Traffic calming – potential strategies

Community, Featured — By on April 29, 2012 2:50 pm

While traffic in Uptown doesn’t appear to be nearly as bad as it was several decades ago (based on traffic counts, explained in an upcoming post), it certainly is a discussion point in Uptown. Whether the concern is pedestrian safety while crossing major streets in Uptown or concerns about cars driving too fast down residential streets, I’ve often heard area residents and business people share with me their worries of someone getting hurt or killed on our streets.

I want to share with you some of the more interesting traffic calming and safety enhancements I’ve seen recently while traveling. These strategies may have some application in Uptown (or elsewhere in the City) but not without understanding the concerns at any given location.

Traffic Throating and Bump Outs

Vancouver traffic throating

This traffic calming strategy in Vancouver BC narrows the road to one lane and asks one direction to yield to on-coming traffic. A bike lane cuts through the curb bump out, presumably to reduce any close calls that could result.

The above traffic throat in Vancouver, BC was the first time I’ve ever seen such a severe yet still flexible traffic calming application. Traffic is reduced to one lane through the throat (via a curb extension/bump out) and a bike lane allows bikers to stay away from the tight spot. A yield sign tells traffic that they must yield to on-coming traffic. I watched this for several minutes and it worked perfectly. Two cars approached each other and the one yielded until the other passed, while a biker snuck past on the lane. This was located in the middle of a block by the alley, which allowed it to slow traffic where it often goes fastest but also to not disrupt the flow of traffic at the intersection where yielding may become difficult.

I like this option because it doesn’t permanently alter the traffic pattern in the area but forces traffic to slow down when two-way traffic is in the area. I could see this work well on streets near the edge of the Uptown business district that have concerns about speeding traffic cutting through their neighborhood. Perhaps use it on Bryant Avenue in LHENA as well as on Dupont and Emerson just north of 28th Street.

Pros: Maintains two-way traffic, slows traffic, reduces potential for pedestrian-auto accidents
Cons: Bike pass through would likely be un-plowed in winter, potential for head-on auto collisions

Curb bump out/extension in Portland OR

This intersection in Portland OR has its corner curbs extended in order to reduce the distance pedestrians must cross the street, which then allows for streetscape elements to occupy the additional sidewalk space.

The above image shows an intersection in Portland OR that has its curbs extended/bumped out. This type of traffic calming application is intended to reduce the distance a pedestrian must cross the street, enhance the visibility to and from pedestrians, and narrow the street – a strategy that often leads to drivers passing through at a slower speed. As an added bonus, the additional space on the sidewalk created by these extensions can be allocated towards landscaping, water infiltration installations, or streetscape elements (benches, info kiosks, etc).

These are not uncommon and can be found all over Minneapolis. Uptown has some smaller versions of these in the LHENA neighborhood and Lake Street east of Dupont has them. In general, I’d love to see most intersections in the neighborhoods have these installed as the roads are reconstructed. And certainly we should add them where possible in the business district to make extra room for pedestrian amenities and improve safety.

Pros: improved pedestrian crossings, enhanced visibility, slower traffic, maintains traffic flow, added space for other amenities.
Cons: can force bikers to take full lane through intersections without notice, can require re-engineering of intersections, maintains traffic flow

Traffic Diverters
There are a lot of traffic diverters out there. Minneapolis has used a variety, but you probably are familiar with the ones in the Lyndale or Fulton neighborhoods in SW Minneapolis. There, drivers get to an intersection and are forced to make a turn in only one direction. Those are really confusing for those looking to get someone in particular because usually you end up redirected several blocks away.

A traffic diverter in Vancouver BC

This traffic diverter in Vancouver BC allows bikers to go through straight while cars must turn.

The above traffic diverter is from Vancouver BC and forces drivers to take a right turn onto another street. Cross traffic can take a right but not a left. Bikers, however, are allowed to continue through the intersection. Diverters like this are typically less confusing because you drivers are forced to make one turn and usually don’t get rerouted a second or third time. It also allows cross traffic to continue through. In Minneapolis, there are a few examples around, with a new one off of 40th Street east of 35W.

