Bloomington’s Death Roads

October 23, 2016 at 7:14 pm | Posted in Bloomington and Suburbia | Leave a comment
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There’s a danger lurking in Bloomington in the form of the ordinary looking streets you drive, walk, and bicycle on. Engineers call them “Four Lane Undivided” and you might call them nothing special, but the have another name, the Four Lane Death Road, and all the ones in Bloomington need to go. I originally wrote about this when I was writing for, and now that there’s been a pedestrian fatality in Bloomington I thought I’d revise and update it here.

A Danger to Motorists

Imagine a typical trip down a death road. You’re driving down the right lane. Pretty soon there’s a bus stopped or a brave and fearless bicyclist in the lane, so you move into the left lane. Then a car is at a dead stop waiting to make a turn, so have to move back into the right lane. But stopping in a traffic lane to turn is a good way to get rear ended, as well as causing friction and other motorists to make abrupt lane changes, another was of inviting crashes. Plus the motorist waiting to turn is going to get ancy, fearing being rear-ended if he stays their to long, so at the slightest break in traffic s/he guns it, hopefully not hitting any cars or pedestrians in the process.

Engineers like to talk about “conflict points”, where two motorist might try to occupy the same place at the same time. A four lane road doubles the conflict points at an intersection…


Conflict Points

And conflict points for turning movements. Red is through traffic and blue is turning traffic. You can see at the bottom left the red car moves out of the left lane to avoid the blue car that is stopped in the through lane to make a turn, potentially hitting a car in the right lane, then ahead could rear-end a car stopped to turn in either direction on the through lane. At higher volume intersection a right turn lane is appropriate to remove a further conflict point.


A Danger to Pedestrians

There’s really two issues with pedestrian safety on Death Roads. The first is that with multiple lanes, a motorist will stop for a pedestrian. A second car coming will not see the pedestrian because s/he is crossing in front of the stopped car and try to pass the stopped car, and hit the pedestrian. There’s been several fatalities due to this in the state recently, such as on Maryland Ave in St. Paul.

A second problem is a site distance problem with turning traffic. A car in the left lane can block the view of a car in the right lane from a motorist waiting to make a left turn.


A few months ago there was a pretty dramatic crash on 86th Street and Nicollet Ave. A southbound Xcel Energy truck made an evasive maneuver to avoid a left turning car that failed to yield, but wound up losing control and plowing into a signal pole on the southwest corner, knocking it over. And in “Final Destination” in real life, a man that was just standing their waiting for a bus was buried under the whole mess. As typical once the scene was cleaned up and the next dramatic story came about the news media stopped reporting on the investigation, so we don’t really know what happened, but I strongly suspect it was either the sight distance issue or the northbound motorist trying to get out of the through lane.


Scene of the crash on a Bloomington Death Road.

Of course this particular crash could have been prevented by putting the bus stop in a better location (and it has in fact been moved to the near side) but it illustrated the problem with Death Roads in particular, and also pedestrians are vulnerable almost the full length of Nicollet Ave due to the sidewalk being right next to the curb with no boulevard and no shoulder. It’s only a matter of time till a texting or drunk driver jumps the curb and hits another pedestrian that just happens to be there.

The situation was aggravated by the lack of a flashing yellow arrow (FYA) at this intersection. A “left turn yield on green” (YOG) just doesn’t communicate the amount of caution that’s needed for permissive left turns. Right now the the focus on convestions is to decrease safety and increase efficiency by converting protected only turns to FYA protected permissive, but we need to focus on increasing safety too by converting YOG turns to FYA, as Richfield has done at 76th Street and the northbound I-35W ramp where a freeway ramp crosses a major regional trail.Then you have Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are still installing new, dangerous YOGs, and in those cities pedestrian volume is much higher.

Bloomington even looked at not allowing left turns during a pedestrian phase. This was rejected, in part because existing controllers can’t handle this and it would have required fabricating external logic (this might be possible in the future as the trend is to have traffic controllers run custom software that is more adaptable). But one thing Hennepin County is doing now as standard practice is a 4 second delay in permissive only phases from the time the green through indication lights to the time the FYA lights. This prevents left turners from gunning it as soon as they get a FYA before oncoming traffic and pedestrians can establish themselves.

Some Conversion Options

But what if we restriped the road to three lanes? Bicyclists have a place to ride without impacting traffic. And left turning cars have a safe place to wait without disrupting through traffic. And the issues with pedestrian safety are solved.  The only downside is at traffic signals and stop signs through traffic has one lane instead of two, but often there is functionally a single lane here anyway due to stopped traffic waiting to turn.


Lyndale Ave, a former Four Lane Death Road restriped to three lanes.

Sometimes of course the roads are so wildly overbuilt the center lane is not needed because there’s so little traffic that it’s unlikely a left turning car will cause a conflict or create congestion. Here’s 102nd St near my house  with even more generous shoulders. At the heaviest volume near Lyndale Ave, traffic volume would have to triple to justify four lanes. Death Roads where traffic does not justify them create dangerous with almost no efficiency benefit.


102nd Street at Pleasant Ave.

These can of course be done within existing curb lines, but Richfield has done even better by completely reconfiguring the Portland Ave was reconstructed. In addition to eliminating the death road, there is now a protected bicycle path for the 61% of people that would be interested in bicycling but refuse to do it on a busy street, even with painted lanes.Also notice the trees and streetlights (although by my measurements the streetlights fail to meet state and national standards for an arterial street in a residential neighborhood.



