South Washington Street Corridor – Bicycles in the Updated Plan

A while back fellow streets enthusiast and cycling commuter A.K. forwarded me a link to the new South Washington Street Corridor draft plan (which is listed as “final” now).  This post will cover some of my thoughts on the cycling aspects of the plan.

Figure 7.28, from The Forks MPO

The plan as stated will set aside multiple sections of bicycle “route” (I am using “route” as an indeterminate word for “places designed for cyclists to be”).  They are (from south to north)

  1. The existing shared-use path on the west side of South Washington Street, from 55th Avenue South to a point even with Hammerling Avenue, with the hopeful widening or addition of a shared-use path from this point for one block north to 14th Avenue South (Figure 7.28, top pane).
  2. 14th Street South, from 14th Avenue South to DeMers Avenue (Figure 7.28, top and middle panes).
  3. A section that will cross DeMers Ave and the railyard (Figure 7.28, middle pane):
    1. A new shared-use path on the south side of DeMers Avenue, between 14th Street South and South Washington Street.
    2. The existing shared-use path on the west side of DeMers Avenue, between DeMers Avenue and 1st Avenue North.  This is the railyard underpass itself, and modifying this stretch of road is discussed elsewhere in the report.
    3. 1st Avenue North, between North Washington Street and 14th Street North.
  4. 14th Street North, from 1st Avenue North to 8th Avenue North (Figure 7.28, bottom pane).
    1. The push-button crossing at 15th Street North would be moved to 14th Street North to help kids cross.  This is a great idea.
  5. The existing shared-use path on the west side of North Washington Street, from 8th Avenue North to Gateway Drive.

Frankly, I’m excited about this plan.  It would create a for-sure, straightforward, north-south bicycle route along one of the busiest corridors in the city.  It would be around 4.6 miles long, probably the longest straight stretch of cycling “route” that we have outside of the Greenway (which, of course, is not straight).  There are a few details that remain to be worked out, however.

  • It is granted, in general, that routing cyclists through controlled crossings is desired, however it should be understood that regular commuters will be utilizing routes that do not force them to stop and wait to cross streets at controlled intersections.  This should be kept in mind by the planners.
  • Section 1, above, has half a block of traffic (from Hammerling Avenue to 14th Avenue South) to deal with in the form of curb cuts for the businesses along that stretch.  I think this is in order to move cyclists through the controlled crossing at 17th Avenue South, rather than force riders to wait for traffic to cross 17th Avenue South at at 14th Street South.  It would seem better to route people along 15th Street South instead of 14th Street South.  Even though this leaves a relict half-block section of shared-use path to the north, it would minimize the potential interactions with vehicles turning into businesses along that stretch.
    • Most riders who know what they are doing will probably cross 17th Avenue South at 14th Street South and not at the light.
  • Section 3.1, above, routes cyclists through an apparently new shared-use path where the Hertz rental store is now.  Are they going to go for this?  Is there space for such a route?  The DeMers crossing is long and dangerous, and it is hoped that pedestrian/cycle signals will be given greater priority.
    • Again, most regular commuters will probably cross DeMers Avenue at 15th or 17th Avenue South while heading to or coming from the shared-use path on the north side of Demers Avenue.
  • Section 3.3, above, routes cyclists (coming from the south) from the existing shared-use path onto 1st Avenue North.  This intersection is heavily used by motor vehicles and they are not used to looking for cyclists who are not in the street.  It is suggested that an engineering solution to the grade problems at Dyke Avenue or the alley between Dyke Avenue and 1st Avenue North would alleviate the congestion issue at this intersection, at least for cyclists who are continuing north rather than crossing North Washington Street at 1st Avenue North.
  • Finally, I hope these improvements utilize some good signage, and that the bicycle signage in general is improved.  Clear “Bicycle Route” signs would be especially beneficial along 14th Street South and where the route turns.  Sharrows (I am not certain whether they are explicitly planned) would be an excellent addition to 14th Street and, although it is outside the scope of this plan, 17th Street South and other roads that we would like to encourage bicycle commuting along.
    • One comment from A.K. on this: ”
      I think the best way to implement the shared road on 14th, is to bring this concept to others. Otherwise it just becomes another 1-time deal in the city making drivers (and bikers alot) more confused.  Whatever signage/markings they do to 14th should also be done to other N/S streets such as 34th, 20th, 17th, 14th, etc. “

