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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.