Then this weekend, the Pioneer Press picked up the thread. Mara Gottfried talked to me about my ideas, and on Sunday a column front page (below the fold) story came out about walkability, safety, and street design in Saint Paul.
Saint Paul Walks?
|[Grand Ave surrender flags.]|
I'm not really a fan of these approaches, because I think they place too much responsibility (and blame) on the pedestrians instead of the automobile drivers, who are the real danger in this situation. In my experience, enforcement (more police) and education campaigns (like the pledge) have marginal impacts. In the face of a dangerous street design that tells drivers it's OK to speed, text, or eat a burrito, these things won't accomplish much and won't help Saint Paul become a thriving, safe, walkable city.
4-3 Road Diets
For example, here's a comment from someone on the streets.mn post about White Bear Avenue, which I mentioned as an exemplary Death Road™ in my piece:
I don't think this commenter understands the problem very well, particularly since there are many examples of streets that got 4-3 conversions throughout Minnesota and the rest of the country without seriously changing traffic flows. (I'll post about some of these examples soon.)
I'm glad the conversation same up, but I'd be willing to bet that whoever gave a presentation on this topic years ago over-emphasized the congestion and de-emphasized the safety, quality of life, and local economic benefits of the three-lane design.
|[White Beat Avenue is not safe.]|
Where is the Cutoff?
Under most average daily traffic (ADT) conditions tested, road diets have minimal effects on vehicle capacity, because left-turning vehicles are moved into a common two-way left-turn lane.(1,2) However, for road diets with ADTs above approximately 20,000 vehicles, there is a greater likelihood that traffic congestion will increase to the point of diverting traffic to alternate routes.
But here in Saint Paul, as quoted in the Pioneer Press article, the Public Works' department claims:
"In St. Paul, roads with more than 15,000 vehicles traveling on them daily aren't good candidates because that can lead to traffic congestion and backups. Rice Street, in the area of Hoyt Avenue, has average daily traffic of about 15,000 vehicles."
Why this difference? As it turns out, changing the traffic threshold by 5,000 daily cars makes a huge difference because the majority of the unsafe urban streets in Saint Paul and Minneapolis fall into this traffic sweet spot. For example...
Some 4-lane Death Roads™
|[St Paul examples.]|
- Hamline Avenue (North of Summit): 14-17,000 cars per day
- Cretin Avenue (South of Marshall): 7 - 17,000 cars per day
- White Bear Avenue: 18 - 23,000 cars per day
- Maryland Avenue (West of Jackson): 10 - 15,000 cars per day
- Rice Street (where the kid was hit): 14-15,500 cars per day
- Franklin Avenue (central part): 13-20,000 cars per day
- Cedar Avenue (between the lake and I-94): 14,000 cars per day
- NE Broadway Avenue:14-15,000 cars per day
As opposed to some really low-traffic streets, fixing these streets might involve changing the balance between high-speed traffic flow, safety, and quality of life. As a city, we need to have an intelligent conversation about what these trade-offs are, and how to value them.
Saint Paul and Hennepin County should increase the threshold where they're favor 4-3 conversions on streets. Even if some traffic conditions become more congested, the trade-off in terms of pedestrian safety, neighborhood quality of life, and improving access to small businesses is well worth it for often struggling urban neighborhoods.
This is the difference between accommodating and prioritizing walking and biking. This is the difference between walkable cities and cities that you want to escape as quickly as possible. Saying that these road diets only make sense for low traffic (under 15K) roads is a cop-out, and fails to adequately value our urban neighborhoods, who are paying the price for dangerous high-speed road designs.