Evaluating the Safety In Numbers effect for pedestrians at urban intersections

Recently published:

Average annual 6-hour pedestrian count by location, Minneapolis
Average annual 6-hour pedestrian count by location, Minneapolis

Highlights

  • Collision risk at 448 intersections in the city of Minneapolis, MN was assessed.
  • The Safety In Numbers phenomenon was observed for both pedestrians and cars.
  • Maps of per-pedestrian crash rates inform discussion of safe vs. unsafe city areas.

Abstract

Assessment of collision risk between pedestrians and automobiles offers a powerful and informative tool in urban planning applications, and can be leveraged to inform proper placement of improvements and treatment projects to improve pedestrian safety. Such assessment can be performed using existing datasets of crashes, pedestrian counts, and automobile traffic flows to identify intersections or corridors characterized by elevated collision risks to pedestrians. The Safety In Numbers phenomenon, which refers to the observable effect that pedestrian safety is positively correlated with increased pedestrian traffic in a given area (i.e. that the individual per-pedestrian risk of a collision decreases with additional pedestrians), is a readily observed phenomenon that has been studied previously, though its directional causality is not yet known. A sample of 488 intersections in Minneapolis were analyzed, and statistically-significant log-linear relationships between pedestrian traffic flows and the per-pedestrian crash risk were found, indicating the Safety In Numbers effect. Potential planning applications of this analysis framework towards improving pedestrian safety in urban environments are discussed.

Keywords

  • Pedestrians;
  • Safety;
  • Collisions;
  • Urban planning

The A-Line – A Review

The 30-Minute City by David M. Levinson
The 30-Minute City by David M. Levinson 

On Sunday June 12 I took the A-Line from Snelling and University to 46th Street Station, switched buses, took the A-Line to Rosedale, switched buses, and took the A-Line to Snelling and University Avenue again, making a full circuit on 3 buses. Smelling that new bus smell, it smells like victory.

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Stand tall traveler information pylon.

The waiting at the stops is better than your conventional post in the dirt stop. There is a full gamut of stop features, including shelter, accurate NextBus information, pre-payment mechanism, and benches to sit. Everything you would want except maybe trees. Pre-pay is nice and saves time boarding, though I didn’t get to take advantage of it since it was free anyway today, and I was (and would always be) a free transfer, but it would still save time for a free transfer. Interestingly, the A-Line stations provide more information than the LRT stations. More importantly the real-time information was working on day one.

For the opening weekend, Metro Transit had a full complement of assistants waiting at each station, who were helpful, but mostly not busy. Some (maybe a third) of the stations were just passed by (if there are no passengers boarding and alighting, no need to stop, unlike a train).

The boarding process is mostly smooth. All-door boarding is good, people seemed to distribute themselves across all the doors. The low floor buses made it easy for a lady using a walker to board.

IMG_0991
Pay Before Boarding

However bikes on buses take too long. While it seems a nice feature to allow bikes on buses, it added 38 seconds to the stop (see video). I saw 3 of these on my round trip, this was the slowest.  I don’t mean to pick on the bicyclist, he is following the rules and doing what is allowed. Now maybe with experience this gets down to 20 seconds. If it were only 30 seconds for the bicyclists, who cares, but when it is 30 seconds multiplied by the number of people on board, this gets expensive. For a fullish bus of 50 people that is 25 person minutes of delay. Granted no one cares on a Sunday morning, and it was far from full, but during peak times this can be a considerable deal.

IMG_0984
Oddly, A-Line buses can cross the Green Line without stopping and the driver looking both ways, but must stop and loop before proceeding at the Blue Line.

Not having exclusive right-of-way seems to be the major criticism from national transit critics, saying it doesn’t deserve the rank of BRT. However neither Snelling Avenue nor Ford Parkway are typically congested enough to justify an exclusive lane for only 8 buses an hour (6 x A-Line, 2 x 84). A few stretches have some other routes as well, but still not enough. It would be nice to see some transit signal pre-emption action happening though. We stopped twice in both directions at Snelling and I-94.

Not all of the 84 signs are up-to-date in the way they should be. Some still indicate the route number, but do not provide maps. Some still record the 84 as a high-frequency route. One assumes those will come down shortly. As far as I could tell, all 84 stops have notices about change in frequency. Still, some folks have not gotten the message despite the hard work of Metro Transit on this. I saw (sadly too quickly to film) a guy flipping the bird to the A-Line bus not stopping at an old 84 stop a few blocks north of Snelling Avenue, and not at a new A-Line station. I think he and his friends/family expected the bus to stop.

The buses seemed (I did not document against posted schedules) to be running fast (It’s Sunday with little traffic) and so when they arrive at their end, the next bus is still waiting there with a few minutes before departure. There did not seem to be any holds along the route to ensure schedule adherence, only at the ends. This makes sense, but means that this is a turn-up-and-go service more than a scheduled service. But at worst, you wait 10 minutes.

