Where the sidewalk ends: Roosevelt Drive

October 30, 2009

Roosevelt Drive West at Truman Court

Roosevelt Drive is a residential street started in the 1970s and completed in the early 2000s. Though not considered a collector street by the City’s transportation plan, it is the primary access for 14 “presidential” streets. The older portion of the street has no sidewalks whatsoever. The southernmost portion (from Truman Court to Tyler Court) has a sidewalk on the south side.

Roosevelt Drive is walking distance to three schools, the NCRC, and arguably the downtown. There is some redemption in that there are shared-use paths that connect at several points to Jefferson Park and the sidewalk along Jefferson Parkway West. (This is the reason it was not included in my top 10 list.)

One particularly irritating issue with Roosevelt is that the road itself is very wide — I have not measured, but at least 40′ (32′ is standard). With little on-street parking used and no marked bike lanes, all this width serves to do is increase runoff and encourage cars to drive faster.


Northfield celebrates Walk to School Day on Thursday, October 8

October 2, 2009


I’m the lead organizer for Walk to School Day here in Northfield, Minnesota, again. It promises to be a fun event, as usual!

Here is our press release for this year:

Students at Northfield Middle School and the three public elementary schools will celebrate Walk to School Day again this year on Thursday, October 8.

It promises to be a fun event for many students who have a safe route available from their homes. Not only will they get to walk with their friends, but there will be prizes and recognition as well.

The event is part of the district’s Safe Routes to Schools program, which is designed to help students and communities gain the benefits from increased walking and biking. Those benefits include improved health, a stronger sense of community, and reduced traffic congestion and air pollution.

The event also helps to illustrate the benefits of “complete streets”–streets that are built to accommodate all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and the handicapped. Unfortunately, all too often streets in our society are incomplete.

Students will receive maps of recommended routes, and adult volunteers will be stationed along the routes during the morning and afternoon travel times. A Northfield police officer will be located at the intersection of Jefferson Parkway and Division St./Highway 246 during both the Middle School and Bridgewater travel times. Bridgewater students who live east and northeast of the school are asked to ride the bus as usual due to concerns with that intersection. Read the rest of this entry »

Sidewalk explanation in Northfield News

August 17, 2009

The Northfield News ran a fun article in Saturday’s paper, What’s up with that? Local curiosities and oddities.

Why are some residential blocks either missing sidewalks or the sidewalks end mid-block?

When taking a leisurely stroll on Washington Street, between Woodley and Fremont streets, walkers have a decision to make: Saunter through homeowners’ yards or take to the street where the sidewalk abruptly ends.

The strange phenomenon of unexpectedly ending sidewalks is also found between Union and Washington streets on both Woodley and Fremont, to name a couple.

“Typically development over time has taken different approaches to construction of sidewalks,” said City Engineer Katy Gehler-Hess.

Whereas development today begins with the construction of streets, sidewalks and utilities before homes are ever built, according to Gehler-Hess, around the ’50s or ’60s sidewalks built along with streets was very spotty. City leaders believed sidewalks were not needed on streets with low traffic volume — thus the missing sidewalks.

Partial sidewalks, however, are likely due to a homeowner or group of homeowners later putting in their own sidewalks, said Gehler-Hess. If only a few chose to construct a sidewalk in front of their homes, a partial sidewalk was born.

Today, the city’s current policy is to incorporate sidewalks on both sides of the street when completing a reconstruction project, looking at areas where the greatest need is: paths taken to school or high level construction areas.

The city is also working on a Safe Routes to Schools project study and is expected to recommend completion of sidewalks near the city’s elementary and middle schools to help make routes safer for children.

I liked the question and the explanation, though an even more burning question to me than why sidewalks are missing on some residential streets is why they’re missing on our two busiest streets — West Fifth Street (19) and South Highway 3. Highway 3 was reconstructed from Woodley to Hester St in Dundas in the mid-90s, but the sidewalks run only from Woodley to Jefferson Parkway. The 1990s were not a great time for sidewalks, but certainly beyond the post-WWII idea that sidewalks were obsolete.

The further explanation regarding the abruptly ending and beginning sidewalks was interesting. I’ll use the opportunity to point out my favorite one-house sidewalk, on West Woodley Street. “A” for effort!

The one-house sidewalk

Attack of the Medians, 2009

August 10, 2009

Unhelpful faux medians

In 2004, medians were added to Jefferson Parkway. They looked beautiful, and the claim was that the narrower lanes would calm the traffic. However, as any bicyclist knows, the lanes were made too narrow in some areas of the road (near the Division St intersection), with not enough room for a bicycle and car to ride safely side-by-side.

