The Public Works Nerds

Experiments in Neighborhood Traffic Control and Using Big Data with Deb Heiser, PE

July 03, 2023 Marc Culver, PE and Mike Spack, PE Season 1 Episode 6
The Public Works Nerds
Experiments in Neighborhood Traffic Control and Using Big Data with Deb Heiser, PE
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, we talk about transportation systems with Deb Heiser, Engineering Director of St. Louis Park, MN.  We discuss handling citizen requests,neighborhood meetings, how the city uses pilot projects to test traffic control changes in advance of street reconstruction projects, and her use of big data. 

Further Resources
https://www.streetlightdata.com/  

http://www.mikeontraffic.com/temporary-traffic-calming-example/  

Mike Spack:

Welcome to the Public Works Nerds podcast with Mark and Mike. Welcome to the Public Works Nerds podcast. I'm Mike Spack, i'm Marc Culver and and we're your co-hosts. Today, we're talking about different ways to collect and use transportation data with Deb Heiser, who has been the engineering director at the city of St Louis Park, minnesota, since 2013. Welcome, deb.

Marc Culver:

Thank you for having me. Yeah, and I'm just going to jump in here. I don't usually do this, but we were just talking about this before this episode started. We're probably going to end up talking about more than just what the topic is. I think this is going to be a fun episode, so I'm looking forward to it. Deb was my predecessor at City Roosevelt, so I kind of feel this kindred connection with Deb and we've known each other for a long time.

Deb Heiser:

Well, and also about yourself. It should be noted that Mike Spack was a previous resident, so he actually is a St Louis Park alumnus and provided me quite an insight into what's going on in the Sorenson neighborhood. So who am I? My name is Deb Heiser. I've been an engineer now since oh my gosh, it's been almost 30 years. I started my career. I went to the University of Minnesota, go Gophers and I started my career at the city of Burnsville. So I've worked for the public sector my whole career. So I was able to draft and I did GIS and then I made my way into development review and I learned everything I needed to know about land use PUDs, cups I can do some more acronyms if you'd like. I had an excellent opportunity in 1998 to go into the city of Roosevelt, which was where my heart was I grew up in Ardenhills and to start working for yeah, right next door. To start working for a city where I knew when that was the Rose Drive-in I used to hang out at Rosedale and to really start working for a community that I knew so well and actually I ran into some ex-boyfriend's parents and stuff like that But needless to say, i learned so much I became the city engineer at the city of Roosevelt in 2001, when the Public Works Director left to go to the private sector and never looked back. did a lot of great things in Roosevelt, but then I had an excellent opportunity in 2013. The city of St Louis Park had an opening for the engineering director. They have the standalone engineering department in St Louis Park and, serving as the city engineer slash engineering director for St Louis Park, i was able to shape a new department. St Louis Park is a city of about 50,000, a little under, but about 50,000 square miles, just located to the west of the city of Minneapolis. If you blink, you may think you're in a diner. If you blink, you may think you're in Minneapolis. Hopkins is close by, as is Golden Valley. We've got some really odd borders in St Louis Park, but it's an amazing community. The council's very progressive, very supportive, wanting to do a lot of things, very supportive of infrastructure investment replacing our roads, replacing our water mains, replacing sanitary sewer, building new infrastructure. We have a very aggressive bikeway, sidewalks and trails plan to build out 30 miles of bikeways in the city And that was one of the first projects that we started back in 2013 and incorporating all of that into our transportation infrastructure project. So, yeah, i've been there, it's been wonderful, and Mike moved out of the city. So what does that tell you?

Marc Culver:

You drove him away.

Mike Spack:

Before we started we hit record on the podcast you were talking a little bit about. You've been in the public sector your whole career and that's been a very conscious decision And it was fun the way you phrased it, So why don't you put that on the record?

Deb Heiser:

Well, you know, i've been in my public sector, i've worked for the, i've been an owner. I call it an owner. So when you look at what we do in the public sector, those decisions that we make we live with And eventually, if we make a bad decision, we're going to have to fix it. I always say that you know, we're here, we're here to be responsive to residents, we're here to fix problems And again, that's probably the biggest reason why I am working as a city engineer I love to fix problems. And that ownership and that ability to say, you know, that one-way street, that's something that we need to look at. Those stop signs there are those really something we should have? We need to make this safer And then eventually, when those changes happen it does take time. You look back and just see all the ways you've made the city safer. You've made it better for bikes, pads for transit, for vehicles, and making that infrastructure investment. That future deb, which is the person who will replace me eventually, will say she did good. You know we did good. We're in a good place because there are good decisions.

Mike Spack:

Yeah, and you also had a fun turn of phrase of a gift to your future self, yes, yeah, of maybe the hard decisions or the hard work today is going to pay off in the future And you're going to either reap what you sow in a bad way or a good way, with that mentality.

Deb Heiser:

So yeah, so that's just a little bit about myself. Again, i highly recommend the public sector. It is very rewarding. I will retire very likely from the City of St Louis Park as long as something doesn't happen, but I speak very highly of the public sector and anybody who's very interested in working for the public. It's incredibly rewarding. We have residents that bring cookies out for our field staff. You know it's about listening, it's about and I say this with traffic stuff quite a bit That person who calls you with a traffic concern or a drainage concern or whatever. That person may only have one opportunity to interact with you or your staff or the city, and it's important that you listen. You don't have to say yes all the time. It's important you listen, it's important you respond. And being responsive doesn't mean saying yes. It's talking about it's working through the question, listening and giving them a response in a timely manner.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, in my time in the public sector I found that too. It's a lot of times you actually gain an ally, even if the person is really upset. Sometimes it's just hey, let them vent, let them get it out. I found sometimes it was like if the resident got my voicemail and they would just scream in the voicemail, you'd call them back and they'd be yeah, you know, because they got it out, they just had their moment. But then you have a reasonable, logical conversation with them about why you can't do something. You know nine times out of 10, they're going to understand that. And then you've gained an ally.

