I wanted to comment on the proposal to convert 16th St. SE from a 4 lane road to a two lane road with a center left turn lane and how this has affected safety and congestion in other areas where this change has been implemented. I listen and will continue to listen to all of my constituents on this issue and others and in the end will make a decision based on science and facts. One thing that I will not say is “trust me.” Rather I will say look at the peer reviewed scientific data that examines how this has worked when implemented in similar or higher traffic volume areas.
First, let me begin with a mea culpa; I think that the City of Rochester from top to bottom realizes that we did not communicate well regarding this change and why we see this as being in the public interest. We look to correct this by taking time to explain the science and rationale that led to this decision to all interested parties. In the future we will also strive to communicate better. My hat is off to the citizens who chose to become active on this issue, and I encourage you to stay active even if I disagree with some of the underlying assumptions that have been made.
The concerns that I have heard fall into two categories, the change proposed change will lead to a less safe corridor, and the proposed change will lead to increased congestion. Both of these are real concerns and were looked at in depth by our city engineering and planning staff. I also have some of the same concerns as my little girl who is now two years old lives in the Mayo High School area and based on where we live, would commute to school via 16th Street SE.
The changes to this and other roadways are a result of a policy the city council unanimously adopted in 2009 referred to as complete streets. You can read the city policy on complete streets at https://www.co.olmsted.mn.us/departments/docs/CompleteStreetsResolution__2_.pdf. You can read more about philosophy of complete streets at This policy states that when we build, reconstruct or repave roads in the city, we should take into account the need for safe and accessible accommodations for pedestrians, cyclists, autos, and transit. With the repaving of 16th St, the policy requires the city to assess the current safety and comfort of all users prior to re-striping the corridor. In this particular case a lane of travel is not being proposed to be removed solely to accommodate bicycle lanes, but also to address existing safety issues. The preferred solution to the safety issues, in this case, meshes well with the desire to improve access for cyclists by providing space within which bicycle lanes can be striped. Even if bicycle lanes were not added, the city would likely make the same recommendation to address concerns with speeding and crashes in the corridor. .
In my assessment of the proposed change, I would begin by looking at how 16th street SE functions today. There are currently four 12 ft. lanes of travel along with parking. There is also a serious speeding problem on 16th St SE. The accident rate at the 8th Ave intersection is approximately twice the statewide average for intersections situated in similar locations. In terms of pedestrian travel, a safety advocate once told me that if you get hit at 25 MPH you get hurt; if you get hit at 45 MPH you get buried. We have a tremendous number of speeders that travel this stretch at speeds that are deadly. In fact the 85th percentile speed on this road is 39 MPH meaning 15% of the drivers are traveling this speed or faster. 45% of all motorists exceed the posted speed limit of 35 MPH. In the current layout, kids must cross a danger zone of 48 feet. In addition, sightlines are sometimes impaired due to vehicles in adjacent lanes of this multi-lane roadway. While state law is quite clear that once a pedestrian steps into a cross walk (marked or unmarked) they have the right of way and traffic must stop and yield. I don’t need to tell you that many drivers ignore this principle. Furthermore, two or 3 cars may be slowed or stopped for a pedestrian crossing the street, but a 4th vehicle approaching may assume the vehicles are slowed to turn and not recognize a pedestrian is present, resulting in a crash with the pedestrian.
The lack of a turn lane on the street also contributes to vehicular safety and congestion problems. The lack of a turn lane can cause unanticipated lane changes, creating conflicts between vehicles and potentially leading to an accident. Further, many assume there will be a 50% reduction in corridor capacity because the number of “through lanes” is reduced by half. In reality traffic is typically not evenly distributed between lanes on a four lane undivided roadway due to the impact of left turns in the inside lane, and that in lower volume conditions, such as on 16th St, motorists tend not to travel side by side when in different lanes, As a result, the actual reduction in the number of gaps to allow side street vehicles to turn onto to the street is unlikely to be as great as perceived. The lane reduction has the added benefit in that traffic in only one lane in each direction needs to be considered by traffic on the minor street approach, and the center left turn lane provides a potential refuge area if a mistakes is made.
The three lane alignment with two 11 ft. through lanes actually would serve to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists, as well as automobiles. I do not make that claim on the basis of speculation, but rather on the basis of scientific studies that have analyzed the changes. First note that the single travel lanes will successfully cut down on the serious speeding issues in this area. This occurs because in a single lane the prudent driver traveling near the speed limit sets the speed for vehicles in the lane, whereas in a multi-lane situation drivers tend to match the speed of other drivers, with those traveling faster tending to set the prevailing speed of operation. Research has also found that one lane tends to significantly reduce excessive speeding, with reductions as high as 60 to 70% in the number of motorists significantly exceeding the speed limit observed in some studies.
Second, pedestrian crossing is made much safer because the potential area of conflict with through traffic is reduced from 48 feet to 22 feet or a reduction of 54%. In addition, drivers will not have sightlines obstructed by cars traveling in the same direction. The scientific data also shows that accidents and serious accidents involving multiple cars or cars and pedestrians are reduced not increased. Published scientific studies show about a 30% reduction in collisions after this type of conversion. The proposed design has the added benefit of taking cyclists out of one of the lanes of travel and making them safer as well.
The results of the scientific data related to congestion are less intuitive, but just as clear. The conversion from 4 to 3 lanes, particularly in corridors with volumes comparable to those on 16th St, typically will not worsen congestion in terms of delay or queuing for vehicles on minor street approaches, and in a number of studies has been found to actually reduce congestion. Because of the turning movements occurring at intersections, volumes are typically not evenly distributed between multiple lanes, with more vehicles generally observed in the outside lane. Thus, the number of gaps in the traffic flow is not reduced by 50% when going from two lanes to one lane. In addition, the disruption of turns out of through lanes creates additional safety issues related to lane changes and weaving between lanes in the vicinity of intersections which create additional hazards for side street motorists. The anticipated impact on congestion generally remains true for roads even with traffic volume as high as twice the volume of 16th Street SE.
Finally, in regards to the issue of frequent stop vehicles such as school buses, Public Works does have a design that would incorporate a pullout area to allow for busses to stop at the railroad crossing outside of the through travel lane, which has been used in a number of other cities in Minnesota. This will address that valid concern.
In regards to the issue of accommodating cycling, while it is true we have a number of recreational trails, experienced cyclists and bike commuters prefer, just as motorists do, the most direct route to their destination and one that allows them to travel at a faster rate of speed. The bike lanes are not intended for kids, but rather the more experienced and serious bicycle riders. In addition recreational trails are not cleared in the winter when bicycle commuters still ride. Bike lanes are plowed.
I hope this letter has addressed some of your concerns. If I neglected to address any of your concerns or you are aware of scientific data that runs to the contrary to this, please contact me and we will examine this further.
Michael Wojcik (with technical assistance from staff).