Twin Cities

Map of the Day: 1957 I-94 proposal for Lowry Hill

Streets.MN - 6 hours 48 min ago

Much has been written over the past year on the upcoming reconstruction of the Hennepin/Lyndale commons area just outside downtown Minneapolis, to be done later this year. Today’s Map of the Day looks back at the proposal for I-94 in the commons area from 1957. It comes from the study report “Freeways in Minnneapolis” conducted by George W Barton and Associates and dated January, 1957. This report was the first comprehensive study on freeways in the city of Minneapolis following passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the funding mechanism for constructing the nation’s Interstate highway system.

The I-94 proposal for the Lowry Hill area from 1957. Image from the study “Freeways in Minneapolis”.

There are a number of noticeable differences between this proposal and today’s tunnel. First and foremost, there was no tunnel proposed in 1957. The Highway Department’s official plan called for I-94 to be below-grade through the curve, then shift to above-grade on fill north of Groveland, bridging over both Vineland/15th and Kenwood Pkwy (which extended to Hennepin Ave at the time). This would result in no access across the freeway between northbound Lyndale and Vineland/15th.

Even at the time (and noted in the study), the prospect of an above-grade freeway in front of the Walker, Saint Mark’s, and 510 Groveland was not appealing, and so the highway department came up with an alternative profile. The alternative profile kept the freeway below-grade for a longer distance, coming to grade in front of the Walker and Saint Mark’s (versus being 15-18ft above-grade at that spot in the original proposal). The alternative profile allowed for bridges over the freeway at Douglas Ave and at Groveland, but would have prevented access at Vineland/15th and still would have been elevated above Kenwood Pkwy.

Another noticeable difference is the number and location of freeway ramps. This proposal had more ramps overall, with more direct ramps through the Bottleneck portion, allowing Hennepin and Lyndale traffic to avoid the signals at Vineland/15th. Access to/from the south and east was also radically different, with the Highway Department proposing a set of ramps connecting to an extension of Dell Place that would pass underneath Ridgewood Ave and connect to Franklin Ave halfway between Garfield and Harriet. The freeway study noted the desirability of having an urban residential neighborhood close to downtown north of Franklin and east of Lyndale, and recommended that the Highway Department design ramps that had more direct connections to Lyndale.

Though not as noticeable, this proposal would have had a 2-way section on today’s northbound side of Hennepin between Kenwood Pkwy and Harmon Place.

While the alignment is more or less along what was constructed, the 1957 plan was dropped in favor of a tunnel proposal by 1960, though it would be another decade before the tunnel got built (opening in late 1971).

