I live pretty close to the I-94 freeway in St. Paul and have long been interested in slowing speeding traffic near the onramps and “frontage roads” along I-94. (See my article from two years ago on “Rethinking I-94,” specifically the part about on- and off-ramps.) So when I saw on Twitter that one of my neighbors had gone out to Concordia Avenue with a speed gun, I needed to know more about their effort. This is the kind of quixotic cause I can get behind!
I reached out to April King to chat the other day, and here’s what we discussed:
Bill Lindeke: So how did you end up conducting your own speed study on Concordia Avenue?
April King: I live over in Midway right across from the [soccer] stadium. I’m divorced, and my ex lives right on Concordia. I’m frequently bringing my kids over to her place. They’re frequently out and around the house. I have to get them out of my car on Concordia and bring them into the house. I get scared every single time I open that door, because cars just go.
Bill Lindeke: Yes, that road is terrible. Can you talk about Concordia, the former Rondo Avenue? It’s a one-way street next to I-94 with two lanes and parking, and lots of on- and off-ramps. What’s the street like for someone who hasn’t been there?
April King: I try very hard to drive the 25 mph speed limit on that road, which is extremely hard even for somebody who wants to. I’m usually doing 25-30, and people are blowing by me constantly. People are completely flying by. It makes me so scared to open my left door and get my daughter out. I thought, I don’t know who owns this road, but I’m pretty sure they don’t know how fast people travel on it or they don’t care, or both.
Bill Lindeke: So a few months ago, you borrowed a radar gun and did your own speed study. What was that like?
April King: I was there for two hours. It took me a few weeks to find the right day. I wanted to find a day when the weather was nice, when it was clear outside. I started at 7:45 in the morning and ended my study at 9. During that time, my goal was to reach 100 cars.
Bill Lindeke: I’ve done this too, though I can’t seen to find my radar gun at the moment. Did you feel weird sitting there getting speed measurements on the side of the road? I know I did.
April King: These guns use a lot of AA batteries. People give you really dirty looks when you’re measuring them as they travel by. I had a person come and yell at me. I was at a sidewalk, and it surprised me how angry people got.
Bill Lindeke: Yes, that sounds about right. So, what would you do to fix the street?
April King: The biggest thing is, just make it one lane. I looked at MnDOT stats on how many cars use that road per day, and it’s below the threshold for a two-lane road. That part of Concordia is just residential housing and crosswalks to go to parks and crosswalks to walk across 94. It should be one lane with bump outs, whatever it takes to get people to feel cramped and want to drive 25 mph. I don’t think it’s remotely fixable just by having signs up.
Bill Lindeke: Is there anything else we need to know about? What is the takeaway with this terrible street?
April King: The thing that surprised me the most: I had a pretty reasonable standard of deviation of the speed people were traveling. The speed limit is 25, and the average speed is 37, which is 12 mph faster. But the standard deviation is quite high. People like me who try really hard to drive slower, well — the slowest speed ever was 27, still faster than the speed limit. That shows how hard it is to travel on the road. You have to force yourself not to touch the accelerator.
The fastest I saw was 57 mph. My Honda Civic was shaking when they drove past. It scared the shit out of me. There’s no chance they would be able to see a pedestrian. If my kids kicked a ball onto the street and went to get it, there’s zero chance that car would be able to stop.
I just want that to stop. I saw a school bus go 36 mph down the road. And a UPS driver go 37. If school bus drivers who are carrying children are driving 11 mph over the speed limit, what hope does everyone else have?
I actually emailed Council Member Thao about this exact issue with the same idea of reducing it to a one-lane (and add a separated bike path was my suggestion). An engineer with the public works department informed me that it’s a state-aid route and the state requires one-way routes to have a minimum of two lanes and therefore they can’t do much to change it without a lengthy variance process.
I was also directed to comment on this on MnDOT’s Rethinking I-94 project, so for anyone reading this I’d suggest you do the same.
Can they add all-way stop signs between the on-ramps? The speeders are using the frontage road as a freeway alternative and making them stop every other block will discourage them from doing so (or at least slow them down).
When I was a kid, people used to speed on Prior between St. Clair and Grand. Today, there has to be at least four stop signs along that stretch.