Portland Ave, Richfield

Here’s a chart from Portland, Oregon: The 1% “Fearless” will ride on a busy death road and the next 7% will if there’s bicycle lanes. Richfield is to be commended for building protected infrastructure for the next 60% of their population.


Of course sometimes you simply need more than one through lane to handle motorized traffic. In that case it’s appropriate to add a 5th lane and protected bicycle infrastructure (this is what Richfield is doing with the center section of 66th St) , or maintain the death road configuration if there’s absolutely no way to widen it. Lyndale Ave in Minneapolis I wrote about earlier in the article on Traffic Signal Warrants, and that’s one situation that it applies to. But nowhere in Bloomington.

The traffic volumes that require more than one through lane vary depending on the study, with 20,000 being the most commonly cited figure nationally. In Minnesota 15,000 is the de-facto upper limit, as Mn/DOT requires a traffic study at volumes above that. The only street in Bloomington with those kind of volumes is Old Shakopee Road between France Ave and I-35W, and the houses are set back so far there that adding a turn lane and preferably a protected bicycle path could be done without impacting too many actual houses.

The Status of Bloomington’s Death Roads

Bloomington had an awful lot of Four Lane Death Roads. In a traffic calming policy started a number of years ago on collector streets, they’ve slowly been fixing them as streets come up for resurfacing. For political and possibly liability reasons they’ve avoided marking and calling them “bicycle lanes” even though they are, and they cater to the 7%. Conversions have been rarer on arterial streets, because the policy didn’t cover them and many of the arterial streets are county roads.

Here is a map of the status, Fall 2016. Black are Death Roads that haven’t been looked at. Red are Death Roads that were looked at but still not fixed. Green are Death Roads that have been converted, and Yellow are those planned or under construction. We’ve come a long way, but it’s time to do more.


A Word about “Pork Chops”

I’ll also say a few words about Channelized Right turns, aka “free right” aka “pork chop”. I’m not really inclined to blame the presence of a pork chop an Nicollet Ave and 86th St. It’s true that without one it’s possible they lady might not have been standing right on the street, but on the other hand the issue would have been easy to rectify by moving the bus stop, and pedestrian push-buttons are required to be present and be present right next to the curb due to ADA requirements so this encourages pedestrians to wait right by the street.

This particular pork chop was installed along with the 3-Lane conversion a few years ago. Turn lanes can mitigate two of the problems with such convention; you’ve double the impact of the right turning conflict points and decreased through traffic lanes at signalized intersections. This conversion was already contentious, with one of the councilmen who’s district it passed through an outspoken opponent. If problems had appeared at this intersection it would have put a screeching halt to any future conversions in Bloomington, and might even have resulted in a reversion to four lanes.

I’ll also say as a pedestrian I much prefer intersections with pork chops as opposed to without. It’s not an issue to wait a few moments for traffic to clear on the right turn before crossing, and then you have a much shorter stretch of pavement to cross on the Walk signal and you know that the car you’re in front of you is not going to not see you and start off in an attempt to make a right turn on red. Another person expressed a similar comment about liking them as a pedestrian on a recent MnPost Article.

There are ways to make them better. One way is to reduce the angle that they enter the cross street, to give turning motorists a better view of pedestrians and cross-traffic.


Burnsville has experimented with Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons at a Highway X and Highway 13.


Pork Chop with beacon, Burnsville.

They could even be signalized like is the practice at some places in Wisconsin.

Just because Bloomington has been improving things doesn’t mean it isn’t time to do better.

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Bicycle Helmet Use in Minneapolis and Suburbs, 2015-2016

October 19, 2016 at 1:54 am | Posted in Bicycling | Leave a comment

Here are the results of a research project documenting bicycle helmet use in the Twin Cities in 2015-2016. This isn’t met to be comprehensive, but to give some idea of helmet usage in different areas as well as a brief history.

A History of Riding Helmets

Advocacy for wearing bicycle helmets is almost as old as bicycles themselves. In the 1880s bicycle clubs began to advocate for the use of helmets. Eventually racers began to use helmets, first leather type pith helmets, then leather ring type “hairnet” helmets, but it was unknown in casual bicycling.


Leather Hairnet Helmet

The first thing resembling a modern bicycle helmet was put out by Bell Sports in 1975, the Bell Biker, and was a modification of motorsports helmets, made of polystyrene foam with a hard lexan shell. These continued to evolve to the early 1990s (most noticably replacing the act of threading the chinstrap through rings with a quicker to use buckle).


1980s-early 1990s hard shell helmets

Hardshell helmets have stuck around in a way, they’re now “skate style” helmets. The skate standard calls for limited multiple impact proection; some of these are skateboard only, some are dual-certified, and despite looking like skate helmets some are bicycle only. Like the earlier hardshell helmets they’re hot and heavy for bicycle use but they do provide an alternative design.

They’ve also morphed into “Urban” helmets, like Bern

Another neat idea, and R2D2 helmet


R2D2 Helmet

From the UK are Yakkay brand helmets, which are hard shell helmets with a decorative cloth cap on them. It seems they’d be unbelievably hot, but I guess it’s worth it to make it not look like you’re wearing a riding helmet.

Late 1980s: Soft Shell Helmets

In the late 1980s came improvements that negated the need for a hard, heavy outer shell. One of the first, the Bell Ovation, had a soft lightweight shell, but more commonly they had no shell at all. Most of them had a Lycra cover to make it look like you weren’t wearing a picnic cooler and to provide a bit of protection from handling damage. Unfortunately in practice these tended to shatter into pieces and scatter at the first impact leaving the user vulnerable to further impacts. Manufacturers experimented with a wire mesh, but ultimately returned to soft shells. The color of the foam eventually generally changed from white to black to reduce the “picnic cooler” or “mushroom-head” aesthetic.


