Let’s Ban Slip Lanes in Saint Paul

Today I took the A Line rapid-transit bus south on Snelling, meaning to get off at University and catch the Green Line train. But I wasn’t paying attention and missed the stop at University. That meant I had to ride the bus all the way down to Marshall Avenue (which is about twice as far as the usual stop distance) before I could get off and walk back.

The reason it’s so far between the stops is that the enormous, hideous trench of Interstate 94 runs between these two major east-west Saint Paul streets, glorying in its eight-lane-wide bridge (on a city street!) plus the two-lane, one-way frontage roads that flank it.

Here’s what it looks like. I am represented by the green path, north-bound:

Snelling Slip Lane

This image shows the north-south Snelling Avenue bridge, part of the highway below it, and the frontage road, which is called Concordia Avenue. From the left, cars are arriving onto Snelling, having exited 94 at highway speed. On the right, cars go east on Concordia to enter the ramp onto I-94.

Note the spot where my green highlighted path jogs a bit to the left and then straightens out. That curving paved area coming from Concordia is called a “slip lane,” and it’s a hard-structured right turn lane that is supposed to be a yield. The concrete triangle that creates the lane is called a “porkchop island.”

You can’t tell in this photo, but the button that I, as a pedestrian, am supposed to push if I want to cross in either of the directions at this intersection is located on the porkchop island, so before I can push it I have to cross the slip lane. So if the traffic coming from the left has a green light, and there are people turning right in the slip lane, there’s no way for me to get to the button to ask for the light to change in my direction.

For me, northbound, there is a crosswalk painted on the street. There is no crosswalk for people who are walking east-west.

Cars and trucks come from the left side of this image at almost highway speed, as I said. They approach the intersection with no intention of stopping because their drivers generally know there is a bit of merge lane ahead, so even if the light is red, there’s no risk of hitting another car. Not one of these drivers stopped or slowed down because there was a pedestrian approaching the intersection.

Snelling 94 Porkchop

The Snelling porkchop in summer.

When I finally got across to the porkchop island (and remember, I am completely able-bodied and nimble) it was because there was a car approaching a ways down the lane and I just hoped they didn’t accelerate toward me.

If there had been a pedestrian walking east on Concordia, they would have been even more endangered by on-coming right-turners because it’s a lot harder to look behind you as you walk and they would have been closer to the approaching cars than I was, closer to Snelling in the crosswalk. Plus those pedestrians don’t even have a crosswalk to signal their possible existence to the drivers in the first place.

This slip lane (like all slip lanes) is very dangerous for pedestrians, and its existence basically tells us that we don’t belong in this area at all. Moving cars as efficiently as possible is prioritized (God forbid drivers should have to wait to turn right! Traffic might back up onto the highway!).

Do the traffic engineers who design this infrastructure and insist it is needed to maintain “level of service” (which only applies to vehicles, not pedestrians) ever walk these streets themselves?

I doubt it.

Pat Thompson

About Pat Thompson

Pat Thompson is cochair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council's Transportation Committee, a member of Transition Town - All St. Anthony Park, and a gardener in public and private places. She is a member of the streets.mn Climate Committee.

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72 thoughts on “Let’s Ban Slip Lanes in Saint Paul

  1. Monte Castleman

    Both the map and the Google Street View image (from Aug 2018) clearly show an east-west crosswalk across Snelling, complete with a refuge island. Is that inaccurate?

      1. Monte Castleman

        OK, I understand now, but it still looks to me like that after the bridge redecking the crosswalk across the free right was moved so it’s not really north-south any more, but exactly splitting the difference.

  2. Ian R Buck

    I believe the expectation is not for east-west pedestrians to cross the slip lane without a crosswalk, but for them to use the same crosswalk as north-south pedestrians.
    I’m not saying that’s a reasonable expectation, but there it is.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      This is right. I think it is considered safer, in most cases, to make pedestrians walk farther to a single crosswalk. I am not sure all pedestrians do. When I had to cross 16th & 3rd in downtown Minneapolis I’d routinely ignore the direction the ramps pointed me.