IMG_1051
Nice transit map, but I missed No Smoking station somehow.

In addition to that new bus smell, the buses have Wi-Fi. Good. However, you have to accept terms and conditions each time. Unfortunate that it cannot remember that I did this already and auto-log me on.

The buses have nice on-board “press to signal” stops, although I miss the cable which rings a bell because I miss the great story as to why it’s a cable. That cable, back in horsecar days, used to be connected to the driver’s arm, so you were basically tugging on the driver to get him to stop, since he couldn’t hear the passengers through the cacophony and when he was outside a carriage and passengers were inside.

The ride quality was better than most local buses. Snelling has recently been reconstructed and these are new buses. I did not do the full Hicksian analysis, so cannot say that it was smoother than LRT (it surely wasn’t), but it was clearly better than most buses.

The route at Rosedale is far less circuitous than the 87 Bus I have complained about before, it was in and out about as well as could be expected.

IMG_1054

I expect the A-Line will hit ridership targets quickly. While some of the riders were lookie-loos like me (A lady in front of me was Instagramming about the A-Line, after Instagramming about Northern Spark), other passengers seemed to be engaging in their daily business, aware of course it wasn’t the 84, but not doing anything different. I am guessing an average of 20 persons boarding per run (for the 2 full runs) (I didn’t actually count), which is 240 boardings per hour or maybe 3000 per day, for a Sunday. The projected 3500 for a weekday seems well within grasp. I look forward to published ridership numbers.

Most of the traffic appears to be on the middle part of the route, from Snelling just north of University down to Highland Park. Very few people were transfers to the Blue Line LRT or alighting at Rosedale. Even the Snelling and University passengers were not mostly transfers to the Green Line today.

There are more grocery stores on the A-Line than the Green or Blue Lines. Lunds & Byerlys and Whole Foods had patrons riding the bus on Sunday. There are more movie theaters on the A-Line than the Green or Blue Lines. Someone counted 4 Dairy Queens.  Which is to say, the A-Line, which runs past neighborhood retail (as well as a regional mall) better serves people on their daily non-work activities, rather than being designed foremost as a commuter route. Given the declining roles of downtowns in American life, this is important.

I have driven this route (in pieces) dozens of times. It feels different on the bus. I have ridden through other cities on buses in similarly scaled neighborhoods and they feel like cities. This has always felt like the suburbs before. It’s a bit more urban now, with stuff along the way that is perceived through the eyes of a bus passenger differently than through the eyes of a car driver (or passenger). In part it’s the idea I might get out and walk around and see something interesting, which I would do in a city I was visiting, but I would never do in St. Paul. The A-Line gives confidence that I can get off and easily find my way back in a way that the 84 bus did not. I however did not do that this trip, since it was about the bus, not the neighborhood. But it is something I imagine doing, which is progress.

This is about the best that can be done with buses short of an exclusive right-of-way and full electrification, and that would just be overkill here.

In short, the A-Line is the best new investment Metro Transit has done since I have moved here. As a new capital investment, it is not as high quality as some routes with exclusive right-of-way, but it finds the optimal trade-off between quality and cost, maximizing benefit/cost and minimizing dollars spent per rider. This is important. It means more things can be done. It’s just too bad this wasn’t opened sooner. For the important high-frequency corridors, the sooner they can be upgraded the better. This corridor nicely serves existing demand, and can induce additional transit travel from neighbors. It also nicely connects the upcoming Ford plant redevelopment, with the Blue and Green lines, without any additional expenditures. While low volume/low-frequency bus routes are going to be further disrupted in the coming decade, high volume/high-frequency routes should be upgrade. There may actually come a time when this is a 5 minute route, at least during peak times, and with some help from transit signal priority, it beats the new mobility companies (e.g. Uber and Lyft) and AVs on-demand in terms of waiting time and convenience.

square_abrtsystem_20150320.jpg.tmp
Proposed Arterial BRT network map from Metro Transit

The A-Line is the first in a proposed indeterminate series of ALPHABET routes. (I have backronymed ALPHABET to mean Arterial Lines Producing High Accessibility By Efficient Transit). Now you might say, but that means there can be only 26 routes. I disagree, after the Z-Line, MetroTransit can start to use Greek letters, which adds 24 (although many are similar, but think about the  Ψ-Line (it knows you are coming) ), and then to emoticons. Imagine how happy everyone will be on the :)-Line.

More importantly, St. Paul is missing an opportunity with their quixotic quest for streetcars on 7th, and could have had the B-Line under construction already were they not continuing to dither. In fact it has been truncated on the official map. Instead, it appears the C-Line is next in queue. Since the letters in the alphabet don’t appear to have any geographical relationship to the lines they represent, there is no reason for them to be chronological either I suppose.

