Arterial Road Diets: Politically Difficult, Not Impossible

The crash occurred in the crosswalk in the backrground of this photo.

The crash occurred in the crosswalk in the background of this photo.

Early this week, after five days in critical care at Regions Hospital with major head trauma, Erin Elizabeth Dunham succumbed to her injuries and died. Her story is a terrible but predictable tragedy: a woman tried to cross the street in a legal marked crosswalk when one driver stopped for her but was hit by another car driver on an unsafe road in an urban neighborhood.

I don’t need to spend much time dramatizing the story. She was hit in a crosswalk on busy Maryland Avenue on the East Side after dropping her kids off at the school bus. She was 32 years old. Apparently her kid saw the whole thing.

Infrastructural Solutions for Pedestrian Safety

A crosswalk sting in front of my West Side apartment last month.

A crosswalk sting in front of my West Side apartment last month.

As I wrote on my blog, what makes Elizabeth Dunham’s death particularly tragic is that Saint Paul has been doing a crosswalk safety awareness campaign for the past few months. In fact, this exact spot was the site of a police ticketing and awareness event at the very corner (Maryland and Greenbrier) where the deadly crash took place. (I covered the event for a Minnpost column.) As I wrote then, I think these events are a good idea and I have been helping out with the efforts, including a crosswalk sting on the street right in front of my West Side apartment building a few weeks ago.

But as this tragedy illustrates, an awareness campaign is not enough. The real answer for safety involves more than education or enforcement. We need changes to the street.

Systematic Push-Back


Median designs for the Charles Avenue bicycle boulevard.

If you talk to engineers or planners, everyone knows what the answer would look like. There are really only two choices. The first option would be to widen these arterial streets to accommodate pedestrian medians, like the City and MnDOT are currently discussing along busy Snelling Avenue. For most of Saint Paul’s arterials, the expansion-and-median option would require cutting down trees, taking people’s yards, or maybe demolishing homes in many Saint Paul neighborhoods. In many places, Ramsey County has already shown some desire to do this, tearing down buildings on dangerous corners to add turn lanes (e.g. Maryland and Rice, Maryland and Payne, some intersections on White Bear Avenue, or the initial proposal for Randolph and Lexington).

My problem with this approach is that it continues to erode livability in urban neighborhoods, paves over Saint Paul’s tax base, and doesn’t really get at the root cause of crashes. (Crashes are mainly caused by two things: severity is tied to speed, and overall crash incidence is tied to speed differential and intersection complexity.) Plus this kind of approach is very expensive, involving a lot of new concrete, asphalt, and earth moving.

Two speed v. safety charts.

Two speed v. safety charts.

The other option is to “go smaller” with a 4-3 conversion, trading out two through-lanes for a center turn-lane. I’ve written about this many times before. (And then a few more times.) You’re trading speeds and complexity for a simpler-but-slower urban environment. This change also gets left-turning cars out of the way, to create continuous through lanes with more constant speeds. Many studies show that this kind of design improves safety for car drivers, and especially for people on foot. (Sometimes, this change can have minimal effect on overall automobile through-put.) More importantly, a road diet prevents exactly the kinds of situations that killed Dunham.

But 4-3 conversions come with a trade-off. Especially during peak rush hours, it creates longer “stacking” and makes congestion worse. Examples include Marshall Avenue in Saint Paul or the eastern third of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, which can be congested during busy parts of the day. For many drivers, the appearance and effect of this kind of bumper-to-bumper crawl is sometimes even worse than the actual change in timing.

To my mind this trade-off is worth it. The safety improvements of a road diet street, especially for the most vulnerable people on our streets, those walking or biking or playing in yards, is worth the “cost” of added car stacking. But many traffic engineers simply won’t consider a 4-3 conversion on streets where the traffic is over a certain threshold. For some Public Works agencies, that threshold might be an average daily traffic (ADT) number of 20,000 cars a day. In Saint Paul or Ramsey County, I’ve heard it said that the ADT number is 15,000 cars a day. (By comparison, Maryland Avenue on the East Side has an ADT around 20,000 cars per day, depending on where you measure.)


Maryland 2012 ADTs.

The Politics of the Road Diet

Every time I suggest a road diet on a major arterial, I imagine people rolling their eyes. Here’s a typical reaction from one of my favorite local bloggers, MPR’s Bob Collins:

In a way, Collins is absolutely right. With the current priorities, institutions, and leaders in place, Ramsey County (which has jurisdiction over most of Saint Paul’s arterials) will never install a Road Diet over a certain daily traffic volume threshold.

Note: In Ramsey County’s defense, this isn’t always true. They took the lead on installing a 4-3 conversion on Ford Parkway (ADT of about 12,000) a year ago. And a few years ago, County engineers wanted to install a 4-3 conversion on Dale Street (between Maryland and Larpenteur, ADT of 13,000), but the plan was nixed a the behest of a Commissioner because of parking concerns.

