Hodgson Rd – Anatomy Of A Dangerous Road Design

Hodgson Rd CROW Standard ppf12 9

Ramsey County, in conjunction with the cities of Shoreview and Vadnais Heights are redoing Hodgson Road between Gramsie and Hiway 96.

Project Website: https://www.ramseycounty.us/residents/roads-transportation/future-road-projects/future-road-construction-projects/hodgson-road-reconstruction

Stated Purposes are:

  • Improve pedestrian and bike access
  • Replace the aging pavement
  • Improve stormwater management

All well and good. And the current proposed design (July 2021) is indeed an improvement over the current roadway for people walking and riding bicycles. However, that’s like someone saying that they’re only going to beat us up 4 times this year instead of 5.

This design is an improvement but is still far more dangerous and less useable than what other countries have been building as standard for decades.

Why can’t we build something as good and safe as others?

Some additional information on why European roads are so much safer designed than U.S.

  • https://streets.mn/2019/07/08/designing-a-road-different-cultural-perspectives/ 
  • https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com
  • http://www.modacitylife.com
  • https://streets.mn/2014/03/25/why-are-we-letting-drivers-kill-our-children/
  • https://streets.mn/2014/08/27/cycleway-fundamentals-safety-momentum-comfort/

Two versions of this post follow; a relatively brief Cliffs Notes version and a longer Full Version with more (and hopefully better) details.

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Cliffs Notes Version

The U.S. has the most dangerous road system of all developed countries. Comparing to The Netherlands for example; someone in the U.S. is over 3x as likely to be killed while in a car, 11x as likely to be killed while riding a bicycle and 17x as likely to be killed while walking.

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We also have nearly the lowest life expectancy (32nd of 34) and the highest rates of preventible chronic diseases. Across developed countries the highest correlation factor for health is the amount that people bicycle for local transportation – the more the healthier.

Children who walk or bicycle to school perform better and are less stressed than those who come by bus or car. They are also overall healthier, happier and better socially adjusted. This is why so many countries have begun prioritizing children being able to safely bicycle to school. The Netherlands has now eliminated school buses and other countries are following close behind.

This design on Hodgson is an improvement over the current roadway but is still a significantly less safe design than it would be in other developed countries. It does not make it safe or inviting for children to bicycle to school nor for the majority of people to bicycle to the grocery or dinner. It is what other countries were doing 20-40 years ago and no longer do because of safety.

The issues include:

1a – Bi-Directional Trail / Bikeway – Dangerous

This design forces bicycle riders to ride contra-flow to traffic so that they are approaching junctions, side roads and driveways from the opposite direction of motor traffic which often results in drivers not seeing them. A bi-directional bikeway such as this is largely illegal in most other developed countries due to the high risk it creates.

1b – Bi-Directional Trail / Bikeway – Congestion

This is the same basic design as Hodgson Rd north of Hiway 96 except the MUT in this plan is narrower, only 8’ wide versus the 10’ wide trail north of 96.

There are already congestion problems on the trail north of 96 due to it being bi-directional and having people bicycling and walking in the same space. Some people have stopped using it because of the congestion.

This area south of 96 has nearly 5x the population density who would likely want to use it.

Narrower trail, wider road with higher speeds, more people trying to walk and bicycle… 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 at a time) for busier and faster roads such as Edgerton and no more than 17-19’ (two lanes) for less busy roads. Any crossing distance greater than 19’ generally requires stop lights at each crossing.

Even with stop lights crossings are usually limited to 88’ or less.

This plan includes unsignalized crossings of over 100’ or 5-11x what would be allowed elsewhere. NONE of the crossings in this plan would be considered safe or legal in other developed countries.

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 generally be placed about one car length (typically 14’) from the closest motor vehicle lane. Benefits include shorter crossing distance, drivers are no longer dealing with other issues of the junction and can focus on only the crossing, the crossing and people about to cross are in the drivers direct field of view rather than far off to one side, provides a safe place for drivers to wait for people crossing while being out of the way of through traffic, reduces congestion for people walking and bicycling and creates a safe waiting zone.

