Franklin Avenue Road Diet: A "Real World Urban Design Experiment"
We love Bill Lindeke's idea- and photo-rich blog, Twin City Sidewalks. The U of M geography grad student takes a street-level view of our cities that's usually insightful, frequently funny, and always sensible. From the October 22 edition, here's his eminently doable experiment in assessing the effect of road diets (a form of traffic calming that reduces the number of traffic lanes) on street life. It capitalizes on the fact that Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, a street in vivid transition, has both two-lane and four-lane segments. Compare, contrast, and conclude!
It’s notoriously difficult to do a proper “scientific” studies of cities. The main problem is that you can’t run
controlled experiments on cities. Cities are too large, complex, and filled with persnickety humans. You don’t have a “control group,” you can’t run an experiment, and I guarantee you that the Institutional Review Board would never approve.
That’s why urban planning relies on models, hypothetical theory, and inductive reasoning. Pretty much the only thing that planners and civic engineers can reliably study are the movement of cars and the taxable value of real estate. (Data for anything else, such as people moving on foot, crime, or behavior change, is almost impossibly tricky.) That’s one of the reasons that car volumes and real estate values become the main emphases for city policy.
But have no fear. All that can change now, thanks to these easy to follow Real Life Planning Experiments.
There are a few places in the Twin Cities where you can experience two sets of scenarios right here, on these very streets. These are places where you have a “control group” and an “experimental group." These are places where the conditions are similar enough that you can come to some preliminary conclusions about different urban designs, different treatments, different planning approaches.
Following these easy steps, you can conduct your own Real World Analysis. Walk, bike, and drive through the city. Find out for yourself whether urban design really makes a difference. The world is your laboratory.
Experiment #1: Franklin Avenue Traffic Calming
Franklin Avenue between Hiawatha (Highway 55) on the east and Interstate 35W on the west is one of the most diverse, long-struggling parts of South Minneapolis. Pushed up against three different freeways, it’s right in the old zone of density that used to surround the downtown.
This part of the city was filled with old run-down apartments and single-room-occupancy hotels that were bulldozed during the 60s.
Today, Franklin Avenue is one of the most diverse and interesting parts of Minneapolis.
In some places, the street has been struggling to attract and retain businesses. Meanwhile, there are also many thriving restaurants and retail establishments all up and down this part of central Franklin Avenue.
A road diet that converts four traffic lanes to three (with bumpouts) makes streets more comfortable and more efficient for all users (but especially people on foot).
These kinds of conversions are a win-win-win scenario, improving traffic flow and safety, dramatically improving the pedestrian environment, and catalyzing economic development along the street.
The western stretch of Franklin Avenue (between 35W and Chicago Avenue) has four 12’ car lanes with narrow sidewalks (between 3' 6" and 5' wide).
The eastern stretch of Franklin Avenue (between Chicago and Hiawatha Avenue) has two lanes plus a turn lane, with large sidewalk bumpouts.
Take a walk down Franklin Avenue, from South 4th Street to Bloomington Avenue. What do you notice? How does the street change as you go from the western half to the eastern half? What kind of differences do you notice? What kinds of changes in traffic behavior do you see? How does the street sound? How does the street feel as you walk? What kinds of businesses are nearby on each half of the street? Repeat the process using an automobile. Repeat using a bicycle (at your own risk).
And you can report your results here, as comments on this post in Twin City Sidewalks, Lindeke's blog.