But these two exceptions prove the rule of how difficult a road diet can be. Here are some hurdles:

Three Herculean Hurdles of the Road Diet

A "level of service" (LOS) table for roadways.

A “level of service” (LOS) table for roadways.

The first road-diet hurdle is institutional. Advocates and leaders have to convince city staff, and public works engineers in particular, that the “loss” of “level of service” (LOS) is worth the “gain” of safety. Making the argument that “more congestion is OK” can be challenging, especially for people in institutions that have spent decades fighting against congestion, or who might see crashes as inevitable accidents. (One common response, at least in Ramsey County, is that any increase in congestion makes streets less safe because drivers will become angry and begin driving erratically. I call this the “LOS extortion argument,” and I don’t think it’s accurate. Rather, I think you can change and “calm” our driving culture through engineering and other efforts.)

Barring actual convincing, as walkability expert Jeff Speck says, elected officials simply need to tell their public works’ directors what to do. Here’s Speck’s quote:

The biggest mistake cities make is to allow themselves to effectively be designed by their director of public works. The director of public works, he or she is making decisions every single day about the width of streets, the presence of parking, the question of bike lanes. And he’s doing it in response to the complaints he’s hearing. But if you satisfy those complaints you wreck the city.

A typical public works director doesn’t think about “What kind of city do we want to be?” They think about what people complain about, and it’s almost always traffic and parking.

The one thing we’ve learned without any doubt, is the more room you give the car the more room they will take and that will wreck cities. Optimizing any of these practical considerations — sewers, parking, vehicle capacity — almost always makes a city less walkable.

The second road diet hurdle is political, involving the marshaling of political will to overcome the pushback that comes from driving privilege. Road diets are largely perceived as “taking away a lane,” rather than trading dangerous speed for safety and predictability. So when they’re proposed, drivers accustomed to speeding often get upset, and Saint Paul has a vocal “speeding driver lobby” whose figurehead has a regular column in the Pioneer Press.

Small businesses also seem to resist road diets, because there’s a perception that traffic flow is what drives customers to the store. (I feel like this perception is misleading, especially along urban commercial streets. It’s not the number of cars that matters, it’s the number of drivers who are able to safely stop and/or cross the street to access your store that matters.)

These expectations of driving speed mean that instituting a road diet requires strong leadership from an elected or appointed official like a City Councilmember, a Mayor, or a Public Works’ director. Without that kind of visionary leadership, and the ability of a leader to have tough conversations again and again with frustrated drivers or business owners, the road diet will die on the vine.

The third hurdle is a bureaucratic one, having to do with the “multiple jurisdiction problem” that underlies dangerous arterial roads. Saint Paul offers a good example: almost all the dangerous arterial roads are either County or State/Federal roads, meaning that any changes have to go through those more opaque agency bureaucracies. This means that advocates need to work twice or three times as hard to build relationships with elected leaders and staff, and that kind of work is very time consuming.

In addition, each “larger” scale of government seems to involve a re-setting of the scope along which priorities are balanced. Because the basic road diet trade-off is one that improves local safety (for people living or walking along these streets) but comes at the expense of more regionally-focused travel speeds (for drivers passing through a neighborhood from freeways or surrounding suburbs), it makes it particularly hard for County or State-level decision makers to reconcile. If history is any guide, County and State-level governments always prioritize through travel over local safety.

The Cedar Avenue Example


Cedar Avenue pedestrian median.

Still, there is hope. My favorite road diet success story is Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis’ West Bank. For fifty years, this street was a one of the worst “4-lane Death Road™” examples, a high-speed undivided four lane road rammed along narrow sidewalks through the densest neighborhood in the state. (It was designed this way due to a compromise during freeway construction, where the I-94/I-35W interchange lacked a Westbound-to-Northbound connection.) The street was deeply unsafe, and every day for almost fifty years, the design of Cedar Avenue made the neighborhood a less safe, less pleasant, less vital place.

And then they finally changed it. Two years ago, Hennepin County, with a lot of local encouragement, installed a 4-3 road diet and adding a refuge median at a key pedestrian crossing. The County made this change despite the fact that the street had almost 16,000 cars a day.


Cedar Avenue ADTs, pre-road diet

Today, traffic backs up more but it’s much safer. If you visit Cedar Avenue and compare it to what it used to be like, the road diet seems to me to be one of the biggest street design improvements in Minnesota history.

The political considerations that made the Cedar Avenue road diet possible were extreme: a large, increasingly influential East African community, strong leadership from the city, huge numbers of University students, and two recently-built light rail stations tipped the balance against reluctant engineers.

But it works. I’m sure when the decision was being made, there were people in the room saying “it can’t be done, there’s too much traffic.” But now Cedar Avenue is a much better place to walk, safer for drivers, and you can actually cross the street without fearing for your life. I’d like to think it’s the tip of an iceberg of change.

