When You Plan, You Begin With A B C | streets.mn

Andrew has a nice, long-awaited post unlocking the Twin Cities street alphabets @ streets.mn: When You Plan, You Begin With A B C :

“I was driving through Uptown with a friend in 2004 when it hit me: these streets are in alphabetical order! As a visitor I was impressed by such orderliness; a month later I moved to Minneapolis (not because of the street names—or at least, not entirely because of them). I learned about the second alphabet while visiting friends in Linden Hills, but it wasn’t until several years later than some random Google Maps browsing revealed not two but eight (okay, maybe just 7 and 1/13th) sequences of alphabetically-ordered street names extending west from Aldrich. By this time I also knew of the presidential sequence in northeast Minneapolis, and more map browsing revealed some others.”

Broken pavement theory

Mike Hicks @ streets.mn: Good transit needs good roads | streets.mn:

“Streets and highways that see lots of bus traffic should be prioritized for repair and repaving projects, and not just because it would help the bus glide along more smoothly. Much like the broken windows theory of crime, I feel that there’s a strong case for a similar “broken pavement theory” related to the quality of life in a neighborhood.
Minneapolis and Saint Paul have begun attacking some long-damaged streets in the past few years, and it’s often remarkable to see the road surface and sidewalks in a pristine state. Battered pavement is often a sign of bureaucratic paralysis brought on by budgetary belt-tightening over the course of years and decades. As freeways were built in the latter half of the 20th century, city streets were often left to rot.
While a lot of attention goes into designing and maintaining parks and plazas as public spaces, streets are the most basic type of public spaces I can think of. They should be treated with respect, and designed to facilitate many different modes of travel. Better surfaces don’t just help cars or buses—well-designed spaces make things more comfortable for cyclists and pedestrians, and improves the value of properties along the way.
Next time you feel that busted old street, think about the decisions that led to it becoming a low priority, and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Americans support gas taxes for roads.

Asha Weinstein Agrawal: What Do Americans Think About Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Local Streets and Roads? Results from Year 3 of a National Survey :

“The survey results show that a majority of Americans would support higher taxes for transportation—under certain conditions. For example, a gas tax increase of 10¢ per gallon to improve road maintenance was supported by 58 percent of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 20 percent if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system. For tax options where the revenues were to be spent for undefined transportation purposes, support levels varied considerably by what kind of tax would be imposed, with a sales tax much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.

Marked Crosswalks Considered Harmful


In 1968 there was a famous Computer Science article Go To Statement Considered Harmful by Edsger W. Dijkstra (of algorithm fame). It says in part:

My second remark is that our intellectual powers are rather geared to master static relations and that our powers to visualize processes evolving in time are relatively poorly developed. For that reason we should do (as wise programmers aware of our limitations) our utmost to shorten the conceptual gap between the static program and the dynamic process, to make the correspondence between the program (spread out in text space) and the process (spread out in time) as trivial as possible.

In early 21st Century America, pedestrian crosswalks may be marked or unmarked. Whether a crosswalk is marked is functionally based on the whim of the traffic department. A fuller discussion of issues about “how” to use crosswalks (from the Town of Brookline, Massachusetts) is here, but not “when” to use them, hence my use of the term “whim”, which says engineering studies are required, but does not have hard and fast rules about application.
Interesting the Brookline document asserts:

Marked crosswalks are viewed widely as “safety devices,” and most municipalities give the pedestrian the right-of-way when within them. However, there is strong evidence that these facts prompt many pedestrians to feel overly secure when using a marked crosswalk. As a result, pedestrians will often place themselves in a hazardous position by believing that motorists can and will stop in all cases, even when it may be impossible to do so. It is not unusual for this type of aggressive pedestrian behavior to contribute to a higher incidence of pedestrian accidents and cause a greater number of rear-end collisions. In contrast, a pedestrian using an unmarked crosswalk generally feels less secure and less certain that the motorist will stop and thereby exercise more caution and waiting for safe gaps in the traffic stream before crossing. The end result is fewer accidents at unmarked crosswalks.

