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 Ramsey County traffic engineers build something as good and safe as others?
Some additional information on why European roads are so much safer designed than U.S.
Full Version: Hodgson Rd – Anatomy Of A Dangerous Road Design
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.
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’.
4a – 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?
4b – Bikeway & Walkway 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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.