  3. anonymous

    There is a pedestrian bridge over the freeway like <0.2 miles west. Grand total of less than half a mile out of the way, ten minutes but probably less factoring not waiting for stoplights, that's exponentially safer and more pleasant. A little walking never hurt anyone.

    I don't know about slip lanes in general but there seems to be a decent work around for this one.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Let’s say you’re walking from Selby to University along Snelling. it’s a straight distance of .6 miles, versus 1.1 miles if you take that bridge. A half mile might not seem like a lot for someone driving, but on foot…

      Furthermore, just getting to and from the ped bridge requires you to negotiate two different onramps and speeding car situations. 90% + of people walking here would not do that. We need to design for behavior rather than trying to force people’s into unreasonable detours. That approach never works.

      1. anonymous

        Looking at the map, all of the on ramps and off ramps are avoided using the pedestrian bridge. While its definitely out of the way, factoring in stop lights its certainly not that much time. Snelling from 94 to Marshall is far and away the busiest road in St. Paul. They are not getting rid of the slip lane here. I think the slip lane on Lexington and Energy Park is dumb and there are probably others that could be pitched and its certainly not a design preference.

        I’d use the pedestrian bridge and I plan to if I ever get a ticket to a United game or the Johnnie/Tommie game.

        We can certainly agree to disagree. I would note that in many instances whether its parking or driving, its seems that behavior modification is deemed necessary and whatever minor inconveniences are incurred are a small price to pay.

        1. Christa MChris Moseng

          Minor inconvenience? Your suggestion requires a 100% increase in trip time.

          Try telling a driver to increase their trip time by 100% so things can be very marginally more convenient for a pedestrian and see how far you get.

          1. Rosa

            Amen! It’s somehow more OK to ask pedestrians (who are, let’s remember, out in the weather, and more likely to be elderly or disabled) to add 10 minutes to their travel than to expect cars to pause and look before making a right-angle turn.

    2. Jeb RachJeb Rach

      That’s a ten-minute walk on a one-way trip, assuming you’re wanting to eventually get back to Snelling. If the weather is cold, windy, rainy, snowy, slippery, or the pedestrian has any sort of mobility issues, that goes from “unreasonable” to “ridiculous.” Taking away that slip lane would add maybe a minute or two to a motorist’s commute, and the motorist has the luxury of (generally) being in a climate-controlled car with decent protection from the elements. I’d much rather add a small inconvenience to a motorist than I would add a much more difficult wayward journey to a pedestrian, especially in an urban area.

    3. Dan MarshallDan Marshall

      Although I am fond of the Aldine Ped bridge, it is one of the worst in the city. It’s the old prison cage style from the ’70s and you feel like you’re in mortal danger when you’re on it. And, it dumps down a steep ramp straight onto Concordia on the south side with limited visibility–a clear hazard for cyclists. The only good thing about it is the lovely painting on the concrete floor. I certainly wouldn’t walk out of my way to cross 94 there.

      1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

        It’s also weirdly hard to find from the south, even with the improved wayfinding signs. My usual attempts to explain are something along the lines of “look for the giant warehouse/parking area near Aldine park, and then try to find a way to go behind it toward the freeway noise”

    4. Christa MChris Moseng

      This is an absurd, insulting comment. The “work around” for a dangerous infrastructure decision is for a pedestrian to go a half mile out of their way? (.2 +.2) Assuming assuming all pedestrians are able-bodied and have nothing but time on their hands to compensate for car-prioritizing hostile infrastructure is the sort of cavalier garbage thinking that makes St. Paul such a pedestrian-hostile heckspace.

      The workaround is to slow some cars down so people can safely use the sidewalks on Snelling over 94 that were presumably put there so they could, in fact, use them, and not use some other infrastructure somewhere else.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Here we are with “cars” vs “people” again, like there’s not real live people in those cars. It’s a fair debate if we want to prioritize people on foot as opposed to people in cars, but we shouldn’t pretend we’re prioritizing “people” over “inanimate objects”, just some people over a different group of people.