What Vision Zero Really Means

ped bike deaths US v europe

US vs places we should be as safe as

The latest widely-used term in traffic safety and street design circles is “vision zero.” It comes from places like New York or San Francisco, and refers to seemingly ambitious goals around street safety in US cities, which are setting the goal of reducing US pedestrian and traffic fatalities to the minuscule levels found in the cities of many other countries in the Global North.

But talk is cheap. The key to a “vision zero” policy will be in making exactly the kinds of trade-off decisions that I’ve described here. A commitment to the safety of urban streets needs to say that no amount of automobile efficiency is worth the lives of people like Elizabeth Dunham, who was simply trying to cross the street. No amount of increased speeds are worth running over a kid like 11-year-old Bikram Phuyel, who was hit by a driver while crossing Rice Street to get to school in 2014. No amount of LOS improvement is worth the life of Kunlek Wangmo, hit by a turning driver while crossing St. Clair Avenue with her husband by West 7th Street last year. Or Shelby Kokesch, who was killed while walking her mother from the History Center across Kellogg Boulevard earlier this year. The list goes on… “Vision Zero” needs to start focusing on these kinds of difficult street design changes, and road diets are the least expensive, most effective option on the table.

I continue to believe that road diets on arterial roads like Maryland Avenue are not impossible. It will takes different attitudes from our staffers, engineers, and elected leaders. But with the right leadership and some thick skin, we could do it this year.

The fact remains that, until we make these tough decisions, people like Erin Elizabeth Dunham will keep getting killed, sacrificed on the altar of traffic speed. Our streets need to change.


The crosswalk on Maryland Avenue where Dunham was hit by a driver.

65 thoughts on “Arterial Road Diets: Politically Difficult, Not Impossible

  1. Mase

    In ADT 15-20K areas (or more) has narrowing lane width’s (to at least 10′) ever been done as a temporary compromise?

    1. Stuart Knappmiller

      Most of this part of Maryland is 10 foot lanes, other than where the buildings were removed to add left turn lanes.

  2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

    Nice post. Long reply warning!

    Another often un-discussed pushback against 4-3 (or other road diets) I’ve heard is that the we can’t tolerate the congestion because it would also impact transit, which just so happens to run on pretty much every major arterial under county or state control. I heard it during the Washington Ave redesign in downtown Minneapolis, I’ve heard it for others as well. I’ll say that it feels at least a little disingenuous, but it really does highlight the challenges we have in Minneapolis and St Paul relative to many other American cities.

    Most of our arterials are 80-90′ wide. Which is just about enough to fit 4 lanes of traffic, 2 parking lanes, and narrow sidewalks. Maybe we can convince people to do a 4-3, squeeze in some painted bike lanes. But the sidewalks are still too narrow, and oftentimes lack any or good tree coverage. Sure, we could re-purpose parking (which, good luck), but we’re still, even in a 3-lane road section, fighting for space between peds, bikes, and transit (else we leave transit to a potentially more congested street, probably without bus pull-outs if we’ve re-tooled the parking space, and good luck convincing anyone to let a bus stop in the only directional thru-lane). Are the safety and comfort benefits to pedestrians and cyclists worth the tradeoff of not just vehicle congestion, but also the many people in buses? Probably, but the calculus definitely shifted, at least a little.

    And this is what bothers me about 4-3 diets, taken in a vacuum. As that FHWA page you linked to notes, ” there is an increased likelihood that traffic congestion will increase to the point of diverting traffic to alternative routes.” The FHWA doesn’t even consider the idea that people might shift modes or time. And they’re probably right. A 4-3 that adds a painted bike lane isn’t going to be an attractive alternative for the 80-90% of people who don’t find that bike facility comfortable. It doesn’t improve bus travel times, making it a more attractive alternative (and it may very well reduce them alongside drive time). A 4-3 doesn’t toll the highways people are feeding to, and it doesn’t increase the cost of parking at their destination. It’s a safety win that, while it definitely helps pedestrians, it’s still mostly aimed at reducing vehicle-on-vehicle crashes. And, 4-3 conversions don’t say anything about changing land-use regulations of the parcels within 400 feet of the roadway to increase the potential number of people and businesses around.

    I’m obviously in the “4-3 almost every arterial, yesterday” camp, and I’m not asking it (or any individual change) to be a silver bullet to any problem. It just shows how all these factors can come to push back against any individual proposed change, especially when you have multiple levels of control over all the streets and land in a city, each with sometimes incoherent/conflicting visions of their own, let alone connecting them all together.

  3. Monte Castleman

    Maybe Froggie can correct me if I’m wrong, but I recall that 15,000 was the original upper limit when they started doing these conversions, then they found that in most cases you could go up to 20,000 without causing horrific congestion, but that a traffic study was needed in these cases just to be sure and some agencies have stuck with the 15,000 figure. At any rate, it seems a no-brainer to do a traffic study east of Edgerton St to see if a conversion is feasible.