Implicitly the document blames pedestrians for asserting their rights, rather than drivers for violating them.
I posit that if you are a trained, but human driver, whose “intellectual powers are rather geared to master static relations” you will generally respect crosswalks. You will believe, just as all stop signs are marked, all legal crosswalks are marked. As “our powers to visualize processes evolving in time are relatively poorly developed” you will disrespect unmarked crosswalks, since if they were legitimate, you reason, they would be marked. You may not even notice them if they come from side streets for which you have no stop sign of traffic signal. They only appear relevant when there is a person surprising you in the road. Hence you will be aggressive to pedestrians trying to cross at unmarked crosswalks, as you will (wrongly) believe you have the right-of-way. Pedestrians will in turn be intimidated as suggested by the Brookline document above. Research about driver and pedestrian behavior can be found in this paper by Mitman et al. It notes:

Driver yielding behavior was a statistically significant variable at all six observation sites. For all road types, pedestrians in the marked crosswalk were more likely than pedestrians in the unmarked crosswalk to have drivers immediately yield the right-of-way to them.


Average gap acceptance was a statistically significant variable at five of the observation sites. At all five locations, pedestrians in the unmarked crosswalk were more likely than pedestrians in the marked crosswalk to wait for larger gaps in traffic before crossing. This finding was consistent across all road types.

The empirical findings are sound as far as they go. I disagree with the recommendations.
The problem is inconsistent ambiguity.
Solution A. Mark all crosswalks.
If we were completely consistent about where pedestrians might be found, (i.e. crosswalks) that would be acceptable, drivers and pedestrians would both understand the law. It would be clearly spelled out to drivers where pedestrians might be, including smaller intersections that might otherwise be raced by. It would be bad from a pedestrian rights perspective, as it over channelizes walkers and gives too much power to cars.
By implication, it requires pedestrians to use only marked crosswalks. It in a sense delegitimizes jaywalking. It increases pedestrian travel times. As Peter Norton notes in Fighting Traffic:

“Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong.” “Until then, streets were regarded as public spaces.” [Quoted in Planning Pool]

In practice, we will not mark all crosswalks. The vast majority of intersections in the US are unmarked, and no one wants to spend the money to mark them all. Hence if we claim to adopt solution A, we will in fact resign ourselves to inconsistent ambiguity (false certainty) or crosswalk markings.
Solution B. Unmark all crosswalks.
In contrast, if we were completely (i.e. consistently) ambiguous about where pedestrians would be, that would be good from both a safety perspective, and in the long run, a pedestrian rights perspective. While in the mixed environment, pedestrian might wait more, in the no crosswalks environment, pedestrians will be cautious where they are now reckless. But pedestrians would also be more assertive in more places (those without crosswalks now) as they would know that drivers would be also be more cautious. This strategy will make both drivers and pedestrians more aware of their surroundings since pedestrians might be anywhere. (See shared space.)
In addition to unmarking all crosswalks, we should put up periodic reminder signs/messages to drivers when entering new districts, leaving freeways, etc. that pedestrians have the right-of-way. We might put up markers where pedestrians have died to somber-up drivers. (Further, we ought to develop some hand-signal communication protocol so pedestrians can signal drivers they are about to enter the roadway. Reuben Collins has a nice discussion here.).

It is the false expectation of consistency that causes many of the 4,280 pedestrian deaths per year in the United States.
I strongly prefer Solution B. Do we have any examples of this in the United States over a widespread area? A single street with shared space would be insufficient to draw conclusions.
Comment: this is the same argument as about Class III Bikeways. Since Class III Bikeways give bicyclists no advantage, they imply to drivers that on any unmarked road, they have rights over bikes (when they don’t).
Comment: Yes I did see a driver yell at a pedestrian for crossing an unmarked crosswalk again today, and the intimidated pedestrian ran after trying to yield the road.

The Missing Link | streets.mn

Cross-posted from streets.mn: The Missing Link

The Missing Link


Though the automobile-highway system is mature, and we will not be building any significant mileage of new highways in the Twin Cities, does that mean we should build none?