        1. Christa MChris Moseng

          Cars are one mode of transportation, the convenience and pleasure of which is clearly being prioritized, in this case, over the pedestrian mode. One of these modes involves a person with no protective exoskeleton or climate controlled comfort seating capsule.

          So yeah, one’s more human than the other.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Next time I’m in a car with my sister I’ll tell her that she’s no longer considered a human and we’ll see how she takes it.

            1. Christa MChris Moseng

              My sympathy to all the poor, beleagured automobile occupants (Real People™), having to slow down so people-outside-of-cars (formerly known as “people”) can ambulate.

              It’s touching that you champion this underclass of forgotten humans, who definitely never receive highly deferential policy and infrastructure treatment at every opportunity.

              It’s definitely me that’s seeing things the wrong way.

    5. Christa MChris Moseng

      There’s another 94 offramp like .6 miles east. Barely more than half a mile out of the way, thirty-nine seconds, but probably less factoring that everyone speeds on 94, that’s safer and just as pleasant. A little driving never hurt anyone.

      I don’t know about off-ramps in general, but there seems to be decent work around for this one.

      1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

        Good point. Plus, the equivalent of walking 0.4 miles is like 10 minutes? Maybe 8-30 minutes depending on speed, amount of ice, etc. So why don’t we just have motorists drive to downtown St. Paul and back, that’s about the same amount of time.

    6. Sarah

      Prior to changing office locations, I walked from Snelling and Hague to and from the Green Line on Uni almost daily (because the A Line was sometimes uncomfortably full at the times I wanted to use it, and it’s close enough to be a draw time-wise). Adding a trip to get to the pedestrian bridge is something that, while it theoretically adds only about ten minutes to my walk, is something I would never have considered. To be fair, this is partially because that walk takes me past some parking lots and other areas where I feel too isolated while walking alone, but that amount of time does feel like a big inconvenience.

      1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

        That’s another really good point, Sarah. I definitely do not feel comfortable walking in that area, especially at night.

    7. Will

      A little walking never hurt anyone is exactly the kind of response we should also give to parking battles around here.

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    This post is a great reflection of just how bad a pedestrian experience slip lanes and porkchops provide.

    I would take it farther though: except for extreme circumstances like very acute-angled intersections, ban slip lanes and porkchops in all urban and suburban areas.

    If a freer flow is needed, build a roundabout.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Proud to say you can count Richfield’s porkchops on one hand — four. Still four too many.

        Bloomington, on the other hand. On a quick scan through Google Maps, I counted nearly 60 on American Boulevard alone. They even used porkchops and slip lanes on the IKEA driveway. You can see a pedestrian enjoying the safe and dignified walking experience.

        I agree that in general they can be even worse for pedestrians in the suburbs, although I would say I think Snelling in that areas (94 and north) that it faces many of the same issues a street like American Blvd face: high-speed regional traffic.

    1. Brian

      You’re okay with taking via eminent domain tens or hundreds of thousands of properties to replace all of these intersections with roundabouts? In most cases a roundabout takes more land than a signalized intersection.

      I thought roundabouts are usually considered worse for pedestrians and bicycles than a normal intersection?

      1. Monte Castleman

        As a motorist I’m OK with roundabouts in certain situations. As a pedestrian or bicyclist I absolutely hate roundabouts because there’s no traffic signals to stop motorists.

      2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        I believe I said, “if a freer flow is needed, build a roundabout.”

        Many intersections do not require a free flow. In any case, porkchops themselves take up a lot of space, and often give the intersections proportions similar to that of a roundabout. With double-left turn lanes, they often take up much more space on the approaches. Additionally, most of the time these porkchopped intersections are adjoining large suburban properties where the additional land needed doesn’t require a full take, but involves a parking spot or two, or some landscaping being rearranged.

        As for pedestrian safety and experience, roundabouts offer superior sightlines and generally shorter crossing distances than porkchops. (Since the crosswalk is right on the corner bend with slip lanes, it has to be much wider than a standard lane width to allow large vehicles to make the turn.) I know some people prefer (small) signalized intersections to roundabouts, but I’d be surprised if anyone prefers slip lanes specifically to roundabouts.