Deb Heiser:

Well, and you bring this up, and I tried to talk to my staff about this We have a world where you can tweet and you can blog and you can put on public stuff, or what is it? any of those fixit apps? And, at the end of the day, a phone call is personal. If you can talk to that person on the phone, you can crash the most perfect email, but that's not necessarily getting at what the it is. And I always say this what is their it? And we'll be talking about traffic, but a lot of times, people call with something and it may be something completely different. And there's something else you can do that maybe is a yes, turning it into a yes, where you know I want to stop. I can't help you with that, but a yes maybe. Okay, you're concerned about this. Well, what about putting on a speed board? What about having added patrols? What about people can't see the stops? Why don't we trim the trees? Why don't we? you know, there's things we can do and finding that, making it a yes and whatever that looks like.

Mike Spack:

And one of my favorite phrases. getting at that, it's not even a question, it's just tell me more, yep, tell me more. And just letting people keep talking. And you can say tell me more three times, and people will just keep going, because often it's not the first thing that comes out of their mouth. that's the root issue.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, and as engineers, you know, I love problem solving. I love problem solving. A lot of times I'm like I'm going to fix this, right, right. And a lot of times they aren't looking for a fix, they're just looking for someone to listen, and so that's Yeah.

Marc Culver:

You touched on your department and the fact that you've been able to, you know, form, mold this department. Talk about your staff, the size of your staff, kind of the breakdown of it, and that.

Deb Heiser:

Well, so when I got there so engineering was a brand new department. When I started, 10 years ago, we had been a part of public works, but there was a reorganization and public works was pushed and was moved into. Those operational functions were moved into a different department And engineering became a standalone department. Part of the reasoning behind it was that our focus is this public process. Our focus is building things. We have to focus on making sure what we build is maintainable, absolutely. But you know, that is just so much of what we do right of way, permits, all of those things. So when I first started, we had a staff, i believe, of nine and really sitting backs. You know and this is part of that organizational development what is the right structure, what seats in the bus and who should fill them. Really looked at who we had there and what do we need? High expectations from the council. So we now are a staff of 14. I'm the engineering director, i have an administrator, we have an administrative assistant who takes care of everything, which you know, and she is very good at her job and keeping us in line and knowing what's going on. She's a touch point. She touches every project. We have three project engineers. One of them is an engineering services manager and that position takes care of right anything from the outside, from the public So, or an application, so development review. Stormwater the stormwater pollution prevention plan program, right of way permits spin scooters in the right of way It's a fun one Anything from MnDOT and that sort of thing, so just really kind of interacting and working through that. I have a engineering project manager who oversees transportation and his focus is transit Southwest LRT.

Marc Culver:

That's a big one right now.

Deb Heiser:

Yes, it's a very coordinating everything with Southwest LRT. It's taking a little longer than we planned. The bikeway, sidewalk and trail plan. So building this new infrastructure and making those connections. He addresses any concerns about traffic or transportation in the city. He also does master planning. We're working on a safe streets and roads for all compared to safety action plan. We just recently received a grant for that. So and he really is kind of the strategic thinker looking at how this all want to relax and interact. My other engineering project manager is really oversees all of our construction projects Developing specs, developing standards as built, making sure that everything kind of works in tandem, moving projects forward, consistency, all those things and does a very good job of it. All of them do a very good job. I'm not a single one out. Are you listening, anyway? so, and then, of course, we can't do our jobs, so engineers sit in the office. We don't always just sit in the office, but then let me out. Very often We can't do our jobs without our field staff, and so we have three project coordinators and they are the leads. They're the people that are out there every single day with the local street reconstruction projects And when the neighbor on the corner can't get out of, the driver has in a medical appointment and there's a person building. That's the phone number that they call. Those are the ones that get the cookies And just making sure those projects work forward. Well, the contractors are doing what they say they do, they're getting it done on time. And so I have three project coordinators and that's their job. They get assigned the big projects, the small projects, the sidewalk replacements, those sorts of things. I have a. We have a project engineer that oversees our local reconstruction. We do about about four and a half miles of road reconstruction, about two and a half, two to two and a half miles of water main reconstruction here, and he designs that all in house We all have. You know he takes care of all the specs or all the design on that and all the public process And he's amazing, he takes care of stuff and he's. we'll talk about him, you've met him, mike. And then we have an engineering technician to kind of help out and another tech who does all right of way permits. We do about 700 to 900, depending on the workload, of right away permits a year And she is also doing support for Jack, for the selfless dollar T, because there's meetings every other. There's meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays where we just try to coordinate stuff Road closures, all of the above And then we have a GIS, we have somebody who does information systems. We have somebody who's an in house tech who takes care of all the hard work for the traffic requests. About half his time is responding to traffic requests And using the data we're going to be talking about and getting at that And then finally make sure I got. Oh, eric, we have a water resources manager and, with stormwater being such a critical part of all of our lives and with the rules changing, we have one person that he manages a grant program for the community. He manages all of our stormwater maintenance projects, our stormwater infrastructure projects, and that's kind of the makeup. It's a lot of stuff to coordinate.

Marc Culver:

So how many people is that? 14. 14.

Mike Spack:

So let's talk about kind of the neighborhood reconstruction projects. I want to explain the situation and how that all evolved.

Deb Heiser:

So, at the end of the day, we reconstruct streets once every 30 years. Once every 30 years, we have an opportunity to measure twice cut ones. So one of the things that council asked us to do as a priority is to listen to the residents, And so when we start engaging, we listen and say you know, what do you see? You know we have to rebuild this road, We have to rebuild the water main, What do you see as being a need in this neighborhood? So we listened. One of the things that has been always a challenge is traffic management and traffic calming, And I know that there's a lot of communities out there that have standalone programs with traffic calming. But probably the best time to do any of this whether it's build the sidewalks, replace water main that opportunity where I were coming in, we're rebuilding the road. Touch the road once and then don't touch for 30 years. Instead, of coming in and retrofitting something is a lot more flexible. So we had heard from the community heard from the neighborhood concerns about speeding. We'd heard from the community neighborhood concerns about cut through traffic trucks. We also had a concern from our fire department. So we have a fire station located in this neighborhood that had a one-way street, so, if you can imagine, for leaving the fire department could only leave one way. And so we had talked and there was another private road that everybody's using as a cut through on, you know, cutting through the church parking lot, right. So we saw this as an opportunity to figure out what we could do as a part of the project. And it was kind of cool, i mean, it was aggressive, and we started with just kind of an idea and we met with a consultant his name was Mike Spack, mike Spack And we just kind of said this is what we're thinking And we developed a program, we developed a plan to, first and foremost, collect the data. Yeah so there, we heard the concerns and then collected it.

