A Relatively Good Bicycle Plan For Snelling From MnDOT & St Paul

Part 1 of 3

MnDOT held an open house recently to discuss plans for Snelling Avenue between Hewitt and Como Avenues. First, thanks to MnDOT for their choice of local business location — great staff and cappuccinos at Gingko Coffee.

The plan they presented is better than I expected and actually quite good compared to much of what we’ve seen previously. This should result in one of the better bikeways in Saint Paul. If this had been a lesser plan, a lot of us would have been asking for many of the same elements that they’ve included, so kudos to MnDOT and Saint Paul on that.

Proposed plan for Snelling Avenue from Hewitt to Como through Hamline University. Note: MnDOT stated that these plans are preliminary and may change quite a bit.

The goal of this project, according to MNDOT, is to make it better for people walking and riding bicycles through this messy 3/4 mile section. People are then expected to fan out on to other streets on each end. They are accomplishing that goal fairly well — so long as we remain ignorant of better and safer designs elsewhere and assume that there are safe streets to fan out on at each end.

This plan falls considerably short of the CROW standards that are increasingly being used successfully in other countries. In that regard this is kind of like MNDOT being excited about introducing a flip phone when Europeans have been producing iPhones for years. “But look how much better it is than the brick sized phone we’ve been producing!” they’d say while promising texting capabilities in the future.

This is also much better than what is being done farther south on Snelling by Highland District Council and City of Saint Paul.

The Good

Protected Bikeways – For most of their length, the 7’ wide bikeways are separated from motor traffic by an 8” x 6’ cement curb. This will improve safety and comfort for people walking and riding bicycles. The 7’ width for a one-way bikeway is below the 8.1’ (2.5m) minimum of CROW but much better than a painted lane.

Proposed Typical Section of Snelling Avenue plan (click on images for larger). (Images: Minnesota Department of Transportation unless otherwise noted).

 

Floating Bus Stops – Routing bicycle traffic behind bus stops eliminates numerous conflicts and danger for bicycle riders making this a much safer design. This is the standard in Europe and works quite well. Grade separation plays a critical role in the safety of these in Europe. The lack of such might be an issue here.

More: Ten Bus Stop Bypasses For Bicycles | BicycleDutch

More: The Importance of Floating Bus Stops

Proposed Floating Bus Stops on Snelling Avenue

Tighter radius junctions (but poor placement of crossings) – By safer European standards, the planned radii are still overly wide, speed inducing junctions. They are however much better than existing. If the width is for trucks, then a truck apron would provide for trucks while still slowing both cars and trucks.

The crossings should be at a point where approaching vehicles are perpendicular so that people walking and bicycling are more easily seen through the front windshield and are within drivers natural vision. This plan places vulnerable users in the blind A-pillar of most vehicles. Also, tabling or raising the crossings helps to notify drivers of their existence better than paint.

Existing vs Planned junctions. While still quite a wide and speed inducing radius compared to safer European roads, this is much better than existing.

 

There’s a ped/bike crossing just over that hill.

Removal of Opposing Lane Barrier – The existing approximately 4’ high x 2’ wide cement barrier will be replaced with an 8” high x 3’ wide curb. As pointed out by Dax, one of the traffic engineers, this should help to reduce vehicle speeds. I believe that it likely will, but perhaps only a minor bit. A 1’ wide curbed median section would be better for speed reduction and more importantly driver attention. No median would be best and safest.

Interestingly, this is the opposite of what Highland District Council have said for why they are adding a median on Snelling south of this project. Go figure.

Existing 3′ high barrier. This is approaching the crossing at W. Taylor (discussed in Part II). Note 46 MPH speed indicated. In 10 minutes of watching that was about the average. The highest was 58.

In Part II we’ll look at areas for improvement along with some things that aren’t yet known but could have significant ramifications for safety.

 


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4 Responses to A Relatively Good Bicycle Plan For Snelling From MnDOT & St Paul

  1. Lou May 19, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    Great analysis. This is really a highway today, so these are great improvements—although still kinda suburban (very broad turns instead of onramps/offramps).

    1. What’s CROW?
    2. Was the idea that it’s better to have a wider concrete buffer for bikes and a narrower bike lane, rather than take 1 foot of the concrete buffer and use it for the bike lane?

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell May 19, 2017 at 10:48 am #

      Thanks.

      Oops, should have linked it above. CROW is short for the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic (https://www.crow.nl/publicaties/design-manual-for-bicycle-traffic). This is what guides design of all bikeways in The Netherlands. It includes not just design guidance but a lot of good material on why the designs are the way that they are and when minimums aren’t appropriate. One Dutch engineer told me that less than 10% of bicycling facilities are built to CROW minimums with the rest going beyond.

      I think I’d agree with taking 1′ from the buffer to make the bikeway wider.

  2. David Markle
    David Markle May 19, 2017 at 3:42 pm #

    If MNDOT, wants “to make it better for people walking and riding bicycles,” and if they intend to put walkers and cyclists on the same protected pathway, I hope they intend either to make a grade separation between bikes and pedestrians or at least put plenty of floppy posts between the two.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell May 22, 2017 at 10:02 am #

      Yes. Though not a fan of floppy posts. A bit of grade separation will do thank you. 🙂

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