Ovation and the shell-less helmets that followed


Early Soft shell helmets, shell taped to liner


Old Shell-less helmets with black foam, Rottnest Island Australia

Late 1990s: In-Mold Shell.

In the early 1990s came another innovation, injection molding the foam into the shell, rather than manufacturing them separately and then taping them together. Initially it meant the front strap or strap anchors were exposed, but later on they figured out how to make them recessed. Of course the trend towards  models with more an more vents came out.


In-Mold Helmets.

In the mean time, an occipatal lobe retainer became standard, this is the strap that runs across the back of the head, and later ring fit systems, where you tighten a fastener on the retainer, enable one size fits most helmets.

Later Refinements:

With the advent of ring stabilizers, the dilema “where do you put your pony tail” comes up. (Most helmets don’t curve up like the one above). Specialized has ones that do, they call it the “Hairport”.


Specialized “Hairport”

Another refinement is Bell’s “True-Fit technology, which eliminates the long, error prone, and often skipped process of trying to adjust the straps to get a helmet to sit right on a head. Specialized and Uvex now have similar systems.

Recently MIPS helmets have come out. One of the criticisms of helmets is they can increase the torque applied to the head in the event of a crash, MIPS is basically a layer of slick plastic that allows some slippage between the head and the helmet.

Selecting a Riding Helmet

So with all these advances in technology, is your new $200 helmet safer than your old on from the 1990s? Probably not.  There’s been various safety standards at different times and place,s but there’s been no real-world differences noted since the adoption of the ANSI standard in the late 1980s. No manufacturer is going to come out with a design that is “50% safer than brand “X”, for a number of reasons.

  1. The things that would make a helmet safer, namely thicker foam and fewer vents, would make it less marketable
  2. This would expose them to potential liability
  3. The safety tests performed are go/no go tests, there’s no standardized tests to say a helmet exceeds them by X percent, and it would be even harder to say that they were X percent safer in the real world.

If you look online for recommendations, there’s a lot of push by the helmet manufacturers to buy the most expensive helmet possible (and note they never say “safer”, they say “better ventilated; more stylistic, whatever). Meanwhile the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (actually one guy who’s been advocating for helmets since the early 1990s) has the following suggestions:

You want a smoothly rounded outer shell, with no sharp ribs or snag points. Excessive vents mean less foam contacting your head, and that could concentrate force on one point… Skinny straps are less comfortable. Dark helmets are hard for motorists to see. Rigid visors can snag or shatter in a fall. Helmet standards do not address these problems–it’s up to you!

Unfortunately this results in the type of foam picnic cooler bicycle helmet that would, as the Onion notes, protect against bicycle helmet inspired beatings. Some of these recommendations would seem to make sense, but the safer helmet is one that would actually be worn, and there’s been to my knowledge no objective studies of these contentions.

And despite the “one size fits all claims”, there is a wild difference in how well helmets fit. The usual advice is that Bell fits round heads and Giro fits oval heads, but there’s more nuance than that. BHSI found the Tru-Fit worked less well than traditional systems, but others have found the opposite.

The Helmet Controversy

But should a riding helmet by mandatory, or even worn in the first place? Everyone points to the original study saying they reduce head injuries by 85%, or tell stories about how a helmet “saved their life” without any actual evidence. So it’s time to look at some of the controversy:

The original study itself may not be definative. Helmet promoters a repeat a 1990 Seattle study that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85% ad-nauseum, but followup studies are not so conclusive. In fact the CDC and NHTSA have withdrawn their support of the study The main criticism, besides being a single source that hasn’t been repeated, is that it doesn’t take into account some of the other variables described below. The authors themselves have revised their number to 69%, which still isn’t borne by real-world experience.

There are direct technical drawbacks. A helmeted head is much bigger than a un-helmeted one, which may lead to head contact that might not occur otherwise, and the torque that can be created is bigger. The trend towards smoother rounded helmets and the use of slick plastic lining in some of the newer ones, “MIPS” helps mitigate this, but it is still a problems.

It’s a distraction from the real issue, that the best way to be safe is not to crash. Again, the best crash is one that never happens, not one that you attempt to mitigate with a helmet. People think that if they convince people to put on a helmet they’ve done good, without addressing the much, much,  more important issues of safe riding skills and infrastructure design. Helmets are next to useless in bicycle vs car crashes, and motorists drive more aggressively when they see a bicyclist wearing a helmet. One guy from the UK measured this and found motorists get 8.5 cm closer to a bicycle when the rider is wearing a helmet

Risk Compensation may cancel out any direct benefits. Of course seat belts have this effect too, but in that case the direct safety benefit overwhelms any risk compensation, and overall motor vehicle safety trends bear that out. That’s not so clear with riding helmets, and safety trends are inconclusive. One study went so far as to objectively measure risk taking while wearing helmets. Anecdotally, the time as a motorist I had to do a panic stop to avoid hitting a teenage boy that had run a stop sign onto a major street, he was wearing a helmet.

The “dork factor” and discomfort leads to a decline in bicycling, which increase societal health costs and makes things more dangerous for all bicyclist. When Australia introduced mandatory helmet laws,  in the early 1990s, cycling trips declined by 30-40 per cent overall, and up to 80 per cent in some demographic groups, such as teenage girls. Simply put, bicycle helmets tend to be hot and uncomfortable, and produce the dreaded “helmet hair” as well as looking bad, and for some people it’s not worth it to ride if they have to wear one. Once of the best way to make bicycling safer is to make more bicyclists, so motorists get used to seeing them around.