Mike Spack:

Yep heard the big concerns, had half a dozen concerns about traffic patterns within the neighborhood And the neighborhood had 60 to 70 block faces And we decided kind of, in this measure twice cut once, like hey, we could do experiments. And so Deb this is amazing, deb was open to this because I haven't heard of people doing it to the scale we did in this neighborhood And I know you've done more of this. After this project We went out, blanketed the neighborhood and put out tube counters on every block face and collected speed volume classification data at these 60 points and took some turning movement counts at key intersections. Then we talked through neighborhood meetings, kind of design charrettes okay, what, listen to the neighborhood and dive into what could we do.

Marc Culver:

Then, working with Deb and the engineering staff came up with here's what we think is the right answer After you collect the data and you compared that to the complaints and the concerns that you had before, like how many of them were proven valid. You know what I mean.

Deb Heiser:

Well, again, the speed stuff was not. I mean again the perception of the speeding. One of the things is we had I remember your charts that we had. We had all these spreadsheets and it was red if it was over the speed limit.

Marc Culver:

You were just a red yellow green.

Deb Heiser:

It kind of makes sense. It was all red, yellow, green. At the end of the day, the speed concern was perceived As far as we, even at that point, were using 8th percentile speed. Just looking at the perception of speed, we did have truck absolutely cut through traffic. The concern about truck cut through traffic and trucks on Brunswick was a real concern. Just to let you know, this is a parallel route. We have a state aid route called Alabama and there's a parallel route called Brunswick that is more intuitive to drive down. Yes, and even though there's signs that say no trucks, this is the route that a lot of trucks were taking and that was a concern that cut through traffic. The volumes of people that were using that private road were high, i mean the people cutting through the parking lot, the church parking lot. The church parking lot were high And part of the reason for that is the way that this one way was in play. Surprisingly, no one was concerned about the road one way. There's a couple people in the neighborhood, a lot of people wanted to stay in place, but the amount of traffic going through the private property was really high, considering that it's a church and they have a daycare and that's a concern for a public user More than 100 cars a day cutting. And then there's also the cut through on. There was a private road just to the north of the one way And that private road just to the north one way was high. People were using that because it was, you know, they couldn't go. They couldn't go into the neighborhood using the one way. They used the private road And that was a concern for the townhouse.

Mike Spack:

And so we laid out the two counters, got Heard the concerns, figured out the date of what was really happening and then came up with a plan of How could we make adjustments.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, Well, let me just build on. you brought up the charrette and this. this was thought, actually, i think, and I actually heard from some residents afterwards They felt it was cathartic. We actually sat residents down with with maps of the neighborhood, yeah, and big aerials, i mean pretty much. the presentation was 15 minutes and then we broke them all out into these small groups I think there's about 40 people at that one, yeah and They had maps and it showed where the stop signs were and it showed the one ways and etc And so on, and they got to just draw on the maps and circle intersections and so you know The crossing here, crosswalks here and traffic here, and and it was Really well received, yeah, lots of post-it notes, lots of markers just right down on the maps, And I mean we had four or five copies of these kind of table by table So people in the people would move around and talk to their neighbors and what did you put down?

Mike Spack:

And, yeah, it really became interactive, yeah.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, so anyway, so you can talk data now.

Mike Spack:

Yeah. So then we had the data and we talked about what changes could we make and we decided to run a temporary experiment and collect the data while the experiment was running. So we Deb staff, the public work staff, put orange barrels, orange colons, we changed signs temporarily to make all of these changes, we blockaded off the cut-through from through the church parking lot. So basically, as engineers, we're usually just making our an educated guess, but it's still a. Here's our analysis, here's what we're gonna do and here's what we're gonna build and that's what gets built. This was a let's make all the changes with the cones. Let traffic settle down for a week to let the commuters figure out What, what their normal patterns were gonna be. Then we collected data again at all of the same locations and we did comparisons of all the speeds that truck traffic, the volumes, how did things change? and then We did it. I think we decided some of the traffic circles Weren't needed and we pulled those out.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, and I think so. So what we? so? the wonderful thing about this pilot We were calling it a traffic management pilot project, and so that's what we've been calling them with our projects is that Not only can you measure twice, cut once with the community, but we also had fire. Fire drove the traffic circles. You know, we had some bump in some chicken not chickens, but I'm the bomb, yeah, yeah. And so we actually had every vehicle that we could drive through, and we adjusted the size of the Neighborhood traffic circles. We did some modeling before we set these things up too, because there are a couple of things that fell on the cutting room floor.

Mike Spack:

Yes.

Deb Heiser:

We were actually gonna try to open up a cul-de-sac and there was a couple other ideas that came out there, but we finally just decided you know what, what is the least impactful for the neighborhood. So then we ran the experiments. We actually, i think, we collected data twice after we implemented and, at the end of the day, the numbers were two of the traffic circles made no difference The, the speeds, the types of vehicles that were using it. There was no difference But that that cut through that Brunswick Reduced speeds, reduced into trucks weren't going down there anymore, which was our goal. We want the trucks to stay on that stay-day route, we want them to stay on Alabama, and So, when it all came down to this traffic study that the SPAC put together for us, we made our recommendations based on what fixed it, yeah, what made a difference, and that's why just these pilot projects. Oh, my gosh, it was. It was like the the coolest, biggest experiment I've done or we had done, and I think it was well received by the community. You know, certainly there were people who didn't Didn't support what we were doing, but there are a lot of people that really supported that. There are willingness to try.

