An open letter to Ramsey County Commissioner Nicole Joy Frethem, Active Living Ramsey Communities Mary Jo McGuire, Shoreview Mayor Sandy Martin, Shoreview City Council and Ramsey County Engineer Joey Lundquist
The Hodgson Project as currently designed makes crossing Hodgson extremely dangerous, much more dangerous than it is currently and more dangerous than it needs to be or should be for human safety (this even with the two crossing refuges that have recently been added).
The primary cause of the increased danger with this proposed plan is that it takes what is and should be a Collector road and turns it into an Arterial road for through traffic (see attached Exhibit A below). An Arterial road is a high-speed, high-traffic, low-driver-attention road that requires that there be few access/exchange points (junctions, intersections, side roads, driveways, crossings). A Collector road, on the other hand, calls for for lower-speed, lower-traffic, and higher-driver-attention as a result of a higher number of access/exchange points.
This part of Hodgson Road is a high access environment with a high number of private driveways, public side roads, people needing to cross and people needing to get mail or put out garbage. These elements are not changeable and are incompatible with an Arterial.
Typically for an Arterial, due to the high traffic volume and speeds, low driver attention and drivers having little or no expectation of needing to stop except at stop lights, each and every access/exchange point should have a stop light or roundabout to allow safe exchange and a stop light or underpass to allow safe crossing. But that is not feasible in a high access/exchange environment such as Hodgson.
To make Hodgson into an Arterial road creates a high conflict roadway with many negatives:
Increased risk for people walking, bicycling or with disabilities.
Increased risk for people driving on Hodgson.
Increased risk and difficulty for people entering Hodgson from a driveway or side road.
Increased risk (and anxiety) for people getting mail, putting out garbage or mowing grass.
Increased noise, light and air pollution.
Increased problems of garbage cans being hit or blown over.
Increased time/delay entering/exiting from side roads & driveways
Decreased desirability of Shoreview as a place to live
Decreased trees and vegetation.
Decreased property values and tax base
For perspective, just 5 miles away from this project on Hodgson… On Thursday afternoon the 24 of June 2022, 12-year-old Reese was riding her bicycle home from her friend’s house—less than a 1 mile bicycle ride. A driver hit her as she was crossing Birch Street. What happened to Reese was not an accident. It was preventable and it was the predictable and expected result of how the road was designed. Birch is an Arterial road and thus requires a stop light or underpass at every access/exchange for safe crossing. The engineer who designed this road did not provide a safe crossing for Reese.
Thanks to a number of very fortunate circumstances, including that Reese’s head hit and shattered the safety glass windshield of the driver’s car instead of something harder, Reese lived and as I write this has just been released from Gillette Children’s Hospital after a 1 month stay. She and her family have a long road of recovery ahead. Physical will be the easier part, mental and emotional recovery will be much longer and much more difficult with a probability that she will never recover 100%.
Adults made the decision to put a 12-year-old child in to the high risk situation that resulted in her life altering injuries. They made that choice in order to not inconvenience drivers. Similarly, the current plan for Hodgson is a choice to gamble with the lives of Shoreview’s residents. This new design, with only infrequent “safe” crossings, forces pedestrians (often children) to make difficult crossing decisions, many of which could be lethal. This plan does not provide a safe route to school or elsewhere for children living in these neighborhoods (see examples in Exhibit C).
With this project you are choosing to prioritize convenience for through traffic over the safety, health and welfare of Shoreview residents, children and adults, who live on or near Hodgson.
For a multitude of reasons, Shoreview and Ramsey County should be encouraging its residents to use active transportation. Children who walk or bicycle to school fare better than those who come by car or bus. They are healthier, less likely to be overweight or obese, and do better academically and socially. The Ramsey County Health Dept. rightly talks about active transportation as a strategy for prevention of illnesses. Encouraging people to walk or bicycle instead of driving a car results in:
Improved physical, mental and emotional health
Fewer cars on the road, with less air, noise, light and particulate pollution
Lower costs for families and
Lower road maintenance costs.
Obviously, this project does the opposite of encouraging Shoreview’s and Ramsey County’s residents to walk and bike. (more in Exhibit E)
Critically, a through road, an Arterial, is not needed here. There are more appropriate and safer routes utilizing 35W, 35E, Hiway 96, County J and Birch Street with far less conflict and negative impact on people (see Exhibit B – Route Options).
During periods of low traffic this project redesign will save at most 2:58 between downtown St Paul and Oak Hill Montessori (on Hodgson just north of Hiway 96) vs taking the safer route of driving up 35E and across Hiway 96. During morning and evening rush, Waze indicates that it takes less time to use the 96/35E route. A rough calculation is that on average drivers will save 13 seconds.
Time savings are less the farther north you travel. From downtown St. Paul to the new condos on Hodgson and County J it will save 2:38 during low traffic but take longer during rush hour. A rough average here indicates about 11 seconds.
There’s an interesting dichotomy with time savings though. Saving through drivers minimal or even no time costs local residents greater time.
With this new design, one person saves 2 minutes on their non-rush hour drive home, another person who lives in this neighborhood, because it is too dangerous for their child to bicycle to school, loses 22 minutes driving to the school, waiting (and idling their engine), and driving home with their child. That trip also cost them about $3.20 in fuel, oil, tires and maintenance – twice per day. And it costs about $0.82 in wear and tear on the road. This is repeated for trips to extra-curricular activities, visits to friends houses, or going to work at Taste of Scandinavia.
The continuous flow of higher volume higher speed traffic, and lacking the gaps normally created by cars turning, results in longer and sometimes much longer waits for people entering from side roads, driveways, turning left or needing to cross. In some cases the time to cross increases from a few seconds to several minutes. Children will be standing in the cold, rain and snow while waiting on drivers who are in warm dry protected cars.
Whose time is most valuable?
In conclusion, this project is wrong for Shoreview, it’s citizens, and for Ramsey County. For very little or often no time savings for commuters, it makes Hodgson significantly more dangerous, discourages active transportation, and reduces the desirability of Shoreview and Ramsey County as a place to live.
Exhibit A – Principles of Safe Road Design
Throughput (traffic volume and speed) is inversely proportional to Access (junctions, intersections, commercial driveways, private residential driveways, and ped/bike/disability crossings). As Throughput is increased, Access is decreased.
Or conversely, as Access increases, throughput must decrease.
You cannot safely have it both ways.
EVERY access/exchange is a Desire Line where someone, particularly children, will want to cross and will attempt to cross. Someone walking, riding a bicycle or with a disability and using a mobility device will always want to take the shorter and more direct route to wherever they are going. Someone leaving a house on Floral Ct to visit a friend across Hodgson on Floral Drive W will always want to cross Hodgson at the junction of these two streets, particularly in cold, rain, snow or darkness.
The more access you have the more often that drivers must be prepared to stop and that safe provision for crossing must be provided. These interrupt the expected continuous flow of an arterial. It’s important to note that drivers drive to the design of the road. A driver on a road designed as an arterial has a arterial/throughway mindset – they are in a continuous flow of traffic, are less attentive, and do not expect to stop nor are prepared to stop for anything until they encounter a stop light or a car in a roundabout.
This concept is the foundational principle for the Functional Categories of Roads which is a critical element of safety (click for a larger image).
This is also sometimes called the Functional Hierarchy of Roads because it is intended to function as a hierarchy – and must do so to be safe. So Private Driveways connect to Access Streets which connect to Collector Roads which connect to Minor Arterial Roads which connect to Major Arterial Roads. Following this results in decreased access (junctions and crossings) as throughput increases and a balanced, low conflict, safe system.
Note that a key characteristic needed for an Arterial is few junctions/exchanges and low access as well as the need for controlled junctions and crossings at each. These requirements cannot be met along this section of Hodgson as there are too many public road junctions, institutional driveways and private residential driveways. The fixed environment of Hodgson has the characteristics of a Collector, not an Arterial.
A stated purpose of this project is “Improve pedestrian and bike access in alignment with Ramsey County’s All-Abilities Transportation Network plan. Pedestrian facilities will help connect users to parks, schools, churches and residential neighborhoods.” Yet this proposed plan is doing the opposite – increasing Throughput at the cost of safe Access.
Violating this basic principle, as is being attempted with this plan for Hodgson and resulting in what many call a Stroad, is a key reason for our highest among all developed nations crash, injury and death rates. Stroads such as this plan would build make up less than 15% of all roads but account for 67% of pedestrian deaths. It is a key reason why bicycle riders in the U.S. are 11x as likely to be killed as bicycle riders in safer countries and pedestrians an estimated 17-23x as likely to be killed.
…and was the reason for Reese being hit.
Exhibit B – Motor Vehicle Route Options
With rare exceptions, EVERY public road access/exchange/junction/intersection is a place where people walking, bicycling or with a disability will want to cross and each should be made safe for crossing. On an arterial an underpass is safest and a stop light is second best. A properly designed roundabout can work in a few very low throughput situations. Those are the only safe options for crossing an arterial and every junction/intersection/side-road should have one as well as most commercial/institutional driveways. Ignoring this, as the current plan for Hodgson does and as the engineer who designed Birch did, is why incidents like Reese’s injuries happen.
Similarly, each is also a place where drivers will need to enter/exit the roadway and, given the traffic volumes and speed of an Arterial, each of these needs a roundabout or signal to make this exchange safe.
Each and every one of these exchanges carries considerable risk, for drivers and for people walking or bicycling, that must be mitigated.
This short 1.25 mile section of Hodgson has 13 public road accesses and 33 residential driveway entrances. For perspective, engineers of safer road systems will say that about 3 public plus very few private (residential driveway) exchange per mile is the maximum allowed if there is to be through traffic since each public exchange requires either signals or a roundabout and each private exchange on these roadways is dangerous for people entering and for people on the roadway. This section of Hodgson has over 3 times the recommended maximum of public and multiples of private.
Now let’s compare routes. From County Rd J / Ash Street and Hodgson Road to downtown St Paul there are two viable options; Hodgson to 694 to 35E and County Rd J / Ash Street to 35E. A driver taking the Hodgson route will encounter 53 public exchanges and 101 private driveways. Each of these comes with risk for the driver as well as anyone accessing the exchange to cross or enter the flow of traffic. If this driver takes County Rd J instead they encounter 11 public and 54 private so 1/5 as many public and half the private. That is a much safer route for everyone.
More importantly, the Hodgson route has few or zero opportunities to reduce public or private exchanges to make it safer while the County Rd J route has numerous. As an Arterial Hodgson will always be a mis-categorized and dangerous high-conflict roadway. On the other hand, County Rd J / Ash Street is much safer for everyone and with less negative impact on local residents to begin with, but importantly has numerous opportunities to reduce risky access/exchange points so that it can function better and safer as an Arterial for through traffic.
From Hiway 96 and Hodgson there are 12 public exchanges on the Hiway 96 route vs 21 for the Hodgson Route. Hiway 96 is also a somewhat proper Arterial and designed for through traffic so besides many fewer accesses there is overall much less risk and negative impact vs the Hodgson Route.
Do we want to encourage drivers to use Hodgson? Or the much safer and less negatively impacting routes?
Exhibit C – Safe Routes To School
What does this design for Hodgson do for providing a safe route to school?