I’m generally not a fan of these and hope Uptown doesn’t have any added, that is, unless it is a part of a bike boulevard project. But I think the Vancouver throat option could be a better solution.

Pros: reduces traffic due to inconvenience of traveling through area and literally forces drivers off of the street.
Cons: confusing for drivers, inconvenient for those trying to reach specific locations on the particular street

Traffic circles

Traffic circle in Vancouver BC

This mini traffic circle in Vancouver BC's West End allows traffic to go in any direction but must slow through the intersection

The West End in Vancouver BC is a very dense neighborhood with many highrises and some lowrise buildings. The area has a very high amount of pedestrians and lots of nearby traffic on major streets. The neighborhood also has a number of these mini traffic circles, which forces drivers to slow down at intersections. Minneapolis has some of these, with a couple on 43rd Street in Linden Hills. Uptown almost got one at Bryant Avenue and 29th Street as a part of the Bryant Bike Boulevard project, but there was some concern about how it would impact trucks and firetrucks (Public Works said it wouldn’t prevent them from maneuvering the intersection) and also I believe that they were removed from the project budget in general.

Pros: maintains traffic flow, slows traffic through intersection, additional landscaping space
Cons: can block visibility of pedestrians

Other Applications
Speed bumps/humps – As you’ve likely experienced in East Isles on Irving Avenue, speed humps (less bumpy than the ones you experience in parking lots) slow down traffic a little bit as drivers don’t want to bottom out going over them. Too often, drivers don’t see them in time and still go over it too fast. In other cases, I’ve seen cars accelerate quickly after going over one and brake when they get to the next one. Pros: slow traffic at the bump, reminds people that they are expected to go slower on residential streets. Cons: may lead to speeding in between bumps

Opposing One-Ways – Want to keep through traffic from driving down your street? Make it a one way and then have the next street be a one way in the opposite direction. Sound familiar? East Isles has a number of these near 28th Street. I’m sure they’re effective when Hennepin is free-flowing, as Hennepin would be faster than the Irving/Humboldt, but once Hennepin slows down, I’ve certainly seen a steady stream of cars drive down Irving Avenue to 28th to Humboldt to avoid Hennepin. So in that regard, they don’t necessarily reduce cut through traffic. Pros: prevents through traffic on specific street. Cons: can shift traffic to other residential streets.

No Left Turn signs – Another strategy used are no left turn signs, sometimes restricted to just commute hours. 36th Street near Irving, Humboldt, and Holmes all have them. Also there are some along Lake Street near Lake Calhoun. Again, the intent is to keep cut through traffic out of the neighborhood streets and direct them to Hennepin. My personal viewpoint is that they are somewhat effective to keep a lot of drivers off of those streets, but that those intent on cutting through have plenty of alternative ways to get in and find the through route. But if it reduces traffic by 30%, is that worth it? I bet you those residents sure think so. Pros: may reduce total traffic volume on streets. Cons: can make it inconvenient to get into neighborhood during certain hours, may shift traffic to other residential streets.

Preemptive Walk Signal – If turning cars is a concern for pedestrians, using a preemptive walk signal may be a potential solution. Anders Imboden pointed out the other day that he noticed that Hennepin-Lake is now using that strategy, and the walk signal comes on a couple of seconds prior to the green traffic light. It certainly will help by reducing the number of cars that try to quickly turn to avoid being held up by pedestrians crossing the street. But it is a limited strategy, in that it will not resolve other pedestrian crossing issues (such as the double turn threat at Lagoon-Hennepin or those turning later in the traffic phase). Pros: improves pedestrian safety at beginning of traffic phase. Cons: limited impact.

Others? Please share (keep in mind, any comment with a link in it is held in queue until it is approved due to spam concerns).

Where would you want to focus traffic calming efforts and what ideas do you have on how to do it effectively?

Thatcher Imboden

How cities work and change, how they are the product of their inhabitants and outside forces, and the resulting livability keep me thinking and dreaming about the future. I work in transit oriented development and have a background in urban real estate development. I am Past President of an Uptown business organization, grew up in Uptown, was on an Uptown neighborhood association Board, and am an Uptown and Lyn-Lake historian.