Marc Culver:

I just want to touch on the logistics of the, the trials. And you said you use Collins. Means you really just use Collins well, we had.

Deb Heiser:

So now I'm trying to remember, because we've refined it, since We had a sign in the middle, so we Delinated it out the traffic certain a traffic circle and we used the the tall pile on the pylons. Yeah what we do. What we did with the last one we did. We actually use The, the socks, the ease for erosion control yeah and that's how we made the circle and then we did the signs. In the middle again We had a couple cones, but not really. But we actually kind of made a curb out of erosion control. Sock, Yeah, um. But I think that You know if somebody hits it.

Marc Culver:

Right, and I guess you know, did you have any instances of vandalism or people moving things or anything like that?

Deb Heiser:

The first. This first one. No, we didn't. Okay, we had a lot of people turning left where they shouldn't be turning. Yeah, even though we had that, you know the right signage, um.

Marc Culver:

Right signage, the correct sign. The correct sign that the points of the yeah.

Deb Heiser:

No, we, on this particular one, we didn't have anyone Mess with it, which was really really cool That is cool. We have had people mess with things.

Mike Spack:

Yeah, i'm sure I. One thing I want to give Deb a lot of credit for there were a couple of residents in the neighborhood who I'm trying to politely phrase this, but pretty belligerent, and they they didn't vandalize the experiment, but they were very vocal at every meeting we had. And one thing I think made a huge difference in some we had follow-up public meetings with. Here's how things are working, here's the data we're searing, here's adjustments We're going to make with. It was amazing communication with the residents in the neighborhood. But deb brought in a meeting facilitator where mostly other public meetings I've been in and it's been The engineering staff being the facilitator. So you're acting as a facilitator and the expert at the same time. And can you talk a little?

Deb Heiser:

bit. Oh yeah, um, I the first. So If you're not using a facilitator for difficult public meetings, or in you know not even, not even just for difficult it's. We are engineers. We do things well we do things really well and we have very good engineers I mean, in st Louis Park, we have very good engineers, very good at doing presentations and all the above, but to have somebody else there, that is the person who ensures that if someone raises their hands, you know the herd or sets the ground rules Yeah, walks around with the microphone. Um is there as a Outside party. It, it does so much. It just does so much, and so we we had switched to that in 2017. We had a really challenging project on Texas Avenue And really started to do that. Facilitator and I swear by it. You know, as far as these real challenging projects, especially when you know I it everybody, i love my job and When you come, when you come into somebody's neighborhood and you are there to change, um, some people love the change, yeah, other people, other people don't. So how do you work through that? How do you? how do you work through? You know here's, here's what we. You know I'm with the government, i'm here to help. No, um, right, but how do you, how do you work through that and listen?

Marc Culver:

Well, having this, this person, who is there to ensure that that that happens, just just out of curiosity, from an average or general perspective, just so people kind of get a Something in their mind on this. How much do you think that facilitator added to your the cost of the project?

Deb Heiser:

To be honest, i mean the facilitator. We, you know, we had three or four public meetings. Um, we would have a prep meeting with the facilitator and then the actual meeting themselves. I can't imagine more than $2,500.

Marc Culver:

Wow, yeah, and such a small cost or something that probably get a lot of Benefit on, so that's great.

Mike Spack:

Hey, everyone just wanted to take a moment to thank our sponsors, bolten and mink, who are producing this podcast for us.

Bolton & Menk:

At bolten and mink, we believe all people should live in a safe, sustainable and beautiful community. We promise every client two things We'll work hard for you and we'll do a good job. We take a personal interest in the work being done around us and, at the end of the day, we're real people offering real solutions.

Marc Culver:

Okay, so you did this. I feel like I have two guests now, so that's okay, that's okay, i just want to have a script for the but? um. So you did all this, you, you found the, the elements that work, the elements that didn't work, and so then I imagine you go back to your residents and say, okay, this is what we found and this is what we're gonna do. Um, was there more buy-in at that point? because people kind of lived it like they?

Deb Heiser:

I believe there was to be to be honest with you, there was some skepticism, even you know, that this would make a difference with the traffic circles. And when we came forward and said, yeah, these don't make a difference, but these do, yeah, and that was our recommendation, we, we did not recommend two of the traffic circles because they didn't, they didn't change the behavior. Um and uh, you know, we brought forward the recommendations of the city council. Um, as with everything there's, there's, you know, i say you know, we've got 50 000 people in the city. There's no way for me to make them all happy, right. So you know, we make our recommendations, we ensure people know why, um, being transparent on that And on. Then just move forward. The city council ultimately did approve what we recommended. Um, there were a lot of people who came up and spoke for it and there were people who came up and spoke against it. We had also a lot of sidewalks that were constructed as care of this project. Um which y'all know how, how great that is Yeah, and get into the trees and sidewalks here, you know, as in, we could have a whole, we could have a whole um episode on episode on sidewalks.

Marc Culver:

So um you either love or hate them and and you can love them and hate them in front of your, in front of your house as long as their son the other side of the street, yeah, but, um, so, yeah, i mean, it worked out great.

Deb Heiser:

I I really think that was a great success. The council, see, i mentioned earlier our council is extremely supportive in likes us to try things, and they thought this was a, you know, even to the point where they said, why don't we, why don't we pilot this? they'll actually we. We did another pilot project, um, for a, a protected bike weight. So, um, we've, we've done three or four of these now, or we've piloted things and then collected data and then made recommendations based on it, and I think it's that it's that Proof is in the pudding for the public. Proof is in the pudding for, you know, data for even even for public works, um, and the people who had, like I said, we build things and you know we build things that they have to maintain. How do you know, how do we make it right? How do we build it right the first time, instead of spending a lot of money and then having to tear it up?

Marc Culver:

did you Was? was this your first, like I mean, it's kind of a compact Roundabout but a travel neighborhood traffic circles. That your first, very first? Did you have a lot of concerns from public works, maintenance, plowing, blah, blah, blah?