 

2c – Sharks Teeth

Sharks Teeth clearly communicate to drivers (and people walking, bicycling or with disabilities) that they DO NOT have right-of-way, should proceed with extra caution and must yield to crossing or conflicting traffic. This also eliminates ambiguity of who has right-of-way. The use of Sharks Teeth is critical to safe crossings and also allows traffic engineers to safely give motor traffic the right-of-way when appropriate.

 

3 – No Refuge Islands

Other safer countries make liberal use of refuge islands to make crossings shorter and safer and to cause drivers to pay closer attention at crossings. Every crossing of Hodgson would either include signals or refuge islands to limit crossing distances to 9’.

4 – Unmarked Crossings

I believe the U.S. is the only developed country that allows unmarked crossings.

Every road junction, every side street entrance in Ramsey County, is a legal crossing. But who knows? Who thinks about that when they’re going 45-55 MPH up Hodgson? How many cars on Hodgson stop for someone entering one of these invisible crossings?

5 – No Walkway On Each Side

Many countries will no longer allow multi-use trails in built-up areas. The speed differences between people walking (3 MPH avg) and bicycling (13 MPH avg) are too great when it gets congested. Along any road with a speed limit of greater than 18 MPH they will build a minimum of a 4’ walkway + 10” buffer + 6.5’ bikeway + 20-60” buffer (60” for a 45 MPH roadway like Hodgson) on each side.

The disparities in speed, torque and mass will become greater with MN having recently legalized 20 MPH throttle controlled mopeds and 28 MPH e-bikes for trails such as this.

6 – 8’ Trail Width

8’ is much too narrow for both bi-directional traffic and shared use by multiple modes (foot, bicycle, wheelchair, mobility scooter, skates, etc.). And it gets worse when bushes are not pruned back.

7 – Wide Radius Corners

Road designs elsewhere use tighter radii in corners. This causes drivers to pay closer attention 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 in wider lanes.

This same holds true for overall pavement width. The more contiguous pavement (e.g., continuous pavement between curbs or grass) the less drivers pay attention because they feel like they have a lot of room for error – swerving over a painted line isn’t an issue for them.

The width of contiguous pavement also significantly increases noise which impacts those who live along Hodgson as well as people walking or bicycling.

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 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.

  • Increase Driver Attention. 
  • Increase Access Safety for people entering from driveways. 
  • Increase Crossing Safety.
  • Reduce Unnecessary Traffic Volume and Driver Aggression. 

This lane design increases overall contiguous pavement width which also reduces driver attention, may increase speeds and will increase noise. Engineers in safer countries try to use as little pavement as possible for better driver attention and less noise.

Perhaps the bigger issue though is that adding this center turn lane reduces bicycling and walking facilities. Ramsey County engineers have stated that they cannot build a wider MUT 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.

This lane also results in the motor travel lanes being 6’ closer to homes on either side.

A Swedish engineer: “You make the motor vehicle lanes more dangerous, increase noise, decrease walking and bicycling facilities and decrease vegetation – Why would you do this?”

Junctions

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.

For more: 

 

 

Roundabout

Roundabouts are much safer for people in cars than intersections and they can be safer for people walking and bicycling. Well designed roundabouts are a good thing.

The traffic volumes, approach speeds and design speeds for this roundabout are however quite dangerous for people walking or bicycling to be forced to use surface crossings. Crossing will be quite difficult, time consuming and dangerous during morning and evening rush and somewhat so at other times.

Other countries would generally include underpasses for people walking and bicycling through a roundabout such as this one.

 

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Full Version

Why This Is Important?

The U.S. currently has the most dangerous road system of all developed countries.

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Walking is more difficult to measure but is similar or worse 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 (the safest country for both walking and bicycling).

In just 2019 alone Minnesota drivers killed 364 people and seriously injured 1,520. 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 283 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.

LMJSK

Sadly, deaths on our roads have continued to rise since that 2014 tweet and drivers now kill over 37,000 people each year.

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 also 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.

Another is cost. Moundsview and White Bear 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 the level of air pollution and academic performance.