        1. Monte Castleman

          Well, I’m one example. A slip lane doesn’t have a red light to stop motorists either, but it generally doesn’t have nearly the level of traffic turning as traffic entering the roundabout.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            Volume is greater, but with a typical roundabout design, 100% of vehicles must yield so on entrance at least all cars are slowing. On exit, cars are accelerating, but the turns are generally tighter, and they are leaving a 15-20 mph environment — not leaving a 50+ mph freeway ramp.

            There is also a positive trade-off with roundabouts that they eliminate delays for pedestrians. With free rights + byzantine signal programming and huge suburban streets, you have to deal with crossing the free flow *and* waiting in the porkchop refuge island for several minutes to get a walk signal.

            With both roundabouts and porkchops at signals, they can be enhanced with pedestrian flashers. I have only seen that in one corridor for porkchops: Sibley Highway (TH 13) in Burnsville-Eagan area. Roundabout flashers seem to be becoming more common.

            1. Andrew Evans

              Sean Hayford Oleary

              I think it depends a lot on the roundabout and then we’re counting on drivers doing the right thing when most don’t even know how to use a turn signal let alone that you should do that on a roundabout.

              I’m really surprised more accidents don’t happen at the Minnehaha parkway/drive Godfrey pkw roundabout. There the crosswalks are back from the entrance a good car length, and the roundabout is tight enough where visibility isn’t always great, not to mention paying attention to cars. It would be a lot better to have the crosswalks at the entrance.

              Personally for crosswalks I’m a big fan of flashers in some form. The more I know someone is waiting or crossing the better.

              I’m also a fan of roundabouts, although that’s more for traffic flow (and annoying my partner by going around them a few times) than it would be for pedestrians.


              1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                “I’m really surprised more accidents don’t happen at the Minnehaha parkway/drive Godfrey pkw roundabout.”

                And yet there aren’t more crashes, which should maybe tell us something? Like maybe the design works after all?

                “There the crosswalks are back from the entrance a good car length, and the roundabout is tight enough where visibility isn’t always great, not to mention paying attention to cars. It would be a lot better to have the crosswalks at the entrance.”

                I’d always thought (not in a particularly informed opinion) that being back from the entrance gives drivers nothing less to focus on but the crosswalk, which helps.

                Also, from experience, drivers there are even more deferential to people not in cars than they need to be. I think there’s something about the context that lets people know they are driving through a park and there are lots of other people around to be aware of.

        2. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

          I think the geometry argues strongly for slower speeds on a roundabout (right curve immediately followed by left curve, then by another right curve) vs slip lanes (just one right curve, usually with a following “speed up lane”

  5. Eric Ecklund

    Agreed that we don’t need slip lanes. This coming from a person who drives often and lives in Bloomington, but also walks and bikes a lot and slip lanes are an absolute pain. Actually even when driving they can be a pain because some people like to just fly through even though they need to slow down and look out for pedestrians and approaching traffic. I slow down and the impatient drivers behind me think “how dare he follow the rules!?”.

    Bloomington is making a station area plan around South Bloomington Transit Center, and it includes getting rid of the slip lanes at 98th & Lyndale, which is welcome news. Now we just need to do that for the rest of the city.

    As for the traffic engineers, even if they do test these as pedestrians they still don’t care. Priority number 1 is moving as many cars as possible, and they think you should be grateful there’s a painted crosswalk.

    1. Monte Castleman

      I take the opposite viewpoint of most people. I like them as a pedestrian because it’s usually easy to wait for a gap in traffic to cross them, then at the main intersection the crossing distance is shorter than a conventional right turn lane, and I’m pretty sure a motorist isn’t going to start moving and bump me in attempt to make a right turn. As a motorist it’s very uncomfortable for me to crane my neck around to see if there’s any traffic coming before merging.

      1. Eric Ecklund

        Do you walk during rush hour? Because at some intersections there’s no waiting for a break in traffic or you’ll be standing there for awhile. You just have to hope there’s a driver who’s paying attention and will actually follow the law and yield to you.