Deb Heiser:

absolutely Yeah and um, we, we would have done it a little different. Um, one of the things that we should have done differently is we should have had no parking within 2025 feet of the intersection. Um and uh, that that's any future traffic circle. That's what we do, um, just because when you look at a plow, well, first, first of all, you. The hard thing about piloting is you can't move the curbs, and so we had to move that circle. So it was easier, but you know, the curbs are still where they're at, and we had a problem with the fur and hill pilot because of that. Well, we did another pilot project a couple years ago, um, but when you actually build it, you can make those curbs, you know the, the radius and the curb bigger, and so we did that and networked out. Well, for public works. But this whole idea of the plows being able to get in and around That if there's a car parked right, you know, in the wrong place, it's a challenge, yeah, so so you, you, um, you mentioned, you know, piloting this to other types of projects.

Marc Culver:

But, um, how, what, what you did here? how did you apply that to other neighborhoods like, what did you learn from this? What did you maybe evolve out of it Into other neighborhoods? what we?

Deb Heiser:

learned is the parking that is brought out. What we learned is to be very clear, that the stop signs are being removed as a part of the pilot And they're being replaced with the yield sign. Wow. Um, that was something that was a sensitive topic with the community when we did these pilots. Um, what we also learned, um, with this one is Perhaps doing a better job of mock, of immicking, mimicking a traffic circle, which is why we adapted with having the, the silt, the silt socks. Um, for the second one, um, what else do we learn? Um, i think it's a good way to try things is one thing we really absolutely learned. So, yeah, but applying the other ones we've done, we and again, we don't automatically come in with a traffic management pilot project. That first step is listening, and so the very next year, the next project, we didn't hear anything about traffic concerns. So these sorts of cut through traffic, or you know, it was just the usual people are speeding, the usual. You know, i need to stop sending this intersection. So we didn't do one the following year And we didn't do one the next year either, because we didn't hear the same types of concerns from the community. So, fast forward to 2020. Well, yeah, it was 2020, right after the pandemic. We actually took a year off because we wanted to try to do a pilot project. So we knew this, this neighborhood. We knew what their problem with their concerns were. We knew we wanted to do a pilot And one of the things that Elmwood had going for it is that it had sidewalks in a lot of places. I mean, there are places where we needed to fill gaps, et cetera, but there was a sidewalks in a lot of places. The next neighborhood we went to there were streets without sidewalks anymore And it was inside. It was in our Orthodox Jewish community And we did the same process where we listened, where people cut through traffic, speeding, people not stopping to get stop signs. So we put in nine temporary traffic circles and ran the same, but it was a grid system so that the notes in the grid. We ran the same process, but what we found was a completely different situation. People were walking in the street because there's no sidewalk And so, because of that, the drivers were not yielding. We put yield signs up and they were not paying attention to pedestrians, these intersections And the people were walking in the street, and so it was a very we actually well, it snowed too We cut the pilot short and did not recommend any, because we didn't see any change in behavior and actually we saw increases in speeds. So, again, i know a lot And that was the shocking thing, but I think that it's so context sensitive and that's the strength of doing a pilot is that, first and foremost, we have a philosophy when it comes to traffic calming and I'm sure this is industry-wide By doing this you can't create a problem over there, and so pilots are so strong because then you can measure and see if you're going to create a problem somewhere else or create a problem you didn't anticipate because there's not sidewalks. So that pilot project we ended up. Only the only things we did we did some bump-ins at intersections to reduce the pedestrian crossing width, but aside from that, we really we didn't implement anything on the project. So the only other pilot that we have done is the Bollard Bollard Protected Bikeway. That was. We had that in place for six months and did a whole public outreach and all of the above. That one got vandalized. We had people pulling the Bollards out and laying them very nicely in the billboard. But we learned from that. They were too close to the intersection So these were temporarily installed, so we reinstalled them. So that was a great way to. We thought we'd made all the turning movements in the sight lines. We thought it was right, but by doing that we heard from the community through action that perhaps they were in the wrong place.

Marc Culver:

Did you want to say something?

Mike Spack:

I want to transition a little bit. Deb, I know you've been using streetlight data and some of the big data sources And I think that's a great evolution we should all be. Tracking Can be expensive to tap into, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation, I believe you're in under their contract, So that reduces the price quite a bit. Oh, it's worth every penny, So tell us how you're using it. Would you have done Elmwood? Would you have been able to tap into that data source and not put out all these counters?

Deb Heiser:

So big data is? I'll take a side. We use streetlight a lot And it has really helped. We used to. If we had a stop sign request, we'd actually hire a consultant and have them go on to traffic counts, and it was just something we did because we just really felt we wanted to take it seriously. and speed data and whatever the case may be, at the end of the day, on a local road, the warrant analysis for 28th and Princeton, it's not that important, it's not that different. So once we had an opportunity to join up with streetlight, what happened is we were looking at regional traffic and this was an opportunity and so we decided to sign on.

Marc Culver:

What is streetlight?

Deb Heiser:

Oh okay. Streetlight is a big data application that we subscribe to annually And streetlight uses cell phone data. It's all anonymous, so we don't know. Mark Culver drove down this street on that day. It's all anonymous And it can collect traffic. It can collect trucks, it can collect bikes and pets. It's been around well. I mean we've been members since we've been subscribing since 19,. But I think it's been around for longer than that. I don't know how long it's been around. So they run their data through the algorithms and you can get you know on any given street segment. You can set up boundaries using GIS You can use, you can see origin, destination So you can say and we did this as a part of the Fern Hill traffic management, anyway, as a part of the traffic management thing, hang on Pause, oh no.

Marc Culver:

I'm not.

Deb Heiser:

See, i just I've been announced it so I'm not going to. I just didn't want to get it all over this. So one of the big concerns was how many people are cutting through the neighborhood, and you can set up boundaries around a certain of fences, just like and say any car that is here and then comes out here is cut through. Any car that has starts inside this fence is not cut through, and that is powerful. Think about what it would take to do an OD study.

Marc Culver:

Right.

Deb Heiser:

I mean origin destination, done it. And you have to do license plates, and I mean we did one back in 2001 for Excelsioria. It cost a hundred In 2001,. It cost $120,000. So it's extremely powerful for that sort of thing to see you know who has business here, who doesn't.

