better now with the refuge island but it is still extremely dangerous. Each crossing is 2 + lanes of fairly fast moving traffic that often does not stop. Perhaps worse is that sometimes a car in one lane will stop and you’ll start to cross only to have cars continue whizzing by in the other lanes with you stuck in the middle.

          A key benefit of a 4 to 3 conversion is that you eliminate the two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction—a recipe for speed. The result is much slower traffic and more importantly more attentive and cautious drivers.

          1. Joe T (didn't wanna log in)

            Cannot agree with Grand Avenue median, specifically based on the points in your article.

            This median has brick paver sections which clearly line up with catwalks, outwalks, carriagewalks, or whatever you wish to call them. But with high curbs and no other indication of crossings. You have drivers who actually do have ROW buzzing pedestrians because they are upset they are ceding it there, you have drivers who politely cede ROW and are nearly rear ended, and you deliberately make the convenience of crossing midblock inaccessible to the very disabled communities you speak of as important in your article. The Grand Avenue median is a success in that most college kids are able-bodied, and that it is beautiful; it does not provide intersection protections, and by diffusing able bodied crossings it weakens the crosswalks the disabled must use because that’s where the ramps are.

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

              Agree. From a standpoint of this conversation it works (it’s a single lane of traffic, traffic is slower, crossing is or seems much safer) but your points are correct. If you eliminate this as a crossing then students will continue to cross there as they did before it existed. So, add ADA ramps? Change ROW and paint it accordingly? Make the traffic lane narrower to slow traffic more? Decide that this shouldn’t be a crossing and put up fences along here on both sides to force people to use the crossings at intersections?

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      If you click on the graphic it will open a larger version in your browser. I should perhaps have bolded that or something.

      “The approved Saint Paul Bicycle Plan never included that span of Snelling for cyclists, instead designating Fairview and Saratoga as the preferred paths for cyclists.”

      People who ride bicycles for their transportation, a fast growing group especially among those under 40, shouldn’t be able to ride safely to places on Snelling? They should be limited to Fairview and Saratoga?

      What if we did that for people driving cars? Make all of the north-south streets limited to pedestrians and bicycle riders only, except for providing for cars on Fairview and Saratoga?

      A growing number of people want to be able to walk and ride bicycles for their primary transportation. They want to live in neighborhoods that support this and that will allow them to ride to local stores and churches and their children to ride to school. They don’t want to live near high traffic roads. They don’t want the danger, noise, or pollution.

      Highland Park is a great place. It was just featured in Minneapolis-St Paul mag for being a great place. But as other neighborhoods become more walking and bicycling friendly and overall more welcoming then people will choose to live there rather than Highland and that won’t be good for this area.

    3. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      “The entire span of Snelling in the proposed plan has wide sidewalks on both sides of the street–and this is, by Minnesota law, where motorized chairs used by disabled persons must travel.”

      If you travel outside of the U.S. you’ll find out just how bad of an idea that is and just how poorly we treat people with disabilities. Sidewalks are OK for motorized wheelchairs but quite poor and inappropriate for mobility scooters. The purpose of a mobility scooter is to allow someone with disabilities to travel to local places to eat, shop, attend school, etc. Typically within a 2-5 mile radius. This gives people with disabilities nearly the same options to go where they want when they want as those without—something we don’t currently do well in the U.S.

      Sidewalks include a number of elements that make things difficult, dangerous, and sometimes impossible for users of mobility scooters. Mobility scooters are designed to travel at 5 – 12 mph. Sharing a sidewalk with people walking 2-3 mph, especially if it’s crowded, adds considerable travel time. Cracks and slopes can also create a danger for mobility scooters and create instability as well as discomfort since most have limited suspension.

      What has been found elsewhere is that mobility scooters work quite well on protected bikeways. They can travel at higher speeds and it is safer and more comfortable since bikeways are generally much smoother. Mobility scooters are also much more compatible with people riding bicycles than with people walking.

      Two posts you should read:

      Update: Or perhaps you don’t have to go outside the U.S. to see the problem we have. At least once per week I see someone on a mobility scooter trying to share the road with cars. There are a number of reasons this person is choosing to risk their life with drivers rather than use the sidewalk.