So that’s what I think, what about you?  If any of this is confusing, I will do my best to make additional concept maps available so we can all be on the same page.  Like I said at the top: it’s exciting that Grand Forks is putting this much thought into cycling facilities.  If you want to get involved, the MPO has just release the “MPO Citizen’s Guide For Participating In The Transportation Planning Process,” which has information on how to be notified about upcoming meetings, how the process works, and how much of an expert you need to be (I’m kidding, they want everyone’s input).

Quickies: Another Interchange Idea and the Columbia Road Widening

We’ve already seen ideas about creating a south-end Grand Forks/East Grand Forks bypass by building an interchange at Merrifield Road, but now there is talk of one going in one mile to the north, at 47th Ave South–if developer/landowner Guy Useldinger has his way.  What do you think?  If the city is going to invest in more infrastructure (to expand housing and commercial opportunities for investors for example), where should it be focused?

In other news, the plan to widen Columbia Road for a few blocks might be more expensive than anticipated.  No word yet on how bicycle and pedestrian facilities fit into the project.

Living in the Street

At a community gathering some time ago, the subject of “bad drivers” came up.  To be fair, some of the driving issues people brought up were related more to bad engineering or design decisions, but most of the irritation seemed to stem from the idea that (other) drivers in Grand Forks are generally selfish.  This may or may not be more true here than in other cities of this size, but I think this line of thinking is due to two assumptions: first, that each of us is (obviously!) a better, more considerate driver than anyone else on the road, and second, that each of us is (obviously!) on a more important errand than all those other people.  This is human nature, but how can we change it?

Gary Howe addresses this idea in a recent blog post “Traffic is a social problem” and what’s needed is “an outbreak of civility.”  The idea (woven in with some others) is that “traffic” is something that’s an outgrowth of the separation from other people that we feel (and perhaps want) when we’re in the public space.  So we box ourselves up in cars.  We don’t make eye contact with other cyclists when we’re on bicycles.  We shuffle quickly inside when we get home from work.  We grill out and eat dinner in the back yard rather than the front.  The public space is left to those who have to be there, not those who have somewhere else to be.

The natural solution to this, as expressed in the above blog post and others, is to make the street a more enjoyable and more natural place to live.  By simply being out there and using the space, we force people to interact and, hopefully, to develop some sort of community.  Once the community exists, everyone shares a social contract.  You wouldn’t track mud through a friend’s living room, so why would you honk your car horn outside your neighbor’s house early in the morning?  Why would you speed down a street that you know your neighbors’ children might be playing on?  Why would you thump your bass when you see your neighbors eating dinner in the front yard?

There are a million different ways to build community, not all of which are as difficult as walking across the street with a strawberry pie.  The links below (and the blog post linked above) outline a number of them.  Which ones should we try in Grand Forks?

Ten Ways to Love Where You Live
Creative Communities Toolbox
Placemaking 101

Update 2013-07-03: Another good discussion along these lines is given by Shane Phillips about Safe Routes to School.

The problem here, if it is indeed a part of the problem, is ultimately a lack of community. Most people would never harm a child, but when people don’t know the members of their community they can’t always trust them by default. It may be that school districts or another credible institution can step in to bridge the gap and provide a framework for continued growth.

Proof of Concept – Paleogeographic Maps and _Diplodon_

This figure has taken me a good deal of time to make. Not really in the actual production, but it’s been a long time gestating since conception.

Dissertation - 220Ma for arrow maps 2012-06-21

The genus Diplodon, as determined by the specimens to which that name has been applied, has been around since the Middle to Late Triassic. In the dissertation dataset, this works out to the 220 Ma time slice, or the Carnian stage. This is a map of what the world may have looked like at about that time period*.