Mike Spack:

So the technology they're tapping into the different cell phone carriers and also some car models are pinging off signals too, as the cars are getting more connected. So they're tapping into those anonymized data sets and they can track. Part of the issue is it's a sampling, so they do not have a hundred percent of cars, a hundred percent of people, a hundred percent of bicycles. Right, they make assumption based on how fast is that cell phone moving? Yeah, so they get down to walking versus bicycling versus car. But it is a sample and it's you can tap into historical or to nearly today's data, so you can look at months worth of data, not just a couple of days worth of data. So there's some sampling issues. If there isn't a lot of traffic in the neighborhood of with the origin destination, the cell phone signal may get lost. So you can't say it's a hundred percent accurate going through, but you can start to get patterns.

Deb Heiser:

And getting back to so we recognize the one thing. Then you brought this up the one thing with streetlight for and this is a white paper that Minda put together is that when you have less than I believe I don't know the thresholds but if you have a lower volume street I'm just going to say it that way It is not as accurate. So I think the thresholds either 2,000 or 5,000. I forget the number. So a lot of times when you look at a local road, the count data is perhaps inaccurate And they fully acknowledge that and it's part of the white papers. But when you look at highways and actually Minda in some places are moving to just using these for their counts, their larger roads, but for us, how we use it is we used it. We were looking to do local option sales tax. We were going to go to the legislature to ask for the enabling legislation to be able to go forward with the local option sales tax for some regional roads And we use streetlight data to develop how many people that are on this road don't live in St Louis Park And the roadways were Louisiana, cedar Lake Road, oxford. There are MSA system and we can have a whole nother podcast on funding. At the end of the day, we don't have money to rebuild our MSA system. We're using gas tax dollars, so we're optimistic that we're going to have more.

Mike Spack:

Municipal state aid system that we're going to have listeners around the world. So it's just part of the gas tax system in Minnesota. But these are local city streets that are collectors But they're carrying, sometimes volumes, more than neighboring county roads.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, we've got some streets that are collectors and actually there are materials that have 16,000 and 20,000 vehicles a day that we receive a portion of the state's gas tax to rebuild. We're simply saying that we don't get enough of it.

Marc Culver:

So I will second that We don't get nearly enough, it's $10.79 per $1,000 in needs And that number has gone down every year. But anyway, different podcasts.

Deb Heiser:

And we were going to move forward. So, local option sales tax, you've got to prove the regional benefit And what we found using this data is that these roads were carrying between 60 and 70% of non-city And we were looking at rebuilding the roads using our actual general levy dollars Because there's no other way to rebuild them. We weren't getting enough money and they're not in good shape and they're very hostile for bikes and pets, and so that was their transit card. So we used that and actually just recently reused that data to put forward a bonding request, and we're going right now doing a process because we're going to be putting another bonding request for another road And we're going to be using streetlight data to determine the regional nature.

Mike Spack:

And one of the, in my opinion, the strongest area. So this big data is amazing for getting trends of travel times. How long does it take to go two miles? Because you don't need that many cars to have statistically significant. You only need a handful of cars during rush hour to say, hey, we're slowing down significantly.

Deb Heiser:

Well, and I'll switch back. I went down this regional path and went shiny object on y'all, but we actually use it to do our traffic warrants, our intersection warrants, because when you look at it, if you're looking at a lower volume, you know it's not as accurate. I'm not using it to do This is how many vehicles are on the road. I'm looking at it. So, of this intersection, what are the legs and how do they compare to each other? Yeah. So if you're looking at the data and you're comparing data to data, you know, does it meet? You know, are the legs the similar or the same? how many vehicles go through here? and We've been, you know we've been pretty successful with that. You know, as far as just doing a simple review, we will all. We've also Taking a look at speeds using it, but the speeds are usually brackets, and that's another thing that we're not as. So You know, as far as these pilots are concerned, i wouldn't use streetlight for them, because most of the roads that we're doing the pilots on are like You just don't have enough less than a thousand vehicles. Yeah, and I can't say that before I had a thousand vehicles, after I had 700 or whatever.

Marc Culver:

So if you're not using streetlight data In those circumstances, like in the future, like what are you gonna use? I mean, you're gonna continue to use, to do, to count.

Deb Heiser:

Well, we've been using, we've been using cameras.

Marc Culver:

Okay, more recently talk about that.

Deb Heiser:

Well, cameras are really cool because It's just kind of building on this. Tubes are great, but have you ever had a street super drive across a tube? Yeah, of course, and we had a situation where actually a car got a nail in there in their tire. Oh wow, i'd never seen it before and The group we were working with it Never seen it before either. So you know, they come loose and the heat and everything else. Cameras are really cool also because you can see behaviors. I brought this up before. We would not have seen that Pedestrian interaction at those intersections at front Furnhill And if we had these cameras we saw some stuff and just even some other drivers. You know just, it's one thing to say this is how many cars. It's another thing to say, oh, my goodness, what's going on here?

Marc Culver:

So so talk about how you're using the cameras, like what. What cameras are using, how you're using and how are you Analyze in the data.

Deb Heiser:

Well, I can't say what cameras are using. We actually consult all this out.

Marc Culver:

That's fine.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, we had a company that we we went to quite For everything and we've been trying to find that next niche. Lately we've been using a lion to do a lot of our traffic counting and So in Bolton and Mank has to have all the make has done some work for us And they they are actually helping us out with our counts this year But counts like two years ago.

Marc Culver:

You know for an hell and for an hell. They got those for these firms Just putting video cameras up and then they're post processing the data somehow right, it's my interest.

Mike Spack:

So yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's tap dancing around. So this I recently sold my company I was spack solutions but we developed count cam cameras and technology for this purpose and Alliance Bolton make many Companies across the country and even the world use the count cams and The amazing thing about video is you have that record, you can go back, you can scroll through at 30 times speed. Yep, just spend an hour looking at a day's worth of video to really get the traffic patterns and to see those near misses and to see the pedestrian bicycle, the multi-modal interactions. So I that's definitely where the profession I hope is heading And that's what I've been working on for the last 10 years.