    Then you have Bloomington, which as a matter of policy will not consider conversions on any street functionally designated as an arterial, even those that only have 5,000 vehicles a day.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      From MnDOT’s website (which I can no longer find how I got there, oh the joys of work rabbit holes)… after 15,000 ADT, if the road is receiving MnDOT funding (MN State-Aid or County State Aid) it must be proven that there will not be a decrease in LOS for their support. Saint Paul and Ramsey County have interpreted this, in conjunction with the signal spacing typical of an inner city, as 15,000 is a practical limit.

      Agreed that these are low hanging fruit, and once an area is under 15,000 4 lanes should really start to be out of the question.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        So I wonder what MnDOT’s calculation is on cost-benefit ratio of human carnage vs LOS.

        1. Monte Castleman

          The cost of a fatal crash is $10,600,000, injury crashes range from $83,000 to $570,000 vs the cost of motorist’s time lost to congestion is $17.00 a person hour for a car, $27.90 for a truck.

  4. Faith

    For Cedar Avenue, the extra space was allocated to the sidewalk on the west side which was very narrow with trees in the middle and also to on street parking on the west side. The sidewalk on the west side sloped so much it did not meet ADA and the only way to get it up to ADA standards was to extend it out into one of the travel lanes. The extra parking was a popular choice and the businesses were willing to accept that trade-off.

    I’m hopeful that the Cedar and Riverside intersection drops out of the top 10 for pedestrian-car crashes after the conversion. It certainly feels much safer.

  5. Joe ScottJoe

    The more I learn about how the built environment is influenced by government, the more I realize that our first priority should be to increase local autonomy. City officials are often already on our side, but have little real power. Meanwhile MNDOT’s or Hennepin County’s incentives don’t align with the city’s interests, but they have the control. A nonbinding complete streets policy is great I guess, but it’s meaningless if the city doesn’t control the streets. We have to curtail state power. I think the best place to start would be an amendment to the state constitution giving cities more autonomy in terms of taxation and infrastructure.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Maybe, but cities aren’t reliable here either. Minneapolis had a chance to go 4-3 on 3rd Ave through downtown, while also maintaining existing decorative planters, but the staff recommendation mysteriously changed when “businesses” complained.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        To say nothing of other things that make sense to have a higher level of governance regulating. Sewers and land use come to mind. Building codes, ADA, fair housing, etc etc are all things local governments are uniquely bad at handling if you care about equity, affordability, etc.

        One could also say regional transportation would also fall under that bucket, just under a totally different set of principles than we’ve applied over the past half century or so.

        1. Joe ScottJoe

          Yeah, and we can’t afford our own nukes and fighter planes either! What about my comment implied I wanted Minneapolis to be a city-state? Just because I think that the state and county shouldn’t be able to tell us we aren’t allowed to have speed limits under 30 mph doesn’t mean I think they have no role to play in any sector.

        2. Joe ScottJoe

          But just for example to clarify what I’m trying to say, look at sewers. Why should the Met Council be able to charge businesses in areas with already built-out sewer systems exorbitant fees ( in order to fund the construction of new suburban sewers? Municipal sewer control would constrain development and result in better ecological outcomes and arguably better equity outcomes.

          1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

            I agree, and in particular about sewer systems. I just think the Met Council should do a better job managing pricing and regulations for the sewer system. Which, like transit, probably makes sense to handle at a regional level. (see my flaming hot takes on the issue, starting here )

            Didn’t mean to come off combative. Just that we need to be very specific about what things should be handled at local levels vs not, and why, based on outcomes. And so should the more conservative crowd, who is apparently fine with the state telling cities not to do consolidated garbage hauling but would cry a river if the Met Council forced broad-upzoning.

  6. Jaquelyn Moore-Williams

    It seems that no matter what is done, it all comes down to speed. There is always a main road shut down somewhere spilling traffic onto other streets. Drivers are stressed, speeding to the red light so they can block the intersection. Im not from here and I am baffled at how Minnesotans drive down a residential street like its a highway? I dont get it. I hope something is done to make the streets safer but its an argument that will go on for years.

    1. Carrie Anderson

      I am from here and am damn sick of seeing drivers test their 0–60 mph rate on our 30 mph residential street. We’ve complained to the cops, who tell us to complain to traffic control, which we do. We get the this-is-your-speed sign every once in a great while (only one of those per ward, we’re told), and maybe a crosswalk gets some extra markings for a few weeks. But the only cops we see actually stopping speeders are from Maplewood, once they’ve recorded a speed limit violator in that city’s limits.

  7. Dave Pasiuk

    Great article, Bill! A quick walk down memory lane….About 17 years ago a group of residents on or near Fairview Ave in St Paul wanted to better control the traffic in their neighborhood. They gathered signatures, the community council and city held meetings, and in less than a year Fairview south of Summit was reconfigured from 4 lanes to 3. About 10 years ago the same thing happened on Lexington Ave from Grand to Randolph Avenues. Lexington BTW is a county road. Both streets function well and are safer for all road users, esp pedestrians. We know how to do this and we have success to draw upon. Let’s just do it.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Well, they both “functioned well” because they were at or below the 15,000 “soft” threshold”. With Maryland at around 20,000 I’m not sure whether or not it would “function well” like Lexington and Fairview.