8:55 Arrive at Green Line station (WestGate)

9:05 Arrive at Green Line station (Snelling)

9:14 Board A-Line Bus SB (Snelling and University)

9:35 Board A-Line Bus NB (46th St. Station)

10:10 Alight/Board A-Line Bus SB (Rosedale Center Station)

10:29 Board Green Line train (Snelling). Round Trip Time 75 minutes.

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)

 

[Map]

More photos on Flickr.

Cross-posted on streets.mn.

Main Street – Gaylord, Minnesota

Our second stop on the 2014 Minnesota County Seats tour, after Glencoe, is the nearby town of Gaylord, county seat of Sibley County. It won the prize of County Seat after a dispute with Henderson, near the eastern edge of the County.

 

Gaylord, MN Water Tower
Gaylord, MN Water Tower
2014-11-02 at 11-14-41
Bank (1904) Now Miller Law Office

 

 

With a population of 2300, it is just under half the same size as its northern peer, Glencoe. It sets abreast Titlow Lake, as can be seen on this map. As with Glencoe, it is bisected by Highway 22, while the official “Main Street” is Highway 19.

A Court House
A Court House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As with all such county seats, it has a water tower, a court house, a hardware store, a bank turned into a law office, some nice detailed architecture, some of which was ruined by later generations, a post office,  gas stations, roads that are too wide for the traffic, ample parking. This one has a solar powered stop sign with warning lights at the vertices of the octagon (which are reportedly safer).

Electric stop sign
Electric stop sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heinke Building
Heinke Building

 

 

The retail block in downtown Gaylord: Jimmy's  Pizza, Edward Jones Investments, Goldsmith Eye Care
The retail block in downtown Gaylord: Jimmy’s Pizza, Edward Jones Investments, Goldsmith Eye Care

More photos are available on Flickr.

Cross-posted on streets.mn.

The Mill District should be Loopier: On the creation of new old neighborhoods | streets.mn

Cross-posted at streets.mn: The Mill District should be Loopier: On the creation of new old neighborhoods :

“A key lesson is that it is often easier to grow an urban neighborhood from an existing lattice of structures than try to plop one down on a brownfield site. … Thus we should try not to destroy viable structures or neighborhoods until we have considered renovating them and we have exhausted vacant parcels. Of course, one might say, that is the obvious lesson from urban renewal some 50 years ago.”

The Mill District should be Loopier: On the creation of new old neighborhoods

Gold Medal ParkI have recently spent some time milling about in the Minneapolis Mill District and part of the North Loop neighborhoods. These are hugely changed (and improved) over the past 15 years.The North Loop took off first, with conversion of old warehouses, and then a lot of infill development. The “northeast” part of the neighborhood (1st St from 2nd Avenue N to 8th Avenue N) might be called “complete” in the sense that there are almost no vacant parcels left to develop. There are a few (1st and 4th, 1st and 8th), but many fewer than there used to be, and many of those have developments slated to be built. I put the word “complete” in quotes to indicate that nothing is really ever complete, existing buildings can be remodeled or replaced, so the city remains dynamic. But the first step, filling in the vacancies is largely done. The “southwest” section has many more developable sites.The Mill District came more recently, being constructed on former rail yards and surface parking lots near the River. While there were a few Mill buildings that got renovated (most notably into the Mill City Museum), it comprises much more new construction. The Mill District possesses the Guthrie, (the maybe temporary) Gold Medal Park, one end of the Stone Arch Bridge, and just recently Izzy’s Ice Cream, and is near to the Metrodome and Downtown East. The Mill District, creates temporary street life with the Mill City Farmers Market.

They feel different:

  • First Street N in the North Loop seems to do much better with inviting street-front shops than Second Street S in the Mill District.
  • The Mill District has a greater number of institutional uses (theater, museum) and more parking ramps.
  • Second Street S. is wider, with bike lanes in each direction in addition to one parking lane and one moving lane, with a wider parking lane. I haven’t measured them, but I am guessing at least 10′ wider.
  • Gold Medal Park, while an amenity, reduces the urban feel. The park feels more like a park one might find in suburban Maple Grove rather than a tighter urban park. In part this has to do with younger trees. If this ultimately gets developed (or partially developed), it would change the feel.
  • The light and shadows are different. The buildings on the south side of 2nd Street S and not as high as those on 1st Street N, and thus cast larger shadows. Clearly this changes with time of day and month of year, but it creates a different feel for the pedestrian.