The Netherlands no longer has any school buses. 62% of children now bicycle to school, 29% walk and 8% come by car. Other countries in Europe, Asia and OZ are close behind. This has also resulted in childhood ADHD nearly disappearing in The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

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 Design

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.

Hodgson Road Typical Layout web 5 19 2020

The Problems

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 have achieved much safer roads and many fewer people killed and 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 road design.

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 elsewhere.

In a quick review there are at least 33 elements of this 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 appreciably slower travel times for drivers. Safer is primarily about driver attention and protection through separation of the most vulnerable.

Following are a few of the key issues that are addressable under current Minnesota guidelines. There are several elements that are key to safe design that are not allowed by Minnesota guidelines and are not included. These are somewhat in descending order of safety impact.

1a – Bi-Directional Trail / Bikeway – Dangerous

Bi-directional trails/bikeways are now largely illegal in many or most developed countries because of the danger they pose for people traveling in a contra-flow (against traffic) direction.

Bi-directional are allowed only where there are very few (about 1-3 per mile) side road, parking lot or driveway entrances. When they are built they are typically 10’ wide and very rarely 8’. If outside of a built-up area and so also allowing pedestrians they will be 12’ wide. Any crossings of side roads or driveways will be very clearly marked, often the bikeway will be raised on a speed table, and with clear sightlines (no shrubs or other obstructions) so that drivers can easily see bicycle riders approaching.

The reason they are not allowed along a road like Hodgson 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. They often do not look to their right for people walking or riding a bicycle and crossing in front of them.

This is particularly dangerous in the U.S. as we still allow right-on-red (legally, only after stopping and looking in BOTH directions) which other countries do not allow and drivers in the U.S. frequently also do not stop before turning right at stop signs or when exiting parking lots.

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, to who is a threat to them, not to the near side bikeway/walkway.

Other developed countries now generally require that any road with speeds of greater than 18 MPH have a bikeway and walkway on EACH side of the roadway so that people walking and bicycling will be approaching side roads and driveways from the same direction as motor traffic and so greatly increasing the likelihood that drivers will see them.

 

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, than 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 MUT creates greater congestion 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 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 mostly because single direction travel is much more efficient.

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) for busier roads such as Edgerton 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 over 100’.

There are several reasons for 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’. It often also narrows 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.

This 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.

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.

More: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/junction-design-in-the-netherlands/

 

2c – Sharks Teeth

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. 

SharksTeeth

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 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.

Crossing01

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.

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 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 about 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, install curbs on the outside and change priority so that cars must yield to people in the crossing.

Crossing04

The crossing above is in a caution zone as indicated by the serrated bars and speed bump (below).

Crossing04a

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 in the U.S. a bicycle with a child trailer), 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.

4 – 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.

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 (13 MPH avg) are too great. Along any road with a speed limit of greater than 18 MPH they will build a minimum of a 4’ walkway and 6.5’ bikeway on each side.

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 3m. 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 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 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.

The width of contiguous pavement also increases noise since it increases the amount of noise reflected rather than absorbed.

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.

  • Driver Attention. They reduce driver expectation of this being a free flowing high speed 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. They 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. They 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. They encourage through 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 shared lane, they usually also introduce a forced chicane to slow drivers down and 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 also 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 also 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: “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.

 

Induced Demand and Category Creep

When a roadway is made to have less delay and higher speeds, when it becomes a speedier thoroughfare as is this plan with Hodgson, then more drivers will tend to use it more often as a through 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.
  • Negating of Other Benefits – For local drivers this can render any potential delay reducing benefits such as the center left turn lane mute due to increased overall volume of traffic. It does however lessen traffic on  other routes (that are more appropriate for through traffic) such as Lexington, 96, 35W and 35E 
  • Increased Risk for Pedestrians and Bicycle Riders – Increase traffic volume makes crossing more difficult and more dangerous. 

Induced demand is often the result of Category Creep – when a roadway is migrated up in the functional categorization hierarchy. 

Another problem with category 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 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.