Marc Culver:

So just just to kind of blow that up a little bit Um, so you, you develop this count cam system, so it's video. Do you still have like a human that's doing, that's counting it? Yes, or like? so you're watching the video at an accelerated Speed and you're counting, you're doing whatever you're, you're tracking the pedestrians or the vehicles or the trucks or whatever that you want to on a, on a board. Do you see that? well, what do you see the? the future of that?

Mike Spack:

Yes, it's definitely. There's a company, myo vision, that uses machine learning, machine vision, artificial intelligence, to break down to do the transcription, but the human brain is still better at it, so they still have human intervention is my understanding, the SPAC solutions methodology was people watching 100% of videos and watching that fast forward speed. We are very close to lots of artificial intelligence, machine learning tools being able to do this and being able to do it for pennies. Um, the tech, i mean just the whole world of video and it's all exploding and you can see that in videos, like stock prices Exploding this last quarter. So it it's going to be there and it's I, i. If you're putting two counts out five years from now, i think you're wasting Money, but you're also putting people in harm's way.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, that the video cameras can Capture that same data but also the other elegance we had again, we hired Bolton main glass gear In the winter to collect data. Yes, so, and I think that was huge is because you can't put tubes out in the middle of winter. Yeah and doing this stuff and and so that was. That was great, um, but I will say one thing, the one thing we learned when we did that data collection We did it on a frontage road directly adjacent to highway 100 and you've got to zero in. We were getting speed data. When you, when you've got literally a frontage road that's five feet from the highway, yeah, you've got a zero that in. When it comes to video, because we had had some previous data collection for speeds And we think they were picking up the highway. We had, we had 85th percentile speeds in, like the 50s, yes, and when bold and man can credit to the company to, when they realized that they were just getting these stupid fast speeds, they zeroed it in and we found that that data was just bad, yeah, and the average speeds were more along the lines of 30, which is what it's posted, right. So you know again. AI is important, but sometimes it takes the operator right, right and I think that's a great lesson for anything that we do within AI.

Marc Culver:

You know, with with the explosion of chat, GPT and all these other AI Web services, now You can't just it's kind of like the whole Wikipedia thing. You know we have the same conversations with with our kids that were researching stuff. You know you can't just take whatever is out there as truth. You have to look at it. You have to look at it with an educated eye and make sure that it makes sense. So yeah, I think I think I answered the question.

Deb Heiser:

And so, of course, i am not an expert on On the, the data, the technology. I just know that this is how we use it. Yeah, this is what we use it for, and I think the pilot projects. I definitely if we can start getting AI, that'd be great. The other thing I'm just going to say is from a bike ped perspective. One of our Things we're working on right now is our city council. We had that connect the park, which is the 30 miles of bike waste. We want to develop trends for that, and so we've been trying to work through how do we develop the bike. So we've been trying to work through how do we develop accounting Program for bikes and pads and that and. But the council even wants to know Who's using it. So is it, is it a child? Is it a male or a female? Just so we can kind of understand the demographics of you know we built a bike way. Is it? build it? They will come right. But who? who? you know? who are we serving? Well, how have we increased? Because our, our city council has a climate action plan and the idea is to create it an easier way for people To get around town, not using single-academy vehicles. So that's what bike pet, what our, what our connected park is all about, and we haven't solved that yet. You know, we've been talking about doing video counts for that And then actually having someone say you know, appears to be female, you know, or having that be part of it, but AI would be awesome, yeah, something like that.

Mike Spack:

Yeah, and AI For good, for bad, for scary Yeah, we'll be get closer and closer there. And also, milevision has rolled out. They acquired a company that developed AI technology around near misses And I think that is also an important data set that I mean we collected the data We could cost effectively over the last century and now that the tools are getting cheaper and cheaper It's, we can start looking at more refined data, because if we find in a neighborhood these near misses are going up 10 fold, it is a very reasonable Straight line for us to say our our exposure for something bad has increased 10 times.

Deb Heiser:

We, we actually made a decision. So we we had an intersection at park commons in Monterey. That was a full, full access intersection and we had a development coming in across the street and we we would often get complaints and concerns. It was difficult to take a left. It's only 200 feet away from the Excelsior intersection And, um, we had a new development coming in. We were looking at it real like, oh, what should we do? and we did a whole try. We'd had a traffic study done by srf and We had a couple options and then they showed us the video. There is three instances, i think, of these kids trying to cross the intersection And the car is just ignoring them, my god. So we just said you know what this needs to be a three-quarter. Yeah this can't be a left out, because people were focusing so hard.

Marc Culver:

To find that gap. They didn't see anything else. You can see the kids trying to cross the street.

Deb Heiser:

So we, we were. I mean, i was like, well, you know should we, you know should we, but we, we finally just said, from a safety perspective, we want this to be more walkable. It was right near Excelsior and Grand Trader Joe's is right there. We just said this is what we need to do And so that's. You know, that's what that video is so powerful about. It was it was not only collecting the data, but seeing that near miss, which you know. Yeah, unless there's an accident report, you don't know what happened.

Marc Culver:

And Mike and I talked a little bit about this on our previous podcast. You know, at a recent conference that I was at, you know there was so much conversation about AI And it was a lot of conversation about the very thing you were talking about is using AI and the tools whether it's video or lidar, some other technology to collect the data but that post processing and finding things. You know, letting AI, like dive in there and find things that we're probably not going to see. You know, because you can't you can only look at it so many hours of video as a human being and so it's just really, As you think about the potential for that, just to find, to record everything else that you're not seeing In the future and how it can help you make some really good decisions so that something like that doesn't happen. Yep, so you're not responding to a fatality at some point? um, well, you know we've talked a lot about we have our standard ending questions Um, about technology, and we've talked a lot about technology in that, but I guess you know just kind of opening it up to you um, outside of maybe even traffic counting and that, but You know, where have you really seen technology make a huge impact in the profession, in your, in your career, i guess oh my, where have I seen so in my career?