        If you can’t see approaching traffic when turning right from a right-turn lane then check to make sure there aren’t any pedestrians or bikers approaching and creep forward into the crosswalk and then you can see. I don’t know if that’s technically breaking the law since you’re blocking the crosswalk, but as long as you check to make sure no one is using the crosswalk then you should be fine. Of course, always double check before proceeding with a right turn. Pedestrians and bikers can be on any sidewalk and crosswalk at any time coming from either direction.

  6. Dan MarshallDan Marshall

    Even more egregious than slip lanes at a freeway ramp exit are Saint Paul’s numerous slip lanes at far less busy intersections. Prior at Pierce Butler is totally unnecessary and an accident waiting to happen. Energy Park at Raymond, Snelling, and Lexington (try negotiating that with your kids on bikes on the way to Como Zoo!). Jackson at Acker and Acker at Cortland (why?!).

    There is absolutely no reason for any of these slip lanes and many more throughout the city. They could be eliminated instantly with a few concrete barriers.

    1. Amy

      Wow, I’ve driven around this corner many times and I can tell you as a driver, it’s very confusing as you’re thinking ahead to having to quickly merge from traffic coming from your left and if/when you see pedestrians also at the ‘island.’ it can be startling as I for one am NOT used to seeing pedestrians there, though I do keep an eye out for them. They just should get rid of that slip lane. I’d rather wait for a green light to make a right turn right vs. risk some poor pedestrian/s getting mowed down. Also, cars vary a lot in terms of what their blind spots are and I could see someone’s car frame possibly blocking being able to see someone standing at said island or attempting to cross the street TO that island.

    2. Brian

      Simply blocking the slip lanes would make it extremely difficult for a bus or truck to turn right at those intersections. The corner is essentially a 90 degree angle because there is no expectation that vehicles are turning right there.

      I already see semi drivers nearly wiping out signal poles at a regular corner on a regular basis.

      I can see them removing these as traffic signals are replaced and intersections are rebuilt.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        You’d want to redesign the corners, not simply block them. The unfortunate thing is that MnDOT just installed these last year, so they will be around for decades.

  7. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    This is a great overview of the many problems of pork chop street design. It’s particularly bad in winter, as many of them seem to be unattended (whose job is it to shovel them?). Even shoveled ones are quickly overwhelmed with street plow ice wake on all three sides.

  8. Monte Castleman

    So if it’s OK that “Traffic might back up onto the highway” I presume it’s also OK that people will be hurt in car crashes because traffic is backing up onto the highway?

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Sure — but we don’t seem to apply this life-safety perspective to other solutions to prevent backups. If backups necessarily cause crashes, shouldn’t we implement congestion pricing ASAP?

      We don’t, because we feel that it is unfair or economically burdensome — despite the fact that it could improve mobility reduce crashes. It is normal to make a choice that has such severe trade-offs.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Or else build our freeways somewhere remotely close to the capacity they need to be to serve the people that want to use them. That it’s not politically possible to do that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do things that we know are going to make congestion worse.

        1. Frank Phelan

          How many lanes should I-94 between the downtowns be?

          How much would that cost for construction and and acquisition?

          Where will we get the money for that?

          What else could we do with that money?

          Serious questions, not just razzing you?

          1. Brian

            I suggest I-94 be at least four continuous lanes in each direction with no lane drop/adds as we have today. That should be possible within the existing footprint. I recall estimates of something over $1 billion, but less than $2 billion. I-94 is going to get to the point where it absolutely has to be rebuilt.

            Funding could come from increasing the gas tax.

            Any time government spends large sums of money on anything there will be cries of that money could be spent on the poor, the homeless, education, or any number of other causes.

            1. Frank Phelan

              Well there’s no way we’ll recover that money at the fare box. I mean, toll both.


          2. Monte Castleman

            I don’t know. My initial reaction is that 4-5 continuous lanes should be enough for the current people using I-94. But there’s also a lot of economic activity being suppressed because we tolerate a complete breakdown of our freeway system twice a day, as well as people cutting through neighborhoods that should be using the freeway. I really don’t know the scope of the right of way needed or the condition of the existing freeway so I don’t want to even guess at an actual number.