      At any time about 10% of people in the U.S. have limited mobility due to a disability. We should provide an environment that allows this 10% to live life as well as possible. Selfishly though, that might be me one day. Or anyone reading this. Second to enjoyment, a key reason my wife and I ride bicycles for our local daily transportation is that it gives us much needed physical activity — it’s our retirement health plan. We hope that this will keep us healthy and well for decades to come. But disability can strike any of us, particularly when we get older. If that happens I hope that I will have safe places to ride a bicycle, trike, handcycle or mobility scooter to get where I want to go when I want to go so that I’m not house-bound or reliant on a disabled van service or friends.

    4. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      “The proposed medians feature Z-style paint enhancing crossing visibility, making crossing the four lanes (not five) at minor intersections much more safer for pedestrians.”

      The minor junctions will be safer with this plan but they are still quite dangerous and can be much safer still. Many are indeed 5 lanes. Click on the HDC proposed plan above and look at Bayard. If you are crossing from top to bottom you will first cross 3 lanes (1 defacto right turn lane and two travel lanes), then the median/refuge, then 2 more lanes. That makes 5.

      One way to improve safety would be to build a bump out to remove the defacto right turn lane. This will reduce the number of lanes from 3 to 2 and reduce the total crossing distance from the proposed 30′ to perhaps 22′ and will greatly improve sightlines by providing a safe place for people to stand where they will not be hidden by parked cars. This will also have some speed reduction benefit particularly with right turning cars.

      You still have two 11′ wide lanes though. And with this no longer a junction, no oncoming traffic, and no potential left turns there is little to slow drivers down. All together this tells drivers to drive fast. Reducing these to 10′ would be a big improvement as it would not only reduce speeds but increase driver alertness. Raising the crossing would help as well.

      Any time you have two motor vehicle travel lanes moving together you have increased speed and significantly increased danger for people crossing not just because of speed but because often the driver in the nearest lane will stop but drivers in the far lane do not. So reducing this to a single lane in each direction, and with 16,000 vehicles per day is well within recommendations, will have the greatest safety benefit.

      1. Harrison Deckard

        Walker, I’m not sure we’re looking at the same proposal? When I look at the proposed plan–especially for crossings such as at Bayard–I only see pedestrian crossing for FOUR traffic lanes: 2 eastbound, then median, then two westbound. Not five. And there is no a right-turn lane.

        All one need do is examine the pedestrian-designed crosswalk on the proposal map and follow it with the tip of your finger. Four lanes total, crossing from north to south (or south to north), with a refuge (if needed) in the middle. Not five.

        There has has also been interest expressed in equipping some crossings with school-safety flashing lights to further enhance visibility. Perhaps this should be followed-up on.

        And, according to Minnesota state policies for low-power vehicles (

        “Wheelchairs are in an altogether separate category from other low-power vehicles. The statutory classification includes scooters and tricycles “used by a disabled person as a substitute for walking.” Minn. Stat. § 169.011, subd. 93.

        “Under Minnesota law, persons in wheelchairs are considered pedestrians rather than vehicle operators and have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians. This is true whether the wheelchair is powered or not. Wheelchairs are required to remain on sidewalks and stay off streets, except to cross them or in situations where a passable or useable sidewalk is not available.”

        So, for their own safety, low-powered wheelchairs or scooters, to remain legal, should be operated solely on sidewalks. If this is something you feel needs changed and operation allowed on state highways (where you admit speeds of motor vehicles are prohibitively excessive, thus increasing risk) you would need to lobby legislature for a change in policy. As it stands, personal motorization for the disabled must legally be remanded to the sidewalk. I think city planners actually do think of these things when conducting street development.

      2. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

        I’m really confused by where 4-5 became 5-6… if there’s defacto right turn lanes with this plan, aren’t they there now? They’re just the parking lanes, which will be eliminated on one side. By this logic, median crossings will have five lanes where there are now six and non-median crossings will have six lanes instead of six.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          I thought I was consistent with my terminology and counts but perhaps not. From an official lane count it went from 4 to 5 lanes — 4 travel lanes to 4 travel lanes plus left turn lane. Most of these also have a defacto right turn lane that you are correct is in the existing as well as HDC proposal. So, it’s either a 4 to 5 lane expansion (not counting the defacto right turn lane) or a 5 to 6 lane expansion with it.