Isabella will be starting at Chippewa Middle School soon after this project is complete. When she leaves her house on Floral Ct east of Hodgson to bicycle to school she’ll face two choices when she arrives at Hodgson;
Option 1: Cross Hodgson to get to the multi-use path on the other side.
Similar to the junction where Reese was hit she’ll face a 60-70’ crossing of 3 lanes of high speed traffic. There are no signs or markings to tell drivers that this is a crossing. There is no refuge island so she has to make the full crossing of all three lanes and cars approaching at speed from multiple directions at once. Much of the traffic she’s facing off with will be through traffic – drivers just like the driver who hit Reese – not expecting to stop until they encounter a stop light.
People facing similar or narrower crossings of Hodgson north of Hiway 96 say that it’s like playing Frogger – except in real life with real lives at stake.
Option 2: Ride north on the sidewalk to a marked crossing with a refuge island.
Ostensibly a safer route. But people walking, especially those using a walker or similar assistive device or pushing a stroller, don’t like people riding bicycles on the sidewalk, for very good reasons.
Conflicts between people walking and bicycling is a problem on similarly designed sidewalks along Hodgson north of 96. The area of this project south of 96 has a much higher population density and so likely a greater number of people contending for limited sidewalk space.
Should Isabella and her friends be riding on this sidewalk? What will they do after they’ve been yelled at a few times for doing so? What options are we, the adults, providing her?
What happens when these kids all have e-bikes that go 20 MPH on the sidewalk?
This is a planned and engineered conflict. That’s not a good plan.
This is only the first of numerous risk encounters and decisions that Isabella and her friends will be forced to make as they navigate this proposed design. These are not decisions that children elsewhere have foisted on them.
A Safe Route To A Friends House?
What happens when Isabella wants to walk or bicycle to see her friend who lives on Lilac Lane on the other side of Hodgson? Does she risk crossing at Floral Ct or Lilac Ln? Does she walk or ride the extra 1/4 mile north to a marked crossing and then back south?
Where she wants to go, the route she wants to take, is called a Desire Line. She, and others, will want to cross at Floral or Lilac. But this design makes both extremely dangerous. And much more dangerous than they are today. Interestingly, both are also, by Minnesota Law, legal crossings.
Or she wants to go to her friend’s house on Virginia Circle. A tougher choice that we’re forcing on her. The normal route would be to cross Hodgson at Floral, Demar, Hanska or Virginia. But these are quite dangerous. Does she go down to the roundabout to cross? How safe is that given the geometry and traffic volumes?
Should we be forcing children to make such life and death decisions? We are the adults. Shouldn’t we be making the decisions and providing a safe environment for Isabella and her friends so that when she’s in a hurry to get to school or excited to get to her friend’s house she doesn’t have to face such choices?
By the standards of most developed countries there is no safe place to cross Hodgson / Rice between Snail Lake Rd and South Owasso Blvd. Over 3 miles of impenetrable through road.
Exhibit D – Resident’s Experiences With Our Roads
Nextdoor.com is filled with complaints from people interacting with our dangerous-by-design roads. Here are two recent ones.
It should never be necessary for someone to require another person to stop traffic for them in order to cross a street. That road that Kristin was trying to cross is only two lanes and with slower speeds and less traffic than Hodgson.
“Still things don’t work”. That’s an Engineering Failure.
Exhibit E – Health, Wellness and Welfare
We in the U.S. have the lowest life expectancy of all developed (OECD) countries. And we have the highest rates of many preventible chronic diseases. We also have the best healthcare in the world and we spend 2 – 4x as much on healthcare as other developed nations. Why this dichotomy?
Garbage in – Garbage out. Our bodies, physically and mentally, are not maintenance free. Our healthcare system cannot make up for the poor condition of the bodies we give it. We are not maintaining our bodies.
The key problem is lack of moderate daily physical activity*. We are too sedentary. We don’t move enough. The number one way for a population to successfully get this critical activity is Active Transportation – walking or riding bicycles for local (1-3 miles) transportation. To school, dinner, friends or the local grocery or pharmacy. We can encourage ‘exercise’ and ‘activity’ all we want but it has never worked – anywhere. People, whether Dutch, American, Costa Rican or Martian, don’t like to exercise. There is actually a bit of a reverse correlation between the number of gyms and health clubs in a society and it’s health.
Active Transportation requires a safe environment – safe infrastructure – walkways, bikeways, crossings and parking. Ideally built to CROW standards. Without a safe environment people cannot get this critical activity. While going to the gym, working out at home, and participating in active recreation are very beneficial, none of these has proven a solution anywhere. People will not do them consistently enough.
Given a safe environment people will walk or bike for local transportation (even in cold Minnesota winters).
Physical and mental health are co-dependent and also benefit from some of the same things. Walking or riding a bicycle to school or lunch not only provides physical benefit but mental and emotional as well. Anxiety created by living near a busy throughway such as the plan for Hodgson along with the car noise and air pollution created by such a throughway are bad for our mental and physical health. Anxiety created by trying to cross a busy throughway without a safe facility is bad for our mental health.
An engineer in Europe told me that they are increasingly preferring underpasses to signalized surface crossings of arterial type roads for numerous reasons but lower stress and anxiety for people walking and bicycling is one. They put a premium on things that lowers health problems. Which is why they live longer healthier lives while spending less than half as much on healthcare.
Financial stress has a detrimental effect on people’s mental health and by extension their physical health. An environment that requires driving a car for every journey including very short trips is an expensive society to live in. Replacing some trips with walking or bicycling reduces this expense and can reduce it significantly. Many young families are trying to go car-lite by having only one car and they look for communities where they can safely and comfortably walk and bike to local amenities. They also want their children to develop independence and their not wanting to be a taxi service to their kids plays in to neighborhood choice as well.
What about a route for a mom or dad to go to Kowalski’s or Big Dipper with their child? They will likely be riding a bakfiets or pulling a kid+grocery trailer. How will it go with either of these wider and less maneuverable bikes on a sidewalk as this plan requires? How much conflict is there likely to be? Is the planned refuge wide enough (and protected enough) for a child in a trailer to be safe from 50+ MPH traffic?
* Second is food. We eat too much, we eat too much junk food.
Crossing Hodgson is only one of numerous safety and other deficiencies with the current plan. A broader discussion is here: http://localmile.org/blog/2021/08/14/hodgson-anatomy-of-a-dangerous-road-design/
The U.S. has the most dangerous roads with the highest rates of crashes, deaths and serious injuries of all developed nations. And while other countries are reducing these, they are all increasing in the U.S. The reason for this is dangerous road designs like this plan for Hodgson. More on this at https://smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design/
The Netherlands has had the safest systems for walking, bicycling and for those with disabilities for 45 years (and are among the safest for those in cars). Increasingly other countries and cities across North America are simply copying what they have done. The Dutch system is based on the CROW Principles of Sustainable Safety: https://swov.nl/sites/default/files/publicaties/rapport/dv3_en_kort_rapport_0.pdf
The residential streets in this area are important as well. http://localmile.org/reclaiming-our-residential-streets/
Ramsey County is redoing Cleveland Avenue from Larpenteur to Como and in the process removing many large healthy old growth trees.
The proposed design includes two section types; without parking and with parking.
The core of this design, and the cause of so many trees being removed, is a single 34’ – 42’ element of contiguous pavement that includes motorway lanes, bike lanes and parking.
One oddity of this, similar to some other Ramsey County roads, is the inclusion of both on-street painted bike lanes AND shared multi-use trails or SMUTs for bicycle riders. They are, strangely and unnecessarily, separating bicycle riders in to two classes (and then also combining slower 3 MPH walkers with faster and heavier 11-14 MPH bicycle riders and those with disabilities using mobility devices on a SMUT – go figure). Besides increasing risk this is a senseless waste of space.
Fundamentally this is caused by Ramsey County not designing bikeways to CROW specifications and so ‘faster’ riders (sometimes called MAMILs or Middle Aged Men In Lycra though there are many women, LGBTQ+, BIPOCs and others who are considered ‘faster’) want a place where they can ride 15-20-25 MPH with low/no delay at crossings. Bikeways designed to CROW specifications allow for both higher speeds and low/no delay at crossings – they work well for ALL bicycle riders.
Wide contiguous bits of paving like this result in higher car/truck speeds and more critically lower driver attention. They also result in more car/truck noise than the same amount of pavement broken in to separate pieces.
Some of the safety problems with this design include;
1) Bike Lane. Nearly 50% of all bicycle deaths in the U.S. are cars veering from a motorway lane in to a painted bike lane or shoulder like this design includes. Dutch and most other European road engineers have long since learned that paint is insufficient to protect people walking or bicycling and that concrete curb protected bikeways and walkways are the only safe design.
2) Door Zone Bike Lane. These are dangerous on two levels. The first is drivers opening their doors into or in front of bicycle riders who may be going 25 MPH or faster. The second is that drivers must cross over the bike lane to enter or exit a parking space. In both of these, while drivers will look for cars before opening a door or pulling out of a parking space, they rarely look for or see bicycle riders.
3) Two-Way Multi-Use Trail (MUT). The problem here is that bicycle riders choosing to ride here instead of the much less safe on-street painted lanes will, about 40-50% of the time, be riding counterflow to traffic. Drivers crossing MUTs like this typically look to their left for approaching car traffic that is a threat to them but they very often do not look to their right for bicycle riders or people with disabilities moving counterflow approaching from their right.
Two-way can work well in some cases though. However, EVERY crossing must be properly signed and the bikeway (and walkway) raised/tabled and color coded so that it is made extremely obvious to drivers that they need to look to their right for people walking, wheeling and bicycling.
4) Long Crossing Distances. People walking, bicycling or with disabilities must cross 36’ of roadway with motor traffic going in two directions and some or many inattentive through drivers along with two lanes of ‘faster’ bicycle riders. So 4 lanes of moving vehicles that must all be navigated at once with no safe refuge – frogger in real life. A CROW design separates these, often in to 4 separate 10’ crossings (or occasionally two combined in to 19-20’ maximum) which is much safer and much less stressful.
5) 11’ Wide Motorways. These tell drivers that this is a higher speed throughway. Drivers not only drive faster but worse, pay less attention to people who may be crossing, riding in a bike lane, etc.
6) 34’ to 42’ of Contiguous Pavement. Same messaging to drivers that this is a higher speed and low attention throughway rather than a local street that requires greater driver attention.
7) Shared Multi-Use Trail (SMUT). Safer countries try to avoid these as they are uncomfortable for all users, particularly those walking and they pose a minor safety risk. Bicycle riders and those with disabilities using mobility devices should be separated from those walking. For more on this see Sustainable Safety.
8) Lack of Trees. Trees directly adjacent to motor vehicle lanes actually increase safety because they make the road feel more dangerous to drivers so drivers pay better attention (hitting a tree will damage them far more than hitting a person). Removing these and having wider contiguous pavement cause drivers to feel like their attention is not as necessary. As well, trees provide critical shade in summer and shed their leaves to allow warming sunlight in winter – a great design and we’re not using them.
These are only a few of the elements of this design that violate safer CROW principles and that make this a dangerous design for people walking, bicycling or with disabilities. A somewhat more exhausting (in list and long read) look is Hodgson Road.