            As for where we could get money and what could we do with it, besides NIMBYs not having money is part of what I meant by it not being politically possible to do anything meaningful. It does seem government takes in a lot of money, but they spend it on all kinds of things that are not what I consider core functions of government like roads, parks, national defense, and public safety are. But I consider it a fair point that if we could fix 90% of the congestion problem in I-94 for “X” and 95% for “2X”, maybe we should spend X on the congestion problem on I-35W (or some other core government function) instead.

            1. Rosa

              lots of the highways through the Cities have simultaneously totally stopped/backed up lanes and completely empty ones, at rush hour. It’s because people going to different places in certain directions aren’t evenly distributed. If right turners would cause a backup, that lane will still be backed up even if there are 4 empty lanes next to it – because the people wanting to turn right won’t be in the other lanes, they will be in the right turn lane.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      There are many many places in the system with routine backups and slowdowns, and people don’t die constantly…

      … or if there are frequent crashes, it’s a solveable problem through changes to the freeway itself.

    3. Eric Ecklund

      Who’s more likely to die or get seriously injured in an accident; a pedestrian with nothing but flesh and bone to protect them, or a motorist with a metal shell around them and airbags?

  9. Pine SalicaPine Salica

    anyway, the real solution is to take 5-6 of the 8 lanes of Snelling and build housing on them. the lot my adorable 1916 brownstone is on is only 60 feet wide – we could make some amazing things happen with that much real estate freed up for homes.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Personally, I’ve got a soft spot for big, grand streets — but not necessarily ones that have a bunch of lanes. Could probably be some private development in the vacant land around 94, but for the most part Snelling has a 100′ right-of-way. I’d rather see that fully utilized with substantial boulevards and sidewalks than simply vacated for private development.

    2. Brian

      I can assure you that all of those drivers using Snelling aren’t just going to switch to walking or biking. They’ll just clog up other north/south routes in the area.

  10. Commissar

    As a driver, i hate slip lanes in most cases. Many make it hard to see cross traffic, resulting in crashes. Many times, however, they are needed to accommodate truck traffic, such as on snelling. Snelling is a designated truck route. In fact, st paul is pretty particular on what routes trucks take.

    All parkways, including Lexington and 35e south of 94, are closed to any vehicles over 9k gvwr.

    1. Monte Castleman

      So that raises the question: For people that object to slip lanes, are slip lanes worse, or is having a really wide curve radius on the main ramp (in addition to the extra space for a conventional right turn lane) to accommodate turning semi-trucks worse? Having a surmountable curb like we do at roundabouts will not work because the push-buttons (now required by ADA whether or not an automatic walk signal is provided) have to go near the corner.

      1. commissar

        and neither, i think, is the solution to simply install roundabouts. not enough space, and traffic volumes are just too high. for frame of reference, dale is about 21 thousand CPD. lexington is ~30k. snelling ~40-45k @94 dale might work, but a big enough roundabout for the other two would exceed available real estate

      2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Given that absolute choice choice, I would prefer a wide radius at main intersections, with significantly set back crosswalks (and sidewalk routing such that that doesn’t feel like an obvious annoying detour).

        France Avenue at 76th does this well — huge radius, but crosswalks are set behind radius. (Although the northeast corner demonstrates what not to do with sidewalk routing.)

        But, if we have options other than that simply accommodating the largest possible vehicle making the smoothest possible turn, I choose those. Snelling has three south bound lanes in this area. If a truck is not attempting to turn on red (or we had NTOR), they could use all lanes to complete the turn.

        Even better: complete Ayd Mill to 94, lift truck ban on 35E, and get semis off Snelling.

      3. Rosa

        How about slip lanes with a stop at the end before the crosswalk, which is enforced enough that drivers actually stop and look before going through? Or maybe an arm that goes down, like for the train, when anyone pushes the beg button?

  11. Josh

    Probably the best and easiest solution would be to put up some of those flashing pedestrian lights like they have near Snelling & Grand.

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