Mill City Farmers Market

Both neighborhoods are in a very real sense new, even if they possess some old buildings, so have time to adapt. Additional infill development will change how both areas operate. But the vitality of the Mill District requires events (shows, markets), while that in the North Loop seems more continuous due to the more permanent retail establishments.

A key lesson is that it is often easier to grow an urban neighborhood from an existing lattice of structures than try to plop one down on a brownfield site. (This is not inherently a criticism of the Mill District, much of which was surface parking, and before that rail yards and had fewer structures to salvage). Thus we should try not to destroy viable structures or neighborhoods until we have considered renovating them and we have exhausted vacant parcels. Of course, one might say, that is the obvious lesson from urban renewal some 50 years ago.

SPONTANEOUS ACCESS: REFLEXIONS ON DESIGNING CITIES AND TRANSPORT by David Levinson
SPONTANEOUS ACCESS: REFLEXIONS ON DESIGNING CITIES AND TRANSPORT by David Levinson

But this still happens: The old Marshall HS in Dinkytown, e.g., or the Colonial Building at Emerald and University on the Central Corridor that has been a vacant parcel for about 7 years now. While construction is well-underway on the Marshall HS site, the Emerald and University site (variously 2700 The Avenue or City Limits Apartments) sits fallow. Things might happen between demolition and construction, so that construction which was planned falls through mid-project.But I think no one is careful enough with existing buildings (not necessarily historically significant ones) in neighborhoods with vacant lots. Fill it with temporary uses at low rent, (e.g Streets.MN wants a clubhouse, or more seriously following the model of the Starling Project) that is far better than using it to store cars or raise weeds.

Izzy's Ice Cream Minneapolis

Open House for Franklin Ave/East River Road Intersection | Bridgeland News

I attended the Open House for Franklin Ave/East River Road Intersection, where the County and consultants revealed their plans. These are described in the (what I thought was defunct) Bridgeland News article.
My views are here.
In short, instead of a Monderman-esque Shared Space, or even a roundabout, they are tweaking the signal timings and reconfiguring the approach lanes. The main change there is on the Franklin Avenue bridge, which will reduce to 1 lane in each direction on the west side, and flare to two lanes at the approach. This will no doubt improve things (in terms of vehicle delay from most approaches and pedestrian delay) over the baseline, and at least it is relatively cheap, but this, as they officials admit, is a short-term fix, and the intersection will need to be revisited post-Central Corridor.

County presents scenarios for Franklin/East River Parkway remake | Bridgeland News

From the Bridgeland News: County presents scenarios for Franklin/East River Parkway remake
From the article:

“Two suggestions bordered on the Swiftian: One was a modest proposal to remove all traffic control from the existing intersection. “When those signals are out, that intersection functions fairly well,” stated one man.”

I was “one man”.
The official alternatives are available here:
Project website
My letter (sent to the team and local public officials) clarifying what I am thinking about, which I sent to the project team is below:

Jim,
Thank you for hosting the public hearing on the Franklin Ave/27th Street/East River Road intersection. I mentioned the meeting you should consider a shared-space concept (including perhaps a simple roundabout, but without all of the complex signage, separation, etc.) , the ideas I have in mind are illustrated here:
http://www.shared-space.org/
The advantage is that it could cost much less, and could be easily tested (put some covers on the signals, take down the signs, and put up some warning signs telling people upstream they are approaching a new environment, without requiring full reconstruction.
A video showing some of the ideas is here:

AND

(especially at 5:00 into the second video)
I recognize the idea may appear radical to traditional engineering practice, but I think it is worth giving full consideration to, especially on a site like this with no obvious inexpensive solution, with a mix of commuter and parkway traffic, bicycles, and pedestrians, a desire to minimize land taking, and a desire to calm traffic.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
— David

Finally, in addition to having a personal interest in the intersection since I use it daily, I also supervised a Master’s Degree paper: Evaluation of a Roundabout at a Five-Way Intersection: An Alternatives Analysis Using Microsimulation on the intersection by Reuben Collins, which recommended a roundabout.
Unfortunately, judging by their response to comments, the study team clearly has not yet grokked the possibilities of alternatives to conventional (i.e. US standards-based) design, and intends to overbuild and oversign the location.

Simulating Skyways

Two new movies/simulations of the co-evolution of downtown Minneapolis and its skyways system have been postedhere
These are large movies (132 and 137 MB), so be forewarned.
These are based on research done by Michael Corbett as part of his MS classwork and Feng Xie as part of his PhD. The research paper underlying this can be found:
Evolution of the Second-Story City: Modeling the Growth of the Minneapolis
Skyway Network
to be presented at the upcoming World Conference on Transport Research in Berkeley.

Word on the Street about Streetcars

Downtown Journal Online has a follow-up to their article on streetcars in Minneapolis. Seems opinion is mixed. Of course the person from the streetcar museum was in favor.