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Categories: Twin Cities

Transit versus the overly-accessible freeway

Hi / Zeph / 400 - 10 hours 30 min ago
In the run-up to construction of the Green Line between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, neighborhood activists spent a huge amount of effort to get three extra stations included on the route at Hamline Avenue, Victoria Street, and Western Avenue. These extra stations cut the distance between stations in half on that section, from one mile down to half a mile. This put nearly all of the buildings that face the Green Line on University Avenue within a 5-minute walk of the stations.Getting that change to happen required advocacy work all the way up the chain of command for transit projects in the United States. In early 2010, the Federal Transit Administration changed the rules to de-emphasize a calculation called the Cost-Effectiveness Index (CEI) while adding an option to include livability as a factor. The change didn't just affect the Green Line, but meant that any other projects around the country could also benefit.Considering that tremendous battle, it's amazing to see that on-/off-ramps to surface streets on Twin Cities freeways—the car equivalent to stations on a transit line—are often spaced less than a mile apart. In the map I made above, around 40% of the area's ramps are spaced one mile apart or less, and the great majority—about 85%—are less than two miles apart.The shortest distance I found between two full interchanges is in Golden Valley by the headquarters for General Mills. It's about 0.3 miles along Highway 100 between Olson Memorial Highway (MN-55) and Shelard Parkway/Betty Crocker Drive.The ramps at Shelard/Betty Crocker are also very close to the interchange between MN-100 and Interstate 394, though in making the map, I ignored exclusive freeway-to-freeway interchanges, since they don't provide any access to surface streets.The longest stretch of closely-spaced ramps appears to be along MN-36 between Cleveland Avenue and Lexington Avenue—five interchanges on a two-mile stretch of highway, each a half-mile apart.Now take a look at this presentation board from the Robert Street Transitway study and the station spacing suggested for each mode. It's head-scratching to see these ranges and compare them to what we expect when building infrastructure for cars.For highway bus rapid transit services in particular, the suggestion is to space stations about two miles apart. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that, particularly when highway BRT is laid on top of a system that already has closer stop spacing, but it is striking to compare it with a freeway system where most interchanges are much more tightly spaced.I'm of the opinion that most of the Twin Cities bus network has stops that are packed too close together—usually around 1/8th of a mile apart on local routes, and sometimes even less. This isn't a huge problem on less-used and less-frequent routes, but busy lines are made interminably slow when they need to stop every block (and sometimes even more often than that!), but buses that run every 10 minutes or less are typically busy enough to need their stops spaced out a bit.Two main problems arise when transit lines have closely-spaced stops: First, passengers get on and off at stops that are as close as possible to their destinations (good for them, but not always so good for the system). Second, passengers can end up making nonsensically short trips, such as waiting 5 or 10 minutes for a bus that will take them a quarter-mile down the road—a distance that can be walked in 5 minutes.Limiting the points of access reduces those issues and makes for smoother trips. Yes, it is an inconvenience for some, but it tends to provide benefits to far more riders than it hurts.Would similar effects be possible by spacing out some of our freeway access points? Can traffic congestion on highways be alleviated by encouraging some of the extremely short trips to happen on surface streets instead?In urbanized areas with valuable land, this might be a simpler and better alternative to highway tolling, which have historically required toll plazas (difficult to fit into urbanized areas, although they are less necessary today due to RFID and other technologies that don't require physical payment).Interstate 94 between downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul has a fraught history, but it probably has one of the region's better designs. Ramps are mostly spaced about a mile apart, with additional roadway crossings every half mile and pedestrian bridges in between those. There's a crossing of some type almost every quarter mile.Freeways can provide a great improvement in travel speeds, but designers have often been too focused on providing more car access to the freeway than improving the ability for people in all types of traffic to get across freeways or around and between nearby neighborhoods.Some ramps should be removed, though in most cases the bridges crossing the freeway should be maintained. The bridges could also be reworked to add new freeway BRT stops, like the 46th Street station along Interstate 35W in Minneapolis—rather than removing access, it would change the type of freeway access from automotive to transit. In the long term, that would improve the overall throughput of the freeway system by getting more people into high-capacity vehicles.Looking the other direction, our region's current pattern of freeway ramp spacing should provide some lessons to transit planners. Even though the primary mode of transportation on the highway is by car, the spacing varies significantly in response to geography and the surrounding development pattern.In my mind, it doesn't make sense to say that commuter rail should only stop once every 7 miles, as shown in that display board—many parts of the world have "commuter" trains that stop about as often as our Blue Line light-rail service. Transit planners should be more adaptive and do what's right for a particular corridor rather than sticking too close to an often-arbitrary modal definition.Besides, how can we expect people to switch to using buses and trains more often when it's harder to reach them than it is to get to the nearest highway? These are some of the questions we need to consider as we work to ensure a stable footing for the future of the region.
Categories: Twin Cities

Let Us Build Less Parking, Please

Streets.MN - 10 hours 37 min ago

Every large American city has parking requirements. New York has parking minimums. Portland has parking minimums. Even Houston, which stands alone in the United States by forgoing zoning laws altogether, has parking minimums. Houstonians can build a multifamily apartment building wherever they like, but they need 1.25 spaces for every studio unit, which is higher than Minneapolis’s current requirement. Maybe Texas has a greater appetite for regulation than they let on. (Or maybe they just to ensure ample space for Texas-size vehicles.)  Even though all cities have parking requirements, there are very good reasons to relax them in Minneapolis. Let’s run down the list.

Free parking encourages bad behavior.

Car-dependent sedentary lifestyles kill thousands of people a year. Drunk driving kills thousands more. Don’t get me started on distracted driving. But there are more mundane costs to free parking. Donald Shoup estimates that, at any given time, one-third of drivers on Manhattan streets are looking for a curbside parking spot. The economic and environmental cost of parking vultures is astronomical. The lottery-style economics of scarce, free parking make our brains go haywire. We lose our ability to rationally weigh the costs and benefits of different courses of action, just because there’s the chance of getting something for nothing.

Building and maintaining parking is expensive.