Connectivity is important, more connected cities are more efficient (at least to a point) from a transportation and economic productivity perspective.

When I was young and imagined becoming a planner, I believed planning was about drawing lines on maps (i.e. creating plans). Of course you could not just put them anywhere, you had to finesse constraints (budgets, the built environment, the natural environment, and so on). But I liked drawing lines on maps, connecting A to B, finishing the unbuilt. I later learned planning was not nearly so fun.

The reason we have now reached the unfun stage of line-drawing is probably that all the “good lines” (and some bad ones) have already been built. If the political and economic benefit:cost ratio were high, someone already did it. If the ratio were low, no one did, and no one would.

Yet there may be some remainders, perhaps projects with good ratios that somehow went missing. Over my time in the Twin Cities, I have seen reference to the following. I am not suggesting any of the links below have B:C ratios above 1, just that some people believe they do. The number of possible links is enormous (and in some senses infinite, but in practical terms, simply very large).


There are two significant new freeway sections proposed for the Twin Cities:

  • Stillwater Bridge – Many cuttlefish have died discussing this facility, and I will say no more here.
  • Mn 610 – This route north of Maple Grove does not yet connect to I-94, as has been planned since at least the 1960s.
Missing Freeway-Freeway Ramps
  • It is well known by locals you cannot travel directly on I-94 Westbound and go to I-35W Northbound, or from I-35 SB to I-94 EB. (Mn 280 will get you there.)
  • It is similarly well known you cannot go from I-94 EB to I-35E SB, or from I-35E NB to I-94 WB. (Ayd Mill Road does not quite serve the purpose).
  • The new I-494 US-169 interchange will also miss some ramps.

    For example, if you’re headed south on 169, there will not be an exit to go west towards Eden Prairie on 494.

    Additionally, if you’re headed east on 494, there will not be a ramp that takes you north on 169.

    “Highway 212 to the west is what motorists tend to use to make those movements,” explained Grand.

Water Crossings
  • North of the Twin Cities a new Mississippi River crossing has been proposed by MnDOT to connect US 10 with I-94.
Railroad Crossings
  • The Grand Rounds is the name for the Parkway system in Minneapolis, Southeast and Northeast are not yet connected, but proposals to do so have been put forward, and would upgrade 27th Avenue and extend across the railroad tracks to Industrial Blvd.
  • Just to the west of that, Oak Street Extended would also cross the same railroad tracks. This is discussed in the plans for SEMI, which also discuss Granary Road and the east RR crossing that would become part of the Grand Rounds.
  • Van White Boulevard a road extension that will in which “two bridges that will carry the boulevard over two sets of railroad tracks, a city public works yard and the Cedar Lake Trail.”
  • E River Pkwy extension from the University of Minnesota to St. Anthony Main.
Freeway Crossings: Griddus Interruptus

The freeway system in the Cities did a number on the existing grid network. For instance on I-94 between Lexington and Snelling Avenues, the city grid (N-S) includes the following streets (Lexington, Dunlap, Griggs, Syndicate, Hamline, Albert, Pascal, Simpson, Asbury, and Snelling (~ 10 streets per mile)). Only Snelling, Pascal, Hamline, and Lexington actually cross I-94. (There is also a pedestrian bridge at Griggs.) Similar patterns on the other freeways can be found.

This pattern is typical on the trenched freeway system crossing the old urban grid, and would be different had the freeways been either tunneled or elevated.