  8. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten


    Great article, unfortunately Ford was never a 4-Lane Death Road ™. It kept the same number of lanes and general layout as before (from Snelling to Howell? I think…) I wanted Dale to go down so bad. And there’s no parking on that stretch already isn’t there?

  9. PCC

    Re-engineering roads are great and all, but the St. Paul Police actually need to send a message home by aggressively enforcing the traffic laws. During the rush hour commutes, drivers speed through neighborhoods and ignore traffic signs. They do so because the laws are not enforced. The police should make a point, in conjunction with the cross walk initiative, to go around stopping drivers and aggressively writing tickets. Speeding? Ticket. Running through a stop sign? Ticket. Drive past through a crosswalk with a pedestrian standing there? Ticket. Hit these drivers where it hurts…their wallet.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Enforcement only works for as long as it continues. We need to redesign our roads if we want them to be consistently slower and safer.

      1. Carrie Anderson

        For some neighborhoods, any kind of traffic law enforcement at all simply doesn’t exist. It’s part of the big picture when working toward the goal of slower, safer streets.

        1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

          Yes, enforcement cannot be left out of the equation, but enforcement is one of the least effective means of changing long term driver behavior.

          A simpler way to look at it is that cops are expensive to employ, and the effect of getting a ticket or two wears off quickly (easily within a year). If we rely only on enforcement then only slight increases in safety will be monumental achievements. (As an aside, I think the Stop For Me Campaign was very effective when it was getting press, but now that it’s not, drivers are still more likely to yield, but its been regressing back to previous levels. Which also highlights the importance of the press to change behaviors…)

  10. Eric SaathoffEric S

    We need as many people who care to come as possible to our community meeting on pedestrian safety for Maryland Avenue.

    We’ll be meeting in the Arlington Hills Community Center, which is on the same block where Erin was fatally struck.

    At this meeting will be:
    – Jim McDonough, Ramsey Co Commissioner
    – Jim Tolaas, Ramsey Co Engineer
    – John Maczko, St. Paul Assistant City Engineer
    – Paul Saint Martin, St. Paul Assistant City Engineer
    – Scott Renstrom, Legislative Aide to Council Member Bostrom
    – Sgt Ellison, SPPD

    Spread the word and bring some friends.

  11. robsk

    Emotions aside, what ever happened to looking both ways? I’m not out to blame the victims, but the vulnerable need to watch out for themselves. Don’t cross unless it is safe. Avoid crossing Death Roads that don’t have controlled intersections. I don’t trust today’s impatient, distracted drivers.

    I like 4-3 road diets as long as there aren’t too many stop lights and refuge medians are added where crossing is appropriate. While road diets can improve safety, we also need to look at the definition of an arterial road:

    “Provides the highest level of service at the greatest speed for the longest uninterrupted distance, with some degree of access control.” Chapter 3: Functional Classification Do we really need or want to turn all arterial roads into collectors?

    We also need to accept that fewer lanes doesn’t always mean a road is safe. For example, flashing lights were added to this River Falls, WI intersection due to pedestrian death and cars that stopped for pedestrians were getting rear-ended.

    Wisconsin’s typical city speed limit is 25 mph compared to Minnesota’s 30 mph. Anybody have data on which is safer?

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      This is where the FHWA provides guidance that is less applicable to city plans. Let’s find how St. Paul’s Comprehensive plan defines Maryland and what it defines as an Arterial, etc.

      FHWA would use freeways, or major US highways as the definition of Arterial, the limited access is important to note, there shouldn’t be any driveways, or minor street intersections on an arterial as defined by the FHWA. Ramps and major intersections being the only way to access a FHWA defined Arterial, so in this sense, yes Maryland should be a collector.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

        The definition of “arterial” is not OK for an urban area with homes, schools, parks, crosswalks, people walking and biking on the street.

      2. Monte Castleman

        What you say would be true for “Principal Arterials”, like the freeways and major highway which are generally under Mn/DOT jurisdiction. But Minor Arterials, typically under county and city jurisdiction, are generally spaced at about a mile and serve a function somewhat between a collector and major arterials. This is straight from the FHWA web site. In the suburbs they’d have no private driveways and few side streets, and when built from scratch are in fact built that way, but that obviously isn’t possible on roads like Maryland in the core cities which weren’t built with a proper hierarchical road network in mind.

        “Minor Arterials provide service for trips of moderate length, serve geographic areas that are smaller than their higher Arterial counterparts and offer connectivity to the higher Arterial system. In an urban context,
        they interconnect and augment the higher Arterial system, provide intra-community continuity and may carry local bus routes…. Normally, the spacing should not exceed 1 mile in fully developed areas”

        1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten


          I didn’t nuance this simply because I only wished to use the table from which robsk quoted.

