Good to know

The mysterious language of traffic engineers

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Roadguy is no PE, but he knows his AADT from his DBE. So does an alert reader named Mike, who offers us this guide to acronyms.

Plate owners have lots of license

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Here’s my column from the Sunday paper. If you’ve already read it elsewhere, please skip on down to the comments below. Thanks.


Alert reader Paula wrote in the other day with license plates on her mind:

This morning I was behind a BMW with the license plate “GLBLWMR” — I couldn’t decide if I was more appalled that someone would be boasting about the fact that they are apparently wealthy enough to pollute the rest of the world or that MnDOT would allow this on a plate.

First, to clarify, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is in charge of gusset plates, not license plates, so Paula should direct her unhappiness accordingly.

Tom Evans, supervisor for special and impounded plates at the Department of Public Safety, notes that state law says plates can’t be “of an obscene, indecent or immoral nature, or be of a nature that would offend public morals or decency.”

According to state records, that means “PORN” and “PORNSTR” are OK, but “KIDPORN” isn’t.

“We have to walk that tightrope,” Evans says. “The state doesn’t really decide what is moral and immoral, so we do let a lot of things slide and wait for the complaint to come in. … But generally it’s just common sense.”

His office doesn’t get many such complaints, less than one a year, but when one comes in, he’ll forward the concerns to the plate-holder to give the person “a chance to explain what the message behind their plate is.”

For example, he said, a plate with the letters “OLDPEDO” was seen by a complainant as promoting pedophilia, but the owner said that “pedo” was the Spanish word for “fart,” which is allowable. (The all-English version, “OLDFART,” belongs to a 91-year-old in Blue Earth County.)


Alert reader Don from Alexandria has a question about the goings-on in Winona:

I’m wondering why we aren’t hearing more about the closing of the bridge from the Wisconsin side? Isn’t it their bridge, too? Are our inspectors the only people that determined whether to close the bridge down?

The Hwy. 43 bridge connects downtown Winona with an island that’s also part of Winona, while another, smaller, still-open bridge connects the island to the Wisconsin riverbank. So unlike the soon-to-repaired Blatnik Bridge between Duluth and Superior, the Winona bridge is solely Minnesota’s baby.

Workers who commute from Wisconsin to Winona are having a tough time of it, but Winona residents might be suffering more on the weekends — no quick beer runs to the Wisconsin side, where liquor sales are legal on Sundays.

We don’t have a books editor right now, so…

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Roadguy hasn’t had much time for blogs (his or any other) this week, but alert reader David sent along this New York Times blog item about the author of a new book called…


David’s e-mail reminded me that I have an advance copy of the book on my desk (The author is someone I worked with at my college newspaper.) I haven’t had time to give it a read, but I shall attempt to give y’all something of a book report before the late July publication date.

Also on my desk:


This is a cool book to browse, and on Monday evening at 7:30, you can go meet the author at Magers & Quinn. Info on the event, which includes a slide presentation, is here.

Why the freeway message signs don’t say ‘have a nice day’

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Here’s my column from the Sunday paper. If you’ve already read it elsewhere, please skip on down to the comments below. Thanks.


Alert reader Mark from Chanhassen has a vision for those message boards on the freeways:

I think it would be a good idea to utilize these message boards in down times for friendly messages for freeway drivers, such as please don’t tailgate, use cell phones sparingly, allow cars to merge, don’t drink and drive … MnDOT could even have an in-house contest to come up with best phrase.

Todd Kramascz, the MnDOT traffic guru in charge of the boards, said the messages must relate to traffic congestion, crashes, hazards such as flooding, or emergencies such as Amber Alerts.

That’s because researchers have found that drivers are more likely to pay attention to signs that aren’t always displaying a message, Kramascz said. And he noted that blank signs also convey information: “They’re stating essentially that all is well.” (more…)

Party on the greenway: New bike center opens

Friday, May 16th, 2008


The new Freewheel Midtown Bike Center had its grand opening this morning on the Midtown Greenway. It was the second time this week that Roadguy had to get up at an unnatural hour to attend a bike-related event, but once again, it was worth it. There was a good crowd outside…


… and plenty to see inside, from merchandise…


… to secure parking spots for 150 bikes…


… to the almost-famous bike shower:


(There are private showers for people as well.)

Commuters kept whizzing by during the speeches, but an hour later, all was peaceful:


Things should pick up again this afternoon — there’s an open house from 4-7ish p.m., complete with bands, popcorn and stuff on the grill. (My news story about the center is here.)

And if you haven’t had enough bike-related events this week, there’s another in just a few days:


All I’m sayin’ is Portland better be watching in its rearview mirror.

Sometimes rapid transit can be a little too rapid

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Here’s Roadguy’s column from the Sunday paper. If you’ve already read it elsewhere, please skip on down to the comments below. Thanks.


Alert reader Dennis was in the HOV lanes on Interstate 394 last week when an officer pulled over the vehicle he was riding in.

Dennis was surprised, but he wasn’t alone: He was a passenger on a SouthWest Transit bus. “I thought we would have to pass the hat for the driver,” he said.

Len Simich, the transit agency’s CEO, confirmed the incident and said the driver got a warning for going about 5 miles per hour over the 55 mph limit.

“Sometimes the drivers will get going with traffic, but if they’re exceeding the speed limit, they’re subject to being pulled over like you and I,” he said.

Any driver who garners two on-duty traffic convictions in a three-year period would be fired, Simich said, but it’s pretty rare for a bus driver to even get stopped — he couldn’t recall it happening in his 11 years with the agency.

Dennis couldn’t recall it happening in his 10 years of bus commuting, either. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.


PhotoCop.JPGAfter last week’s column about PhotoCop, I checked in with Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored a bill to make red-light cameras legal in Minnesota. He said Thursday that the measure did pretty well — making it through three committees and losing by only one vote in a fourth — but it’s done for this time around.

The legislation would have kept PhotoCop-issued violations off driving records. Thissen expects to try again next year.

In the meantime, the cameras in Minneapolis, which have been turned off for two years because of court rulings, will continue to serve as technological scarecrows: they look like they can get you, but they can’t.


On Monday morning, Roadguy will be taking part in the Great Commuter Challenge sponsored by Transit for Livable Communities.

I’ll be driving my car from a park in St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis and will stop for a few mandatory errands along the way.

My competitors are Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who will be on a bike, and Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, who will be walking and using transit. (Our modes of transport were chosen before R.T.’s driver’s license thing came up.)

There will be a special-edition Roadguy column in Tuesday’s paper (and at about the experience — unless I lose terribly and am too depressed to write.