          Regardless, pedestrians, bicycle riders, and disabled will have 5+ or 6 lanes to cross at these intersections without any refuge? That’s nutty. And unnecessary?

          1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

            It would be 6 to 6 with it, because there cannot be a defacto right turn lane in the direction without parking. There will be one sided parking with this proposal and thus, only one direction can have a defacto right turn lane. There is no increase in lanes if we are including defacto lanes.

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

              Yes. 4 to 5 legal lane expansion. 6 to 6 lane defacto.

              BTW, this got me to thinking about another issue. Currently the west sidewalk and buildings have parked cars as a buffer between them and moving traffic (or when no parked cars, space). This will go away under the HDC/St Paul/MNDOT proposal which will place moving traffic closer to the sidewalk and remove the buffer of parked cars.

  6. Keith Morris

    St Paul has been left behind, even NYC and Chicago have done more to cover major streets from their downtowns out into several neighborhood business districts and they have plenty of traffic to contend with. They are able to make room for bikeways, so St Paul has no argument here.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Agree. I ride there often and much of it is safer than St Paul. More so, it’s getting even better as NYC is putting in more and better infrastructure. Besides adding bikeways to streets that don’t have them, they’re also improving others. They’re converting one street in Brooklyn that I ride on that currently has painted door zone bike lanes to protected bikeways between parked cars and sidewalk.

  7. Language Matters

    Very good arguments – but I’d suggest to everyone in here to stop using the derisive and loaded term “car storage” when you mean “parking”. You will never convince those reluctant to change you are right if you continue using that language.

  8. Kele

    My uneducated impression is that medians facilitate both a perception of pedestrian safety AND increase driving speeds, although that appears contradictory — perhaps it is more like a vicious cycle. On Ford Pkwy just east of the Intercity Bridge, there is an interrupted median all the way up to Snelling. Near Snelling, recent road construction feels like it has slowed speeds (fewer lanes). But in the area next to the bridge up to Cretin (where I live), it feels like I am crossing a freeway. There is a marked crosswalk but with no median in the actual crosswalk, it feels like a deathtrap; instead, I always use the medians, but I suspect the medians are a factor contributing to the incredibly fast traffic. (Also the lack of stoplights or stop signs for quite a distance – from Godfrey Pkwy in Minneapolis to Cretin Ave in St. Paul there is no incentive to slow down.) The medians are a *relatively* safe space to be — I worry in the winter that a car could hit ice and come barreling into the median.

    So in my experience I would prefer the proposal in this article over MNDOT’s proposal.

    Also, I agree that cars taking left turns can be dangerous, but I am more fearful of right-on-reds.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Roads have a language;

        Straight – please drive fast.

        Wide – please drive faster.

        Curb Reaction Distance – No attention necessary.

        Shoulders or Bike Lanes – I’ve got your back with plenty of extra swerve space while you send that text.

        Obstruction Clear Zone – Seriously, nothing for your to hit. No attention necessary.

        Slip Lane – Let’s see how many g’s your car can handle.

        Right On Red – Acuity test. How fast can you make this turn without hitting any other cars.

        4-Way Stop – Ignore the bicycle rider, let’s play poker face.

  9. Paul Nelson

    Good Morning, All:

    To Kevin Gallatin: I very much appreciate your position and the work you are doing on the Highland District Council’s Transportation Committee. As more people come to realize better what we can do to remake our streets, roads, and highways, there will more discussion and expression of these issues. As you stated: “As we speak there are people working to nip away at the median and erode the benefits, and they would be even more hostile to a 4/3 and certainly bike lanes.” These people should come forward more so we can better engage their views and wash away the false assumptions.

    I really like the very nice cross-section illustrations that Walker Angell provides. My own view is because of the kind of road Snelling is and where it goes, I think Snelling should provide safe protected bike lanes and separate space for walking the entire length from the south all the way up to Mounds View. As such this would be more of a complete type of road (like “Complete street”), and there for would be a very *real highway*. By definition a highway is “a public way freely open and free to everyone by high legislative intent forever”. Would it be possible to illustrate these cross sections for the entire length of Snelling 51? I would like to envision all of Snelling as a complete highway. Thank you.

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