Increased Through Traffic
This design with 11’ wide motor vehicle lanes allow this to act as a through route for ‘through traffic’ – people going between 35W and Como for example. Besides the increase in traffic itself, through drivers have a different mentality, a ‘I just want to get to my destination’ mentality. Through drivers are not as attentive as local drivers who are just beginning or ending their journey.
CROW design principles, Sustainable Safety, take a very different approach and make this actually and in feel a street for local traffic only rather than a road for faster through traffic. CROW design principles say that people driving motor vehicles should choose Hiway 280 or Snelling Avenue, both of which are much more appropriate for through traffic.
This will likely not see anywhere near as much through traffic as other routes where Ramsey County and CROW differ but it will increase through traffic a little, and each less attentive through driver is a higher risk to people who live, work, walk, wheel and bicycle in this neighborhood.
A Safer Design
Here is how this road would be designed in The Netherlands and other countries using CROW principles.
This CROW design has numerous advantages:
Much Safer – for all ages and all abilities including ‘faster’ riders.
Quieter, less car/truck noise.
Preserves local community/neighborhood feel
A key design differentiator is that the painted bike lanes of the Ramsey County design have been separated from the roadway and are now wider one-way curb protected bikeways. There is also a separate walkway on each side. This provides numerous safety benefits for all users with no drawbacks and the same or less paving.
It’s important to note for the ‘faster’ bicycle riders that these protected bikeways, when designed to CROW standards, provide for higher speeds and low/no delay at crossings. These are also much safer for all users than either the on-street painted bike lanes or two-way MUTs in the current Ramsey County designs. I have ridden on protected bikeways like these with UCI Pro Team Rabbobank as well as others at higher speeds and they work quite well. If they are good enough for professional bicycle racers then they should certainly be good enough for ‘faster’ riders.
Interestingly, bicycle racers in Europe I have talked with are confused by American’s insistence on having on-street painted bike lanes. These Europeans want just the opposite because they don’t want the risks of painted bike lanes and car doors. This perhaps because their engineers design much better bikeways for all users.
While the 10’ bikeways in this plan are ideal, they can be as narrow as 7-8’ and still function fairly well (so long as they are one-way with a separate walkway). These EQUALLY serve BOTH higher speed MAMILs as well as the majority of bicycle riders who are not higher speed but only want a safe place to ride from point A to point B. Similarly, 6’ walkways allow for two or three people to walk comfortably side by side and allow for others to pass in the same or opposite direction. Narrower (or wider) can work as well if necessary.
The design proposed by Ramsey County is why someone, adult or child, riding a bicycle here is 9-13 times as likely to be killed as someone riding a bicycle in The Netherlands (or Denmark or Sweden or every other developed country). The CROW design principles are much safer and have proven to be safer over several decades of use.
The current engineering design, a single very wide contiguous pavement, is resulting in the county removing numerous healthy old growth trees in this neighborhood.
THIS IS COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY.
A CROW design results in 5 separate ribbons; two walkways, two bikeways and one motorway. Each can be placed however necessary to preserve trees. So rather than a single 34-42’ central section that results in tree removal, a CROW design has only a 20.5’ central section (or 29’ with a parking bay) which will easily fit without removing any existing trees.
The bikeways and walkways can be placed however necessary to preserve as many trees as possible and likely preserve all trees.
Several elements will result in increased noise:
Wider contiguous pavement. Contiguous propagates noise more than non-contiguous.
Increased through traffic?
Removal of trees
A CROW design significantly reduces contiguous pavement, higher speeds and will preserve trees.
A number of people from a local neighborhood in Shoreview attended an open house in Fall 2021 with Ramsey County Traffic Engineers to express their concerns that the widening of the road and additional lanes would make it even more dangerous and difficult to cross than it already is. They stated that they felt rebuffed and their safety concerns ignored by the Ramsey County Traffic Engineers.
Ramsey County, in conjunction with the cities of Shoreview and Vadnais Heights are redoing Hodgson Road between Gramsie and Hiway 96.
All well and good. And the current proposed design (July 2021) is indeed, in some ways, somewhat of an improvement over the current roadway for people walking, riding bicycles and people with disabilities using mobility devices. However, that’s like an abusive husband saying that he’s only going to beat his wife 4 times next month instead of 5 – better, but good enough?
This design is ostensibly an improvement but is still far more dangerous and less useable than what other developed countries have been building as standard for decades and this design makes crossing much more dangerous than it is today.
Some additional information sources on why European roads are so much safer designed than U.S.
The Fundamental Problem – Classification Creep and Engineered Conflict
Why This Is Important?
The U.S. currently has the most dangerous road system of all developed countries.
Importantly, since this chart was created in 2014, fatalities in the U.S. have increased while those in many other countries have decreased.
Walking is more difficult to measure but is similar with some estimates that someone in the U.S., for each mile they walk, is about 17 times as likely to be killed by a driver as someone in Europe on average and 23 times more likely than someone in The Netherlands.
In just 2021 alone Minnesota drivers killed 497 people and seriously injured 1,922. Many of those seriously injured are in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives or are missing arms, legs or fingers. If our roads were designed as safe as The Netherlands then 392 of those dead people (sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends…) would still be alive and healthy today and fewer than 100 people would have severe injuries.
Sadly, deaths on our roads have continued to rise since that 2014 tweet and drivers now kill over 38,000 (oops, 42,915 in 2021) people each year.
This plan for Hodgson is a continuation of the thinking processes that have given us such dangerous roads.
Chilling Effect On Improving Health & Academics
Perhaps more important than the number of people killed or seriously injured is the chilling effect this and similar designs have on school children and adults choosing to walk or bicycle.
Safe Routes To School programs in the U.S. must have special days, typically two per year, when they mobilize enough law enforcement and parents to watch crossings to make it safe for children to walk to school. On roads designed by Dutch, Swedish and other engineers children safely walk or bicycle to school every day.
Are roads designed by U.S. engineers now considered so dangerous that parents who allow their children to use them are being charged with child abuse ?
Children who walk or bicycle to school perform better and are less stressed than those who come by car or bus. They have a better attention span and are about a half year ahead of others. They are healthier, happier and better behaved. This is a key reason why European and other countries are prioritizing making it so that ALL children can safely bicycle to school. The charge is often led by wealthier parents who recognize the benefits and want them for their children – they recognize the benefit to their children, shouldn’t ALL children in the U.S. have this benefit?
Moundsview and White Bear Schools spend about 9% of their budget on transporting children to school. We are spending 9% of our school system budget to make our children less healthy and less academically successful. What if that 9%, $13m/yr for Moundsview, was instead spent on …teaching (or not raising another levy)?
Some of the highest concentrations of air pollution are around schools. This compliments of cars and buses lined up spewing exhaust while waiting to drop off or pick up students. There is a high correlation between air quality and academic performance and this carries over in to future career options.
A doctor visiting a local school and noting the line up of cars said that if he stood there smoking and blowing second hand smoke in to children’s faces that all of the parents sitting in their idling cars would blow a gasket. Yet they are actually causing greater harm to these children.
The Netherlands has near zero school buses. 62% of children now bicycle to school, 29% walk and 8% come by car. Other countries in Europe and Asia have this same goal and are close behind. There is also evidence that walking/biking to school lowers the prevalence of ADHD in some or many children.
The U.S. is currently ranked 24th of 27 nations for academic performance and our worst in the developed world student health is a key factor.
We have the least healthy overall population of developed countries and among the lowest life expectancy. Interestingly, there is a very high correlation between bicycling for transportation and health – countries with higher rates of transportation bicycling have a healthier population and countries with low levels have the poorest health. We are last. U.S. traffic engineers make bicycling dangerous and unappealing so people understandably won’t do it and our health suffers.
We are supposed to be a great nation. Why can’t our engineers design a road system as safe and well functioning as engineers elsewhere? Why is a child riding a bicycle in the U.S. 11x as likely to be killed on roads designed by U.S. traffic engineers as those designed by EU engineers? Why must our children endure lengthy bus rides while children elsewhere freely and safely bicycle to school?
The current roadway includes two 12’ travel lanes in 40’ of pavement.
The new design adds a center turn lane, 2’ of additional contiguous pavement, a walkway and a multi-use trail.
Frequently in engineering, attempts at improvement involve a lot of theory and experimentation – going where no human has gone before. Here it is very different – others have led the way for us. There is no need for theory or experimentation. We need only look to how others, primarily The Netherlands and Sweden, have achieved much safer roads and many fewer people killed or seriously injured and then simply do what they’ve done.
There are reasons why other countries have so many fewer people killed on their roads than we do and why so many are killed on our roads. Most of these reasons relate to how our traffic engineers design our roads.
The gold standard for safe design, the design guide that produces the safest roadways, particularly for the most vulnerable; people walking, bicycling or with disabilities, are the CROW manuals that are the foundation for safer road design used in The Netherlands and increasingly elsewhere.
In a quick review there are at least 33 elements of this new design for Hodgson that violate basic CROW design principles and make this plan unsafe. It’s important to note also that engineers in Europe consider the CROW standards as minimums for safety and often design roads to a stricter/higher safety standard.
Safer does not mean slower travel times for drivers. Safer is primarily about driver attention and protection of the most vulnerable through separation.
Melissa Bruntlett points out “The Dutch have a saying: Beter goed gestolen dan slecht uitgevonden (“Better well stolen than badly invented”)”. U.S. and Ramsey County engineers need to rid themselves of their Not-Invented-Here syndrome and provide us with safer road designs.
Concrete Enforces Better Than Paint, Paper or Plastic
U.S. Traffic Engineers assume every driver will always perfectly obey every rule and design roads for safety to be enforced by law enforcement – issuing paper tickets. And this might work if we had a cop on every corner insuring that drivers, bicycle riders, people with disabilities and people walking all obeyed every law and always acted safely. If cops were always present to insure that people didn’t drive too fast, were always paying attention to the road, looked before crossing a bikeway or entering a junction, and never veered over a painted line or plastic flexi stick on to a shoulder, bike lane or refuge where someone is bicycling or standing.
Labore Rd in Little Canada is signed for 30 MPH – it’s a residential street. But like this design for Hodgson it is designed for 70 MPH with 11’ wide lanes in 32’ of pavement. Not surprisingly many people drive 50-60 MPH on Labore. When asked, a traffic engineer stated that “speeding is a law enforcement problem”.
EU Engineers expect that drivers will make mistakes or want to intentionally do stupid things and design roads to self-enforce safety as much as possible – no cops necessary. Narrower lanes and pavement, curbed and barrier protected refuge islands, chicanes, tighter radius corners and other elements that CAUSE drivers to pay close attention and drive with caution. Dutch engineers say that people speeding, needing a stop sign or even just someone feeling the need to put out a little flag person statue is a sign of engineering failure.
This is why The Netherlands is on the safe end of that chart above and we are on the opposite how-many-people-can-our-road-designs-kill end.
