Roads? How about a personal heliport?

  • Star Tribune
  • May 3, 2009 - 8:38 AM

It wasn't as lively as the volleyball tournament happening at the other end of the Minneapolis Convention Center, but the American Planning Association's annual conference last week had plenty of stuff to hold the attention of your favorite transportation columnist. Let's have a look.

First stop: The exhibit hall, where one eye-catching display urged passersby to "Plan Your Heliport Now!" The message was aimed at corporate clients, but Roadguy knows a few commuters who might be ready.

Nearby, a poster on "Improving Pedestrian Thermal Comfort" wasn't about Minnesota's chilly streets but rather the roasting sidewalks of Phoenix. Consider these stats collected one day last July: A dark gray bench in full sun was around 142 degrees, while nearby asphalt was almost 153 -- nearly the temperature for cooking poultry. The message: Give Sun Belters shade if you want them to walk.

Digital distraction

One workshop was devoted to digital billboards, a hot topic along Twin Cities freeways. John Baker, a local lawyer, filled in the crowd on the deal that Minnetonka cut with Clear Channel, in which digital billboards were OK as long as other billboards were removed.

Fellow panelist Marya Morris, a Chicago-area consultant, pointed out the conundrum that owners of digital signs face: They argue that the signs aren't distracting while simultaneously telling advertisers that such billboards "can't be ignored."

Morris and Baker both spoke about the Zeignarnik effect, a psychological compulsion to focus on a task not yet completed, and how it causes drivers to look at digital signs repeatedly. Baker cited a billboard in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as particularly perilous: it displays multi-part riddles.

Bumps, humps, lumps, Rome

Ever wonder about speed bumps, speed humps and speed lumps? The U.S. Traffic Calming Manual made its debut at the conference with a presentation by one of the authors, Reid Ewing, a professor at the University of Utah.

Ewing said there's little evidence that "your speed" signs or road-narrowing stripes are effective in slowing traffic. Physical elements such as traffic circles and center islands work better, he says, and "every single device has a positive effect on safety." (Bumps, by the way, are for parking lots, while humps are the more gradual devices found on streets, and lumps have gaps so the tires of firetrucks can pass through.)

Whatever their area of expertise, the 4,500 planners in attendance were likely to agree with consultant Richard Lee, who alluded to ancient Rome when discussing the enduring impact of infrastructure decisions:

"The Appian Way is still there."

Jim Foti can be reached at 612-673-4491 or

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