Enhancing bicyclist safety along University Avenue is another SPBC priority.
The Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition requests that the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) and the Metropolitan Council reexamine the current street programming plan for University Avenue post-light rail transit construction. The current plan calls for two vehicle travel lanes in each direction (four total travel lanes). A review would examine the benefits of having a single vehicle travel lane in each direction, a parking lane with bus pull-outs and right turn lanes, and a bike lane. The Avenue's planned minimum width of 25'would permit an 11' travel lane, 8' parking lane and 6' bike or buffer lane, creating a "Complete Street" to accommodate all modes of transportation. We request that the FTA and MET Council restudy and commit to at least try this programming configuration when the LRT project is completed. We are not suggesting any physical street design changes but only changes in how the avenue is striped and programmed.
We advocate "right-sizing" University Avenue to one travel lane in each direction, restoring a substantial amount of on-street parking and using sections of the parking lanes for right-turn lanes (at intersections) and for bus pull-outs. This is simply an issue of "striping" or "programming" the street as the existing 25 foot wide minimum space will allow for 11 foot travel lane, 8 foot parking lane and 6 foot buffer or bike lane. We believe this programming alternative has a number of advantages:
In 2008, at the request of city officials and community groups, the MET Council did a very abbreviated study of what impact a 2-Lane Alternative would have on intersection Levels of Service (LOS) at current traffic volumes and at an arbitrary 10% reduced traffic volume—assuming that LRT would cause some reduction in vehicular traffic. The study only used a traffic-modeling program called SYNCRO with existing signal timings. There was no modeling of actual pedestrian counts, buses stopping or other factors that could impact LOS. The "PM Peak Hour" table from that study is depicted on the next page.
The study showed that (with a 10% traffic reduction) there would be nine failed intersections as compared to the current one failed intersection and thus concluded that a 2-Lane Alternative was not feasible.
The most glaring problem with the study is it compared the wrong things. It compared the existing intersection configuration to the 2-Lane Alternative. See illustration on next page:
In reality, it should have compared what is called the 4-Lane "Preferred Alternative" in the project's E.I.S. to the 2-Lane Alternative …as both of these only have three lanes at each intersection (as opposed to four in the existing configuration). See Illustration Below:
The "Preferred Alternative's" lack of right turn lanes and bus pullouts greatly reduces its Level of Service. Thus, the 2-Lane Alternative should have been compared to a simple SYNCRO Intersection Level of Service study of the 4-Lane Preferred Alternative. Such a study can be found in the Draft E.I.S. for the Central Corridor LRT project. Its "PM Peak Hour" table is depicted below.
You will see that the "Preferred Alternative" has anywhere from three to seven failed intersections (depending on the time frame) …as compared to nine failed intersections for the 2-Lane Alternative. It is important to note that this SYNCRO modeling of the Preferred Alternative did not include the impact of buses stopping in the outside travel lane or actual pedestrian movements in intersections, which will be quite substantial at LRT stations and greatly impact vehicle Level of Service. If these additional factors were modeled, the Preferred Alternative might well have the exact same number of failed intersections (9) as the 2-Lane Alternative. The final E.I.S. used additional modeling software to make two of these seven failed intersections "disappear," using "optimized signal timings." However, On pg 30, Chapter 6 of the E.I.S., it says that optimized timing "would probably not significantly alter LOS." Thus, the real comparison, even using the MET Council's own data, is between 3-7 failed intersections for the Preferred Alterative versus nine failed intersections for the 2-Lane Alternative.
Also, the 2-Lane Alternative study only assumed a 10% reduction in traffic due to LRT. Portland and other cities have seen as much as 30% reductions, which would substantially change both studies' results. Rising Gas prices will also reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and could similarly change the results of both studies, reducing the number of failed intersections.
Regardless, Even at a difference of 3-7 failed intersections versus 9 failed intersections, it is absolutely insane public policy to sacrifice the well being of an entire corridor's worth of small businesses, pedestrians, cyclists and the disabled just to eliminate a few failed intersections.
Contrary to how it is being depicted by some 4-Lane advocates, we have a choice between two bad alternatives for motor vehicle Level of Service. The 2-Lane Alternative is clearly the better choice. The current E.I.S. fails to seriously consider the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and small businesses. A 2-Lane Alternative would take these important non-automotive needs into consideration. It should be more seriously studied and tried.
We urge that it be tried when the project opens because people will be used to a reduced two-lane boulevard during construction and it is harder to take away space from cars after the fact than to try it out initially. If this two-lane (with on-street parking) "trial" doesn't work, it is easy to revert the street programming to the 4-Lane Preferred Alternative.
Despite high traffic volumes on parts of University, we believe a 2-Lane Alternative will succeed because some portion of "Peak" traffic thru the corridor will go to the I-94 freeway two blocks away and some will disappear altogether as people combine discretionary trips or take public transit. No "origin-destination" studies were ever done for traffic on University but it is classified by MnDOT as a "reliever" for I-94 and there is substantial evidence that some peak hour traffic consists of vehicles attempting to escape congestion on the nearby freeway.
Some engineers argue that traffic will cut thru adjacent neighborhoods when faced with congestion, but there is no evidence for this and it hasn't occurred during past periods of increased congestion, such as the I-35 bridge collapse. In fact there is no other street besides University that crosses all the way from east to west, thru the corridor and few other streets that have the traffic lights necessary to cross major north/south boulevards. Thus, a motorist's only choice is University or the freeway and we think many will choose the freeway. The bigger danger to adjacent neighborhoods is increased traffic looking for parking on streets and alleys, if we choose a 4-Lane University and eliminate its on-street parking.
With a 2-Lane Alternative, Big Box stores worried about reductions in their traffic volumes will still be able to get ample traffic flow from Snelling, Hamline and Lexington avenues—all major 4-lane boulevards with connections to I-94 and Saint Anthony Avenue, which runs behind most of their malls.
Other cities have successfully done 4-3 conversions on major boulevards that had similar commercial configurations and levels of vehicle traffic as University Avenue, and a few of these conversions were done as part of LRT projects, such as Interstate Avenue in Portland, Oregon.
We urge the MET Council and FTA to study these and remodel a comparison of the Preferred Alternative and 2-Lane Alternative, taking into account bus stops, right turns, pedestrian movements (both at mid-block and intersections), small businesses' need for on-street parking and Bicyclists' need for access to University. We urge the FTA and MET Council to allow us to initially try a 2-Lane Alternative programming configuration.
It's only "programming"-- stripes on the pavement-- but it could have a huge impact on the success and failure of this project and on the success and failure of the neighborhoods through which it passes.
Andy Singer, Co-Chair
Dana DeMaster, Co-Chair
Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition
We can supply PDFs of all the documents referred to in this letter. Please contact us if you have any questions.