From my pictures above it’s obvious helmets have come a long way in comfort, but some of the more expensive lighter and better ventilated ones cost as much as a department store bicycle so it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to have one that expensive. So the ones you find at Wal-Mart or at helmet giveways aren’t so nice. Here’s a helmet giveway from New York. The fancy graphics tend to disguise the fact that these would have been considered average ventilation… for 15 years ago.

I’ll also point out theirs a snob factor in certain elements of bicycling in the US too. When I still had a cheap department store bicycle one a guy on probably $1000 mountain bike stopped me and told me how lousy it was and I needed to upgrade. And when I was looking to buy a decent bicycle, at a store on Snelling in St. Paul,  as a guy with long hair maybe I didn’t look like the type that had $700 in his pocket to spend on a road bicycle. So I walked out of a St. Paul store after all three clerks spent 45 minutes helping a middle class looking family buy a helmet for their kid while ignoring me. To put it visually, suppose we make a comparison of stereotypical bicycling in the Netherlands vs the US…

The “Build it for Isabella” program encourages bicycle infrastructure design to be accessible to all. But the perception of bicycling needs to be more accessible too. For now Isabella wears her riding helmet, but will she keep bicycling as she gets older and has other options to get around?


This isn’t to fault people that make the decision to wear a helmet and bicycle clothing. After all we make decisions all the time that increase our personal safety and comfort to the detriment of the rest of society, say buying an SUV because it’s comfortable and safe rather than a small electric car. I’m just pointing out that this is an issue. Bicycling culture needs to be as accessible as bicycling infrastructure.

Helmet use is generally incompatible with bike sharing. Look at this chart.


Minneapolis may be towards the bottom because the climate is considerably harsher than the other cities and bicycling less established, but the bottom two cities have mandatory helmet laws and the rest do not. Rental or “disposable” helmet vending machines have been invented in response, but beyond discouraging usage this adds to the expense and complexity of running the programs.

A reasonable conclusion for all this is that as an individual you might be safer in a helmet provided it does not induce you to ride less safely in other respects, but the benefits are not as great as portrayed, and since all of life involves risk of some sort, and the risk of bicycling isn’t that great, riding helmet use should be an individual choice rather than forced to by laws or societal pressure. (And in case you’re wondering, despite my esoteric interest I rarely do myself; after looking at the risks and benefits I usually only do when on crushed limestone trails).

Finally the Statistics: Bicycle Helmet Use in Minnesota

So, with that said, here’s the data on riding helmet use in Minnesota. I’m not going to even attempt to say “X” percent use helmets, because there’s so many differences depending on age and location, so I’ll merely present it.

First adult helmet use on the Minneapolis off-road paths (that I term the “parkways”): Minnehaha, Calhoun, Harriet, Isles, and the Greenway, primarly during prime bicycling hours and weather.


Bicycle Helmet Use: Minneapolis Parkways, All Adults

One thing I noticed is that helmet use drops like a rock at dusk when the traffic thins out. My theory is the people that have made it a destination trip have gone and it’s more locals.

Second, the Minneapolis Parkways broken down by age and gender.


Bicycle Helmet Use, Minneapolis Parkways, Breakdown by Age and Gender

I did this several years ago (and appear to have lost the data), but I recall there was a much more significant difference between men and women; at the time men were around 50% while women were about the same at 60%.

Now the Minneapolis Parkways in comparison to other areas. “City Streets” are areas not on or immediately adjacent to the parkways in Minneapolis and St Paul (but note I have no reason to go to the poorer areas of town), “Inner Streets” are suburbs with grids, mostly East Bloomington. “Outer Streets” are suburbs with twisty streets and usually bicycle paths along the main roads, mainly Eden Prairie and Shakopee.

One observation is the helmet use varies widely in different neighborhoods of Minneapolis, being highest in say the southwest, and lowest in the poorer areas (which I normally stay out of so don’t have meaningful comparative data).


Bicycle Helmet Use in Minnesota- All Areas


Bicycle Helmet Use broken down by age an gender

Helmets for Inline Skating: Also on the charts are use by inline skaters.After some talk of developing an inline skating standard, they decided just to use the existing bicycle helmet standard. Inline skaters may be better served by those helmets that provide more rear protection like skate-style helmets and a few mountain bike helmets, but these tend to be less ventilated then would be ideal for the slow speeds and intense, continuous work of skating.

Nice Ride: As I noted above, helmet use is difficult with bicycle sharing, and the statistic seem to confirm that. I think these may be too high even as my first count included a large group of men riding together with helmets, something I didn’t see for the entire rest of the summer.

Bicycle Riding by Gender

Maybe if you’re not interested in helmet use, you might be in the total of men vs women bicycling. I counted 839 men and only 540 women. You could probably speculate endlessly on the reasons for the difference, but I’ll leave that to other. I’m just a transportation geek interested in some of the more oddball elements sharing my findings.

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Images and text Copyright 2016 by Monte Castleman, All Rights Reserved, except for hotlinked images or those licensed under Creative Commons as noted.