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16 Comments

  1. Anon says:

    The best traffic calming method is to improve mass transit and get those cars off the road in the first place.

  2. Cedar Phillips says:

    My primary concern is turning cars, which may not technically be a traffic calming issue; my perception (which may or may not be backed up by actual numbers) is that it’s far more dangerous to be a pedestrian these days, not because there are more cars on the road, but because drivers seem to be paying less attention. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had drivers (often talking on cell phones) make turns without looking for pedestrians in the cross walk. I’d personally like to see Uptown traffic issues focus on the turning regulations at intersections like Hennepin and Lagoon.

    • Zack says:

      This is definitely a relevant issue. As frustrating as the “No Right on Red” signs can be, I imagine they’ve saved a few lives at the major uptown intersections.

      Another place this is a concern is turning from secondary streets onto main streets (Ex: Ald/Fre/Col/etc onto 26th, 28th, Lagoon). Perhaps more clearly marking and enforcing the first/last curb spot before an intersection as no parking (within 30 feet), or compact only, would dramatically help visibility. I’ve seen too many bikers and drivers nearly missed by cars pulling out with limited visibility.

    • TCJR says:

      Doesn’t matter if you’re walking or driving. Do it defensively and anticipate that others aren’t paying full attention.

  3. Urbanite says:

    those traffic rerouters that force people to zig-zag all over the neighborhood are just horrible. the frustrate drivers (making them drive more dangerously) and encourage cutting through alleyways. I don’t think we want either of those things. Also, last time I checked, streets are for transportation. Everyone want to be able to get to their house by using streets, but nobody wants anyone else driving down their street. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  4. Brad says:

    Too bad Meg Tuthill would be reflexively against traffic calming. She is stuck in the 1950s mindset of more cars and less people. The think holding back Uptown is Meg Tuthill. #stopMeg2013

    • Anon says:

      Agreed. We really need someone more attuned to the needs of a vibrant and growing *urban* area representing uptown. Not someone in love with cars and parking who loves to stroke the NIMBYism that ought be contained to Linden Hills and the burbs. I’ll definitely be voting for someone other than Meg next year. Hopefully there’s a DFL challenger so there’s actually a chance of removing this roadblock to uptown’s continued progress.

  5. Mimi says:

    I have had extensive experience driving on traffic circles in Europe and would like to say that even with Europeans who use this every day of their lives. These circles are a problem in snow conditions and heave traffic.

  6. Oafy says:

    I don’t get the lack of left turn signals. If I’m turning left on lyndale from lake, no signal? Really? That’s just plain stupid. I wonder how many gallons of gas are wasted while one person per cycle is able to make the turn under heavy traffic.

    • urbanite says:

      and I wonder how many gallons of gas you wasted driving when you could have just walked

      • Boris says:

        This website is obviously anti-auto. “No cars” works if you want to stay in the city all your life riding a bus.A pretty grim prospect.

        • anon says:

          Or you could do the healthy thing and walk. Or we could start acting like a real city and get more trains. Society needs to be more anti-auto. Cars pollute the environment, encourage sprawl, and are anti-social.

          • Boris says:

            You people have to get away from the city and out in the country. You have been breathing this bad air so long it’s impairing your thinking. Cars anti social? Get serious. Cars are the backbone of our economy. The oil industry depends on them. What would become of North Dakota’s oil industry without the automobile?

          • anon says:

            Head out to the country, where there’s nothing around and you’re isolated from civilization? And you can’t even get to a grocery store without driving miles and miles? Sounds pretty anti-social, to me.

            Hopefully the demise of the oil industry will cause a shift to economic activity that’s more beneficial to society — green energy etc.

  7. james says:

    It’s a beautiful evening here at 36th and Humboldt with crotch rockets screaming east along the cemetary and more pleasant folks screetching around the corner and zipping northward on Humboldt…. aaah, it’s sooo calming…. and RIP Alice (our neighborhood cat) runover on just such a tranquil night…. lovely!

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