Elmwood Neighborhood Case Study

Development Type: Existing Residential Neighborhood
Services Provided: Local Street Operations Evaluation
Client: City of St. Louis Park

The Elmwood neighborhood is one of the oldest in the City of St. Louis Park, a western suburb of Minneapolis. Many of the City’s original homes are located in this area. The current neighborhood population is over 1,000 people and the area holds around 520 residential units (homes, apartments, and duplexes). Another characteristic of the neighborhood is a lot of traffic and high vehicle speeds, at least from the perspective of those residents.

With a pavement management project schedule for 2018 in the neighborhood, the City took the opportunity to discuss the roads with the residents. An initial meeting with residents allowed for free discussion with City officials to get a better understanding of the neighborhood and hear firsthand about issues and concerns. Among the more than 140 comments included ones regarding traffic volumes, traffic speeds, sidewalks, parking, walkability, and sight lines. The residents also expressed ideas for potential changes such as street closures, changes in operation from one-way to two-way or vice versa, and adding or removing signs.

The City contracted with Spack Consulting to obtain base traffic data and evaluate the potential road changes. Although not characterized as a traditional traffic calming study, our study procedure of the neighborhood mirrors that typical process with the following steps:

1. Collect data – volumes, speeds, etc.
2. Observe existing conditions
3. Consider and evaluate options
4. Engage the community regarding the options
5. Recommend improvements
6. Follow-up to determine the impacts

The first steps of data collection and observations were an extensive process, involving tube and intersection turning movement counts at over 60 locations as well as time in the field watching operations. A summary map of the existing traffic data can be found here.

After noting areas of high volume (over 1,000 vehicles per day on local roads), high speeds (85th percentile speed over 30 mph), or higher percentage of truck traffic, we evaluate four options individually and in various combinations. The options were:

+ Closure of a road
+ Conversion from one-way to two-way of an east-west route
+ Conversion from one-way to two-way of a north-south route
+ Opening of a current cul-de-sac

From this evaluation, we, together with the City, developed a series of potential traffic control changes for the neighborhood. The list included adding curb extensions, enter medians, conversion of one block to two-way traffic, and traffic circles or mini-roundabouts. These improvements were discussed at another public meeting and found the attending neighbors generally supportive.

Before moving forward with permanent changes, we are advocates of making temporary changes and assessing the real impacts. Our studies have proven pretty accurate in determining expected traffic changes, but other factors can also make a difference. Residents may feel different about a roadway change once they have to drive it every day regardless of what happens to the overall traffic volumes and speeds. The City agrees with us, noting the expense of removing something once it’s been implemented.

Therefore, the City plans to move forward with temporary improvements this month. A map of the various options can be found here. This test will run through early November. As part of this, we will conduct another set of traffic data collection to gauge the effectiveness, and hopefully confirm what we projected in terms of traffic impacts. Another meeting will be held late in the year to present our analysis of the temporary traffic control changes and discuss with the residents their feelings of the changes. Depending upon the results, the changes may be made permanently as part of the 2018 pavement management project.

We look at this project as the best way to approach potential traffic calming or other neighborhood street changes. Not only will temporary improvements be provided to evaluate the traffic impacts and residents’ opinions, but the project is occurring in conjunction with the normal upcoming pavement project. We applaud the City for examining potential changes before construction occurs and for providing extensive public input on ‘their’ roads. Well done.