The Fundamental Problem – Classification Creep and Engineered Conflict
The biggest issue with this plan is at another fundamental level. This section of Hodgson has numerous residential road junctions and driveways. It has a lot of people leaving and entering the roadway at many different places and a lot of people needing to cross the roadway. Further north is a school that many children walk/bicycle to. It is, in traffic engineering speak, High Access or High Exchange. These are not changeable characteristics. (This proposed design also results in a 3-lane, 45+ MPH throughway within less than 50’ of people’s homes).
Ramsey County however have classified this as an Arterial road. Arterial roads, like Hiway 96 that intersects Hodgson on the north end of this project, are for higher volumes of traffic, higher speed traffic, low delay and limited and controlled exchange/access (few junctions, crossings or driveways). For drivers an arterial through road is a low attention needed roadway.
Here is how MNDOT summarizes these classifications.
By their nature, due to the higher speeds and limited delay expectation of drivers, the junctions on a Arterial need to be controlled with traffic signals or roundabouts. To be safe, crossings need to be at controlled junctions or be grade separated (tunnel or bridge). People driving on an arterial road between controlled junctions are not expecting nor looking for people walking, bicycling, in a wheelchair, on a mobility scooter or driving to be entering or crossing the roadway. The road design makes it feel limited access and people will drive on it like it’s limited access. In driver’s minds they and they alone own the road until they get to the next controlled junction.
So Ramsey County are creating a conflict. They are taking a roadway that is unavoidably High Access, and trying to treat it like a road that is Limited Access, but without the protections of Limited Access – This is Classification Creep. In this case to allow them to add the center turn lane for more through traffic speed and volume.
Given driver expectations a junction or crossing for an Arterial needs to be controlled. But you can’t do that as frequently as necessary along Hodgson because of the high number of junctions, crossings and driveways. This creates high conflict. And greater danger for anyone entering or crossing Hodgson.
Another problem with classification creep is for people entering from roads and driveways (private and public) connected to the creeped roadway. It is best to have Driveways, Retail Access Streets and Residential Access Streets connect only to lower speed and lower traffic volume Collector type roads for safer and smoother flow of traffic. When a Collector is made to be more of an Arterial then accessing it from side streets and driveways, or crossing, becomes more difficult and more dangerous. This is because the higher speeds and traffic volumes need traffic lights or roundabouts for safe exchange of traffic.
On top of the immediate safety issues, when a roadway is made to have less delay and higher speeds, when it becomes more arterial like as is this plan with Hodgson, then more drivers will choose to use it more often as a thru route from/to more distant places rather than taking a more appropriate route to their destination. This is called Induced Demand. The problems include:
Increased volume of traffic – More people choosing to drive through here than would otherwise.
Less desirable drivers – People on a through route may drive faster and more aggressively with less attention and less consideration for others than a local resident.
Increased Risk for Pedestrians and Bicycle Riders – Increase traffic volume and driver expectations of this being limited access make crossing more difficult and more dangerous.
Negating of Other Benefits – For local drivers the increased thru traffic can reduce any potential benefits of things like adding the center left turn lane. It does however lessen traffic on other routes that are more appropriate for thru traffic such as 96, 35W and 35E. Treating this as a Collector would likely decrease current traffic levels as drivers who currently use Hodgson as a thru route choose 35E or 35W.
Anecdote: I frequently drive south on Hodgson towards St Paul or the airport. At hiway 96 I have a choice of continuing south on Hodgson or taking 96 east to 35E. Today I often choose 96 to 35E. If this plan is implemented I will likely always choose Hodgson instead. So I will be adding to the increased thru traffic on this section of Hodgson.
Similarly, people going to/from the new apartments on Hodgson and County Rd J. Via J to 35E they will encounter 11 public exchanges (side road entrances) and 54 private exchanges (residential driveways). Via Hodgson they will encounter 61 public exchanges and 101 private. Encouraging people to use Hodgson as this plan is intended to do results in 6x the conflicts at side roads and twice the conflicts with residential driveways. But there’s potentially a much greater difference as there are good options for reducing the number of public and private exchanges along J to make it a safer arterial while there are few or none along Hodgson.
Some Specific Problems
1a – Bi-Directional Trail / Bikeway – Dangerous
Bi-directional (or two-way) trails/bikeways work well when there are few crossings but are quite dangerous when there are many crossings such as there are along Hodgson Rd
The reason is that when a driver approaches a roadway from a side road or driveway they instinctively look to their left – for approaching cars that are a threat …to them. Drivers frequently do not look to their right for people walking or riding a bicycle and crossing in front of them as in this example (This is in the UK so is backwards to us but the principle is the same).
This is particularly dangerous in the U.S. as we still allow right-on-red which has largely been outlawed in other countries. And worse yet because drivers in the U.S. frequently do not stop or look both directions (as required by law) before turning right on red. There’s a similar risk at stop signed junctions and parking lot entrances with drivers not stopping or looking.
Even when drivers do look to their right, when making a left turn for example, they often only look to the far side traffic lane, for who is a threat to them, not to the near side bikeway/walkway.
Elsewhere bi-directional are used only where there are very few (perhaps 1-3 per mile) side road, parking lot or driveway entrances or when a bi-directional significantly reduces these crossings enough to make up for the increased risk at junctions.
1b – Bi-Directional Trail / Bikeway – Congestion
This is the same basic design as Hodgson Rd north of Hiway 96 with a walkway on one side and a multi-use trail (MUT) on the other. One difference is that the MUT in this plan is narrower, only 8’ wide, compared to the 10’ wide trail north of 96.
The current MUT north of Hiway 96 can get quite congested at times. There are three primary causes of this congestion; 1) bi-directional (or two-way) trails result in greater congestion because of reduced passing opportunities, 2) a multi-modal MUT creates greater congestion and requires more passing because of the extreme differences in speed between people walking at 3 MPH and bicycling at 12 MPH, and 3) simple capacity – squeezing all bicycle riders on to this one side.
Perhaps worse than the congestion itself is that some people will no longer bicycle or walk on the MUT north of 96 because of the congestion (and poor maintenance that’s resulted in bone jarring bumps).
A MUT on each side would be able to handle about 3-4x as many people as the current plan simply because single direction travel is much more efficient use of space.
And importantly, this area south of 96 has approx 5x as many people living in close proximity and who are likely to walk and bicycle along here when complete. So this area needs greater walking and bicycling capacity, not less.
So, narrower MUT/Bikeway, one more traffic lane and 5x as many people… What could go wrong?
2a – Long Crossing Distances
Traffic engineers in safer countries try to keep unsignalized crossing distances to no more than 8-10’ (one lane) and a single direction of motor traffic at a time for busier roads like Hodgson and no more than 17-19’ (two lanes) for less busy side roads. Any crossing distance greater than 19’ generally requires stop lights at each crossing. Ramsey County are proposing unsignalized crossings of up to 107’.
There are several reasons that engineers elsewhere do this. One is time – it takes twice as long to cross 40’ as 20’ and so the person crossing is at risk for twice as long. Longer crossing distances also require a much larger gap in traffic and increase the likelihood of tripping both because of distance and because longer crossing encourage or require people to run rather than walk.
Perhaps most important though is that keeping crossing distances short also narrows the roadway. It signals to drivers ‘hey, something’s going on here so be careful’. Engineers will often narrow the width between cement curbs which causes drivers to pay much closer attention lest they damage their tires or rims on the curb. And while paying attention to not damaging their tires they also see people walking and riding bicycles.
The current design for Hodgson includes unsignalized crossings of Edgerton of over 100’ – ten times the distance most other countries consider safe or would allow. Some EU engineers said that they’d limit crossing Edgerton to 8.5-9’ curb to curb without a signal given the speeds and traffic volume. Or 9’ curb to curb and 11’ red to red by which she meant that there will be an 11’ gap from red path to red path so that people walking and bicycling know where it is safe to be since vehicle mirrors can protrude past the curb.
Below the white crossing is 107’ and 5 lanes of traffic. Someone crossing here will be at risk for about 1 minute and face threats from 4 different directions. The shorter crossing is 64’ and 3 lanes of traffic. Someone crossing here will be at risk for about 32 seconds and face risks from 4 different directions.
Here, even just moving the shorter crossing 15’ to the left (south on the actual road) and widening the island to 8-10’ to create a refuge could be a significant increase in safety. The first crossing, to the refuge island, would be 11’, take 5 seconds and threat would be from a single direction. The second crossing would be 22’, take about 11 seconds and threat would be from 3 directions.
Then do something similar for the longer crossing.
Crossings of Bridge Street, Snail Lake and others are often 50’ or greater – over twice the distance engineers in other countries would allow for such side street crossings.
Others achieve shorter and safer crossing distances with narrower travel lanes, not having crossings in the apex of a radius (e.g., they place them farther from the junction) and by including refuge islands.
Even at signalized junctions they try to keep crossing distances as short as possible, for safety, and because this reduces the time people are in a crossing and so increases the time that cars can drive through.
Also, mid-block crossings can be safer than at-junction crossings. For people crossing the threat is from one direction only versus from 3 directions at a junction. For drivers they need only watch for someone crossing vs having to simultaneously deal with numerous other issues at a junction. This is another reason why crossings at junctions are placed at least one car length or 14’ from the junction (vs directly next to the junction in the U.S.).
OSHA will not allow factory workers or airport employees to encounter something nearly as dangerous as proposed here yet Ramsey County thinks that it’s OK for a mom and child? Or for children alone?
2b – Crossings Too Close To Junctions
CROW calls for crossings to be placed about one car length (typically 14’) from the closest motor vehicle through traffic lane. Benefits include:
Shorter crossing distance
Drivers approaching the junction can safely see people in the crossing or about to cross because they are more directly in their field of view, stop for them, and then proceed to the junction. With Ramsey County’s design a driver is having to focus on numerous threats at the same time and most drivers are more focused on cars in the junction that are a threat to them rather than people in a crossing who are not a threat to them.
More so for drivers exiting the junction.
Provides a safe waiting space for drivers entering a junction. They deal with the crossing and THEN move forward and wait for a safe gap in motor traffic.
Provides a safe waiting space for drivers exiting the junction. They deal with the junction and can then wait safely out of the way of through traffic.
Provides safe waiting spaces for people walking and bicycling.
Eliminates the congest that Ramsey County’s design causes of people from multiple directions trying to share a single small space.
Liberal use of Sharks Teeth clearly communicate to drivers, people walking, bicycling or with disabilities who has right-of-way. They eliminate ambiguity. If the sharp end of the teeth are pointing at you then you do not have right-of-way, should proceed with extra caution and must yield to crossing or conflicting traffic.
This also allows traffic engineers to safely give motor traffic the right-of-way when appropriate (as we’ll see in the next section).
3 – No Refuge Islands
Outside of the U.S. it is common to see refuge safety islands between motor lanes for people walking and bicycling. These Refuge Islands serve three critical safety purposes; 1) they shorten the crossing distance, 2) allow people to cross a single direction of motor traffic at a time, and 3) increase driver attention.
At Hodgson Rd and Cunningham Ln (above) one day recently I watched a mom and her child trying to cross Hodgson. It took 13 minutes before there was a break in traffic that allowed them to make the 73’ unmarked unprotected crossing. And they were not being extra cautious. Because of the bad road design they had to wait until they could make the entire 73’ trek at once. Any time there was a small break in traffic from one direction there’d be cars coming in the other. When they did cross they had to run which increases the likelihood of tripping, especially for children.