The other frustrating part of this is that the curb lip is unusually wide -- a bike lane could have been integrated into a curb lip (as on Hwy 3) without increasing street width

How narrow?

Well when I saw the new striping on East Woodley Street (Rice County 28), it felt like Jefferson Parkway all over again. While there’s no physical median, the road now has a faux median painted in the middle. At some points this is helpful, like where it’s used as a suicide lane. In other areas, though, it simply pushes traffic closer to the curb, leaving virtually no space for bicycles. The Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force did request bike lanes (before I was on the TF), but they were rejected by the County. What’s bothersome is that these lanes could have been incorporated without widening the street surface.

Now I’ll say that overall the East Woodley reconstruction is a dramatic improvement for all users of the road. But this is a frustrating and apparently unnecessary impediment to bicycle use. I’ve included a gallery of the good and the bad of the reconstructed East Woodley.

A Nonmotorized Waste

August 8, 2009

I say it on the About page, but I will reiterate that posts on this site do not reflect the Task Force’s opinion. In fact, there may very well be a few TF members who would disagree with me on this post.

Historic Downtown Northfield?

Historic Downtown Northfield?

The Bolton-Menk concept to tunnel Fifth Street (Hwy 19) under the railroad crossing has attracted a lot of flak, and for good reason: it’s expensive, unnecessary, and perceived as unlikely to be funded. But what about the other proposals of the 3/19 Multimodal Integration Study?

The main catch phrase of the study is “pedestrian bridge” (or much duller-sounding “mixed-grade pedestrian crossing”). The perception is, apparently, that both highways are just so dangerous and unpleasant that it would be better to remove pedestrians from the road altogether. I am not completely opposed to a mixed-grade crossing at Malt-O-Meal on Fifth Street, but I am absolutely against a crossing on Highway 3. Here’s why.

1. Highway 3 mentality

There’s an attitude that I encounter almost universally when talking with other Northfielders, a perception that Highway 3 is this thing that just cuts through town, a massive highway filled with all these Others just eager to get through our town and move on their way. While that is true for a small percentage of travelers, it’s important to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of the traffic on Hwy 3 through Northfield is Northfield traffic. The traffic counts speak for themselves.

2. (General) Highway mentality

With this in mind — that we are the people on Highway 3 — we need to ask why we Northfielders and visitors are being hostile to pedestrian Northfielders and visitors. The answer is partially that the road itself has influenced us. It’s wide, smooth, with little to react to other than stop lights. Compare that to the stretch of Division Street just a couple blocks to the east — there are cars coming in and out of parking spots, pedestrians at almost every corner, and the occasional bicycle in the mix, too. We’re prepared to react, and most of the time, as drivers, we do yield properly to pedestrians.

3. Pedestrian assertiveness

The vast majority of pedestrians would not walk across 3rd and Highway 3 (which has no traffic signals) with the same confidence they’d walk across 3rd and Division. Why? Because they don’t think cars will react to them. Why won’t cars react to them? Because there are so few pedestrians — and because those that are there are timid enough to wait for a large gap in traffic.

4. Not a solution

So what, really, does a pedestrian bridge resolve? Not any of problems 1-3 listed above. If anything, it will make pedestrians more timid around vehicle traffic, and make vehicles even less likely to expect crossing pedestrians. It could also result in higher vehicle speeds (it’s already a rare sight to see a car actually going 30 mph in the 30 zone).

It also takes away pedestrian’s rights. While ordinarily a vehicle must yield to a pedestrian crossing at an intersection, “[a]ny pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway” (169.21).

5. There are less expensive, better alternatives

A pedestrian refuge island

A pedestrian refuge island

How do we a break the chicken-and-egg cycle described in 3? Encourage crossing, and make it as safe as possible without removing pedestrians from the road.

Automatic pedestrian signals

The Second and Fifth Street lights should include a pedestrian signal automatically. Requiring pedestrians to press a button to cross implies that they are not part of the normal cycle and all but assures they will have to wait to cross. The street sensors should also be upgraded to respond to bicycles (I’ve spent several long waits on Second hoping a car would come along to trip the signal).

Marked crossing and refuge island

While pedestrians rights are the same at intersections regardless of crosswalks, I believe people are more respectful of pedestrians in crosswalks. Therefore, I think a marked crosswalk should be added at Third Street. In addition, the median should be widened in the middle to create a pedestrian refuge island.

These two solutions would cost a fraction of a pedestrian bridge, they would maintain three pedestrian crossings (instead of compressing into one), and they would keep the streets for people.