No. Stop signs are inappropriate to use as a speed control attempt- they’re for assigning right-of-way where the default rules are insufficient. And ultimately ineffective and dangerous when they’re illegally attempted to be used as such. Motorists can see that they’re not needed to assign right of way so angry at their lost time, will quit stopping for them and stomp on the gas in between signs to make up for lost time. And then they give pedestrians a false sense of security thinking drivers will stop. And then after a bunch of illegal “speed control” stop signs, fail to stop where the next sign is actually at a busy street.
Sounds like the solution here is to get the frontage roads removed from the MSAS system so they can be narrowed to one lane.
Yes. Sadly we’ve already passed this point in Minnesota. Drivers encounter so many unnecessary stop signs that they expect all stop signs to be unnecessary.
There is nothing “illegal” about a city government placing a stop sign on a street, and there is nothing passive about a motorist choosing to ignore the stop sign and endanger a pedestrian. I would suggest limiting the use of “illegal” to actual actions that break the law, like the latter.
The state-aid route standard you describe is a real problem in various places. By all means this should be a roadway that is just one lane, and made much more people friendly, with protected bike lane space and adjacent side walkways.
The service road for the long island expressway is 2 lanes one way at many places with street parking just like that and a speed limit of 45mph. 25 mph is the speed of New York City congested city streets. 35 seems like a reasonable speed for that road you showed.
I don’t foresee anything changing until we have consistent, automated, metro-area-wide enforcement of speed limits. Which would necessarily mean speed cameras. Personally, I would like to see mobile installations that are paired with decibel meters to identify vehicles that have non-compliant mufflers. Kill two birds with one stone, in other words.
A question for Bill Lindeke: Do you know of any cities in the US where this is done?
I like NYC’s speed camera system, where they focus on areas around schools. In this case that means near Maxfield Elementary. The only place i’ve heard of automatic decibel metering is in Europe.
Enforcement is generally never effective. The only way to create a safer road environment is with design; fewer lanes, narrower lanes, less contiguous pavement width, chicanes, etc. This not only slows drivers down but also increases driver attention (and shortens crossing distances, makes room for protected walkways and bikeways, etc.)
I believe this is the correct link for commenting on Rethinking I-94. https://www.dot.state.mn.us/I-94minneapolis-stpaul/openhouse/feedback.html
I can’t find the cite right now, but I believe there’s an exception to the “two or more through lanes) MSAS requirement if a traffic study is done and indicates that there will be acceptable operations.
Moderator’s note: I deleted a comment from someone using an asinine term instead of their real name. Please use your name in the comments according to the stated policy.
This frustrates me no end too. Irresponsible driving by motorists. I see it as yet another manifestation of the “me first” attitude so prominent in our country. In our culture, the individual is encouraged to have an inflated opinion of their importance compared to others. I also think that decades of excessive speed limits has created a “freeway” mentality that gives travelers an unrealistic idea of how long it will take to drive someplace. Re-designing roadways is certainly part of the answer – but not the whole story. So, is there such a thing as a partial two-way frontage road by an interstate freeway? I think that I have been on such roads. Engage imagination, now picture a two-way Concordia, but the westbound lane exists only between the interchanges, is not continuous, only linking minor north-south streets. The eastbound one-way segments only exist about one block either side of Cretin Ave, Snelling Ave., Lexington, Dale St. No more speedy I-94 reliever road would remain. Would that get around the “MSAS” requirement?
There’s many roads like that. Hwy 5 7th from where the fwy stops to 35E. Someone died there not too long ago. And Mill though that road probably should have its speed limit increased as there really isn’t much of a pedestrian presence there. That’s only a couple that comes immediately to mind.
I used to live a block south of here and walk across Concordia & St. Anthony to get to the Green Line daily. I always thought that this would make an amazing bike corridor if the street was narrowed enough to deal with the speeding and some of the worst intersections near ramps were improved. It’s possible to make a more or less straight shot from the river to downtown St. Paul and there’s enough width for full protected bike lanes almost everywhere. Done right it could be a lot safer than Marshall.
You can see how it would work on the St. Anthony mile-long two-way bike lane. But the problem, of course, are all the on-ramps.
Neither Concordia nor St Anthony should be continuous. Put in diverters a block after each on-ramp to force drivers to take a right turn; if they’re traveling east-west, then they would take the motorway.