St. Croix Crossing Photo Gallery Part II

October 16, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Posted in Bridges, Streets, and Highways | Leave a comment
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Where the new loop trail will be


Rock foundations on the loop trail


The shoddy mill at it’s new location along the loop trail




Minnesota Approach


Minnesota Approach


Segment on the move


Casting Yard and Bridge


Approach to the new Wisconsin roundabout


View from WIsconsin


Wisconsin approach road


Scout Camp Road overpass


More Wisconsin approach work


Eastbound MN on-ramp


Minnesota piers


Bridge over MN 95


Going horizontal


Minnesota overlook


Looking away from the Bridge in Wisconsin


A bit more horizontal


Scout Camp Road overpass


Pier and MN approach


More horizontal yet


Casting Yard and Bridge


Casting Yard


View from Wisconsin


Loop trail tunnel in Wisconsin




Loop Trail in MN about to be paved


More segments added


Another view from Wisconsin


On the boat for the second bridge tour. Water in the camera lens…






Wisconsin View




Minnesota Overlook




Bridge Towers


Minnesota Approach


Bridge Towers


View from Wisconsin


New Bridge from Old


Bridge Towers


Almost Done


View from Pioneer Park




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St. Croix Crossing Photo Gallery Part I

October 15, 2016 at 7:51 pm | Posted in Bridges, Streets, and Highways | Leave a comment
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The St. Croix Crossing is one of the regions biggest investments in regional mobility in some time. I wrote a two part series about the much-too-long story of finally getting it built, so here simply are the best of the 1000 or so construction photos I have.


A nice sign on either side


The Ghost Neighborhood on the Minnesota Side. All the houses were removed for the bridge in the 1990s before the car-haters stopped the bridge for a while.


The Shoddy Mill, a set of historic buildings in the ghost neighborhood. The original contract to move these was cancelled when the bridge was stopped.


The Ghost Neighborhood is cleared out


Minnesota Highway 36. The New Bridge will go straight ahead


Where the bridge will touch down in Wisconsin


The approach road will go to the right of this farm


More work on the ghost neighborhood


Starting to tear up MN 36


The soon to be demolished Beach St. overpass


Looking north on MN 95. After the enviro-nuts stopped the bridge the first time money had to be spent patching up this overpass. It’s now about to be demolished.


The new Beach Street overpass going up


The new Beach Street Overpass


MN 36 and MN 95


MN 36 and MN 95, this will eventually be the off-ramp to MN 95, the bridge will on the left.


Beach Street Overpass


Looking north on MN 95


Looking west- the new bridge will be directly overhead


Clearing starting on the Wisconsin side


A slightly different angle


Bridge Pier rising


From the new Beach Street overpass looking towards Minnesota


And towards Wisconsin


MN 36 from a ways back looking towards Wisconsin


A little higher..


WI 35 closed for overpass work


Mess of signals at MN 36 and Osgood


MN 95 coming along


The casting yard taking shape for the smaller segments on the Minnesota approach. The large river segments were cast off-site and taken in barges


Bridge abutment


Minnesota approach piers


And a little higher yet…


The old bridge from the water


New bridge from the water


More piers


And yet another view of the piers


The barge coal unloading terminal, probably the ugliest structure ever. The dock was used as part of the project; at the conclusion the dock and machinery will all be removed.


Closeup of the piers


Samples of rebar on display at the tour boat


Segments in the on-site casting yard


The casting yard


Yet another view from the overlook


Looking towards the bridge at Wisconsin


The other direction at Wisconsin


Telephoto view from Wisconsin


The new bridge looking though the old bridge


The King plant and the Minnesota approach span

On to Part II

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The New Hastings Bridge Construction Photos

October 15, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Posted in Bridges, Streets, and Highways | Leave a comment
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The Hastings High Bridge was built in the early 1950s to replace the old Spiral Bridge. Like the Spiral Bridge it became an icon of the town, but eventually age and increasing traffic demands took it’s toll. It was the only two-lane stretch on the expressway from Hastings to downtown St. Paul, causing a horrific traffic congestion problem. Residents clamored for a new bridge, but it was a low priority for Mn/DOT. This was the time when Molnau was appointed as a stooge by governor Pawlenty specifically to slash the agencies budget to shreds. The bridge could have probably been patched up another decade or too so nothing meaningful on a replacement was done. Then another bridge fell…

Alhough it’s hard to say if Mn/DOT cost cutting was the reason for the collapse of the I-35W bridge (one proposal to reinforce it was rejected because there were fears it might actually weaken it, not just for cost reasons) , it was an easy scapegoat. The legislature overrode Pawlenties veto of a gasoline tax increase throwing money into Mn/DOT’s lap to replace all the structurally deficient bridges in the state, and thus things got moving. Hastings decided they wanted a new signature bridge, although this choice was not without controversy, some wanted a vanilla girder bridge to make it easier for motorists to see the river and not detract from the buildings). Contractors were invited to bid on either tied arch span or a cable stayed bridge, and a tied arch span was what was bid on. Although the decision was aesthetic, unlike the Lowry Bridge there was at least an engineering reason not to built a generic bridge, an arch allowed a wider channel for barges.

The new bridge was only built to be four lanes. Although it’s forecast to be congested at the end of the planning horizon, building six lanes would have just moved the problem to once traffic wound up on Vermillion Street, and the capacity problem there would never be solved. Ultimately I think a bypass should be built when congestion mounts to get through traffic off the bridge and Vermillion Street. I also think the old bridge should have been saved; it was offered to the city of Hastings but they didn’t want it. They’re still lamenting the destruction of the spiral bridge and in time I think they will wish they had preserved this one.

