Main Street – St. Peter, Minnesota

St. Peter, Minnesota is the county seat of Nicollet County, and home to over 11,000 people. While a bit less than twice the size of Glencoe, more than twice the size of Le Sueur and five times as large as Gaylord, that understates its significance.

This clock in St. Peter is accurate as many 4 times per day.
This clock in St. Peter is accurate as many 4 times per day.

Unlike Le Sueur, Highway 169, which north of town is essentially a freeway, remains Main Street in St. Peter, which makes this one of the busiest Main Streets in Minnesota. Most of that is through traffic, but buildings grow up along roads with the hope the free advertising of road presence attracts some through travelers to divert, and leads to more mind share among those who don’t stop this time, and might in the future. The cost of this is more delay to through travelers who do not stop.

Great efforts have been made in recent years (thanks to the Stimulus bill) to maintain the walkability of this street while ensuring traffic is not delayed too much. Unlike most other Main Streets, there is actually some private economic development activity to construct infill buildings. West of the road, where most of the population lies, is doing much better than the east side.

St. Peter Thrift Store (east side of Highway 169)
St. Peter Thrift Store (east side of Highway 169)

Just based on the logic of the situation, one assumes there is a plan to construct a St. Peter bypass on Highway 169. Actually checking, there is a US 169 Corridor Coalition, which is pushing this (it is endorsed by the City). The status of this is “fictional highways” on one road forum, so nowhere near ready, and given the recent work on Highway 169 through the town itself, probably farther into the future. But as with every line on the map, no “no” is permanent.

St. Peter Armory, For Lease
St. Peter Armory, For Lease

It is the home to Gustavus Adolphus College, atop the hills with a nice view over the Minnesota River Valley. It is farther from Main Street than similar colleges in Northfield, and so doesn’t have quite the level of interaction urbanists might want.

Godfather's Pizza made small town America, and Herman Cain.
Godfather’s Pizza made small town America, and Herman Cain.

Aesthetically, while it is not quite there with Faribault or Owatonna, it is getting close.

I will quote wikipedia on might-have-beens [note [citation needed]]:

In 1857, an attempt was made to move the Territory of Minnesota’s capital from St. Paul to St. Peter. Gov. Gorman owned the land on which the bill’s sponsors wanted to build the new capitol building, and at one point had been heard saying, “If the capitol remains in Saint Paul, the territory is worth millions, and I have nothing.” At the time, St. Peter – a city in the central region of the territory – was seen as more accessible to the far-flung territorial legislators than St. Paul, which was in the extreme eastern portion of the territory, on the east bank of the Mississippi River. A bill was passed in both houses of the Territorial Legislature and was awaiting Governor Gorman’s signature. The chairman of the Territorial Council’s Enrolled Bills Committee, Joseph J. Rolette of Pembina, took the bill and hid in a St. Paul hotel, drinking and playing cards with some friends as the City Police looked fruitlessly for him, until the end of the legislative session, too late for the bill to be signed.[citation needed]Rolette came into the chamber just as the session ended. One might say that the bill was an attempt to “rob Paul to pay Peter.” Today, St. Paul is the second largest city in the state (second only to neighboring Minneapolis), while St. Peter is a relatively small rural town.


Nicollet Hotel - St. Peter
Nicollet Hotel – St. Peter

So of the state’s most important early institutions: Stillwater got the prison, Minneapolis got the University, St. Paul got the capital, and St. Peter got the Asylum.

Main Street - St. Peter (looking west)
Main Street – St. Peter (looking west)



More photos on Flickr.

Cross-posted on

Elements of Access: Hierarchy of Roads

Section of Manhattan Grid showing a wider 23rd Street (1833)
Section of Manhattan Grid showing a wider 23rd Street (1833)

Some roads are fast, some are slow. Fast roads attract traffic, slow roads deter it. People prefer to travel on fast roads. People prefer to live on slow roads. Shops prefer roads which have lots of traffic, trying to induce passers-by to stop.

Differentiating roads by speed (and thus flow) is a core design principle in transportation planning. The belief is that this not only better satisfies preferences, it is cost-effective. There are economies of scale associated with building a few fast roads and more slow roads, rather than all roads to equal design. From an investment perspective, it allows concentrating resources. From a traffic perspective, it isolates a few roads for fewer access points than others. From a highway design perspective, it sets aside a few roads to be straighter and flatter and faster.

The plan of Manhattan, created by surveyors, was a grid. But the grid was differentiated. It set aside Avenues which ran North-South and designed to be 100 ft. wide (30.5 m). Since Manhattan is longer than it is wide, there were many more East-West streets. The standard width was to be 60 ft. (18.3 m) wide (and the blocks were 200 ft. (61 m) long). But selected streets (4th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 72nd, 79th, 86th, 96th, 106th, 116th, 125th, 135th, 145th and 155th Streets) were wider, set at the same 100 ft. width as the avenues. Some of these (155th, 145th, 125th, 42nd eventually became the roads that some of bridges and tunnels to the rest of New York would land, though this is not a perfect match). They would also tend to become the sites of stations on the subway system a century later.

Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.

It turns out, we would have a hierarchy of roads in the absence of a central network planner. All it takes is for there to be a feedback mechanism between demand and supply (so people pay based on their use of the road), between supply and demand (so people choose faster roads), and a rule about reinvesting excess revenues on the road they were earned to improve it, and roads that don’t earn enough money to decay (slow down).

Even without payment, people prefer trails others have walked on before, clearing the brush and compacting the soil. That attraction is a positive feedback system that locks-in existing roads.

Hierarchy of Roads: Trade-off between land access and movement
Hierarchy of Roads: Trade-off between land access and movement

Today the hierarchy has more than two levels of Manhattan, From Express HOV and toll lanes at the top, to freeways, limited access highways, principal arterials, minor arterials, collector and distributor streets, to local roads. Not every community has every layer, and standards vary between places. The hierarchy is not a strict tree.

Appleyard, Donald and Lintell, Mark (1972) “The environmental quality of city streets: the residents’ viewpoint.” Journal of the American Institute of Planners 38(2) 84-101.

Ballon, Hillary, ed. (2011) The Greatest Grid. Columbia University Press

Yerra, Bhanu and David Levinson (2005) The Emergence of Hierarchy in Transportation Networks. Annals of Regional Science. 39(3) pp. 541-553.