Please Color Outside the Lines

Recently I realized my complaints about three new urban improvements boiled down to the same thing: Careful thought and design work seemed to stop at the edge of the project. Something just outside the lines had screwed it up.

My first and longest-standing complaint like this concerned the lack of a bus shelter on University Avenue SE next to the Green Line’s Stadium Village station.

People getting off the train to transfer to the Route 6 bus were standing in snow, rain or wind, sometimes shivering or wet, with nowhere to set down bags or rest legs, just steps away from a major piece of transit infrastructure.

Planners should have let their minds wander about fifteen paces from the station to realize something was missing. I griped about it on Twitter for years.

Then suddenly, last winter, to Metro Transit’s credit, a bus shelter appeared.

My second complaint had to do with an auto-oriented redevelopment that most in the community wouldn’t consider an “improvement.” But the situation there perhaps had more urgency.

At the new Holiday stationstore on Central Avenue NE in Minneapolis, two wide curbcuts now deposit cars onto a one-way stretch of Seventh Street NE that steers two lanes of downtown-bound traffic (plus two turn lanes) from East Hennepin Avenue to First Avenue NE. The problem: the one-way nature of the street wasn’t made clear to drivers leaving the new gas station complex.

The City of Minneapolis has two one-way signs high up on poles planted in the boulevard across the street from the curbcuts. But as it turns out, Route 2 buses lay over there between runs, blocking the one-way signs from view. Holiday had no one-way signs of their own.

In the first couple weeks after gas station’s grand opening, I swung by several times for the free air. Within a few minutes, I’d see someone at least start to pull out the wrong way.

This is a new use for that land: no one was accustomed to driving from that property onto that stretch of street. (Before Holiday’s sprawling suburban-style development, the site was mostly empty or dormant, with a shuttered fish store and a vacant parcel where an auto-body shop that had really been a meth lab had blown up.) All the more reason, when Holiday made the site active, to take extra care so people don’t turn the wrong way and drive head-on into oncoming traffic.

In response to my tweeted griping, Holiday, to their credit, saw the problem and installed their own one-way signs. (The city is apparently satisfied with its own often-obscured one-way signs and lack of wrong-way signage.) I was left to wonder how both a city that’s in the business of regulating traffic around reinvigorated properties, and a company with more than 500 locations like this  missed a potentially deadly situation just outside the redevelopment’s boundaries.

The last goof-up I saw involved the new bike paths along Washington Avenue South in downtown Minneapolis. One path starts by jutting out from the curb at Fifth Avenue South. In my car, I drove over the curb of that initial part several times and I wondered why. On closer inspection, I discovered the traffic and bicycle lane markings in the block leading to the bike path were mostly (or completely) worn out and hard or impossible to see. That hasn’t been fixed yet, but I assume the lane stripes will get refreshed at some point in the near future.

Whether it’s a infrastructure project that helps people get out of their cars or redevelopment of under-used land that helps people stay in them, the success of a project in an urban environment depends on attention to detail — including details that lie just outside the project’s boundaries.

14 thoughts on “Please Color Outside the Lines

  1. UrbanDlite

    Good post. I appreciate your attention to detail. This stuff matters!

    How responsive do you find the city to be when you tweet at them about issues like the one way sign issue at the Holiday? If they don’t respond, do you follow up a 311 report?

    1. Chris Steller Post author

      If I recall correctly, I had a separate email exchange with city council staff. They did seem to understand the situation. I didn’t pursue it with them past Holiday putting up their own signs, which took care of most of the problem.

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    That last image of the bike route reminds me of the Hopkins 8th Avenue cycle track. Lined up right in front of southbound motor vehicle lanes, wide enough for drivers to go right on down. Rather than having it designed with a solid post, it looks like someone realized this could be bad and instead sat an orange cone in it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Do public works in Minnesota have a phobia of fixed, non-plastic bollards along sidewalk curbs?

  3. Sam

    One of my #1 pet peeves on this subject is how MNDOT and other traffic agencies keep painting new wide zebra crosswalks without painting a stop line in front of them. Crosswalk creep is a real problem here no matter what, but painting very solid stop lines does help. Not doing it makes the fancy new crosswalks more or less useless. Details, people.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      You think the stop line matters? I’m not sure. I think it doesn’t at all for right turns on red, which are the biggest offenders. Maybe it does a little for non-turning traffic?

      1. Sam

        I think they help when they’re very visible and placed a ways back from the intersection. I know that some drivers (and either I’m getting more crotchety or there are more and more of them out there lately) will refuse to drive responsibly no matter what but it seems like a lot of people just don’t even notice that they’re doing it.

    2. Serafina ScheelSerafina Scheel

      One of the things I noticed driving in Germany last week was how US-style traffic signals encourage crosswalk creep–they are placed high and on the other side of the intersection. German traffic signals are lower and placed before the crosswalk, so drivers have to stop before the crosswalk in order to see the signal change.

  4. Chris Steller Post author

    I went by Washington Ave. S. and 5th Ave. S. last night, and the lane striping on the block leading up to the new bike path has been refreshed!

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