Snelling Plan II: A Lot Of Room For Improvement

Part I: A Relatively Good Plan For Snelling From MnDOT & St Paul.

In Part I we looked at the many good bits of this plan for a protected bikeway on Snelling Avenue between Hewitt and Como Avenues. There is still much room for improvement though, especially compared to facilities built to CROW standards. There are also some unknowns that could prove important to safety.

The Not So Good

Walkway and Bikeway on the same grade – This is one of many why-don’t-we-just-learn-from-others bits. This hasn’t worked in The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, New York, Minneapolis, or elsewhere. Why will it work here?

The speed differential between people walking and riding bicycles is a nearly constant factor of four — 3-4 MPH vs 11-15 MPH. These are not compatible. These two modes are only more compatible than bicycles and cars because both are lightweight vulnerable users unlikely to kill or seriously injure each other.

Bikeways in Europe are separated in grade, color, and often material from walkways. The grade separation need not be more than about 2″ to be effective. Note that the curb is a quite shallow mountable curb which is much safer for bicycle riders. This grade separation has been the standard since the 1980s so the only time you will see a bikeway and walkway on the same grade today is on very old infrastructure.

Neither paint nor differences in color or material are enough to keep cars from entering bike lanes and killing bicycle riders. They don’t keep bicycle riders from slowing motor traffic, either. They also don’t work to keep people walking and riding safely separated.

Though harsher curbs are necessary to protect people from errant drivers, only a slight grade difference does so for people walking or riding bicycles. Just two inches difference using a safe mountable curb is enough to significantly reduce conflict and keep people walking from venturing in to the bikeway, and keep bicycle riders from going in to the walkway. It’s a difference that people feel, and it works.

According to Mark Lindeberg from MnDOT, the bicycle people they talked to did not want any grade separation between the bikeway and walkway. One reason is because it would take up too much space. Mark added that grade separation creates a drainage problem and makes snow plowing more difficult.

For space required, we’re talking about three inches (out of 13 feet) and this is three inches that will keep people walking 3 MPH from getting in the way of people riding 15 MPH. In querying a number of people, I’ve not found any that requested this.

This does complicate drainage. European countries successfully deal with this by including longitudinal drains along the bikeway, often built in to the mountable curb. These work well at minimal extra cost, do not cause problems for bicycle riders, and are better for pedestrians, since they reduce the amount of water on the walkway.

Plowing with current equipment may be an issue. Cities outside of the U.S. have been doing this successfully for decades though. Saint Paul Public Works should perhaps send some folks to The Netherlands to learn how it’s done.

More: Clearing The Streets Of Snow and Ice | BicycleDutch.

It’s likely that we’ll see autonomous plowing by the time this project is completed. This will not only reduce costs overall but allow for more customized plowing operations with no additional costs.

Dangerous Curbs – As indicated in the plans, the curbs facing the bikeway appear quite steep and dangerous. For bicycle rider safety, these should be much shallower mountable curbs. This especially given the somewhat narrow width.

The proposed curb facing the bikeway is quite dangerous. This curb creates a high probability of crashes due both to pedals catching on it and wheels hitting it. This should be a much shallower angle mountable curb.

12’ & 13’ Vehicle Lanes – These are quite wide lanes that encourage speeding and inattentive driving. Interstate highways are 12′ – 14′. And someone thinks a 13′ wide lane in the middle of a university campus will slow drivers down? In safer Europe, these would likely be about 10’ (3m). Even 11’ wide lanes would help considerably with speed and most importantly, driver attention.


West Breda Junction – The junctions of West Breda Avenue with the entrance/exit ramps are quite dangerous. Cars and trucks sometimes take these at considerable speed and often do not look or even attempt to slow down or stop. A positive note is that the crossings have been placed farther from the junction so that drivers will be more perpendicular to the bikeway and walkway and so more likely to see people crossing. Interestingly, Sharks Teeth were used to warn of vehicle on vehicle crashes but not used for vehicle on human crashes.