Here’s another difference between what Ramsey County are doing and what you’ll see elsewhere. Engineers in other countries will look at this section of Hodgson with a lot of side streets and driveways and say that it has to be a Collector and remain a Collector. 

 

Junctions

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.

For more: 

 

Roundabout

Roundabouts are much 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 and slightly shorter crossing distances, would be sufficient to make this a safe roundabout.

However, the traffic volume, entrance speeds and 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, like perhaps 99.99% of the time, stop for people in marked crossings. Stopping percentages are massively 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 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 exiting traffic. Here you must watch for traffic from EVERY arm of the roundabout. With a roundabout you generally do not know what car or truck will be exiting where so you must consider that ANY 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 about cars because I know that they will stop (if I have right-of-way which is most often the case). Every driver 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?

 

Comparisons

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.

Current Roadway:Hodgson22Existing

Proposed Ramsey County Design that adds a traffic lane:Hodgson22Proposed

CROW Design (how this would be built in Europe to be much safer and quieter):
Hodgson22CROW

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

The Best Bicycle Ride in Vadnais Heights

bicycle vadnais heights

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.

bicycle vadnais heightsThat 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.

bicycle vadnais heights panera bread

bicycle vadnais heights panera breadHowever, 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.

A Rare Opportunity for Vadnais Heights

Vadnais Heights has a rare and valuable opportunity to obtain right-of-way along a key road in desperate need of a segregated bicycle and pedestrian path.

KoehlerMap

Koehler Road and Vadnais Elementary School.

For many in the western part of Vadnais Heights, about a third of Vadnais residents, one road, Koehler Road, provides the most reasonable and direct access for walking or bicycling to Vadnais Elementary School and to retail stores in Vadnais’ Center District. Koehler though, has numerous curves, narrow shoulders with numerous potholes and mailboxes extending in to the shoulder, and moderately heavy traffic that is often traveling 35 – 40 mph.

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Increasingly over the past three decades, parents have become wary of allowing their children to walk or ride their bicycles to school because of their concern about the safety of doing so along Koehler. Adults and children have also chosen not to ride their bicycles to the school or to local retail stores due to these same, very understandable, safety concerns.

A segregated bicycle and pedestrian path along the north side of Koehler would allow safe and direct access to Vadnais Elementary School and provide a very critical link in a safe bicycle and pedestrian network in Vadnais Heights.

A major issue with building any bicycle and pedestrian path is obtaining right-of-way from adjacent property owners. Increasingly, property owners have realized the increased value that these paths bring to their property which makes the acquisition process easier, but there can still be hurdles.

The owner of a large parcel of land along the north side of Koehler is currently trying to obtain variances to sub-divide this land for building five to six single family houses.

Now, while these lots, sizes, and setbacks are being determined, is the time for Vadnais Heights and Ramsey County to obtain any right-of-way necessary for a future path along Koehler. After the variances have been granted and legal work concluded, this will be much more difficult.

If you have an interest in seeing Vadnais Heights develop safer bicycle and pedestrian facilities, contact Vadnais city council members and Ramsey County commissioners with your interest in seeing them obtain any necessary right-of-way while this opportunity is available.

Providing this safe route to Vadnais School, which will allow children to safely walk or ride bicycles, will provide numerous benefits including improved health and academics, two areas in which our children are far behind other developed nations. This could also improve property values in Vadnais Heights as increasing numbers of buyers look for communities that are safe for walking and riding.

For more on why this is important, read Why Bicycle and Why Bicycling Is Good on the right side of this page.

For more on Vadnais Heights pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure read Vadnais Heights: Seven Wishes.

Ramsey County Projects Overview

These are some road projects coming up in the Northeast Metro (Northern Ramsey County). If you want to see better pedestrian and bicycling facilities included in these projects then make sure you let your county commissioners and appropriate city council folks know. Planning often begins two to four years prior to construction and it’s difficult to get changes included after about 6 months prior to construction. Adding proper pedestrian and bicycle facilities now, during construction, is very minimal cost. If it’s not done now, it will be another 30 years before the chance comes around again.

