treatments / technologies

The scale of a neighborhood

The idea of a neighborhood is a malleable concept.  Everyone has a different perception of their own neighborhood's extent, and the extent can change depending on context. It can vary from the very small, such as merely counting houses immediately adjacent to your own, to quite large—perhaps miles in size.

Back in my early childhood, my sense of my own neighborhood was toward the extremely small end.  I didn't think of it extending much more than a few houses away, though an exception was the nearby park, which my mother got a decent view of from her kitchen window.  Put another way, the extent of my neighborhood was about the maximum distance at which my brother and I could hear my parents calling us home for supper in the evenings. Read more >

2011 – a big year for bikes with more to come in 2012

Bryant Avenue bicycle boulevard.

by Amber Collett, Bike Walk Twin Cities

It’s no secret that folks like to bike in the Twin Cities. Every year the cycling community grows –and I’m sure this year will be no exception (stay tuned for the 2011 Count Report release scheduled for Dec. 16th!) With supportive city leadership, committed advocacy organizations, and a set of dedicated funds made available through the nonmotorized transportation pilot program (called Bike Walk Twin Cities), Minneapolis has earned it’s spot as the number one city for bicycling in the nation

As I look back on the year, I can’t help but focus on the huge stride forward our city made in building out our cycling infrastructure. More than 75 miles of on-street bike lanes have been added to our network since the start of the Bike Walk Twin Cities program–this is great news!

Here is a little bit more about some of the most innovative projects that hit the pavement this year: Read more >

Greenways vs. The Grid: Is Mpls' Greenways plan a good move?

A rendering of the greenway plan, via TC Greenways.

(written by Reuben Collins)

One of the more interesting aspects of the recently completed Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan is the inclusion of a long-term vision to convert some local roadways to Greenways. The master plan map lays out a network of future Greenways (most facilities we're currently referring to as Bike Boulevards are envisioned to transition to Greenways over time. Read more >

A mile away from Bailey Elementary, a possible solution

The roundabout at Bailey Road and Radio Drive in Woodbury.

When I first came across this image of a roundabout with dedicated tunnels for bikes and pedestrians, I thought I had somehow wandered onto David Hembrow's blog about cycling in the Netherlands, but no, it turns out this is an image of an American roundabout.  A Minnesotan roundabout. A Woodburian roundabout.

A roundabout in Woodbury?  With two lanes, bike paths, and tunnels?  Yep.

A few weeks ago, Mike Spack linked to an online presentation by Joe Gustafson of Washington County Public Works that covered the project.  It's the first fully two-lane roundabout in the state, so the county used it to experiment a bit and collected extra data about its performance—hence the reason for the presentation.

However, the main thing that jumped at me was the roundabout's location: It's at the intersection of Radio Drive and Bailey Road.  You might remember Bailey Road from news stories earlier this year about Gordon Bailey Elementary School.  It became a cause célèbre for Minnesota urbanists after it was reported that of the 620 students, none of them walked or rode bicycles to school.

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A 55-mph speed limit at an elementary school?

Now, I don't want to sound like a ratchety old fart talking about walking in eight-foot snowdrifts uphill both ways, but I did grow up in the southeastern Minnesota town of Byron, where kids within the city limits were (at the time) required to make their own way to and from school—whether it was by walking, biking, or getting a ride from a family member.  I mostly walked, but did ride my bike or get rides on occasion.  One of the main roads to my elementary school had a speed limit of 15 miles per hour, while others were normally 30 but restricted to 20 mph when students were present.

Because I grew up with a school on a slow street, I'm always amazed to see schools such as Bailey placed next to 55-mph suburban arterials.  Unfortunately, it has been a common practice in the United States for the past few decades.

Roads such as this can be deadly for students.  For me, this reality  came into stark relief when I was in high school—a student in nearby Kasson was killed crossing the 40-mph Mantorville Avenue (Minnesota State Highway 57) near that city's high school. He was hit fast enough to be lifted out of his shoes—the mental image of empty sneakers marking a crash victim's last footsteps is something that always sticks with me.

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Gordon Bailey Elementary's main entrance to the west side parking lot.

Due to my own experiences, I'm inclined to think that parents and kids feel unsafe crossing Bailey Road, and that's why every student gets driven or bused to school.  In the original reporting on the subject, parents gave a variety of reasons for driving their children, but the school's location still sticks out like a sore thumb.