These junctions should be eliminated or made much safer than currently designed.

Proposed plan for West Breda @ Ramps (only northbound shown).


Dangerous Crossings – Sadly this project is not addressing the danger for people trying to cross multiple lanes of same-direction motor traffic without stop lights. Numerous people at Gingko mentioned how dangerous current crossings are and the need for traffic lights. I completely agree.

Average speed here is about 46mph based on a speed indicator sign just before this. When there is little traffic, this crossing isn’t a problem. Most dangerous is likely an overtaking hit when a near-side vehicle stops but the vehicle in the next lane does not.

More: I’m Really Disliking Traffic Engineers Today

Truck Route – The most dangerous elements of this design are perhaps because this is a designated truck route. Snelling Avenue itself is entirely residential, retail, and education. It is not an appropriate place for heavy truck traffic.

Wherever possible, trucks should be routed to safer and less impacting routes. For example, trucks to/from the Rail Depot and other industrial businesses on Pierce Butler should use Transfer Road and Cretin Avenue to I-94. This might be a slightly longer route but will keep these trucks on more appropriate roads and off of Snelling.

Longer term we need to begin considering where it is appropriate to allow larger trucks and industrial businesses with these generally limited to places that have direct access to motorways without going through residential/retail/education areas.

Continuation of Bikeway – The bikeways should be planned to continue beyond the project area. For example; 1) On to Snelling Avenue Service Roads off of West Breda to provide safe bicycling to schools and businesses served by these and 2) both north and south on Snelling.

Image showing existing junctions with West Breda Avenue and surrounding area. Bikeways should be extended to allow people to safely and comfortably ride to locations such as the Hmong Academy.


The Unknowns

Speeds – The two most immediate problems of higher speeds are the rain/snow/slush wake thrown by passing cars and trucks, and how dangerous higher speed make pedestrian and bicycle crossings. How fast can they go without endangering people on the bikeway and at crossings? I believe CROW recommends 30 MPH – the maximum speed in built up areas. Faster speeds require greater protection, typically a minimum 14’ verge (a vegetative buffer) and considerable bits at crossings.

Signal Pattern –  The signal patterns should provide for completely protected crossings that do not allow any motor traffic to cross when more vulnerable users have right-of-way. CROW calls this Separation in Time. Right On Green is one of the more dangerous maneuvers on U.S. roads as is Left On Green. When drivers have a green most look only for what might threaten them, not what they themselves threaten by continuing on without looking for people walking or riding bicycles. A green to them says go.

No Right On Red – How many drivers cautiously stop and look before turning right-on-red as they should? Extremely few and at some junctions, zero. I’ve watched and counted. This is worse with the wide radii curbs used in these new junctions.

This has a positive impact way beyond each individual junction. It tends to slow all traffic and make all drivers a bit more attentive and cautious. It helps to reduced the lets-go-everywhere-as-quickly-as-possible-without-caution mentality that right-on-red engenders in drivers. We need to begin to draw distinctions between surface streets and motorways or interstates. We need drivers to feel a huge difference in a road with no people walking or riding bicycles (motorway) and one with people walking along and crossing (all non limited-access roads and streets).

These are why nearly all other developed countries have outlawed right-on-red and are placing increasing limits on right-on-green and left-on-green.

Trees or Vegetation in the 6’ buffer? This isn’t so much an unknown as a thought that it might be good to have some grass, small trees, or other vegetation in the 6’ buffer between the traffic lanes and bikeway. A grass strip can be very effective in trapping road debris to keep them from migrating to the bikeway and endangering bicycle riders. With heated drainage underneath (powered by solar) this could also possibly act as a good way to drain off plowed snow, would be aesthetically appealing, and provide much needed shade during hot sunny summer days.

In Part III we’ll look at how this plan compares to others around the world.


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