Deb Heiser:

to be honest with you, i There are certain things that just seems so pedestrian for people, so basic, but just a Google Street view, yeah, yeah, am I right?

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yes, i, i that that that changed things. Like you, right.

Deb Heiser:

Instead of having to get in your car, go drive around and see what's going on, you could just oh yeah, i see what exactly some and even to the point where we do for a project, we hire a company and they drive our projects and so we have, you know, data before. You know, like literally, you know, sometimes those are five, ten, yeah, but we have the data rip for the project And so that you know, while we're in the winter designing, we can actually have the. You know, this was just driven in November, yep, you know. So that that's awesome. We, the other the other one is interactive comment maps, gis, just what we've been, what we are, what is our go-to now. The pandemic did a lot To really have us pivot and how we engage the public. You know, think about all the times you've. Well, for the audience, when we have a, when I have a meeting prior to the pandemic, it was always we're gonna have a meeting. Come to City Hall, it's an open house, there's a presentation, there's a facilitator, whatever the case may be, and you send out 900 letters. You, you bring cookies and you've got 10 staff there and five people show up, right, and With the pandemic we started things do, doing things virtually, and then we tape them and then we put them on our websites And so people keep them whenever they want it. We have had 40, 50 people just joined virtually and we still kind of, we still done the in-house open houses, we've done pop-up events, we've done a lot of those things. But when you look at just that virtual and then The other great things remember that design, charrette, i talked about for Elmwood We put up this interactive map and there's a first thing we do with the public and we send a little postcard with a QR code That says please go, look at our interactive map and people can go over there and say traffic and a little pull it, you know, click on the map, stop sign here, pedestrian crossing there, drainage issue there, and It's a great way that people can just sit at home at their own time. And we get hundreds of comments on these.

Mike Spack:

What's that software package you're using?

Deb Heiser:

It depends. So we've got a couple consultants, we've used it's a public input ID and then, um, i forget the name. Show in point Yes, yeah, okay, and I mean it's effectively a GIS based and it's just how it's interact, the one that we're using for this year's payment manager really like, because not only can you make a comment You know you can originate a Task or a dot on the map, but other people can comment on it too. Thumbs up, thumbs down, so you can see, you know which can be scary. Which can you know? But we have. I mean it. We just actually met yesterday on the traffic management portion of it, because we just we're trying to decide If we were gonna do a pilot project and we are the nine traffic circles, the, you know, looking at it. We were able to drill down. These are the ones that the most people are really commenting and these are the ones that we can actually affect. You know, there's pedestrian crossings, crosswalk issues, there's a couple intersections that are really weird. We're like we're better It's my technical term. How can we narrow those up, make them more intuitive? So those are the technologies that I focus on. And then I I can't speak enough about this And I know it's not necessarily high-tech, but I call it big sign technology. We've had the best, some of the best, success with our Fernhill project. I keep a reference This is our 20 21 pavement management, street reconstruction project. We've just simply made a 8 1⁄2 by 11, or this 11 by 17 laminated. It's a sidewalk proposed with a QR code, plopped it in the Boulevard.

Marc Culver:

Oh, I can only imagine the comments you're gonna get out of that.

Deb Heiser:

Well, we had some people just take a picture of the QR code and go to the website sign up for our updates. We had 1700 people signed up for our newsletter before the project even started. That's great. And you know, everybody knew there was a sidewalk proposed because they were out in the street. It was out there. We also have a processor. What we do is we will see to see the lake road in Louisiana. We put giant construction signs out there, see the lake road project coming, and there we had a. We had a QR code as well as a bitly and again We've had just great success getting people to sign up and just having it out on the street, those road projects having to start it yet.

Marc Culver:

So You know it's not high-tech, i just you know. I kind of want to Add a little comment on what you're talking about, as far as what we, what we're doing differently post pandemic And I think from an accessibility perspective and an inclusive, inclusive, yeah, perspective on just being open to these virtual meetings now and even our council meetings you know, allowing people to participate Virtually and council meetings, and I wish we would change our open meeting laws so that, you know, appointed officials and elected officials could participate remotely too, because You know you want to be inclusive. You talk about inclusivity But somebody's at home with you know, their single parent at home. Well, i can't be a city council member because I can't commit to being at at city hall at seven o'clock on a Monday night Because I got to take care of my kid and and so like. Open it up. There's. There's no reason these Aniquated rules and and and laws that we have on things we need to. We need to change those things and this is a Minnesota thing. I imagine it's the same in a lot of other states. But It is encouraging to see how, in our profession, in our government setting, we are just Allowing people to participate in these things remotely and we're getting a lot more really good feedback because of that.

Deb Heiser:

So and I will give another plug. We actually, at the end of the day, when people come and talk to us about a project, they want to talk about what's happening with this project. Yeah, they want to talk about happening in front of their house. We put together a video now for both our both our road reconstruction projects and our alley reconstruction projects that we just put on the web page and we sent. That's another thing we send out. If you're interested in what the process is like, what to expect during construction, here's the video. Mm-hmm because then we don't spend the time during those public meetings Talking about this generic, you know, and the garbage does this, and the mailboxes get moved and you can't drive on your driveway for seven hours, seven days. We again focus on We're building sidewalks, we're doing water main. What are you concerned about in front of your house? Yep or good idea property so.

Mike Spack:

This has been fantastic. It's been great. Thanks Deb, thanks Mark.

Marc Culver:

Thank you Mike, thank you Deb.

Mike Spack:

Thank you Mark, thank you Mike and one last thing before you go. Although we don't charge for the pdh's you just received by listening to this podcast, the public works nerds is not free. If you've listened to more than one episode, the cost to you is that you tell one Colleague about the podcast to help us core our audience.

Marc Culver:

Thank you, Thanks to all our listeners and thanks, tony, our producer.

Transportation Data Collection and Use
Neighborhood Reconstruction and Traffic Management
Traffic Management Pilot Project
The Impact of Meeting Facilitators
Utilizing Streetlight Data for Traffic Analysis
The Impact of Technology in Transportation
Technological Advancements in Public Engagement