Structured parking in Minnetonka costs $25,000 per spot to build, and with the higher land costs in the urban core, it would cost even more here in Minneapolis. Maintenance isn’t cheap, either: Edina recently announced a plan to spend $5.7 million renovating a few ramps at 50th and France, which averages out to $6,000 per space. How much of the cost of construction and maintenance is passed to the tenants? It depends. Everything else held equal, a building with lots of parking will be more expensive than a building with less parking. But the developer might choose to make up for the extra cost in other ways besides raising rents. Maybe the tenants lose a pocket park. Maybe the neighbors have to look at slightly cheaper exterior materials. The point is that when parking is oversupplied, someone will get less than they would have otherwise. That might be the developer, the tenants, or the neighbors. Read John Edwards’ post on the price of his empty parking space.

People are driving less these days.

If you’d like to read about the national trend away from cars, I’d suggest the Death of the Suburbs or The Great Inversion. Locally, in the last eleven years we opened up two light rail lines and the nation’s best urban bikeway. The population living near the central business district is exploding. Nice Ride, hourcar, and car2go provide more transportation options. I took a look at data from the American Community Survey, and I found that the number of people in Minneapolis living in low- or no-car rental households has been increasing in the last few years. At the same time, the median household income for renters has increased by about 8% in real dollars, which indicates to me that this is trend is due more to changing tastes than economic hardship.

Low-car and no-car renters in Minneapolis

A few things about this chart. Please notice that according to my analysis, more than a third of Minneapolis (141,599 people) live in a car-lite rental household. That seems like a lot of people! You might wonder why the 0-or-1-car rental households line looks flat, but the average number of renters per household is increasing. It’s because the total number of renters is increasing even while the number of households stayed still. Finally, and the bottom line, which shows how many renters get to work without driving (whether by bus, bike, or foot) doesn’t have an impressive slope, but it shows that this population of car-free commuters increased from 29,988 in 2007 to 39,338 in 2013. If that trend were to continue, we would have about 54,000 car-free commuting renters in 2020.

There is a growing demand for car-lite and car-free living in Minneapolis. We should acknowledge the trend, and see it for what it is: a boon to our city. Then we should get out of its way by relaxing parking requirements for new and re-purposed buildings.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Transit Versus the Overly-Accessible Freeway

Streets.MN - 12 hours 39 min ago

In the run-up to construction of the Green Line between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, neighborhood activists spent a huge amount of effort to get three extra stations included on the route at Hamline Avenue, Victoria Street, and Western Avenue. These extra stations cut the distance between stations in half on that section, from one mile down to half a mile. This put nearly all of the buildings that face the Green Line on University Avenue within a 5-minute walk of the stations.

Getting that change to happen required advocacy work all the way up the chain of command for transit projects in the United States. In early 2010, the Federal Transit Administration changed the rules to de-emphasize a calculation called the Cost-Effectiveness Index (CEI) while adding an option to include livability as a factor. The change didn’t just affect the Green Line, but meant that any other projects around the country could also benefit.

Considering that tremendous battle, it’s amazing to see that on-/off-ramps to surface streets on Twin Cities freeways—the car equivalent to stations on a transit line—are often spaced less than a mile apart. In the map I made above, around 40% of the area’s ramps are spaced one mile apart or less, and the great majority—about 85%—are less than two miles apart.

The shortest distance I found between two full interchanges is in Golden Valley by the headquarters for General Mills. It’s about 0.3 miles along Highway 100 between Olson Memorial Highway (MN-55) and Shelard Parkway/Betty Crocker Drive.

The ramps at Shelard/Betty Crocker are also very close to the interchange between MN-100 and Interstate 394, though in making the map, I ignored exclusive freeway-to-freeway interchanges, since they don’t provide any access to surface streets.

The longest stretch of closely-spaced ramps appears to be along MN-36 between Cleveland Avenue and Lexington Avenue—five interchanges on a two-mile stretch of highway, each a half-mile apart.

Now take a look at this presentation board from the Robert Street Transitway study and the station spacing suggested for each mode. It’s head-scratching to see these ranges and compare them to what we expect when building infrastructure for cars.

For highway bus rapid transit services in particular, the suggestion is to space stations about two miles apart. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, particularly when highway BRT is laid on top of a system that already has closer stop spacing, but it is striking to compare it with a freeway system where most interchanges are much more tightly spaced.

I’m of the opinion that most of the Twin Cities bus network has stops that are packed too close together—usually around 1/8th of a mile apart on local routes, and sometimes even less. This isn’t a huge problem on less-used and less-frequent routes, but busy lines are made interminably slow when they need to stop every block (and sometimes even more often than that!), but buses that run every 10 minutes or less are typically busy enough to need their stops spaced out a bit.