I am not including general signal revisions or mill & overlay projects. These though can be found in the Ramsey County TIP Report. Even though not major projects, these do offer opportunities for improvements to pedestrian and bicycle transportation such as better designed signals and button placements or narrowing of vehicular lanes and/or inclusion of bike lanes, cycle tracks, or paths on mill & overlay projects.

2014

Lexington Ave from approx 694 to County Road F (AH/SV) – Reconstruction.

Maryland Ave @ Payne Ave (SP) – Reconstruct Geometrics/Signals.

Highway 61 through downtown White Bear Lake (WBL) – Mill & Overlay plus additional improvements

2015

Hiway 96 from 35W to Old Hiway 8 (AH/NB) – Reconstruction

Lexington Ave @ Hiway 36 (RV) – Reconstruct Interchange. It is critical that they include adequate pedestrian and bicycle facilities on both sides of Lexington as well as allow safe crossing of Lexington.

Hiway 10 @ County Rd H (MV) – Geometrics/Signals.

County Rd E @ Snelling (AH) – Bridge Reconstruction. Critical that they include adequate pedestrian and bicycle facilities on both sides of Cty E and include a bicycle path along Snelling (under Cty E). Sadly they have included no safe bicycling facilities where Cty E has been reconstructed this summer between Snelling and Lexington. This is doubly critical to provide students at Bethel Univ with a safe route to Lexington Ave retail (they currently use the railroad line & bridge).

Raymond Ave from Hampden Ave to Energy Park Dr. (SP) – Reconstruction.

2016

Rice Street from Cty B2 to Cty C2 (RV/LC) – Reconstruction.

Hodgson Road from Gramsie to Bridge St. (SV/VH) – Reconstruction.

Raymond Ave from Energy Park Dr to Como Ave. (SP) – Reconstruction

County E2 @ 35W (NB) – Bridge Replacement.

2017

White Bear Ave @ 694 (WB/MW) – Interchange Reconstruction.

Hiway 96 @ 35E (WB/VH) – Interchange Reconstruction

Cty Rd D from Cleveland to Fairview (AH) – Reconstruction

Rice Street from N. Owasso Blvd to Vadnais Blvd (VH/SV/LC) – Interchange Reconstruction.

Vadnais Heights: Seven Wishes

DSC 0125

Note: Updated 25 July, 2013 to correct some information about Vadnais’ 2011 Comprehensive Plan.

Vadnais Heights comprises numerous island neighborhoods separated by Ramsey County roads with little or no planning for walking or bicycling. While some people are comfortable walking and bicycling outside of their neighborhood on busier roads with narrow shoulders, many, and perhaps most, are not. Many of those who do venture out also say that riding with traffic scares them and discourages them from riding very often. This is made worse in winter when many of these shoulders are not plowed or plowed inadequately for use by pedestrians or people riding bicycles.

Vadnais Heights’ 2011 Comprehensive Plan acknowledges some deficiencies in its walking and bicycling infrastructure, but also indicates a lack of understanding of the difference between recreational trails and safe, functional bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that allows it’s average citizens to safely walk or ride to local amenities. Instead of striving for segregated pathways and intersections that are safe and desirable by most people, the plan too often relies on road shoulders that are only comfortable for a minority of citizens, primarily the lycra crowd. Worse, the plan touts striped on-street parking lanes as effective bicycle lanes. These are actually quite dangerous for cyclists as they cause cyclists to swerve into traffic to dodge parked cars and put cyclists in the ‘door zone’ where many have been injured or killed by opening car doors. To their credit they have now installed “No Parking” signs on Arcade and Belland Avenues.

This lack of safe bicycling and walking routes will not serve Vadnais Heights well as increasing numbers of people choose to walk and bike more often for transportation and to make home purchase decisions based on the pedestrian and cycle friendliness of communities. 

Every major road in Vadnais Heights should have, at a minimum, a wide, well designed, and well maintained path to allow residents to safely and comfortably walk and bike to local schools, shops and restaurants, or to visit friends. Every intersection should be safe and feel safe for pedestrians and people on bikes. 

Here are seven wishes for Vadnais Heights.

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