This article was originally published in Catalyst, November 2020.
Electric scooters let riders move quickly between the roadway and the sidewalk, but these sometimes-unpredictable travel patterns can pose risk for riders and the people around them. Making scooters smarter is the goal of a new U of M research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Under the $1.2 million Cyber-Physical Systems grant, a cross-disciplinary team will study smart tracking systems on scooters for ensuring safe and smooth interaction with other vehicles and pedestrians.
Roundabouts reduce the severity of crashes at intersections, but transportation agencies have received some feedback from pedestrians indicating that roundabouts, especially larger multi-lane roundabouts, can be difficult to navigate.
A new guidebook published by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board offers a uniform approach and practical methods for selecting locations and the right treatment for uncontrolled pedestrian crosswalks in Minnesota.
A two-year research project underway in the City of St. Paul is already improving pedestrian safety and driver behavior by applying lessons learned from a national award-winning pedestrian traffic study. The city began using the practices last fall with the “Stop for Me” campaign, and driver yield rates have already gone up by 9 percent.
Each year, dozens of Saint Paul pedestrians legally crossing the street are struck by vehicles driven by motorists who fail to stop. In 2015, 40 pedestrians died in Minnesota after being hit by a motor vehicle; 900 were injured. In 2017, there were 192 vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Saint Paul, three of which proved deadly.
Pedestrian fatalities and injuries represent a growing percentage of traffic fatalities and injuries nationwide. For example, pedestrian fatalities comprised 10.9% of all traffic deaths nationwide in 2004, but 14.5% in 2013.
University of Minnesota researchers are charged with reviewing the City of St. Paul’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety and investigate whether a program similar to the one in Gainesville can change driver yielding for pedestrians and speed compliance. The activities in St. Paul are being planned together with city traffic engineers and enforcement officers and will include various educational, engineering and enforcement countermeasures and media campaigns.
Last fall, St. Paul began the “Stop for Me” campaign, which enforces pedestrian laws, increases driver and pedestrian education and works towards enhanced signage and other changes to crosswalks around the city.
On June 25, the St. Paul Police Department began the second phase of the campaign by ticketing drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.
Additionally, police officers are ticketing drivers for “endangerment” if they pass a vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. This citation leads to a mandatory court appearance for the driver.
As part of an ongoing effort to institutionalize bicycle and pedestrian counting in Minnesota, MnDOT has published a new manual designed to help city, county, state, and other transportation practitioners in their counting efforts.
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual, developed by University of Minnesota researchers and SRF Consulting Group, provides guidance and methods for collecting bicycle and pedestrian traffic data in Minnesota. The manual is an introductory guide to nonmotorized traffic monitoring designed to help local jurisdictions, nonprofit organizations, and consultants design their own programs.
Topics covered in the manual include general traffic-monitoring principles, bicycle and pedestrian data collection sensors, how to perform counts using several types of technologies, data management and analysis, and next steps for nonmotorized traffic monitoring in Minnesota. Several case studies illustrate how bicycle and pedestrian traffic data can be used to support transportation planning and engineering.
The manual was completed as part of the third in a series of MnDOT-funded projects related to the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, a collaborative effort launched by MnDOT in 2011 to encourage nonmotorized traffic monitoring across the state. U of M researchers, led by professor Greg Lindsey at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, have been key partners in the initiative since its inception.
In addition to the manual, U of M researchers have published a final report outlining their work with MnDOT on this project. Key accomplishments include:
A new statewide bicycle and pedestrian traffic-monitoring network with 25 permanent monitoring locations
A district-based portable counting equipment loan program to support MnDOT districts and local jurisdictions interested in nonmotorized traffic monitoring
Minnesota’s first Bicycle and Pedestrian Annual Traffic Monitoring Report
A MnDOT website for reporting annual and short-duration counts that allows local planners and engineers to download data for analysis
Provisions added to MnDOT equipment vendor agreements that enable local governments to purchase bicycle and monitoring equipment
Annual training programs for bicycle and pedestrian monitoring
Provisions in the Statewide Bicycle System Plan and Minnesota Walks that call for bicycle and pedestrian traffic monitoring and creation of performance measures based on counts
“This is an excellent resource that steps through all aspects of managing a count program, and I think it will be very helpful to other states and organizations that want to implement their own programs,” says Lisa Austin, MnDOT bicycle and pedestrian planning coordinator. “Since Minnesota is a leader in counting bicycle and pedestrian traffic, it also fulfills what I think is an obligation to share our story with others.”