One point here is that this is a legal crossing. Cars in both directions are legally required to stop when someone is waiting to cross. But who knows that? I have never seen that happen though Ramsey County traffic engineers tell me that cars do stop.
As someone on Nextdoor pointed out, Ramsey County traffic engineers are forcing people, including children, to play Frogger with real cars going 50-60 MPH. That’s irresponsible. OSHA wouldn’t allow employees on a job site to encounter something as dangerous as Ramsey County engineers expect children to deal with.
Here is a crossing (below) built to safer CROW standards. Someone crossing here need only cross <10’ and one direction of <30 MPH traffic at a time. This crossing is in a Caution Zone – just before this is a speed bump with painted serrated bars that warns drivers to be extra cautious. Note too that bicycle riders (and people walking) have ‘sharks teeth’ which means that they must yield to motor traffic. Because they need only cross about 10’ and one direction at a time and there are relatively few people crossing here this is still safe and allows motor traffic to proceed cautiously without stopping.
If they begin getting complaints of it taking too long to cross then they will narrow the crossing (road width), install curbs on the outside and change priority so that cars must yield to people in the crossing.
The crossing above is in a caution zone as indicated by the serrated bars and speed bump (below).
You can see it coming from the other direction at about 1:40 in this video:
With a CROW design this mom and daughter would have first made an 8.5’ crossing of one lane of traffic in a marked and possibly raised/tabled crossing (with drivers paying close attention so that they don’t damage their tires). Then waited on a large protected refuge. Then made a second 8.5’ crossing. With a refuge island and slightly narrower lanes it would have taken them less than 30 seconds, walking instead of running, much safer and much less stress inducing.
Even just making the first crossing of northbound traffic 10’ to an island and then 20’ or even 30′ across the southbound lanes would be significantly safer simply by allowing them to cross one direction of traffic at a time and reducing the crossing distances by more than half. It would still not be considered safe or legal elsewhere but would be a huge improvement for us in Ramsey County.
Refuge Islands work well when a crossing distance would otherwise be greater than 19’ but traffic patterns don’t warrant a signal system or on two-lane roads when speeds are high such as Hodgson.
One engineer told me that they will never allow you to cross more than one narrow lane at a time without a signal on a road with 45 MPH traffic such as Hodgson – EVERY crossing of Hodgson would have either a refuge island, signal lights or both.
Ramsey County engineers say over 100’ for a mom and child dodging 45 MPH traffic is acceptable.
Engineers elsewhere also include refuge islands for many signalized junctions. Some countries now require them for any crossing greater than 88’ and engineers will also use them for crossings shorter than 88’ as it is safer and allows them to shorten the overall cycle times of the junction making the junction more efficient for all users.
Some key design elements of a refuge island include; 1) The refuge being at least 10’ wide to accommodate a bakfiets or bicycle with a child trailer. Wider than 10’ is better and safer, 2) Narrow curb to curb distances for travel lanes on each side to increase driver attention and 3) Clear sightlines for drivers and people crossing to see each other. Solid reinforced barriers such as concrete planters or bollards may be necessary for higher traffic volumes/speeds or in areas with challenging weather that can result in drivers loosing control.
4a – Unmarked Crossings
I believe the U.S. is the only developed country that allows unmarked crossings.
Every road junction in Ramsey County is a legal crossing. But who knows? Who thinks about that when they’re going 45-55 MPH up Hodgson?
Interestingly this is something that has generated the most comments from Dutch engineers even though not the most dangerous fault with this plan. And more interesting is that The Netherlands (and increasingly other countries) do not have laws against J-Walking – people can legally cross any street anywhere anytime.
4b – Bikeway & Walkway: Continuous Color, Material and Grade
A significant safety problem on Hodgson Rd north of Hiway 96, and this is a problem throughout Ramsey County, is that drivers are often unaware of the presence of a walkway or bikeway. There is little or nothing to indicate this to them. The result is dangerous conflicts when a bicycle rider suddenly appears in front of them. Combined with drivers having been encouraged to not stop and look when making right (and often left) turns on to Hodgson this is a quite dangerous scenario.
Insuring that drivers know very clearly when they are crossing a bikeway or walkway has proven critical to fewer deaths and safer streets elsewhere and has been standard for about 20-40 years. A key way that they do this is that bikeways and walkways are consistent in color, material and often grade through all driveway and minor street crossings. Bikeways elsewhere are often a muted red color that both blends in well with natural surroundings and alerts drivers to the presence of the bikeway. Anytime a driver sees this color they know that it is a bikeway and that there are likely to be bicycle riders or people with disabilities.
5 – No Walkway
Many countries will no longer allow multi-use trails in built-up areas. The speed differences between people walking (3 MPH avg) and bicycling (11 MPH avg) are too great. Along any road with a speed limit of greater than 18 MPH they will build a minimum of a 5’ walkway and 6.5’ bikeway on each side (an 8’ bikeway is standard unless there is no other option).
The disparities between people walking and bicycling are considerably worse when e-bikes are included as these have higher average speeds, greater torque and greater weight. A key element of road safety is separation by speed and mass which is grossly violated by forcing pedestrians and e-bikes to share space.
There is also an issue that Minnesota now (as of August 2021) allows much more powerful e-bikes on MUT’s like this one along Hodgson. And these new laws allow significantly more power on trails with pedestrians than Europe allows on bikeways with no pedestrians. Minnesota’s new law allows throttle-controlled e-bikes (effectively electric motorcycles) of speeds up to 20 MPH and pedal-assist e-bikes that provide power up to 28 MPH.
(On the pseudo good news front they now limit e-bikes to 750w (watts) rather than 1000w. However, consider that the average bicycle rider going 13 MPH is using about 70w so a 750w e-bike is still over 10x more powerful than an average bicycle rider.)
Europe has 3 classifications of e-bikes/mopeds; E-bikes are pedal-assist only and assist must taper to 0 at or below 15 MPH. E-bike riders may go faster than 15 MPH but only without electric assist. Any electric assist above 15 MPH makes it a Heavy Moped. Light Mopeds allow throttles but speeds are limited to 15 MPH, the moped must have a license plate (blue) and the rider must be licensed and insured. Heavy Mopeds allow throttles and speeds up to 28 MPH, must have a license plate (yellow) and the rider must be licensed, insured and wear a helmet.
In built-up areas (such as this section of Hodgson) Europe generally only allows e-bikes (pedal-assist only and that tapers to 0 at 15 MPH or lower). And this is for bikeways with no pedestrians.
Light Mopeds are allowed on some bikeways and not on others though cities are increasingly forbidding them due to their higher rate of crashes and more severe injuries. Heavy Mopeds are allowed on some rural bikeways.
Something that’s very noticeable in Europe is that the more power of their own that a rider provides the safer and more respectful they are of others. And conversely the less power they provide and the more provided by a motor the less safe and respectful of others the riders are. Because of this and higher rates of crashes and more severe injuries with e-bikes the rules are being reviewed.
6 – 8’ Trail Width
The widely recognized standard width across all developed countries for a one-way protected bikeway is a minimum of 6.5’ or 2m. For two-way bicycle traffic this minimum increases to 8’ or 2.5m. These are both assuming a 10” buffer to the roadway curb (or 20” buffer if roadway speeds exceed 25 MPH and 60” if 45 or greater) as well as a 10” buffer to the adjacent walkway.
Here standards diverge. Guidelines in many countries, including the U.S. and Minnesota say that a mixed use trail such as this must then be a minimum of 3m (10’) to account for the differing speeds and mass of bicycle riders and pedestrians.
An increasing number of countries however no longer allow multi-use trails at all in built up areas. They now require a separate protected bikeway and walkway on each side with a minimum bikeway of 6.5’ and a minimum walkway of 4’ with at least 10” of buffer between them. This requires only about 1’ additional space vs a 10’ MUT but results in a much safer and less stressful design.
Importantly, all of these minimums are frequently exceeded as engineers find them to be too narrow in practice. Whenever possible they design wider bikeways and walkways. Several engineers have told me that they rarely or never design a bikeway of less than 8’ partially because even one-way bikeways will have some people going in the opposite direction for short bits to reach their destination.
For comparison the MUT north of 96 is 10’ wide and even with about 1/5 the population density of the area south of 96 results in considerable congestion at times. This MUT also has problems of bushes not being cut back from the path resulting in a useable width of sometimes less than 4′ (other countries generally keep brush about 2’ back from the path so that users may always safely use the entire width of the path).
7 – Wide Radius Corners
Road designs elsewhere use tighter radii in corners. This forces drivers to pay closer attention and to slow down slightly when turning.
8 – Lane Widths & Pavement Width
Engineers elsewhere have long known that narrower motor vehicle lanes result in safer roads. This because drivers pay better attention on narrow lanes and pay less attention when in wider lanes.
This same holds true for overall pavement width. The more contiguous pavement (e.g., pavement between curbs or grass) the less drivers pay attention because they feel like they have a lot of room for error.
Greater width of contiguous pavement increases noise since it increases the amount of noise reflected rather than absorbed. Greater width needs a larger grass/vegetation space between the roadway and bikeway to pile snow.
While this design has 42’ of contiguous pavement at it’s narrowest, in safer countries this would be about 19’ curb to curb. Not only would it be safer but also much quieter for people who live along this road or who are walking or bicycling.
Narrower lanes also allow for more grass, trees and other vegetation.
9 – Center Left Turn Lane
The purpose for this extra lane is to reduce delay experienced by drivers waiting on other drivers to make left turns. Sounds good.
Engineers in safer countries know this very differently – these delays, typically 2-5 seconds, serve some critical purposes to increase safety.
Driver Attention. These brief delays reduce driver expectation of this being a free/continuous flowing high speed through road, increase driver expectations of needing to slow or stop and so increase driver attention. Making this more free flowing with the addition of a continuous center turn lane increases driver expectation of non-blocking freeway like driving, decreases driver attention and increases driver impatience and aggression. And for Engineers elsewhere this is a road-system-wide issue. They do not want drivers to develop an expectation of surface streets (vs divided highways) being continuous flow and freeway like. They want drivers to distinguish in their mind between a high speed divided highway and a lower speed roadway that requires much greater care.
Access Safety. Cars stopping to turn create gaps in traffic that allow others to more safely enter the flow of traffic. Without these gaps being created the traffic flow becomes high speed and constant which makes it more difficult (sometimes nearly impossible) and much more dangerous for people entering from side streets or driveways.
Crossing Safety. Cars stopping to turn create gaps for people crossing. Similar to above, without these gaps it can be more difficult and dangerous to cross. In my example above with the mom and daughter trying to cross – they were only able to cross when they did because of such a gap created by a turning car.
Traffic Volume and Driver Aggression. Cars stopping to turn encourage non-local traffic to use more appropriate alternate routes. If Hodgson is known as a more free flowing arterial road rather than a local collector type road then more people will choose it as a through road. There are two problems with this. First is simply the increased volume of traffic. Second is that these are drivers who are mid-commute and who live farther away rather than local people at the beginning or nearing the end of their commute. The latter are likely to be less aggressive and more patient.
