Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Walking to 38th Street Station

Dateline: 1:43 pm June 15, 2016 Filed under:

I’ve lived near the 38th Street station for 12 years, and have observed the many ways people get to and from the station. I have my own personal habit, and follow different paths going to and coming from the train. So, in the spirit of Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, PPS and urban nerds everywhere, I sat for a half-hour last month to observe and actually plot on a map how people get to and from the station platform. How we all get to 38th Street Station influences how we plan for development nearby. The results, shown below, are interesting.

Pedestrian Pattern - After School (May 16)

38th Street Station “Desire Paths”

I printed a black and white copy of a satellite image of the 38th Street station. I chose a busy time, a weekday when classes at Roosevelt High School gets out. I took my clipboard and lawn chair and sat at the edge of the 30th Avenue cul-de-sac. I simply traced in red pen the walking path people chose. Sitting there from 2:55 to 3:20, here is what I saw.

  • I observed approximately 60 people come from or go to the train – most of them going to the Blue Line from Roosevelt.
  • Of those 60, approximately 29 came up 30th Avenue from the south. Whether they came up the east or west sidewalk of 30th Avenue, all would up on the east (closest to the station), and each of those crossed 38th Street more or less in a direct diagonal line to the platform. A single student (3% of the total) went out of his way to the northwest corner of the cul-de-sac, pressed the beg button and waited for the light to change, crossed towards the Cardinal Bar, turned east and headed to the train.
  • Approximately 27 of the 60 people approached the Blue Line platform along the north side of 38th Street, using the sidewalk. I don’t know whether they used 28th or 29th Avenue to get to 38th Street, but they chose to cross to the north side, presumably because the platform is also on the north side. I didn’t see where they crossed 38th Street (if they even did), and whether that was at a crosswalk or jaywalking.
  • A single person came from the west along the south side of 38th Street, pressed the beg button and crossed towards the Cardinal. Others walking along the south side of 38th Street continued on to cross Hiawatha Avenue.
  • Nine people came or went from the Cardinal Bar. Approximately half pressed the beg button, waited for the light to change and crossed in the crosswalk. The other half either pressed the button but gave up waiting for the light to change, or they knew that would take forever and simply crossed without even bothering to press the button (regulars!). The funny thing is the latter group all crossed near, but not in, the crosswalk. Not all of these nine were coming from or going to the Cardinal parking lot – a couple must live nearby and walked home.
  • Approximately five people transferred between bus and train. One person got off the train, got on his skateboard, circled the bike parking area once and continued on to the west. One person came from the west on 38th Street, walked through the bus stop area, crossed the tracks and crossed Hiawatha at 37th Street – he chose the shortcut and jaywalked, not wanting to go out of his way and/or wait for the light to change.

What are the takeaways from this?

  • For starters, about half of the people I observed got to the train by illegal crossing of 38th Street (jaywalking). It isn’t just high school kids that do this. Observe this station at rush-hour and plenty of people coming from downtown do the exact same thing. Why? Because it is the most direct route between the platform and home and it is safe to do so. And by safe I mean two things: one, cars are often sitting still; and two, because there is no crosswalk, pedestrians are more vigilant and less likely to just walk out in to traffic.
  • Clearly the crosswalk between the northwest corner of is problematic. It is out of the way for half of all transit users, and it cycles very infrequently. It doesn’t even serve Cardinal customers that well.
  • Nobody got hit by a car. In fact, I’m not aware of any pedestrians being hit by cars in the 12 years I’ve lived there. Not that it can’t happen, but let’s hope not.
  • No car passed by on 38th Street at more than 25MPH. There are probably several reasons for this. The eastbound 38th Street light at Hiawatha is often red, including when a train is passing. Westbound traffic hasn’t had enough time to accelerate. There is so much clutter and perceived danger that cars just don’t move too quickly, making this section of 38th Street kind of like an “Unintentional Woonerf” ™.
  • Nobody hung out at the station, other than simply waiting for the train or bus. People came and went, but the kid on the skateboard stayed the longest, about 12 seconds. Why is this? There is no pleasant place to hang out. There are no benches, shade or other reason to stick around.

As we look towards development of the 38th Street Station plan, the new plaza and street and other pedestrian improvements are very welcome, but what does that mean for 38th Street? The resulting pedestrian patterns have emerged despite a plan that accommodates trains, buses and vehicles fairly well, but not people. We first have to ask if jaywalking really presents a problem. If so, one solution to discourage this could be to build a fence on the median. This would be counterproductive because people would disregard it or cut a hole in it and just cross anyway. As well, engineers also may want to improve traffic flow along 38th Street. This, too, would make things less safe for pedestrians by increasing vehicle speeds.

It is easy to say that a balance between modes must be struck, but presently that balance is off. The best option is to accept the existing slow vehicle speeds and embrace human nature that creates all sorts of desire paths. Acknowledge today’s desire paths and plan for tomorrow’s. Make the woonerf a little more intentional by using colored or painted pavement, possibly wider crosswalks, and reduce some of the clutter without encouraging faster speeds. Extend the center island farther west along 38th Street, essentially providing a larger pedestrian refuge. Build that plaza, the new street, plant some trees, add an active business, and maybe people will stick around and enjoy themselves. Embrace humanity.


  1. Nice write-up, it mirrors what I’ve seen using the station for years. I think the hardest part is westbound car traffic from Hiawatha Ave. The porkchop right turn & beating the light adds a lot of cars moving fast westbound on 38th St and are what I end up dodging the most.

    Comment by Andrew B — June 15, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

  2. Have you passed this on to the city?

    Comment by Joe Newberg — June 15, 2016 @ 10:30 pm

  3. This is great! I do hope you shared it with whoever’s in charge of planning lights around there, it’s almost as good as making them actually walk around for a few days themselves.

    I just biked the LRT sidewalk from 32nd to the Godfrey Parkway and the back from Godfrey all the way to Lake today with my eleven year old, and my takeaway is that if you were trying to raise a person who thinks stoplights and walk signals are useless, taking them up and down that corridor is the way to do it. No pedestrian uses the lights because the lights are useless. I didn’t even think about the signal on 38th because I don’t think I even glance at it as a pedestrian.

    Comment by Rosa — July 13, 2016 @ 3:36 am

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