Margaret Street at Johnson Parkway after construction 2018

Improved Yielding to Cyclists in St. Paul

Most days I commute to work using the Margaret Street Bicycle Boulevard. This east/west street has been a designated bikeway for a while. St. Paul recently received federal funds for some major improvements:

  1. The intersection with Johnson Parkway was closed to cars.
  2. The intersection with White Bear Avenue got a flashing HAWK light.
  3. The intersection with Atlantic got a traffic circle (more of those to come).

What I want to highlight is the incredible rate of cars yielding to bicycles that I have observed at the improved Johnson Parkway crossing.

Margaret Street Changes

Here is what the intersection looked like in August 2017:

Johnson Parkway at Margaret Street 2017

Johnson Parkway at Margaret Street, 2017

Margaret Street at Johnson Parkway 2017

Margaret Street at Johnson Parkway, 2017


This is what the closure location looked like just after construction:

Margaret Street at Johnson Parkway after construction 2018

Margaret Street at Johnson Parkway after construction, 2018


And this is what it looked like in November 2018:

Margaret Street at Johnson Parkway November 2018

Margaret Street at Johnson Parkway, November 2018


Cars cannot proceed through the intersection or even take a right. It is important to note the lack of any “bicycle crossing” sign. I don’t think those even exist in St. Paul. Instead, there is a pedestrian crosswalk sign.

Johnson Parkway at Margaret Street November 2018

Johnson Parkway at Margaret Street, November 2018

Why Are They Yielding?

My experience has been that if the first or second cars don’t stop, the third one will. But usually it’s the first one that stops. Now, why is this? What is it about the design that works psychologically on the driver in ways that other intersections with cyclists do not?

Here are some ideas:

  • A sign designates priority. While it specifically shows a person walking, it increases awareness that a crossing exists and it should take priority. (Now that I look again, I see a similar sign here before the changes.)
  • There are no other vehicles at this location that are supposed to wait their turn. The Johnson Parkway drivers don’t treat it like a car intersection because it isn’t one. It’s different, so autopilot is put on pause.
  • Johnson Parkway is only two lanes, so it is safe to stop. Other cars won’t be whipping around and maintaining car momentum that stresses out a yielding driver.
  • The bicycle rider can clearly be seen waiting to cross. Because there is no risk from turning vehicles and there is more protection from the curb, I am able to stop much closer to the traffic lanes than at a typical intersection. There is no stop bar keeping me behind a pedestrian sidewalk. I am incredibly visible to drivers.

Stop for Me

St. Paul has also been engaged in a “Stop for Me” campaign for a number of years, which purportedly educates the public about stopping for pedestrians. I have been skeptical about whether the program actually changes culture, fearing instead that it engenders anger toward pedestrians and police for setting up sting operations.

The experiences I’ve had crossing Johnson Parkway on the Margaret Street Bicycle Boulevard have me wondering whether a cultural change has occurred that extends beyond pedestrians to cyclists.

Grand Round Open House

Whatever is working at this intersection should be replicated. Fortunately for us, that may be possible soon. Other intersections on Johnson Parkway are proposed to be closed to car traffic in order to complete a section of the Grand Round. If you are interested in seeing this project completed with the best design, please attend an Open House scheduled for this Thursday, January 17, 5 to 7 p.m.

What do you think makes this crossing work?

Eric Saathoff

About Eric Saathoff

Eric Saathoff is a public school teacher living in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul. He is a regular walker, cyclist, transit user, and driver with his wife and three young children. Eric serves on the Payne-Phalen Community Council and the St Paul Transportation Committee.