          You’re right in that there are further classifications, but then I think it’s a discussion of what is a minor arterial in a central city? As you note, suburbs and new construction often solve this issue by having collective driveways, and few minor intersections. In a city built around the streetcar, do these classifications hold? Should we be able to extend the spacing? Does it mean something else when there WILL be driveways and there WILL be minor street intersections. To design these for higher speed is to acknowledge the body of engineering work says this is improper and dangerous to drivers (as well as pedestrians). This is why the name “Stroad” came about, these were first designed as low speed thoroughfares, trying to make it fit an FHWA definition of Minor Arterial when its surroundings scream for a type of collector, when it has the lack of access control typical of local streets, seems foolhardy. A bigger retrofit (like the Snelling medians, or going full Hiawatha on Maryland) is needed to increase the use for drivers to meet minor arterials.

          1. Eric SaathoffEric S

            This is why we have Phalen Blvd. Unlike Maryland, it has bridges at Earl, Forest, Arcade, Edgerton, and controlled intersections (lights) at Johnson, Payne, Cayuga, Olive, and Mississippi (future). The only intersections without a light are Wells, Frank, and Atlantic, none of which are streets you can actually cross.

    2. Rosa

      So if no road is ever safe to cross, then we are going to have to just stop having roads. Because everyone walks (or wheelchairs or crawls) and not everyone drives. So the car drivers who can’t be expected to not drive into people or other cars will just have to give up going places.

      Oh wait, that’s not OK logic, then why is it OK for it not to be safe to walk anywhere?

      It’s terrible ethics, by the way, to say “the vulnerable need to watch out for themselves”. That’s not how we run this society – we expect people with more power to refrain from misusing it, and we put safeguards in place to try to keep that happening. You can’t just spray bullets around a neighborhood and say “people should look outside before they leave the house!” We have regulations to prevent car companies from building unsafe cars that kill drivers.

      1. robsk

        Thanks for the feedback. Rosa, I think you miss my point by a long shot.

        Everyone needs to watch out for the vulnerable, and everyone needs to watch out for themselves. A pedestrian is vulnerable to anything bigger than it. If you trust someone to stop for you just because it is the law, that is a risk not worth taking.

        Look both ways before stepping into traffic. It may sound crass or insensitive, but until our streets are better designed and driving culture changes there will be preventable tragedies.

        1. Rosa

          And yet, if we continue to just say “everyone look out for themselves” we will never change the culture. Right now, we don’t train drivers to do that.

          Getting behind the wheel takes a lot of decisions. A permit, formal or informal education, a driving test, a test that’s supposed to prove you know the rules and laws of the road, and then renewing that license every few years. At every step of that we should be learning that it’s a responsibility not to kill people. And yet, in the driver’s education I received and the public discourse I see every day and the legal and media response to drivers who routinely break the law, even those who kill people, there’s eternal focus on the responsibility of everyone but drivers for being safe around cars.

          That’s the point. That’s what you were doing. I’m working on changing the culture by pointing it out.

          1. robsk

            We teach our children not to cross the street until it is safe. “Safe” can mean a variety of things. This responsibility doesn’t go away when we hit adolescence.

            People are careless on all ends. The car will always win, but the driver loses. The drivers of these cars will have to live with these terrible experiences forever.

            We are all to blame and nobody is a winner until we achieve some form of “Vision Zero”.

          2. Carrie Anderson

            I agree, Rosa. I feel like I am getting talked down any time I even try to mention that it’s the driver’s responsibility, the cops need to actually start ticketing, and so forth. Why is it okay to drive through a red light, speed from stop sign to stop sign, not obey a stop sign? It’s not enforced, so why not? I see cops doing these things, and more.

            Yes, look both ways, and look both ways again before you cross the road at the marked crosswalk—but that doesn’t keep a car from appearing out of nowhere and hitting you because it’s going over the speed limit, not slowing down for intersections, and basically not driving defensively.

        2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          I think Rob has the same goal in mind. You’re right in pointing to a big problem with distracted driving and careless driving. In general, drivers should carry with them a far greater sense of responsibility when driving a car in a city. It’s serious! You can’t be messing around when you’re driving.

          The problem is that that’s only true in a city, with people around. The bulk of our roads — freeways, suburban arterials, etc. — are built so that you can zone out completely while driving with very few consequences. I’d like to design cities that have clear transitions between urban and non-urban roadways and road patterns. Exiting a freeway and entering a walkable city should be a HUGE transition point for drivers, where they shift their attentiveness. The only way to do this is to make the streets “more dangerous” (i.e. with slower design speeds), to ensure that people focus while driving. (The U of MN area is a good example of this.) The problem is that our default engineering approaches do the opposite of this, with wide lanes by on-ramps, high-speed designs approaching exits, etc.

          1. Rosa

            if his goal is pedestrian safety he’s going at it all wrong. If engineering is to blame then it is ALSO to blame for pedestrians being distracted/not having clear lines of sight/choosing direct routes over safer ones. And yet, pedestrians don’t kill car drivers.