Why is this important? In general, it’s important because it shows the geographical relationship among these occurrences as it may have been when these organisms were alive. Many paleogeography or historical biogeography papers ignore what the past geographic relationships may have been and focus on mapping a paleolandscape or biogeographic distribution onto a modern map.

Consider the possibility that these occurrences are not the earliest record of this genus (you would be right). If you were looking for additional material with only these four occurrences on which to base your search, you would look geographically nearby. Looking at a modern map would limit you to southern and eastern North America, but as you can see from the figure here, the paleogeography could support a South American or even African population. (I’ll tell you later why this this probably won’t work out.)

For the dissertation, this map is important because it (and others like it) can help show how far this genus is about to spread, and how long this is going to take. You may remember that I’m more interested in names than evolutionary relationships, so I hope to answer the question: how much time and space does there need to be between occurrences before we throw up our hands and say “this genus can’t possibly have survived that long?” The map series will help define where (and where not) there was a chance for lineage continuity.

*The background map, an achievement in itself that I take no credit for, is a product of Ron Blakey and Colorado Plateau Geosystems Inc. The positions of the continents are supported by Chris Scotese’s plate tectonic reconstructions as part of the Earth System History GIS collection. The positions of the Diplodon occurrences were mathematically rotated to these positions using the PointTracker software, also from Scotese.

Grand Forks’ First Roundabout

For those of us excited about new things in town, or just for those excited to see people get totally confused while driving, here’s some news: according to WDAZ, Grand Forks is getting a roundabout:

The city will turn the intersection of 24th Avenue South and South 34th Street into a roundabout. The only similar one here in town is currently at the airport. [“similar” because it’s more of a wide spot in the road than a roundabout; one additional road merges through the circle to exit the airport.]

Construction is scheduled to begin next summer and it’s estimated to cost more than $500,000. Federal funds will cover 80 percent and the city will pay the other 20 percent. 

There has been increased traffic along 24th Avenue South and drivers trying to turn onto that street have experienced more delays and traffic congestion.

Roundabouts, traffic circles, and rotaries (not all the same thing), are obviously confusing to a driver or cyclist who is not familiar with how they work, but then again, so is driving around any new kind of structure or local custom.  People will get used to it, and we’ll get where we’re going faster, without having to waste money and electricity on signals (or time and fuel sitting at a stop sign or light).

My only real criticism of this plan is that it might encourage faster driving through the 25 mph residential area to the northwest.  Thoughts?

View Larger Map

More Housing for Downtown East Grand Forks

With everything else that’s been going on in my life, I’ve been a little lax in the streets-related posting lately.  The other stories will be coming out, but here’s the most recent from the Grand Forks Herald:

EGF’s Economic Development Housing Authority approved a package that will produce a four-story, 39-unit apartment building on the corner of DeMers Avenue and Fourth Street, two blocks from City Hall and two blocks from the Boardwalk. 

The City Council needs to make the agreement official, but resistance is not expected. “Looking at restaurant row and the entertainment district, this fits in very, very well,” said Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce. “It builds density downtown.” 


The site also will have 6,500 square feet of commercial space. But the apartments — which will be the tallest building in the city — will be the focus. [emphasis added]

That’s right.  Not only will East Grand Forks be home to more downtown apartments (which will continue to build the downtown ‘scene’), they will be the tallest building on that side of the river!  Not only that, but the downtown will be given over to commercial space.

It’s an urbanite’s dream, and it’s happening here.

View Larger Map

UPDATE: both Tom Dennis (Grand Forks Herald) and Grand Forks City Councilmember Tyrone Grandstrand have recently written opinion pieces in support of more housing.  Grandstrand is in favor of more mixed-use development designed to give college students and the “youth” set alternatives to renting homes that could be better used by families.


It’s voting day!  Get out before 7 PM today and vote!  Please remember to keep streets in mind when voting for the position of __________ and measure __________.

Nope, I’m not going to come down on one side or the other of any of the choices today.  It’s up to you to do your own research.  If you need help, check out, a neutral site sponsored by the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals.