November 13


Tale of a Traffic Engineer Walking to Work after a Snow Storm

By Mike Spack

November 13, 2014

Pedestrian, Safety, Traffic Engineering, Walking

Winter officially arrived in my area of Minnesota this week.  It snowed Sunday night and Monday morning.  We got about 3 inches in St. Louis Park where I live and work.  About a foot of snow dropped fifty miles to our north.

Jane and I took the kids to Washington DC last March for an educational vacation.  We stayed in Old Town Alexandria and walked 3/4 of a mile every day back and forth to the LRT station.  Not a big deal.

I looked up my walking route from home to work and it turned out to also be 3/4 of a mile.  I walked to work the first day back from DC to give a walking commute a try.  Since then, I’ve walked to work every day (ok – I did drive twice).  I love it.  I sold our second vehicle in June to fully commit (Jane still needs a car).  I even walk home for lunch most days.

I use Uber to go to meetings when I don’t hitch a ride with one of my co-workers.  I also have a work van I can drive if it’s not being used in the field.  Mostly, I don’t go to meetings.

Back to my tale of the snow….

Uncleared Sidewalk, Winter Walking, Traffic Engineering, PedestrianHere’s a photo of what the road looked like versus what the sidewalk looked like on my way to work Tuesday morning.   This is Wooddale Avenue, a busy collector that leads down to the high school.  Yes, that is a sidewalk on the left.  Can you tell from this photo which mode of transportation is the priority?

I’ve slipped twice this week walking to work.  Thankfully I didn’t completely fall.  I also saw a teenager on a bike slip and fall on a sidewalk along 36th Street near our office (4 lane collector, 16,000 +vehicles per day, wide sidewalks, no on street bike lanes – yes I’ve mentioned it should be converted to a three lane section).

And below are two photos of what Wooddale Avenue looked like this morning, three days after the snow fall.

We are spending a tremendous amount of time and money building ADA compliant pedestrian ramps in Minnesota.  Look at the last photo – how ADA compliant is that sidewalk (I can’t imagine being in a wheelchair or blind on that sidewalk).

Here are the Goals for the Pedestrian and Bicycle System from the St. Louis Park Vision Document:

  • Improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
  • Establish a citywide grid-system of sidewalks every ¼-mile.
  • Establish a citywide grid-system of bicycle facilities every ½-mile.
  • Close gaps in neighborhoods’ existing sidewalk networks.
  • Improve citizens’ transportation and recreation choices.
  • Provide an accessible, convenient, inviting and easily understood system.

I don’t think we’re living up to those goals.  I realize snow removal takes money, but a city in snow country can’t be multi-modal if it doesn’t take snow removal seriously.  This will be a very important issue in St. Louis Park in about three years when a LRT station opens up 300 feet from where these photos were taken.

For now, I bought a good pair of boots and I hope I don’t have a walking crash on my commute to work.

Uncleared Sidewalk, Winter Walking, Traffic Engineering, Pedestrian



  • Thanks for sharing your story! Accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists are crucial for an equitable, sustainable city. And infrastructure that you can’t use is almost as worthless as if it had never been built. Let’s focus on maintaining and using the infrastructure we’ve got before we widen freeways (shown to be ineffective at relieving congestion) and other low ROI projects.

  • Mike – Brings back memories! I lived in Connecticut until high school, and our municipal sidewalks weren’t cleared either – but that was 50 years ago! I’m saddned to see things haven’t changed. I thought MN had snow removal down to an art form. Obviously, cost is the limiting factor regarding pedestrian ways.

  • Rebecca – Absolutely agree that we need to maintain what we have.

    Jim – Minnesotans do a decent job of shoveling sidewalks in front of homes. Minneapolis and St. Paul do a good job of snow removal in the central business districts. The issues are on the collector streets (no residences) in the suburbs that are aspiring to be pedestrian friendly.

  • I totally agree, Mike. What’s the point of spending all this money and time to make walking around a city easier, while not bothering to maintain the facilities?

    I actually just graduated from Purdue in civil engineering with an emphasis in transportation. I’m hoping to get my masters in urban planning eventually, so I’m glad I found your blog!

  • If you haven’t already, get a pair of Yaktrax and keep them by the door. It’ll get icy out there. Walking to work in Minnesota is very rewarding and only occasionally dangerous.

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    Mike Spack

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