Two main problems arise when transit lines have closely-spaced stops: First, passengers get on and off at stops that are as close as possible to their destinations (good for them, but not always so good for the system). Second, passengers can end up making nonsensically short trips, such as waiting 5 or 10 minutes for a bus that will take them a quarter-mile down the road—a distance that can be walked in 5 minutes.

Limiting the points of access reduces those issues and makes for smoother trips. Yes, it is an inconvenience for some, but it tends to provide benefits to far more riders than it hurts.

Would similar effects be possible by spacing out some of our freeway access points? Can traffic congestion on highways be alleviated by encouraging some of the extremely short trips to happen on surface streets instead?

In urbanized areas with valuable land, this might be a simpler and better alternative to highway tolling, which have historically required toll plazas (difficult to fit into urbanized areas, although they are less necessary today due to RFID and other technologies that don’t require physical payment).

Interstate 94 between downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul has a fraught history, but it probably has one of the region’s better designs. Ramps are mostly spaced about a mile apart, with additional roadway crossings every half mile and pedestrian bridges in between those. There’s a crossing of some type almost every quarter mile.

Freeways can provide a great improvement in travel speeds, but designers have often been too focused on providing more car access to the freeway than improving the ability for people in all types of traffic to get across freeways or around and between nearby neighborhoods.

Some ramps should be removed, though in most cases the bridges crossing the freeway should be maintained. The bridges could also be reworked to add new freeway BRT stops, like the 46th Street station along Interstate 35W in Minneapolis—rather than removing access, it would change the type of freeway access from automotive to transit. In the long term, that would improve the overall throughput of the freeway system by getting more people into high-capacity vehicles.

Looking the other direction, our region’s current pattern of freeway ramp spacing should provide some lessons to transit planners. Even though the primary mode of transportation on the highway is by car, the spacing varies significantly in response to geography and the surrounding development pattern.

In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to say that commuter rail should only stop once every 7 miles, as shown in that display board—many parts of the world have “commuter” trains that stop about as often as our Blue Line light-rail service. Transit planners should be more adaptive and do what’s right for a particular corridor rather than sticking too close to an often-arbitrary modal definition.

Besides, how can we expect people to switch to using buses and trains more often when it’s harder to reach them than it is to get to the nearest highway? These are some of the questions we need to consider as we work to ensure a stable footing for the future of the region.

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Categories: Twin Cities

TCSidewalks Tour: Noteworthy Parking Lots of Minneapolis Bike Tour

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 3:57pm
It's time once again for a psychogeographic tour of noteworthy places led by yours truly. This time we're going to "look at the parking lot, really see the parking lot for what it is, and try to find god in the parking lot." We will examine the past, present, and future of parking lots, the faded utopian dreams of parking visionaries. So much happens in a parking lot, glazed with oily water, beside the white Hondas.Questions asked will include: Q: What is a parking lot?Q: Is it it nothing?Q: Is it everything?[Crown jewel of the parking lot park system.]In a sense, parking lots are the urban water through which we swim. They sit invisibly, the emptiness around us, that which keeps us apart.  We will visit and explore five noteworthy parking lots centered around downtown Minneapolis, beginning with the parking lot in front of the Lake Street K-Mart at the corner where Lake and Nicollet ought to be.We will travel north from there to visit two parking lots in downtown Minneapolis, and two parking lots in Northeast Minneapolis.
  • What: Bicycle tour of five parking lots in Minneapolis
  • Where: Meet at the K-Mart parking lot (Lake and Nicollet) 
  • When: Wednesday 4/29; departing at 6:30 pm
  • How long: About 5 miles on bicycle, probably 90 - 120 minutes
  • Why: To explore the urban landscape of the Twin Cities
[RSVP at the Facebook invite here. Or don't. Bring a friend.]
    [The parking lot from Fargo.]The tour will include the K-Mart parking lot, the downtown parking lot where the film Fargo was shot, the parking lot at the former Nicollet Hotel site, the parking lot outside Nye's Polonaise room, and the Northeast Bank parking lot park, probably the most unique parking lot in the Twin Cities![See previous tours here: Dive Bars of Old Fort Road, Dive Bars of South Minneapolis, The Last Holidazzle, Overlooked Parks of Saint Paul, Dive Bars of the Green Line, Skyways of Minneapolis, and Chinese Restaurants of East Lake Street.][Parking space: the final frontier.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Volvo LifePaint (video)

    Streets.MN - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 11:02am

    In this Washington Post column Eben Weiss, writer of the Bike Snob NYC blog, takes on the renewed push to preserve public street space for cars by blaming the victims of car crashes. Included in the column is this Volvo LifePaint promotional video, an excellent example of the car makers’ PR campaign to maintain ownership of the streets.

