More tools than stop signs for quieter streets

At a community meeting in Northeast a couple of years ago, I was interested to hear a discussion about stop signs versus other ways to slow down traffic in a neighborhood. The topic of the meeting was the design plan for a section of the Presidents Bicycle Boulevard, a north-south route from the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River to the northern border of Minneapolis — a route that should be installed this year. The route will run just east of Central Avenue NE, on several residential streets named for presidents of the United States.

The residents at the meeting were concerned about the flow of traffic through their neighborhoods. Some said they already ride their bicycles with their kids on the streets planned for the bicycle boulevard, but worried about safety. They talked about cars going too fast and about bicyclists who don’t always stop at stop signs. The person leading the meeting said mini-traffic circles, also called residential traffic circles, are a new way to address both problems.

Cars approaching such a traffic circle don’t have to come to a complete stop, but rather slow down and yield to other cars or people walking or bicycles already in the circle. Bicyclists, too, can proceed slowly rather than losing all their forward momentum by coming to a complete stop. (For bicyclists, getting going again from a complete stop takes a lot of energy.) The intent is to keep traffic flowing in a counter-clockwise direction.

Traffic circles are increasingly common across the Twin Cities. In Seattle, where there are more than 1,000, crashes dropped by more than 70 percent, according to Steve Clark of Bike Walk Twin Cities.

The street design tool box has many more options for calming traffic and making it safer to bicycle or walk. The next time there’s a community meeting about street resurfacing or redesign in your neighborhood, here are a few to have in mind, with thanks to Steve Clark of Bike Walk Twin Cities and Benjamin Waldo of Community Design Group for the information. 

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.


HAWK signals. Everyone is familiar with your standard stop light at intersections. The HAWK (High intensity Activated crossWalK) signal puts a special level of attention on crosswalks. Activated when a pedestrian presses the crossing button, the signal responds immediately with a flashing yellow pattern that changes to a solid red light, providing unequivocal guidance to motorists to stop. This kind of signal, also known as a pedestrian hybrid beacon, is often used at mid-block crossings, which account for more than 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  Although still untried in Minnesota, this new kind of signal is now featured as one of the FHWA’s 9 Proven Safety Countermeasures.    


Raised crosswalks. Think of this as a speed hump at an intersection, usually on a residential street. The effect is to make people using the crosswalk more visible to approaching motorists. There is a raised crossing in Northeast Minneapolis, where 5th Street NE crosses the 18th Avenue off-street bikeway.  


Curve radii. This is really geeky, but “intersection geometry” (to quote the Model Street Design Manual) makes a big difference in both how fast motorists can take a turn and how far people have to go to get across the street. The smaller the curve radii, or the tighter the turn, the more a motorist has to slow down to make the turn. And, as show in the illustration (see top crossing), when both corners have a small radius, crossing is shorter and more direct. One way to easily create “tighter” curve radii is to add curb extensions; these also reduce the distance for people trying to cross the street.  


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