This lane design increases overall contiguous pavement width which also reduces driver attention, increases speeds and increases noise. Engineers in safer countries try to use as little pavement as possible for better driver attention and less noise.
Engineers elsewhere will use left turn lanes to reduce delay but only where critically necessary. They will also have specific lanes for specific turns rather than a single long shared lane, they usually also introduce a forced chicane to slow drivers down. They have a higher threshold for when they’d include them – the volume of traffic on Hodgson does not appear meet any of those thresholds.
Additional lanes make crossings longer and more dangerous for people walking or riding bicycles. For a traffic engineer in Europe with their focus on safety for the most vulnerable road users this will also require an extra refuge or the addition of signal lights at crossings and junctions.
U.S. engineers will say that this takes pressure off of drivers making left turns so they are more likely to wait for people walking or bicycling. Reality is that this doesn’t actually happen so much with an open lane as designed. For this to work requires cement curbed chicanes that force drivers to slow down.
The extra contiguous pavement increases noise for those who live along the road or who are walking or bicycling along the road. Tire and wind noise reflects off of concrete and asphalt but is largely absorbed by grass or vegetation. Contiguous or continuous pavement is worse because this noise reflectance is exponential with the amount of continuous pavement so even a small bit of vegetation that breaks up the continuousness of the pavement helps to reduce noise significantly. This is a more critical issue in the U.S. because unlike other developed countries we do not require lower noise tires nor do we very often use surfacing techniques on roadways to reduce noise.
Perhaps the bigger issue here though is that adding this center turn lane reduces bicycling and walking facilities. Ramsey County engineers have stated that they cannot do a wider MUT (and must build one 2’ narrower than state guidelines) nor a walkway on each side nor a proper bikeway + walkway on each side BECAUSE of the 12’ used by the addition of the center turn lane.
So while they state that this project is “to improve pedestrian and bike access”, and they have indeed done that, they are also making the roadway overall less safe.
This lane also results in the motor travel lanes being 6’ closer to homes on either side.
A Swedish engineer told me: “You make the motor vehicle lanes more dangerous, increase noise, decrease walking and bicycling facilities and decrease vegetation – Why would you do this?”
10 – Speed
Speed is actually not a very critical safety element here. A lower speed would be good and in safer countries this would likely be 37 MPH (60 Km/H) but simply decreasing the speed would not make this design much safer and one engineer told me that the primary reason they’d use a lower speed is noise, not safety.
Far more important than speed is driver attention. This design encourages drivers to NOT pay attention. The 42’ of wide contiguous pavement (and much wider at most junctions and crossings) tells drivers that they can drive faster and pay less attention because there’s A LOT OF ROOM FOR ERROR. So it’s OK to look at your phone or fix your hair in the mirror or look at the person next to you or look at the person walking along the path or look anywhere but at the road because – There’s a lot of room for error. And, you don’t have to worry about cars slowing or stopping in front of you – this is a non-blocking freeway like experience.
And where driver attention is most important is anywhere they interact with people who are less vulnerable – crossings. This is why outside of the U.S. crossings are made very prominent.
One other point. At the roundabout for instance, the primary problem and the reason underpasses are critical is the volume of cars, not so much the speed. Only if the volume of cars was much lower would speed become a factor. But whether motor traffic is going 50 or 30, if there is no gap in traffic there is no gap in traffic.
There are a number of elements of junctions (roundabouts, intersections, side road entrances and sometimes high traffic driveway entrances) in Europe that make them safer than those in the U.S.
Aside from crossing distances being much shorter they also usually place the crossings farther back from the junction. This has several critical advantages;
Cars/drivers are perpendicular to the crossing and more able to see someone in the crossing or about to cross.
Cars are going much slower after they turn than they are when encountering a crossing in Ramsey County that is at the beginning of a turn.
There is sufficient room for a car or small truck to stop before the crossing and also be out of the way of traffic behind them.
Reduces bicycle rider and pedestrian congestion as a waiting area serves one crossing direction only vs Ramsey County crossings that serve two crossings in two different directions. For example, this is a frequent problem in the NW corner of Hodgson and Village Center Dr when people are waiting to go south across Village Center Dr and blocking the bikeway for people crossing Hodgson so the people crossing must stop and on numerous occasions drivers waiting to turn right on to Village Center Drive did not expect them to stop and began going and nearly hitting (or in one case that I know of did hit) people.
Roundabouts are safer for people in cars than intersections and they can be safer for people walking and bicycling.
Ramsey County have done some good things with this roundabout from a walking and bicycling standpoint. The crossings are set back from the roundabout and they’ve included refuge islands. For a lower volume and lower speed roundabout these, perhaps along with some sharks teeth to indicate ROW, shorter crossing distances and tighter geometry plus reverse camber to slow drivers, would be sufficient to make this a safe roundabout.
However, the traffic volume, entrance/exit speeds and overall design speed of this roundabout are too high for surface crossings. In countries with safer road systems this roundabout would have underpasses for people walking and bicycling.
And these underpasses are in countries where drivers nearly always, perhaps 99.9% of the time, stop for people in marked crossings. Stopping percentages are much lower in the U.S. and in Ramsey County. In testing this at a roundabout further south on Rice Street I found that only 3% of cars stop for someone in a crossing. 97% DID NOT stop.
The minor problem is crossing traffic that is entering the roundabout where you need only be concerned about cars from one direction and these cars are actively slowing down to enter the roundabout.
The major problem is crossing motor traffic that is exiting the roundabout. Here you must watch for traffic from EVERY arm of the roundabout. With a roundabout you do not know what car or truck will be exiting where you want to cross so you must consider that EVERY one of them will want to exit where you want to cross and so EVERY one is a threat.
In The Netherlands I can make surface crossings at most roundabouts without worrying much about cars because I know that they will stop (if I have right-of-way which is often the case). Drivers in The Netherlands (and largely throughout Europe) know that they may need to yield to someone in a crossing on exit and so they are prepared for it. That’s not the case here in Ramsey County so to cross safely I have to wait until there are no cars in the roundabout nor close to entering any other arm.
This might not be a problem during some parts of the day but during morning and evening rush and somewhat at other times this can be a challenge. It can easily take 10–30 minutes until it’s safe to cross.
That’s a long time to wait and especially for a child riding 10 minutes to school. So people begin taking risks and crossing when it’s ‘almost safe’. Most of the time this works OK. Some of the time a car not prepared to stop does, which is good, but then the car too close behind them not prepared to stop slams in to them. And sometimes the car does not stop and someone ends up dead.
So this is a roundabout that would be only nominally safe with Dutch drivers and even so many or most traffic engineers there would not use surface crossings. How save is this with U.S.drivers?
Following are comparisons of Existing, Proposed and CROW stacked for comparison. CROW is how this road would be built in Europe given function and volume. House setbacks along Hodgson vary – this is using an approximate average. (yes, one lane is going in the wrong direction – an occasional abnormality of this app).
The proposed roadway places motor travel lanes about 6’ closer to houses on each side than the existing roadway. This plus extra contiguous asphalt will likely also result in considerable more noise.
Proposed Ramsey County Design that adds a traffic lane:
CROW Design (how this would be built in Europe to be much safer and quieter):
The CROW plan is safer for all users, including people in cars, is quieter, places motor traffic farther from homes and yards, provides more yard space and more green space.
Larger contiguous bits of asphalt such as the 42’ for the proposed Hodgson plan not only increase noise for surrounding areas but also increase the heat island effect. This increases temperatures and pollution, and reduces precipitation. Even an equal amount of pavement but broken up and especially if there are additional trees can significantly reduce this.
We see this effect on the Twin Cities frequently when temps in the urban core are higher and rain goes around it. With increased contiguous paved surface area this is spreading to suburbs like Shoreview.
While the proposed plan is somewhat an improvement over the current road it is still far behind in terms of safety and access compared to what other developed countries are doing. Ramsey County Traffic Engineers can make this a safer roadway.
Or click on the Trumpkin’s Sauna Notes link in the top menu.
On the path to building our new sauna we learned that there is a lot of not so good (or downright bad and misleading) information on the web and from U.S. sauna vendors, and that there are a lot of details that are critical to get right and easy to get wrong. We traveled to Finland and Sweden to experience sauna and learn from experts. Like Glenn Auerbach did more recently, we’d noticed a huge difference between saunas in the U.S. and saunas in Europe. Sauna’s in Europe are consistently better. We want to know why.
Disclaimer: I am not an engineer nor doctor. The following is simply a bunch of notes on what we learned building our sauna and that we wish we’d known much sooner. Use at your own risk. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to do further research on all of these topics.
Form, Function and Löyly
What follows is about function (and Löyly). It’s about the things that are needed for the best sauna experience- a Finnish (or Swedish or German or …) sauna experience.
Form is important too though and form can enhance function. Sauna is more enjoyable in a sauna that is aesthetically pleasing than one that’s not. Should sauna function ever be compromised for form? Not to me. I’ve had bad sauna and I’ve had good sauna and I’ll take the latter every time no matter how ugly the room.
Some may be more interested in form and want only what function fits the form they desire. And that’s OK, it just may not be sauna. Saunas Of The World is one of my favorite Instagrams because I love architecture and it has some fabulous looking places, but many or even most of what are on there are either not sauna’s or not good sauna’s.
While I’ve heard a lot of people say that they wished they’d done more for the function of their sauna, particularly ventilation, I’ve rarely heard anyone say (though I have said it myself) that they wish they’d done more for the form.
Details Are Important
“90% of saunas in North America are bad. The other 10% are worse.” – Board Members, Finnish Sauna Society – Mikkel Aaland
There are reasons for that statement and very good ones. U.S. saunas suffer from a love of don’t-sweat-the-details. U.S. traffic engineers not sweating the details on road design is why we have the most dangerous road system of all developed countries and why a child in the U.S. is 11x as likely to be killed walking or riding a bicycle as a child in Europe. Details are often quite important.
You can tell you’re in a U.S. sauna that hasn’t sweated the details because you get cold feet (they’re actually not cold but quite warm just not nearly as warm as your upper body). Or you have to scrunch up and put your feet on the upper bench (which isn’t good for relaxing, breathing and getting the benefits of löyly). Or you don’t feel a fully enveloping and comforting heat evenly around your entire body front to back and head to toe. Or the sauna simply can’t get hot enough.
The most critical though is that you have to leave the sauna because you’re feeling out of breath, have brain fog or getting dizzy. These because of too high CO2 from poor ventilation. High blood CO2 also impacts the ability to use sauna for muscle recovery after a workout or from a day of real work as it reduces our body’s ability to deal with lactate. In some cases muscles are even worse after a sauna because of this.
Some things we noticed on our travels in Finland: EVERY sauna required climbing up several steps to the benches from the changing room – feet are nearly always above the stones. EVERY sauna except one had good ventilation. They all had an adjacent shower and with a tiny few exceptions, a window or two. All critical details that make for a much better experience.
The biggest thing we noticed is how much more enjoyable sauna is in Europe. More even enveloping heat front to back and head to toe. No cold feet or chilly backs. And that there’s a huge difference in leaving a sauna having benefited from heat and löyly versus leaving because you feel like you need air to breath. People in U.S. sauna’s who’ve never experienced proper sauna often confuse the latter with the former, we think that feeling of breathing difficulty is normal, but it’s not.
