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Traffic Fatalities Compel New Standards for Road Diets

In the Twin Cities, traffic engineers are reconsidering traffic congestion on four-lane arterials in the face of unrelenting tragedy on these car-centric corridors. Road diets, designed for safety, are now a more tenable proposition.
October 30, 2019, 7am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Bill Lendeke reports from the Twin Cities region in Minnesota, where traffic fatalities are pressuring local officials to commit to changes on unsafe four-lane arterials where drivers inflict the most damage.

Lyndale Avenue in provides the scene for the story, as the location of a recent tragedy where a driver struck and killed 54-year-old Theodore Ferrera on October 13.

At first glance, the idea of change on Lyndale might seem hopeless. The Hennepin County arterial street has very high traffic volumes — more than 24,000 cars a day. But recent moves by Ramsey and Hennepin Counties this year are signs that the conventional wisdom about four-lane roads might be changing. Both counties have become more aggressive about implementing three-lane “road diets,” as engineers and policy makers have begun to push the boundaries of where safety measures might work. These new designs, on streets like Broadway NE and Maryland Avenue, might be a sign of a safer approach to urban streets in the Twin Cities.

According to Lindeke, four-lane, undivided roads in walkable urban neighborhoods are the most deadly streets in the region. The street design is intended to give cars room to speed and maneuver around slower or stopped vehicles. Adding pedestrians to the mix has deadly consequences. It took a certain traffic volume, below 16,000 car trips a day, to convince traffic engineers to commit to a road diet on streets like this in the region, due to the desire to keep moving cars traffic moving at high speeds. The old traffic regime, however, is coming to end.

"This year, at least in the Twin Cities, the industry standards are beginning to change. In the wake of persistent crashes, first Ramsey and now Hennepin County are implementing four-to-three-lane conversions on arterials with far more traffic than in years past," explains Lindeke.

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Published on Tuesday, October 29, 2019 in MinnPost
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