Hastings Bridge Construction Sign

Construction Sign

Hastings High Bridge

Profile of the old High Bridge


Oblique View

H.D. Hudson Building

The H.D Hudson building. In later years they made plastic spray nozzles. The company was founded in 1905, and was located in this historic building by the bridge. The bridge required demolition of a nondescript warehouse attached to it, rather than rebuild the warehouse on site the company took the money and moved to the industrial park on the south end of town in 2011. Three years later, by now mainly located in Chicago, they closed down their Hastings manufacturing entirely. The city of Hastings owns the old buildings and is still trying to figure out a reuse for them.


Bridge Mural


The arch under construction in a park nearby


Showing where the arch was built in relation to the bridge.


Concrete Piers


Under the bridges


The arch was loaded onto barges for the short trip to the new bridge. Here it’s floating on the water, framed by the concrete of the new bridge


Equipment to help line up and lift the arch into place


The arch slowly going up


Spectators to see the arch being raised. I was able to see it as it was delayed a week so I was back from a vacation in North Carolina


Steel and Sunset


The arch in position, taken later that winter


Opening Day for the New Span. At this point they had shifted southbound traffic onto the new bridge while northbound traffic was on the old bridge


Traffic Configuration for a few hours that day. As you can see the new bridge carried two lane two-way traffic for a while until the final segement could be tied into the old road. Notice the jog to avoid the old bridge. In 100 years the next bridge will probably be built straight inline with the street.


People waiting for the opening ceremony and to walk the old bridge. It was delayed when one of the guest speakers got stuck in traffic on the bridge…


The Mayor of Hastings speaking


Walking on the old bridge


Another of the old bridge. I was one of the last dozen members of the public ever to be on the bridge as I was just ahead of the cops finally shooing us off.




Steel and Sky


Demolition. A sad site to loose such a beautiful structure

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Minnesota’s Scenic Byways and Unofficially Named Highways

October 15, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Highway Signs | Leave a comment

Here are the Scenic Byways

Apple Blossom Drive

Hiawatha-Appleblossom Scenic Drive Sign

Avenue of Pines

Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway

Glacial Ridge Trail

Glacial Ridge Trail Sign

Grand Rounds Scenic Byway

Grand Rounds Scenic Byway Sign

Great River Road National Scenic Byway

Great River Road Minnesota Sign

Gunflint Trail

Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway

Historic Highway 75 “King of Trails”

King of Trails HIghway Sign

Ladyslipper Scenic Byway (Formerly known as “Scenic Highway Scenic Byway”


Lake Country Scenic Byway

Lake Country Scenic Byway Sign

Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway

Minnesota RIver Valley Scenic Byway Sign

North Shore Scenic Drive

North Shore Scenic Drive Sign

Old Design


Another Old Design

Otter Trail Scenic Byway

Otter Trail Scenic Byway Sign

Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway

Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Sign

St. Croix Scenic Byway


Shooting Star Scenic Byway


Old Design

Skyline Parkway


Old Design

Superior National Forest Scenic Byway

Superior National Forest Scenic Byway Sign

Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive

Veteran's Evergreen Memorial Scenic Drive Sign

Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway

Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway Sign

Unofficially Named Highways and Other Signs

Bobby Aro Memorial Highway

Bobby Aro Memorial Highway Sign

Bushaway Road. Getting these signs made was an attempt by NIMBYs to keep a dangerous and congested section of County Highway 101 by their houses from being rebuilt to modern standards with protected bicycle infrastructure.

Bushawa Road Sign

Dodd Road was an early road from St. Paul to St. Peter

Dodd Road Sign

The Mississippi Mile is a historic district along the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis

Mississippi Mile Sign

Natural Preservation Routes are routes that are allowed deviations from modern safety standards due to being lower volume routes in natural settings

Natural Preservation Route Sign

Voyageurs National Park related areas


The Wild North is a branding for tourist attractions in the northeast

The Wild North Sign

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The Rock Island Swing Bridge (JAR Bridge)

October 15, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Posted in Abandoned Highways | Leave a comment
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Although locally called the “Newport” bridge, it is actually between Inver Grove Heights and South St. Paul. The freeway bridge nearby, the pre-interstate Wakota Bridge, is one of the worst bottlenecks in the metro area, so many locals gladly paid 75 cents to bypass it. It used to be the only bridge between downtown St. Paul and Hastings, and was the original routing of the first Twin Cities beltway; MN 100.

This is a two level bridge, with a railroad on top, and a roadway on bottom, built in 1895. Rail service was discontinued in 1980, and the bridge was sold to a Joan and Allan Roman of Chicagoland; special legislation was needed to allow a private toll bridge in the state.

In 1999, this bridge was declared unsafe due to a bad, and was closed down since the owners didn’t have money to rehabilitate it. The bridge passed into Washington County ownership due to tax forfeit in 2003, and the county has no interest in restoring or rebuilding it, which could cost  $10,000,000. Additionally it was damaged in a fire in 2005, and there are navigational and “Homeland Security” issues due to the proximity of an oil refinery.


John Dillinger Fled Here: The auto deck back in the day. Minnesota Historical Society


Abandoned and vandalized toll House. Back in the day a car cost 20 cents, a sheep cost 3 cents. The final toll rate was 75 cents for a car, no official rate for a sheep. 

Abandoned Toll House. Back in the day a car cost 20 cents, a sheep cost 3 cents The final toll rate was 75 cents

With demands from the Coast Guard for removal as a navigational hazard, the National Park Service held a tour in fall of 2008 to build support for rehabilitation in whole or in part.