A bit of effort up front sweating the details provides thousands of hours of more enjoyable and beneficial sauna for years to come. It’s worth the effort.
Important Details We’ve Learned
So here, some quick notes on what we have learned about sauna design and building (some that we wish we’d learned much sooner). Special thanks to Jarmo Lehtola, Risto Elomaa, Glenn Auerbach and many others for their ideas and patience in answering my endless questions and their perseverance in making sure that I not only built a proper sauna but understood sauna.
Space – Minimum of 2 cubic meters (70 cf) per person plus one for the elf.
Stones Determine Bench and Ceiling Height – Temps are much more consistent, stable and comfortable above the top of the stones than below. Start with setting the foot bench at or above the top of the stones. The sitting bench then is 17-18” above the foot bench and the ceiling 44-48” above the sitting bench.
Bench Widths – Provide 2’ or 60cm of sitting bench per person. If a L shaped bench then a bit more so that the people in the inside corner don’t have their legs on top of each other.
A Bench to Lay On – At least one sitting bench should be at least 76-80” so that someone can comfortably lay down.
Bench Depth – 24-28” is the recommended minimum as this is both comfortable for sitting and wide enough to lay down on.
Wood – Almost any wood can be used though some are better than others. Cedar is popular but can be too fragrant for some people and the oil in some cedar and other woods can be toxic though I’ve no idea how this plays out in a hot sauna. Avoid woods like pine with too much sap. Be careful of knots, especially for benches, platforms and backrests, as they can get much hotter to touch than surrounding wood.
Groove Down – With T&G walls the tongue should face up and the groove down to avoid moisture, water or sweat collecting in the grooves.
It Gets Hot – Be careful of any metals, woods or other materials that get hot easily as getting burned on these can be less than pleasant.
Warm Dry Floor – Stepping on to a cold or cold and wet floor while still in a hot room doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. A wood slat floor (duckboards) makes for a more enjoyable end to each sauna round. They will also help to keep benches cleaner as debris on the bottom of feet are more likely to remain on the boards or fall through them vs a hard floor where debris are more likely to stay on feet to be deposited on to the foot bench. Duckboards actually seemed quite rare in Europe as the entry to almost every sauna hot room was a step, followed by another one or three steps to get up to a platform and the benches.
Stove Sizing – Bigger is not necessarily better. Too high of kW results in shorter heating cycles, faster heating swings and less comfort. A properly sized heater will have longer run times which results in less noticeable temp changes and greater comfort. The EU recommendations from EU manufacturers should be good. Pay attention though to things like very large windows that may result in excess heat loss and require a larger stove. The more stones the better and more stones help to smooth out the temp swings.
Stones – More is better. MINIMUM 8kg / m³ (1/3 lb / cf) of space and 17kg (37 lbs) per person are good starting targets. More is better. 40kg (90lbs) per person is good. More stones result in more even temps, more even softer steam and thus a more comfortable experience. A good sauna is heated by the stones and the stones by the heater. Nothing makes up for proper stones.
Use virgin quarried stones – Landscape stones or river rock may have organic matter (think cow dung) that is unhealthy and can produce unpleasant odors when heated.
Rough stones are good – Stones should ideally have a rough surface to help hold water to make better steam. Smoother or rounder stones do not do this so well.
Thermostat – Should be placed at about head height (75cm above the sitting bench) and NOT directly above the stove. Note that this could violate UL guidelines in the U.S. but if you want a sauna rather than an American warm room then this is needed.
Avoid vaulted, coved or similar ceilings – In theory and in experience a flat ceiling is best as it results in the most even temps. Vaulted, coved or sloped ceilings result in heat being up too high and reduce fresh air movement. HOWEVER, I’m not convinced that it’s not possible to have something other than a flat ceiling that works and is comfortable such as a minor cove. A-Frames, Barrel saunas and similar shapes should be avoided though.
A shower is important – It’s important to shower (and dry off) before first entering sauna and a cool shower is often a good way to cool off after each round. The more convenient the shower the more likely it is to be used and the more pleasant an experience. We have two for our sauna; one inside and one outside.
A Window on the world – Being able to see outside while in sauna is quite enjoyable.
Changing Room – Besides changing and showering this space provides a critical air-lock function to prevent or lessen cold chilling air from blowing in to the sauna.
Heated Floors – If you have a concrete floor then adding in-floor radiant heat can make for a more comfortable experience, especially in the changing room and shower but also in the hot room. Extending this to the porch and nearby walks or patios (snow melt system) isn’t a bad idea either.
Privacy – Sauna is best enjoyed nude. Providing for some privacy for both inside the sauna building and for an outdoor patio can make for a much more enjoyable experience for all.
Wood, Gas or Electric Heater? Wood is more traditional and more romantic. Even the routine of preparing the fire has benefits and for many of us is quite enjoyable, relaxing and a great way to prepare for a good day of sauna. A wood sauna causes you to slow down a bit and be intentional about your sauna which is good. Drawbacks are that it is not as convenient, uses natural resources (trees) and is a direct source of pollution.
Electric is certainly more convenient, especially with a phone app that allows you to begin preheating before you arrive home and electric maintains more even temps. Electric may be less healthy, this perhaps due to the calrods used for heating (though this, if it is a problem, could be eliminated with better heater design). Electric may have similar environmental impacts to wood though as resources are used to produce electricity and production of electricity often produces pollution (and making solar panels does as well). How the environmental impacts of wood vs electric compare is a much longer discussion.
Gas is not as prevalent but can be a good option. Some local codes will not allow remote app control.
Hybrid. I built a hybrid gas/wood fireplace for our house. Natural gas is used primarily to get the wood going but is sometimes kept on if wood is greener than it should be. Similarly, it should be possible to create a gas/wood hybrid sauna stove that can act as a traditional wood stove (with a convenient gas starter) or have the convenience of a gas stove when desired.
Ventilation in such a small space seems critical. However, the folks building our sauna do not normally do any ventilation and say their saunas have been fine. Tylo-helo, our heater manufacturer, says to put a vent below the heater for air to enter and one 2’ above the floor on the opposite wall for air to exhaust. I’m not sure this will work though. There is not enough height difference to induce much airflow from natural convection and this would seem to make the sauna colder and not do anything for removing CO2.
Online we see recommendations similar to Tylo-helo or some that say to leave a gap under the door (which we did) and to have the exhaust vent in the ceiling.
One question is how much CO2 do we produce and do we need to do something to remove it. My guess is that we will produce enough CO2 to be a problem and that we do need a way to remove it and I’m not sure that what is recommended nor what we currently have will work. I’m beginning to test this now.
We are currently using kind of a reverse flow – bringing fresh air in higher and exhausting it lower. By turning on the ceiling exhaust in the adjacent shower we pull fresh outside air in through the ceiling vent (that would normally be exhaust) that then flows down through the sauna and under the door to be exhausted outside. This makes the sauna feel much better (better heat, fresher air and less lightheaded feeling) so we want to stick with this or something similar. However, this also results in the high limit switch on the heater tripping so that needs to be dealt with somehow.
Still To Learn:
We see extremely high particulate matter (1.0, 2.5 and 10.0) when ladling water on to the stones. Part of this and possibly all of it is bits of stone breaking off and disbursing with the steam. I’d guess some of it is also from the calrods which isn’t good.
Some time ago I did an analysis of how well home values were recovering in various Twin Cities communities. The lack of new construction caused by the recession gave us a very unique opportunity to see how house buyers value communities—somewhat apart from the houses themselves. In other words, what really is the value of location, location, location.
We looked at the correlation between a number of factors and how well cities did with value retention and recovery. Some of these factors were crime (high correlation), proximity to local grocery, pharmacy, and eating (high), the presence of retirement communities (moderate), parks (moderate), and sports facilities (low).
Of particular interest was that there appeared no correlation between overall per capita housing value and how well cities performed through the recession. Wealthy and less wealthy were equally spread out among winners and losers. North Oaks for example has the second highest per capita housing value in the metro yet ranked 28th in value retention over our 3 yr study period.
At the same time I was working on another project to rate local pedestrian and bicycling facilities and friendliness—the ability of residents and workers to safely and comfortably walk or bike to local destinations like schools, churches, eateries, and grocery stores.
Out of curiosity I married these two projects a bit to see how pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure might impact house values and was quite surprised at how high of a correlation there appeared to be.
The red bars on the chart below (scale on the right) show the change in home values for each of the 76 cities in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area over the three year study period (thru November 2012) —approximately 31 months of market decline and 5 of recovery.
From a monetary standpoint most of us would prefer to be in one of the communities towards the left that did relatively well during the recession rather than one towards the right. Houses in Anoka lost 22% of their value on average. That hurts. (Click for larger image)
The green bars indicate the relative cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in each of these cities. For reference, Amsterdam might be about a 20 on this scale, Copenhagen 15, and Stockholm 10. So, though 5 seems good, even our best lags well behind much of the developed world. This is similar to our roads being considerably more dangerous. A child riding in a car here is about three times as likely to be killed as one in The Netherlands.
Notice where the cities with better cycling infrastructure land on the chart and how this correlates to how well they did coming out of the recession. All of the suburbs with a cycling infrastructure rating of 4 or 5 are in the top third of housing value retention, and all but one rated a 3 are in the top 50%.
More importantly, looking at the three year change in value based on cycling infrastructure, those with a rating of 5 lost 1.4%, 4’s lost an average of 3.6%, 3’s lost 7.9%, 2’s lost 11%, and 1’s lost 13.2%.
Also note that the presence of cycling infrastructure is not very dependent on the overall value of housing in a city. Plymouth is 13th in overall house value with an average less than half that of top ranked Orono yet has excellent bicycling infrastructure and is 2nd best in value retention. Eagan, Maple Grove, and Chaska are right near the middle of the 76 metro cities in overall per capita housing value yet have fairly good walking and bicycling infrastructure and have done much better than average in value retention.
Walking and bicycling infrastructure also appear to have had a greater impact on house values than factors such as schools, and distance from the core downtowns of Minneapolis and St Paul, or the presence of lakes, sports, or senior living facilities. Only crime and proximity to shopping and eating appear to be valued more by buyers.
In the end I’m not sure to what extent the facilities themselves may impact how someone values a city versus secondary impacts like more people being active in a neighborhood make it more appealing. In other words, how many people specifically want the bikeways and how many see a bunch of folks out and about and like that.
Now, let’s look closer at our own backyard.
There is still correlation with our 18 northeast metro cities but noticeably less than in the entire metro. This is not surprising given the much smaller sample size.
Cities ranked 1 lost 10.1% of their value, but those ranked 2 lost 12.1%. The three cities ranked 3 lost 8.8%, and our lone 4 lost only 6.6%.
Clearly, buyers value NE Metro cities with bicycle and pedestrian facilities ranked 3 or 4 much higher than those ranked only 1 or 2 though the differences are not as stark as metro wide. Again, how much bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure actually plays in to this is difficult to say. Perhaps a major element is that the cities who value safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities also value other things that buyers value—kind of a package deal.
What Creates Value?