Building Crossings
  • Nicollet Avenue is interrupted by an undistinguished K-mart at Lake Street. The city hopes to restore Nicollet to its original glory.
New Semi-separated Roads
  • Granary Road (sometimes Granary Parkway or Dinkytown Road) would run in the famous Dinkytown Trench and connect the St. Anthony Main area with the SEMI redevelopment area. It could provide major relief to University Avenue (and potentially allow University and Fourth to be restored to two-way traffic. It is still under discussion.
  • Ayd Mill Road has been proposed for many years to extend to I-94. This aims to solve one of the missing freeway connection problems (I-35E N to I-94W). It is opposed by neighbors.
  • Pierce Butler Route is an east-west route in St. Paul just south of the Railroad tracks. There are proposals to extend it to the east and discussions (mostly negative) about the idea to extend it to the west to Mn 280, though extending from Transfer Road to Vandalia may be possible.
Land Crossings: Griddus Nobuildus

The suburbs in Greater>>MSP have largely retained the 1 mile spacing from the original rural grid, but the interior grid, which gives block spacings of on the order of 0.1 miles in the Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (and many first ring suburbs such as Richfield and Bloomington) is nonexistent outer ring suburbs like Woodbury or Eden Prairie. Some suburban blocks are transected, others remain much more naturalistic in their form (though, to be fair, there are apparently rules about interconnectivity, so that most suburban homeowners have multiple paths to the arterial network and I have not seen a full square mile block as a pure tree or multiple pure trees). As the built density is lower than in the Cities, one would not expect the same street density, but the connectivity is lower than the density would suggest.


N.B. I have not seen a complete catalog of Missing Links for the Twin Cities. (Adam Froehlig has a great resource here that you should look at if you are interested in the topic, including details on cancelled projects, as well as other fantasy routes.) This list is not complete either, but will serve as a starter.

Please add other items of seriously proposed and not canceled routes (with references) in the comments. Fantasy lines are welcome too, but please label as such.

Caveat: This post is descriptive, it describes some missing links in the Greater>>MSP street network. It does not suggest any or all should be built, though I encourage debate on that in the comments.

Caveat 2: This post does not cover upgrades, links that exist but might be “improved” (widened, grade separated, etc.) or realignments.

Vikings congestion charging zone #wilfare

How to pay for the Vikings stadium is the topic of the hour here in GreaterMSP. I have another solution that has not been broached to recover part of the $77 per ticket subsidy.
Let us establish a Congestion Zone around the proposed Minnesota Sports Complex, which is in effect on game days only (and could be extended for other special events). Drive into this zone on game days and pay $100 $150 (assuming an auto occupancy of about 2, and most fans drive) as a congestion charge. As with the London Congestion Zone, on which it is loosely modeled, residents would get a discount. This would ensure people driving to the game, regardless of where they park, would have to pay.
The funds earned would pay for administering the zone and the new stadium. Wilf would have no say in the matter. I have put a first draft of the zone boundaries on the Google map below, but obviously this could be discussed (should it extend to Cedar-Riverside or to St. Anthony Main? I am counting on the inherent laziness of Vikings fans being unwilling to walk to counter-act their inherent frugality. Every entrance to the zone would be cordoned, starting say 10 am on game days, and running until say the end of the first quarter, and people would have to pay to enter the area or produce evidence of residence.
Fans coming by transit, foot, or bicycle would be exempted.
Obviously there would need to be some new legal framework established for this.

Linklist: December 1, 2011

IEEE Spectrum asks When Will We Have Unmanned Commercial Airliners? – : “To win over the public, the autopilots of tomorrow will have to start today by exploiting niches where civilian pilots can’t or won’t work—just as was the case in the military. With time, the systems will improve and eventually fan out to conquer additional segments of the broader market.”

Adam Ozimek @ Modeled Behavior describes The rise of micro-markets: “I also sometimes comfort myself knowing I would be outbid in micro-markets. If I’m two minutes late for a train and I find myself thinking “surely the welfare gain to me of them waiting two minutes is bigger than the loss to all the other passengers for being two minutes late!”. But then I consider an auction where I had to buy off every riders’ extra two minutes, and I know I would not win that auction, which I find comforting in a way. When micro-markets like the one I imagine here are real and widespread people will have a less hard time deluding themselves like I initially do. The angry guy in line behind you in line who is mumbling about how late he is running will have less grounds to be angry if he can offer you to buy your place in line but it is not worth it to him.”

Getting Around Minneapolis finds maps of the diffusion of street pavements1895 Paving Map , See also 1899 and 1910.