            The focus on “the drivers have to LIVE WITH HAVING HURT SOMEONE” over the people who get hurt or killed is a huge part of the problem. Oh boo hoo it makes them so sad they never thought about it till it happened.

            Another pedestrian killed in St Paul yesterday.

            Our culture is sick on this issue. I’ve spent the last several years working on two driving habits – stopping before the crosswalk and not speeding. Not only did it require reversing years of my own driving habits, the response of other drivers is insane. Swearing, honking, swerving around my car, lane-splitting into parking lanes, pulling out into oncoming traffic. That’s for driving the speed limit on residential streets. And the answer is “pedestrians should just be more careful”? No. That just rewards bad driving behavior and makes the streets less safe for everyone.

    3. Rosa

      You know, people in a car are a lot less likely to get hurt from being hit by another car – there are a lot of safety features built in to make sure of that – than people not in a car. Maybe the rear-endings by other drivers are the price we pay until driving culture adjusts.

      And of course there’s at least some punishment, starting with insurance costs, for every driver that hits another driver, while drivers who hit pedestrians often get no consequences.

      Maybe the rear-endings by other drivers are the price we pay until driving culture adjusts. I hear from drivers that they can’t stop at crosswalks because they’ll get rear-ended (and it’s a fear I have myself) but that’s because so few drivers follow the law or good driving habits like following at a safe distance at a reasonable speed.

  12. Eric SaathoffEric S

    “One common response, at least in Ramsey County, is that any increase in congestion makes streets less safe because drivers will become angry and begin driving erratically.”

    My wife made a great point about this: the current situation makes it dangerous and confusing for law-abiding street users, whether on foot, bicycle, or in a car. The argument of increasingly erratic drivers cited above is not an increase of danger from people who follow the rules but from people who are breaking those rules (because they’re annoyed).

    Just because we anticipate some people won’t like the changes and will break the law, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make law-following easier and safer for everyone else. The status quo is a broken system.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Engineers are a pragmatic bunch, which can really work either direction in this situation. Do you change the road because 4-Lane Death Roads are a well-reckognized safety hazard for exactly the reason mentioned in the article. Or do you don’t change it because congestion will go up (we assume, we don’t know in this case) and it’s well recognized that angry motorists will start cutting through on local streets to bypass the congestion where there’s more likely to be children playing in the street, and angry motorists make poor or even reckless decisions?
      We don’t live in a world where motorists will just stay polite and stay on the arterial, so what do we do? Putting up speed control / traffic control stop signs on the local streets is dangerous, ineffective and a direct MUTCD violation; you could put fixed traffic calming on the local streets, but you have to do it everywhere or motorists will take the streets that don’t have them and pretty soon we’re talking about an expensive substantially more than paint on the arterial.

      It’s similar to making a decision on installing a signal. Engineers know for a fact that motorist’s time lost and rear-end type crashes will go up, but in some cases it’s worth it since the much more costly and severe T-bone type crashes will go down.

      It would be interesting to see a benefit/cost analysis of a road diet, considering the crash was preventable by the proposed change and thus needs to be included as a $10,300,000 benefit of the proposed change, and the AADT isn’t much over 20,000. It might even work in favor of a change.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        There’s a point in here somewhere about how people, including children, actually do live along (or shop at, or catch the bus at, or need to cross) the arterials the pragmatists are intent on keeping reckless drivers on and satiated.

        I won’t call them local or residential since nearly every arterial in Minneapolis and St Paul, heck even many suburbs, function as both of those as well. But, We could calm and divert *side streets* AND calm the arterials (and/or provide safe conveyance for biking, provide transit advantages, etc) and then it’s a win on all fronts.

      2. Monte Castleman

        I’m all for prosecuting criminals, but realistically do you think the police have the resources to station cops in the neighborhood every rush hour of every day to catch motorists diverting because of the congestion that was created?, then do this in every neighborhood where congestion has been created on an arterial?

        1. Rosa

          about ten years ago Minneapolis had the resource to park a cop in the driveway of Soldiers & Sailors Cemetery to ticket people who turned left off Lake during prohibited hours. Just to make traffic faster.

        2. Monte Castleman

          We don’t live in a world full of nothing but sunshine and rainbows where motorists are going to wait patiently in congestion with a smile on their face. Instead the reality is they’re going to get angry, cut through neighborhoods, possibly make poor decisions. I submit that’s dangerous. Making idealistic decisions without accounting for that happening is extremely naive. Engineers don’t like to create problems whiile solving another unless the first problem is clearly lesser than the second. I’m not convinced if that would be the case here or not.

          1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

            It happens at the U of MN. They’ve changed the driving culture there. That’s my vision for much of the urban space that we share.

            The alternative is continued carnage and the erosion of our right to walk around, and live in relative peace.

            Something has to give, and it’s going to have to be speed for cars.

  13. Eric SaathoffEric S

    On this street there are no traffic lights between Arkwright and Edgerton (~2000 ft), between Payne and Arcade (~2000 ft) and between Earl and Johnson (~2200 ft). There’s nothing close to these distances between lights on Arcade St south of Wheelock Pkwy. I’m curious if these are normal distances because they seem to encourage higher speeds.