Waiting in Line to get on the bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour

On the Bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour

The end of the bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour

Swing Span

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour


However, later than winter a portion of the eastern span collapsed into the river. Demolition of the remainder of the swing span and the eastern span began that winter, however in 2009 a two year moratorium was placed on demolishing the west span. Plans began to come together to save 2, 4, or 5 of the western segments. What eventually resulted was four of the fiver remaining piers were saved, the best two of the old steel spans were restored while a modern steel replacement on the existing piers was installed to bridge the gap between the shore and the old span.

Rock Island Swing Bridge

Plaque by the bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge

New Span leading to the old span


Benches at the end of the old span

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Minnesota’s Officially Named Highways

October 15, 2016 at 3:12 am | Posted in Highway Signs | Leave a comment

These are the officially named highways in Minnesota, per Minnesota Statutes 161.14 Names and Designations of Certain Highways. Originally Mn/DOT was required to erect signs to mark these highways, in later years despite the statute they required funds for the erection and maintenance of the signs to come from local sources, and the law was finally amended to codify that. Generally the markers are white text on a green sign unless the highway is also a scenic byway; many of the older ones are unmarked as even the locals can’t remember who the person it was names after was, much less have the initiative to pay for signs.

Capital Highway

Colville Memorial Highway

Floyd B Olson Memorial Highway

Floyd B. Olson Memorial Highway Sign

Theodore Christenson Drive

P.H McGarry Memorial Drive

Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive (Also a Scenic Byway)

Veteran's Evergreen Memorial Scenic Drive Sign

Yellowstone Trail

Sioux Trail

Arthur V Rowheder Highway

Hiawatha Pioneer Trail A marker you’d never mind in today’s politically correct climate, the Hiawatha Pioneer Trail was a 1960s effort to promote tourism by the American Petroleum institute (yes, really, if you’re driving around you’re buying more of their fine products). It meandered all over Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Not surprisingly people didn’t want to drive aimlessly over what is primarily boring farm country, and it never really was a success. This sign at US 10 and 61 and an almost illegible one on west 7th were the last ones I’ve spotted in Minnesota; they’ve lasted a bit longer in Iowa.

Hiawath Pioneer Trial Sign

Blue Star Memorial Highway

John A Johnson Memorial Highway

Glacial Ridge Trail (Also a Scenic Byway)

Glacial Ridge Trail Sign

Eisenhower Memorial Bridge

Hiawatha-Appleblossom Scenic Drive

Hiawatha-Appleblossom Scenic Drive Sign

Voyageur Highway

Voyageurs Highway Sign

Viking Trail

Viking Trail Sign

(Bad Picture)

Veterans Memorial Bridge

George Mann Memorial Highway

Olof Hanson Drive

Olof Hanson Drive

American Veterans Memorial Highway

American Veterans Memorial Highway Sign

Moberg Trail

Paul Bunyan Expressway

Disabled American Veterans Highway and Rest Area

BE Grottum Memorial Highway

B.E. Grottum Memorial Highway Sign

Wally Nelson Highway

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway

Minnesota Veterans Memorial Highway

Bridge of Hope Named in the hope that Jacob Wetterling would be found. Also the first to be specified that local funds needed to be the funding source for the signs

Bridge of Hope Sign

Betty Adkins Bridge

POW / MIA Memorial Highway

POW / MIA Memorial Highway Sign

Veterans Memorial Highway (I)

Veteran's Memorial Highway Sign

Amish Buggy Byway

Czech Heritage Highway

Czech Heritage Highway

Victory Drive

Veterans Memorial Highway (II)

Dale Wayrynen Memorial Highway

Augie Mueller Memorial Highway

Augie Mueller Memorial Highway Sign

Don Rickers Memorial Highway


Ruby L. Hughes Blvd

State Trooper Timothy J. Bowe Memorial Highway

Otter Tail Veterans Memorial Drive

C. Elmer Anderson Memorial Highway

C Elmer Anderson Memorial Highway

34th Infantry (Red Bull) Division Highway

Red Bull Highway Sign

Richard J. Mathiowetz Memorial Highway

Old St. Anne’s Pass

State Trooper Theodore “Ted” Foss Memorial Highway

King of Trails

King of Trails HIghway Sign

Bradley Waage “Brainerd Brad” Memorial Bridge

Veterans Memorial Bridge

Purple Heart Memorial Highway

Purple Heart Memorial Highway Sign

Biauswah Bridge

POW / MIA Memorial Highway (II)

Shawn Silvera Memorial Highway

Purple Heart Trail

Purple Heart Trail Sign

Dallas Sams Memorial Highway

Walter F. Mondale Drive

Jim Oberstar Causeway

Mayor William “Bill” Sandberg Memorial Bridge

Clearwater County Veterans Memorial Highway

Speaker Irvin M. Anderson Memorial Highway

Corporal Jonathan Benson Memorial Highway

Veterans Memorial Bridge

Veterans Memorial Highway (III)

Becker County Veterans Memorial Highway

Granite City Crossing

Veterans Memorial Highway

Black and Yellow Trail

Black and Yellow Trail Sign

Ariane Celeste Macnamara Memorial Bridge

Deputy John W. Liebenstein Memorial Highway

Officer Tom Decker Memorial Highway

Officer Richard Crittenden, Sr Memorial Highway

Nicholas Patrick Spehar Memorial Highway

Michael Duane Clickner Memorial Bridge

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge

Trooper Glen Skalman Memorial Highway

Sergeant Joseph Bergeron Memorial Highway

Officer Scott Patrick Memorial Highway

Patrol Officer Michael Alan Hogan Memorial Highway

Staff Sergeant Kevin Witte Memorial Highway

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The Holmes Street Bridge

October 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Abandoned Highways | Leave a comment

The Holmes Street Bridge is a historic deck truss bridge with classical revival detailing built in 1927 to carry what was then US 169 across the river at Shakopee. After a new bridge was built in the 1980s it was used as a pedestrian structure. It was restored in 2011, and in 2015 connected to the trail network on the north side of the river when the highway bridge to the north was rebuilt as part of a flood mitigation effort.