There are many factors that influence how someone values a city and what impact that has on their desire to live there and to pay a value premium for doing so. It is all of the things that bundle up to become location, location, location.
Nationally there are three factors that have emerged quite strongly over the past 10 years across all buyers though particularly among younger buyers; community, walkability, and quality.
Quality refers to people’s increasing desires for quality and longevity of design and construction in their own home and of those in their neighborhood.
Walkability is people’s desire to scale back their dependence on automobiles and the amount of time they spend in them. They want to be able to walk or ride a bicycle to schools, eateries, and for local errands such as groceries. Some also want good transit options for somewhat longer journeys such as trips to downtown or sporting events.
This is particularly strong among Millennials who are driving less than prior generations. There are a number of reasons for this but improved health, lifestyle, and enjoyment appear the primary elements.
Note that WalkScore is a very poor indicator of reality. WalkScore is based purely on distance with no regard to quality. It will rank a 0.5 mile walk/ride on a 45 MPH road with no shoulders or sidewalks much higher than a 1 mile walk/ride along a 35 MPH road with 10′ wide shared use paths on each side. In reality the former, like Vadnais Heights, will have nobody walking and the latter, like Shoreview, will have a gob of people walking and bicycling.
Third is Community. People want to live where neighbors know each other. Where they see each other at and going to the local grocery (or Village Scoop or Ingredients) and not a million people they don’t know. They want to shop and eat where they see the owner in person, not just on the cover of Fortune magazine. And, they want to put down roots. They want to be somewhere that they feel they’ll be happy for 70 years, not just 7.
There is a fourth factor sometimes mentioned and that is a desire for better quality, healthier, and local food options. This includes both shopping and dining. The local part is both the source of the food and of the owner, large franchises need not apply.
These are all also critical in why younger generations have been increasingly opting for urban rather than suburban living, even after they have children. Locally this is one reason why St Paul and Minneapolis have held their values so unusually well against suburbs.
This isn’t new but simply getting back to the way we did things for hundreds or thousands of years before the ascension of suburbs in the 1950’s. Historically we’ve built communities around a central village of daily necessities. We wanted to be close to a grocery, general stores, pubs, and schools so these were at the center with everyone living among and around them. The benefits of cars changed this with the suburban model separating what had been closer and mixed together. With typical suburban development people live in a large housing zone, drive to another zone for shopping, and to another for work. In 1950 this looked glamorous but today we’ve learned that spending a lot of time in our cars and traffic isn’t so much fun. What we are seeing today is a desire to get back to being close to daily amenities and to having the smaller tighter identifiable communities that we had prior to the rise of suburbs.
We’re Careful About What We Can’t Control
Something that became apparent in this study is that buyers increasingly place greater emphasis on fixed externalities than on things they have some personal control over. A kitchen, yard, or entire house can be remodeled and children can go to other schools but the freeway next door or view of an industrial plant likely won’t be changing.
For suburban house shoppers some fixed externalities often mentioned include traffic, crime, noise, pollution, and nearby properties that are poorly maintained. On the flip side, proximity to local shopping (grocery, pharmacy, etc) and eateries is increasingly critical.
Rail, both commuter and tram, is beginning to bubble up a bit as well. Both for being a desirable alternative to driving or riding a bus and because it reduces traffic (and thus noise, pollution, number of lanes required, etc.) on all roads and particularly on higher speed and volume roads.
People out eating, walking, playing, running, and riding bicycles adds to appeal. One realtor said that there’s nothing that sells Shoreview like a potential buyer seeing a bunch of people riding bicycles to Dairy Queen.
Local churches in a community add appeal though mega churches and their traffic not so much.
How Un-Valuable is Value?
A final thought. There is little to no correlation between home value and happiness. Numerous studies have found that nationally about $70k in household income is peak happiness value. Earning more doesn’t bring any greater happiness.
I know one family who sold a nearly $1 million suburban house and moved in to a smaller house about 1/3 the price in Cathedral Hill. After five years they say they are happier, enjoy being closer to neighbors, knowing their neighbors better, and walking or riding bicycles to shop and eat. This move wasn’t a financial decision but primarily to reduce the amount of time they spent driving. They said they got an unexpected bonus in no longer needing both of their cars and the lower financial burden has meant less stress and greater happiness.
I know one family (and possibly another now that I think about it) who moved closer to downtown White Bear Lake for similar reasons. Less house but closer to places to shop and eat. I know another who chose Circle Pines because they can ride dirt bikes there.
Despite the title, this isn’t really about monetary value so much as what people want in their communities. Monetary value is simply a proxy for a-lot-of-people-desire-this.
 North Oaks sank to 53rd in the following months. This most recent sinking however was likely due primarily to increased sales of new construction that has values below North Oaks average.
 Note that the pedestrian and bicycle ratings are highly subjective and based on opinions of a number of individuals. While they are likely fairly accurate they are not completely objective and did not include significant in-depth analysis of every city. Many are also borderline. While Shoreview is a 4, it could just as well have been a 5. Likewise, Maple Grove is a 4 but should perhaps have been a 3.
 These were calculated using 6 month running averages so should be fairly representative of actual. The period was chosen based on housing start data and ended when construction activity picked up. Normally new construction drives the average housing values in a city more than anything so this period gave us a very unique chance to see values without them being hidden by new construction.
 Note that walkscore and bikescore have proven poor measures as they are focused on distance and not quality. A half mile walk along a busy road with no sidewalk is rated better than a three-quarter mile walk along an appealing segregated path.
 One couple told me that one reason they like living in downtown St Paul is that they don’t want to be tempted by Costco. They like shopping at relatively local stores (Lunds and Mississippi Market) and going to local eateries (Nina’s and Cheeky Monkey).
 Somewhat related to this people want a strong city (finances, planning, community involvement, etc). They don’t want to live in a city that they expect will encounter difficulties in future years taking care of local roads, parks, and other amenities.
 A study by Zillow indicated that being near a Starbucks had a noticeably positive impact on house values. Given that Starbucks are usually co-located with other eateries this could well have been simply an indicator that people want to live near eateries not necessarily Starbucks.
The Rush Line is a transit corridor between Forest Lake (or Hinckley) and St Paul Union Depot that will be going through White Bear and other NE communities.
They are currently evaluating rail vs bus alternatives for this corridor and looking for input from residents and potential users. They are holding a walking tour on September 29 for those interested. If you have any thoughts on this you should let your voice be heard.
There are two major goals of the Rush Line; provide a good transit alternative for residents northeast and north of the metro area and reduce traffic and increases in traffic on 35E and 61.
Based on my experience in Europe and reading a bunch of studies over the years, my preference is for rail. This is not a preference that comes easily given my libertarian tendencies and dislike of taxes and spending. Transportation though is the one area where government spending is necessary.
While a bus line would be less expensive, it would very likely not accomplish our goals, particularly long-term. Rail provides a more reliable service and a smoother and more comfortable ride, and is overall much more appealing and attracts higher ridership. Rail works particularly well for commuters since it is much easier to work (for work or personal) on a train than a bus so the time spent on rail is not felt wasted so much as time on a bus or in a car.
Communities with nearby commuter or tram rail connections will also usually hold their home values much better than those with only bus service. This will become increasingly important in the Twin Cities residential housing market.
What a wonderful weekend along Hodgson Rd. There was a bit less traffic than usual but best of all is that most of the traffic was going much slower. Even with the rough road surface it was much quieter and riding along the path to Paninos or Village Scoop a bit more pleasant.
It can be better than it was before
While we can’t keep it like it is, we can make it better than it was before.
According to Ramsey County, Hodgson had 12′ travel lanes and 7′ shoulders prior to this project and the plan is to re-strip the same way.
Reducing a lane from 12′ to 11′ reduces average speeds by about 3 mph. That doesn’t sound like much, but that average mostly comes from the fastest drivers. Someone who normally drives the speed limit won’t usually change their speed with 11′ lanes, but someone who normally drives 55 mph along here may reduce their speed to perhaps 48 mph.
Reducing lane width from 12′ to 10′ reduces speeds by an average of 7 mph. Again, mostly from greater reductions by the fastest drivers.
It’s also important to note that speeds usually increase after a road has been repaved due to the smoother surface which makes doing something to reduce speeds along here and similar resurfacing projects that much more important.
Our road designs put our children at much greater risk than road designs used in Europe.
Our roads are about 2 to 3 times as dangerous as Europe’s roads. We have the most dangerous roads of all developed countries (though Greece occasionally gives us a run for our money). Several studies have placed part of the blame on our very wide lanes that increase speeding and decrease driver attention. A road like this in Europe would likely have 2.85 to 3 meter lane widths (9’4″ – 9’9″). They believe and have shown that to be much safer since it helps with speeds and more important, drivers pay better attention when lane widths are narrower.
Narrower lanes and slower speeds are also much better for pedestrians and others needing to cross the road since the crossing distances are less and because traffic is a bit slower and better able to stop when someone is crossing. I’ve seen a few close calls for people crossing to the path from Wildflower Way and I’d guess there may be similar issues with the new developments on the east side of Hodgson.
Re-striping to 11′ or 10′ would reduce speeds, particularly of the fastest drivers, increase safety, improve driver attention, and reduce road noise. All of which will make life more pleasant for everyone.
This is not a silver bullet that alone will make our roads and paths safer but is one critical element.
If you think that this is important, contact Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman.
As you’ve likely guessed, I’m not a huge fan of bicycling in Vadnais Heights, at least compared to places like Shoreview that have relatively good and safe paths to ride on and much safer intersections.
That said, I will nearly always ride my bicycle for trips of one or two miles like to Festival Foods or Target which is a fairly safe and enjoyable ride from my house.
Having done so once, I will not cross 35E to get to Perkins or anything else on that side, it is simply too dangerous in my opinion.
However, there are times when I quite enjoy riding in Vadnais Heights. Early on Saturday and Sunday mornings before there is much or any traffic on the roads is my favorite. I enjoy riding to Dunn Bros for a cappuccino or sometimes my wife and I will ride to Panera for breakfast. What’s great about our Dutch city bikes is that they’re easy to just hop on a go when we decide to do this.
It’s not The Netherlands or Copenhagen, or even Shoreview, but it does make for a great way to start the day.
Calhoun Cycle in south Minneapolis is now stocking the Gazelle Populair which is a full-on Dutch city bike. They have both step-thru and step-over models with 8-speed Shimano internal geared rear hubs and hub dynamo’s to power the lights. It has a ring-lock (grey below the seat) that makes locking up easy (as long as you’re not in a high crime area).
This is a great bike for hoping on in whatever you’re wearing for a quick ride around town, to dinner, school, the grocery store (get some panniers while you’re there for carrying lots of stuff), or along the Gateway trail.
Personally I prefer Azor, Batavus, or Workcycles to Gazelle. I find the Gazelle’s to be a bit cramped feeling with the seat and handlebars a bit too close together. That’s personal preference though. From a quality standpoint I think Gazelle is likely just as good as those others and rides nicely.
Note that these do not have a steering damper or even the usual attachment point for one nor do they have the usual mount on the left fork for a light when using a front rack such as a removable Steco (I believe the Gazelle front rack, which is not removable, does include a mount). These also do not include a Hebie center stand which you may want to order.