Across Minnesota, local agencies need better information about where and how many people are biking and walking to make decisions about infrastructure investments, understand safety risks, and even plan active living initiatives.
To help provide agencies with bicycle and pedestrian traffic data, U of M researchers have been working with MnDOT on the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative since 2010. The initiative is a collaborative, statewide effort to support bike and pedestrian traffic monitoring by local, regional, and state organizations.
Recently, the project team completed an implementation study—the second of three MnDOT-funded projects related to the initiative—specifically designed to engage local agencies. The goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of using both permanent and portable sensors to collect bicycle and pedestrian traffic data in several Minnesota cities, suburbs, and small towns.
“If we want to institutionalize counting and monitoring across the state, local agencies need to know it’s not something that’s only important for large cities like Minneapolis,” says principal investigator Greg Lindsey, professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and current MnDOT scholar-in-residence. “We have to be on the ground in these places, illustrating that it’s relevant to the decisions they’re making.”
To that end, the team installed commercially available sensors—including inductive loops, passive infrared, pneumatic tubes, and radio beams—to collect traffic counts in several Minnesota cities. Overall findings indicate that all of the sensors produced reasonably accurate measurements—and that participating agencies found value in the collected data.
Findings and case studies from the study have already been incorporated into the draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual, a new MnDOT guidance document being used in statewide training workshops. Also as a result of the study, MnDOT plans to include commitments to bike and pedestrian traffic monitoring in its forthcoming statewide bicycle and pedestrian plans. In addition, MnDOT is investing in a network of permanent traffic monitoring sites around the state as well as in portable equipment that will be available to local agencies.
Work on bike and pedestrian counting by University of Minnesota researchers and MnDOT has been highlighted as part of the FHWA’s Livable Communities Case Study Series.
The case study features the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, led by the U of M’s Greg Lindsey and MnDOT’s Lisa Austin and Jasna Hadzic. Under the initiative, the team has developed general guidance and consistent methods for counting bikes and pedestrians. Team members have also worked with other state and local agencies to implement counting strategies across Minnesota.
The case study showcases the initiative as an example of how agencies can leverage partnerships to implement a successful counting program for nonmotorized traffic. These traffic counts can help agencies identify safety concerns, understand and communicate benefits of active transportation, prioritize investments, and analyze trends. According to the FHWA, the results can help inform decisions that make biking and walking viable transportation options in livable communities.
There’s nothing like colored concrete to make a crosswalk, sidewalk or breezeway look snazzy.
But the extra touch that many cities are putting into their downtown streetscapes may not be so pretty in just a few short years.
Early cracking has prompted the city of Vadnais Heights to tear up its colored concrete, and the city of Centerville — which installed colored concrete only six years ago — plans to follow suit, said MnDOT’s Senior Road Research Engineer Tom Burnham.
Both cities participated in a recent study, sponsored by the Local Road Research Board and conducted by MnDOT, to determine what is causing the early deterioration.
Across Minnesota, many of the estimated 45 colored concrete projects have experienced early deterioration, particularly microcracking near contraction joints. While this type of distress also occurs with regular concrete, it appears to be accelerated in the colored concrete projects, within five years in some instances.
Although the newly released study identifies likely causes for the failing colored concrete, further research is needed to evaluate proposed solutions.
Researchers determined that the colored concrete mixtures have likely been too porous for Minnesota winters, allowing deicing chemicals to leach in and wreak havoc. Although not quite as problematic for sidewalks and medians — which aren’t salted as heavily — it is especially bad for colored crosswalks.
A denser concrete mixture (one formed with less water) is recommended; however, constructing the concrete panels this way will require extra steps.
“There are chemicals that can be added to the mixture to artificially lower that water-to-concrete ratio,” Burnham said. “This will allow a denser mixture to be more easily placed.”
Color in vogue
Although there was a spate of colored concrete construction in Ramsey County in the late 1990s, it has only come into fashion in the rest of the state within the last five to six years, according to Burnham.
“You go to almost any community and they’re installing it — on their sidewalk and medians and also crosswalks,” said Burnham, who coordinated the research study.
Because of the added expense, cities may be very disappointed in the results.
The city of Stillwater, which installed a colored concrete panel crosswalk on its main street just two years ago (see top photo), is already experiencing cracking and deterioration in several panels.
Although reducing the porosity of the colored concrete mixture should help, it won’t solve everything.
Another issue is the curing. The typical white curing product can’t be applied like it is with standard concrete, so curing the colored panels is more challenging, Burnham explained.