The bridge shortly after it was built. Minnesota Historical Society


The bridge sitting vacant and unrestored


View of the deck


North End of the Bridge

Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee


Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee


Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee

The deck after restoration

Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee

Railing and new bridge


Underneath the Bridge


Fake History metal halide lights.

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Abandoned Highways

October 14, 2016 at 1:36 am | Posted in Abandoned Highways | Leave a comment

I’ve always had a fascination with abandoned infrastructure, and this was always one of the most popular pages on the old North Star Highways site, so I’m obviously not alone. Here are some abandoned highways I’ve discovered in my travels.

Original Concrete Roadways

The first two pictures are from various sections of US 52 between Rochester and the Twin Cities. US 52 has always been an important road. It was paved early on, abeit with extremely narrow lanes (9 foot) by todays standards,  and then some of these original sections were bypassed when the expressway was built. These sections were left to provide local access. In the top photo, you used to be able to drive farther, but the snow fence has since gone up, as nothing is beyond. Also note the modern highway in both photos, epecially viable in the second.

The third photo shows pavement being laid down. The Minnesota Historical Society doesn’t seem to know where it was taken, but it could well be US 52 because this is definately the southern or central part of the state


Minnesota Historical Society

Old MN 56, Lake Louise State Park

Many early state highways were routed on existing section line roads before more direct routes (often paralleling railroad tracks) were built. This is a section of MN 56 near LeRoy. Many years after the highway was routed off this road, the surrounding area was incorperated into Lake Louise State Park

Today the old road serves primarly as a hiking trail. The grading is still very visable, as are remnents of asphalt, which probably date from after it became a local road. A short section of the road, including an iron bridge, was recycled into an entrance road for the park

Part of the road now serves as the Shooting Star State Trail

Abandoned Bloomington Ferry Bridge Approach Road

In the 1990’s the Bloomington Ferry Bridge was replaced by a freeway, but before that could happen the existing approach road had to be reconstructed to keep it out of the way of the new interchange with MN 13 in order to maintain traffic. The result is an abandoned highway still in pristine condition. The original signs were originally left in place, but most of them have since been stolen

The whole area is in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Closer to the river, the old road was removed except for a narrow strip used as a bike trail, but farther away in this photo it was left as-is. It’s closed off by a lockable gate, still used by wildlife refuge employees, and it has been opened to allow hunters to access the area at least once.

As for the old bridge itself, it was originally going to be maintained as a bicycle crossing, but projected mainenance costs were too high, and so it was demolished and replaced with a new bicycle bridge


Abandoned Lookout Park Wayside

Lookout Park was an old highway wayside on what was then US 169 and US 212 in what is now Eden Prairie. Built in 1938, it is now owned by the Metro Airports Commission. Unfortunately it is in a state of disrepair. Note the crumbling stonework where a plaque used to be. The park made the Minnesota Preservation Alliances list of the 10 most endangered properties of 2001.

Right now no one seems to know what to do with it. It’s historic, so you can’t just sell it to a developer. The Metro Airports Commission certainly has no use for it. It’s no longer on a trunk highway, it’s too remote for a local neighborhood park and too small for a more regionally oriented park.

Abandoned US 61

In an almost perpetual project, Mn/DOT has been reconstructing the famous MN 61, turning a scenic and dangerous road into a dull and safe one. The new alignment is generally more inland than the old, up to a block father. In  the process, some of the old road has been left for local access, but most has been simply removed.

There is a long term plan for a bicycle trail along the North Shore Drive, and much of the routing will be over the abandoned stretches of the highway. Although some history will be lost, more will be preserved as this provides a place to move a 130 year old bridge presently near Silverdale. The bridge, probably the oldest on the trunk highway system, will be moved under a seperate 1.5 million dollar contract once the new bridge is complete


Old US 61 near Silver Bay, In the Background you can see work beginning on the Gitchi-Gummi Bicycle Trail


Section of the North Shore Drive by Silver Creek Cliff, probably from the ’40s to ’50s. This section epitomized what was right and wrong with the old road, in that it was spectacularly scenic, but also became dangerous with higher traffic and increased speeds in later years. When it came time to rebuild the road away from the lake, there was no place to go but into the rocks, and so they blasted the Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel, which is spectacular in it’s own way.

Point Douglas-Superior Military Road

The Point Douglas (near Prescott Wisconsin)- Superior Military Road was authorized in the July 18, 1850 Minnesota Roads Act, and completed by 1856. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Portions survive as a trail (it was used as a logging road in later years) in Wild River State Park, and as “Military Road” in the western Twin Cities area.


Abandoned Wayside

Minnesota highways pass through many scenic areas of the state, and in the early years the Department of Highways would build parking areas along side of the road for travelers to pull off and enjoy their surroundings. Unfortunately many of them have been closed do to budget tightening, safety problems associated with exploding traffic volumes, and being engulfed by the metro area.

This Wayside is on US 8 by Interstate State Park. Besides the nightmarish traffic levels on the road, possibly another factor in the closing is that the DNR didn’t like people being able to park for free and then walk into the park



Minnesota Historical Society

Abandoned MN 243


A section of Abandoned MN 43

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