So, how do you make this road—out on the edge of the urban boundary—feel safe?  Ideally, I'd like to see schools located in town centers, like the elementary I grew up with.  Built up near the edge of streets that are designed to be slow, even if the slow area only lasts a block or so.

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The school's closest intersection, a 4-way stop at Bailey Road and Woodlane Drive.

But here, we're dealing with an established facility that's on roads that are made for high speed.  Reducing the speed limit might help, but a road lined on one side by farmland is unlikely to be driven slowly.  Wide open spaces encourage wide open throttles, so a reduced speed limit would likely be ignored.

In this case, it seems the best option is to completely separate pedestrian traffic from the road, allowing people to get from one side to the other without having to wait for cars to pass or stop.

Tunnels or bridges across the road are the way to accomplish that.  Expensive solutions, but worth the money because they will save lives.  Certainly criticism would follow any such proposals, but critics should also recognize that they are usually remedies to problems that never should have existed in the first place.  Unwalkable locations bring latent costs with them, and building special grade-separated walkways just makes those hidden costs visible.

Schools should be built in walkable places, period.  They are engines of community, and should be treated as such.

Urban infill: Local success stories

Filling in the gaps. Local urban success stories

There is a tendency while blogging to dwell on the negative. I’ve done this in the past, but I’m going to attempt to concentrate on the positives for this post. Good things do happen, and I think they should be highlighted. Read more >

Raised cycle tracks

Bay Street raised cycle track - photo by Dave Reid of urbanmilwaukee.com

Milwaukee has introduced the first raised cycle tracks in the Midwest on a short test segment on Bay Street.  The increased separation provided by raised cycle tracks is "more attractive to a wider range of bicyclists at all levels and ages than less separated facilities" according to the Urban Bikeway Design Guide produced by NACTO (the National Association of City Transportation Officials).

The tracks are separated from the through lanes by a 3.5" tall and 31" wide curb (salaciously named a "mountable curb") - this provides a gentle slope to warn motorists that they're venturing into cyclists' territory but also easy for cyclists to cross at will.  Milwaukee's Department of Public Works expects the gently-sloping curb to pose no problems for sweeping or plowing.

What do YOU think?  Is this type of facility better or worse than a regular bike lane?  Is it desirable to introduce raised cycle tracks to the Twin Cities?  Is it possible?

Arterial Transitways Public Meetings

A system someday

Metro Transit is holding three public meetings in October to discuss/present/solicit comment on their study of concepts for Arterial Transitways. Read more >

Nicollet-Central streetcar to begin alternatives analysis in January

View Nicollet–Central streetcar in a larger map. Red lines indicate existing and planned light-rail lines, while blue lines represent planned streetcar routes.

The proposed Nicollet–Central streetcar line in Minneapolis is moving forward and is expected to enter an alternatives analysis (AA) phase a few months from now in January 2012. Last Friday, the Minneapolis City Council took action to begin looking for a consulting company to do the analysis, which is the first phase of study needed to receive federal funding. The route will combine parts of Metro Transit's busy 10 and 18 bus routes into a single fixed-rail service. The buses already carry a combined 18,000 passengers daily, and the 18 passes through the city's densest neighborhood (Stevens Square–Loring Heights).

The AA is one of the first phases necessary to receive federal funding, and generally precedes an environmental review -- an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS). Hopefully the environmental review will go quickly since the planned route is entirely on existing city streets and mostly follows historic streetcar routes. The AA should begin in January 2012 and run through mid-2013.

The route being studied runs about 9 miles from the I-35W/46th Street Station in South Minneapolis up to the Columbia Heights Transit Center, mostly following Nicollet Avenue and Central Avenue along the way (with a brief segment on Hennepin Ave and 1st Ave NE). It's not yet clear what the cost for the entire route would be, but a previous study indicates that a short starter route, such as running the 2.4 miles from Franklin Avenue north to University Avenue and 4th Street SE, would cost around $110 million. If federal funding falls through, the city may be able to build that part of the route on its own by making use of local funding sources such as increased parking fees downtown and special taxing districts.

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This article also appears on my main blog, Hi / Zeph / 400