There are possible remedies, however, to assist with the curing, such as wet burlap or curing blankets.
Adding complexity to the issue are the new deicing chemicals on the market, which are also impacting regular road materials.
Several test samples showed evidence of chemical attack of the cement paste and fine aggregates, as well as an alkali-silica reaction, which can cause cracking or spalling and isn’t normally seen in regular concrete.
“Is there anything unique with the coloring that would accelerate the observed chemical reactions? We didn’t feel we had enough samples and knowledge at this point to conclusively say,” Burnham said.
Different construction techniques could go a long way toward increasing the livelihood of colored concrete; however, it could take several years of observation to determine if other methods work.
MnROAD is considering adding colored concrete panels to its facility for testing.
Until more questions are answered, MnDOT researchers are recommending repair techniques and alternative streetscaping ideas to cities, such concrete stains, pavers or colored high friction surface treatments.
In addition to sharing the findings with cities and counties, Burnham wants to educate contractors.
“We hope this research is a wake-up call for the colored concrete industry too because we don’t want the industry to die in Minnesota,” he said. “If it can work, we want cities and counties to be able to use it.”
*Editor’s Note: This story was updated 09/04/2014 to specify that this research project was funded entirely by the Local Road Research Board, and that MnDOT conducted the research.
Investigation and Assessment of Colored Concrete Pavement — Final Report (PDF, 20 MB, 368 pages); Technical Summary (forthcoming)
Last year, 41 people were killed while walking or biking on Minnesota roads and nearly 1,700 were injured.
Dozens of measures are available, however, for making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Minnesota Department of Transportation Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Engineer Melissa Barnes reviewed some of these design techniques in a recent presentation to city and state transportation engineers. (Watch the full webinar.)
We asked Barnes to highlight her favorite bike and pedestrian safety countermeasures used in Minnesota.
Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon
An unusually effective new pedestrian warning device, called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon, has become quite popular.
User-activated, the device alerts drivers to a pedestrian’s presence with a bright flashing beacon that “looks kind of like an ambulance or fire truck light,” Barnes said. (RRFBs can also be activated passively by a pedestrian’s presence.)
Studies have shown that the number of motorists stopping for pedestrians increases from 18 to 81 percent with the RRFB. Another plus: the device doesn’t appear to lose its effectiveness over time. After two years, compliance has been shown to still be more than 80 percent.
Advanced Stop Lines
It’s not uncommon for a motorist to stop for someone in a crosswalk, only for the vehicle following them to not see the pedestrian and veer around, driving through the crosswalk.
But an advanced stop line, placed 20 to 50 feet prior to a crosswalk, is effective at making both vehicles stop and see the person in the crosswalk.
“They are a really good option at an unsignalized, mid-block crossing,” said Barnes, although the stop line may not be a good option for a two-way stop.
Advanced stop lines have been shown to reduce pedestrian-vehicle conflict up to 90 percent; however, stop lines shouldn’t be placed too far in advance of the crossing, because motorists might then ignore them.
Leading Protected Interval
An innovative treatment called the Leading Protected Interval minimizes conflict by allowing pedestrians to enter a signalized intersection before vehicles do.
The walk signal begins three to seven seconds before the parallel street turns green by extending the time all lights are red.
A right turn on red can be prohibited with this device; however, even without the prohibition, the Leading Protected Interval has been shown to reduce crashes by 5 percent.
Protected Bike Lanes
Bike lanes buffered from traffic with some sort of physical barrier, even parked cars, will reduce all types of crashes. They also increase comfort levels for cyclists, helping keep bikes off the sidewalk.
“A lot of people are much more comfortable biking in these than a regular bike lane,” Barnes said. “It can be a very effective solution for places with lots of cyclists.”
Protected bike lanes, also called cycle tracks, also have a traffic-calming effect.
In New York City, the cycle track reduced all types of crashes an average of 40 percent and up to 80 percent on some roads.
“The challenge is how to design these at intersections,” Barns said. “It’s hard to get the turns right and get everybody visible. It’s pretty important to design these carefully at intersections.”
For those reasons, two-way cycle tracks work best on one-way streets, she said.
Flexible bollards create temporary curb lines that encourage vehicles to slow down. They can be installed easily and inexpensively.
Flexible bollards bend up to 90 degrees when struck by an errant vehicle. They do not physically stop a car, but encourage vehicles to stay within their lane. Although they can create additional maintenance, they are a good interim solution at locations that need an immediate fix, but have no funding to do so.