The Old ShakopeeRoad/98th Street Corridor is one of the east-west thoroughfares of Bloomington. It’s also an outdated roadway. Several segments are a four-lane death road, the sidewalks are narrow and buckling, and traffic typically goes 5 to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.
The route has several high-traffic destinations, including the Mall of America, Kennedy High School, the area of 98th & Lyndale known as Oxboro, Bloomington City Hall, the Old Shakopee & France area that includes Valley West Shopping Center, an industrial park west of Normandale Boulevard, Dred Scott Field, Creekside Community Center, Bloomington Ice Garden, Normandale Community College and Normandale Village. Eventually the Old Shakopee/98th Street corridor will need a major redesign, and this must include substantial upgrades to bike and pedestrian facilities. Several design options are possible and will be analyzed in this post.
Road Diet vs. Widening
In addition to being outdated, the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor is abutted by single-family homes on certain segments in which the width of the right-of-way is only about 60 feet. Adding a fifth lane for left-turning vehicles plus wider pedestrian and bike facilities along the entire corridor would require many property acquisitions (approximately 88 single-family homes plus three businesses). This was done on 66th Street in Richfield but required the acquisition of only 18 single-family homes. It would be expensive and very difficult politically to demolish such a high number of homes along this corridor.
A four-to-three-lane road diet, in which the road is converted to one through lane in each direction plus a bidirectional left turn lane, is possible for the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor. However, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) considers an average of 20,000 vehicles per day to be the maximum volume acceptable for a four-to-three-lane road diet. Based on MnDOT traffic data, between Normandale Boulevard and Penn Avenue on Old Shakopee Road couldn’t be converted to three lanes and would instead be widened to five lanes. That would reduce the number of properties needing to be acquired to approximately 50 single-family homes and one business. Although this still would be difficult to achieve, a road diet along this segment would be more difficult due to the high traffic volume and lack of sufficient alternative routes.
Converting the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor to three lanes where feasible would have several benefits:
- Left-turning traffic wouldn’t block the through lane.
- It would be easier for all users to cross the road.
- It would calms traffic and reduce crashes.
Several roads in the Twin Cities region have already received a four-to-three-lane conversion with good results. However, Old Shakopee Road and 98th Street are county roads, and Hennepin County is focused on moving as many cars as possible without the consideration of safety, especially for pedestrians and bikers who are the most vulnerable. Converting segments of the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor would likely receive pushback despite the four-lane design being outdated and dangerous for all users. Though difficult from a political standpoint, a road diet where feasible would increase safety for all users of this corridor without having to acquire additional properties.
Types of Pedestrian and Bike Facilities
These are common in the Twin Cities, especially in suburbs, and consist of an approximately 10-foot wide trail shared by walkers and bikers. The trail parallels the road, and typically at least a couple feet of buffer is between the curb of the road and the edge of the trail. Some trails have striping to separate direction of travel, and trails can be built on one or both sides of the roadway.
A mixed-use trail is not recommended for the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor because conflicts would be more likely between bikers and pedestrians. It would also be dangerous to have bikers going in the opposite direction of traffic because motorists coming from side streets may not be looking in both directions before proceeding through a trail crossing.
These dedicated lane for bikes on the road are either unprotected or protected with something like bollards. By contrast, sharrows and bike boulevards require motorists to share the road with bikers, and this is indicated with signage and street markings.
Due to the high amount of traffic traveling at least 35 miles per hour, none of these options should be considered for the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor except on 98th Street west of Normandale College, where an existing frontage road could be used as a bike boulevard. A four-to-three-lane conversion on that segment could also allow unprotected bike lanes for bikers who prefer staying on the main road.
A cycle track is a bike facility separated from the road and sidewalk by either grade-separation (as is common in Amsterdam and Copenhagen) or distinguished by different color pavement. Cycle tracks aren’t common in the Twin Cities, and most use different color pavement from the sidewalk instead of grade-separation.
A cycle track on the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor is recommended. It would reduce the chance of pedestrian-biker conflicts, allow bikers to travel at higher speeds and could be separated from the road by grade separation. Where possible, the cycle track and sidewalk should be physically separated.
Like almost every arterial road in the suburbs, the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor is a hostile environment for walkers and bikers. A road diet on the recommended segments plus cycle tracks and wider sidewalks are a major improvement, but more redesigns to the road are needed to make this corridor more welcoming for pedestrians and bikers.
Right-Turn Slip Lanes
Right-turn slip lanes increase traffic flow at the expense of safety for all users of the road. Not only do they encourage drivers to make right turns at higher speeds, they’re also an obstacle for bikers and pedestrians. The pork chop islands that are part of the right-turn slip lane design surround walkers and bikers with vehicular traffic. Although the slip lanes could be redesigned to discourage fast turns and give greater visibility to pedestrians and bikers, removing all slip lanes on the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor is recommended. Right-turn on red should also be prohibited on this corridor to reduce the chance of motorists pulling out into the middle of the crosswalk and hitting an approaching pedestrian or biker.
Traffic signals are typically placed at the far-side of an intersection, but this encourages motorists to stop in the middle of the crosswalk. This is dangerous for pedestrians and bikers because a motorist may slow down into the crosswalk just as a biker or pedestrian is crossing. To prevent this, traffic signals instead should be placed on the near-side of the intersection. This would be a learning curve for motorists, however, given that far-side traffic signals have been common for a long time, especially in suburban areas. At the very least, traffic signals located at highway on- and off-ramps (like the one pictured below) should be placed near-side.