    It’s worth noting that this street is going to be resurfaced this summer between Greenbrier and Johnson Pkwy. This could be a golden opportunity to test out something different for this select stretch of road. But the clock is really ticking if anything is going to change on this project.

    People on the East Side facebook page have noted in particular that Maryland Ave in front of Golden Harvest grocery store could use a much-needed turn lane :,-93.0615125,3a,42.8y,254.47h,81.73t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1s2jdIlQfEBDdqAcv2RtBprA!2e0!!7i13312!8i6656

    When I went to talk to the owner about this idea yesterday there was a police car dealing with a crash that had just occurred. Crashes are very frequent in this location, and there is a lot of stacking due to left turning cars into this parking lot.

    One big question is: if there is an increase in congestion and drivers decide to use an alternate route, would they choose to take Phalen Blvd instead, which is built for higher capacity and is safer due to having more controlled crossings, a median, and being along a RR? That would be a good outcome.

    I think more cars on streets north of Maryland is somewhat unlikely because they are cut off on the east (at Wheelock Pkwy) and the west (at Edgerton). Rose also is cut off on the east (at Duluth) and in the middle (at Payne).

    The interesting thing about Maryland is that all the neighborhood traffic gets bottlenecked onto this street at Johnson Parkway on the East and I-35E on the west.

    Are there studies about angry, reckless motorists causing havoc on side streets because of congestion?

    1. Monte Castleman

      It’ll be interesting to see if traffic patterns change with building a modern interchange at Cayuga Street, but I assume because Phalen Blvd is so much nicer to drive on that most traffic that can reasonably use Phalen Blvd already is. My (possibly incorrect) assumption is most traffic on Maryland is from the immedate neighborhood using it to access or cross I-35E

      It’s a well known fact that motorists will divert onto local streets to avoid congestion on arterials if they’re not prevented from doing so by a proper hierarchical road network, and 70 studies have shown that traffic calming stop signs are ineffective, because they breed disrespect for all signs but also motorists drive more aggressively to make up for lost time. It’s not a big stretch to put these together even if I’m not aware of a specific study of diverting drivers being aggressive.

      1. Eric SaathoffEric S

        Looking at the map what streets do you think drivers would use instead of Maryland?

        Aside from the barriers of streets that just end many of them also have to cross busy streets like Arcade.

        1. Monte Castleman

          I’m starting to get uncomfortably into speculation here since I don’t know the neighborhood, don’t have an origin / destination study, don’t divert to local streets to avoid congestion myself (although it was standard practice for my father) and in fact try to avoid driving on surface streets in the city if at all possible, but perhaps if you were driving to your house at Weide and Rose from 35E, instead of driving all the way down Maryland you could swing a right at Westminster and then drive all the way down Rose. Or if you wanted to turn right at any one of the lights, you could instead turn one block early onto a local street, then take a left rather than waiting in congestion at the lights

          1. Eric SaathoffEric S

            Yeah, Weide and Geranium might work that way from the bridge. Rose gets cut off at Payne. I’m wondering if there are enough already existing cut-offs to keep this from happening, but probably not.

  14. Andy Gable

    Mostly good job here staying civil, everyone.

    I live on Maryland with young kids, so I’m invested in helping find a solution.

    I’ll point out that the last two days they’ve been doing some work (tree trimming, I believe) along Maryland which required closing two lanes each day. They weren’t the same two lanes each day but nonetheless the result was one lane in each direction remained open; this is essentially a road diet,correct? I watched carefully both from the yard and while driving, and I really wonder whether the average time to pass along that stretch changed much. Someone above mentioned that this summer there are resurfacing plans from Greenbrier to some point east. It’ll probably be 2 lanes then, also. Again, will this not be in practise a road diet?

    1. Eric SaathoffEric S

      Great observation, Andy. I wasn’t aware of the tree trimming and temporary lane reduction. The key difference between what you’re describing and a classic road diet is that it doesn’t include a center turn lane. It seems that center turn lane is key to keeping cars flowing when someone stops to turn left. I’m thinking of Golden Harvest grocery store again, and if it were just two lanes with no center turn lane, the west-bound traffic could be stacking up behind the turning car for quite a long time waiting for a break in the east-bound traffic.

      Nevertheless, your observations are great. It is like many other street projects in the cities where they close lanes temporarily, there is no carmageddon, and people like us wonder why they ever open them back up again. Also reminds me of street narrowing during snow storms – shows how much street is functionally used/necessary.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Keep in mind that the 3rd turn lane is the key to the road diet, because it gets left-turning vehicles out of the way of through vehicles. That’s a HUGE positive change for safety because it decreases the speed differential that can be a killer (quite literally). So yeah, it’s a de facto road capacity reduction, but not a real road diet, which is the substitution of one effective street design for another, albeit one with slightly different design priorities.

Comments are closed.