Bikers should have their own signal at signalized intersections, along with the usual walk signals. Several designs are possible for bike signals, which would be determined based on the intersection. Optimally most signalized intersections would automatically give bikers the green light before cars in order to reduce the chances of right-turn traffic conflicting with bikers (known as a right-hook).
Roundabouts, which are becoming more common in the Twin Cities region, can improve traffic flow while significantly reducing deadly T-bone crashes. In theory, roundabouts are safer for bikers and pedestrians than a typical four-way intersection; however, there is a lack of data to back that up. While typical American roundabouts emphasize increased traffic flow, Dutch roundabouts emphasize slowing down traffic with sharp turns and making bikers and pedestrians clearly visible. A multi-lane roundabout, even with refuge islands, could be more difficult and dangerous for bikers and pedestrians than a four-way intersection due to the uncertainty of traffic in all lanes yielding while crossing.
If roundabouts are considered anywhere along the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor, they need to replicate Dutch design: single-lane with refuge islands and tight curves for cars in order to significantly slow down traffic and make the crossing much safer and easier for pedestrians and bikers.
One major issue when biking along roads is conflicts with cars coming from and turning into cross streets and driveways. Most cross streets don’t have crosswalk markings for sidewalks or trails, so motorists are more likely to stop in the middle of the crosswalk. Bad timing could mean getting hit.
Cycle tracks have markings indicating the cycle track crossing, making motorists more aware of bikers. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen this sometimes goes a step further with different pavement or pavers to indicate the cycle track crossing and/or a slightly raised crossing. The slightly raised crossing not only indicates the cycle track crossing but also forces motorists to slow down whether they are coming from or turning into the side street. Additionally, this design makes the bike ride less bumpy at crossings. This design is recommended for the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor.
Marked crosswalks on the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor are limited, so additional crossings for pedestrians and bikers are needed. At marked crosswalks with no traffic signals, rectangular rapid flash beacons (RRFBs) or HAWK signals should be installed. RRFBs are usually suitable on roadways with three lanes or fewer, while HAWK signals are suitable on three- and five-lane roadways. Refuge islands should also be built at these crossings, so bikers and pedestrians can focus on one direction of traffic at a time.
Bloomington’s 2016 Alternative Transportation Plan (ATP), though an improvement over the status quo, doesn’t go far enough in creating a safe walking and biking network in Bloomington. On a city-wide scale the plan has a few gaps that need better bike and walking infrastructure, and several streets could easily have a road diet and include a bike lane. But the ATP ignores those.
On the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor, the ATP proposes a mix of facilities. On Old Shakopee Road west of Normandale Boulevard it would be a multi-use trail, part of which already exists but is in poor condition. East of Normandale Boulevard there would be on-street facilities and a multi-use trail along Old Shakopee Road. However, the ATP lacks details about specific on-street facilities, how the road would be redesigned and whether properties would be acquired. A multi-use trail would be on 98th Street between where it meets Old Shakopee Road and France Avenue, but nothing is proposed west of France Avenue to Normandale Village. The ATP also includes an existing railroad spur that would be used for a regional trail, but freight trains still use this corridor, and the railroad company has not indicated it will abandon the right-of-way. If it were abandoned, a transitway utilizing the right-of-way should also be studied.
The ATP does acknowledge the dangers of traffic and vulnerability of bikers and pedestrians, but the proposed network seems to avoid traffic calming and road dieting measures. The ATP also acknowledges that upgrades to pedestrian and bike facilities on the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor are needed, but it lacks a detailed plan.
Improving infrastructure, though necessary, is not enough. Changing our driver culture is also needed to make corridors like Old Shakopee Road and 98th Street more friendly toward walkers and bikers. American motorists are impatient, and we value the efficiency of our commute time more than the lives of people around us.
Oslo and Helsinki have significantly changed road infrastructure to make it safer, but they also have a respectful driver culture and more rigorous driver education. Those factors combined led to zero pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in both cities in 2019. “It’s easy to build yourself out of problems, but it is more difficult to get people to understand that this is important and make them act in a more secure way,” says Christoffer Solstad Steen from Trygg Trafikk, a Norwegian road safety organization.
Not only is the majority of infrastructure in our suburbs hostile toward walkers and bikers, motorists see them as an inconvenience rather than as human lives. Better driver education, especially at younger ages, would help change the impatient and even hostile driver culture. Ten years ago, students in drivers’ education were taught to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks because it’s the law. Little if any education focused on leaving space for bikers on the road, yielding to pedestrians at all intersections (not only ones with marked crossings), having patience while out on the road and recognizing the vulnerability of pedestrians and bikers.
A pedestrian getting hit by a car at 31 miles per hour has, on average, a 50 percent chance of severe injury and a 25 percent risk of dying (source). Learning respect not only for the rules of the road but for all users of the road would go a long way toward our goal of zero deaths on Minnesota’s roads.
A cultural change is also needed in our traffic engineering departments, from the local to the federal level. We can’t have safer roads while increasing traffic flow and boosting speed limits. The safety of pedestrians and bikers needs stronger consideration when designing roads.
With the recommended designs for the Old Shakopee/98th Corridor, Bloomington would be closer to becoming a suburb that’s safe for all modes of travel. Applying these designs throughout the city and region would be a huge improvement for pedestrians and bikers. That, in turn, would make our communities safer, healthier and less dependent on cars.