    This is just another way for drivers to outsource any and all responsibility for what they do with their cars to other road users. The giveaway? Volvo’s promotional video is full of testimonials, including this one from a driver: “Putting something on that will make you scream out to drivers like me is a fantastic thing.” What? How oblivious are you? Nobody should have to “scream out” to you to get your attention while you’re driving a car. You should already be giving it, and undividedly so.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Obstacles to Accessing Bloomington’s Trails

    Streets.MN - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 10:53am

    This weekend, I awoke early to grab some time-lapse sunrise photos on the Minnesota River banks across from the Port Cargill-West Elevator. I hiked the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail to a nice clearing then let my cameras click away as I listened to ducks quack and watched a beaver and muskrat paddle around. The morning couldn’t have been more lovely. It’s a shame transportation planners are doing all they can to keep people like me away.

    The Normandale trailhead for the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail

    The southern terminus of Normandale Boulevard is a textbook example of how misplaced priorities undermine a city’s amenities and increase costs. It’s characterized by features that tell everyone but immediate neighbors they aren’t welcome to use a trailhead that should be a regional asset.

    Signs tell people not to stop by the Normandale trailhead for the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail.

    As soon as drivers turn off the main road, they’re greeted by a sign that says there’s no parking on the street leading up to the trailhead. Both side of the street have no parking signs. The trailhead itself is off a cul-de-sac where the quarter-mile section of street ends, but there is no other place to stop. It’s as if the eight duplexes and two single-family homes on the street are saying, “Keep out! This is mine!” This isn’t due to heavy traffic or lack of space. There’s enough room for two vehicles to drive comfortably beside one another with a healthy amount of space left over for parking. A short hike wouldn’t be such a problem in an urban area. Here, though, trailhead access all but demands a car because sprawling single-family home subdivisions surround the rest of the area. I’m not sure who exactly owns this stretch of pavement. Google and Bloomington’s city map say the street is the terminus of Hennepin CSAH 34. The county map says CSAH 34 ends at Old Shakopee and that this is a city street.

    City of Bloomington

    Hennepin County

    In either case, this is a publicly funded roadway. The county state-aid highway system uses a mix of state and local taxes to cover costs. For Bloomington streets, owners of single family homes and duplexes are only assessed for 25 percent of project costs. Local governments also pick up the tab for plowing and street sweeping. In all likelihood, some local government is paying tens of thousands of dollars for a small bit of pavement that only 10 families can use. This isn’t fiscally responsible. By removing on-street parking, these suburban homeowners are essentially doing the same thing that urban homeowners owners do when they demand more on-street parking for their personal use. Both cases see a small, localized group of property owners asking other taxpayers to fund some asset that the larger community is effectively barred from using. In Bloomington, homeowners get access to a great trail and don’t have to deal with unsavory characters like myself tramping past their front doors — even if Bloomington might benefit from more out-of-town visitors. The end result in both cases is that local governments have effectively privatized a public good.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Take Me Out to the Saints Game

    Streets.MN - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 1:00am

    This Sunday, Saint Paul’s Pioneer Press published an article about how ballgames at the new CHS Field may effect downtown Saint Paul in regards to total parking capacity. Although the article quotes Mayor Chris Coleman saying, “a recent study shows there is as much as four times the amount of parking required to accommodate fans,” the article continues to elaborate on some downtown resident’s fears that a ball park may cause Lowertown to become over run with cars looking to park nearby the stadium during games. Summarized neatly, the article states that “If Saints fans drive to Lowertown alone, it will be a tight, and likely uncomfortable, fit.”

    As an ex-resident artist of Lowertown who still works regularly in the neighborhood, I am familiar with the fears that many residents have about the new ball park. Although I do understand that change can be difficult, I must attest that Mayor Coleman is indeed correct to assert that there is more than ample parking to facilitate a cultural institution such as a ballpark. In the recent downtown Saint Paul parking study, data shows that there are more than 18,344 open parking spots in downtown during the time that ballgames will occur. Considering that CHS Field has an absolute maximum capacity of 9,000, it certainly seems to me that nearly 10,000 remaining open spaces does not constitute a “tight and likely uncomfortable fit.”

    All that being said, I am not an engineer. I am, however, a life long baseball fan and I take pride in knowing the history of our country’s national past time. I was incredibly confused at how the Pioneer Press article didn’t seem to give any faith to the idea that baseball fans would use public transportation to go to ball games, calling the idea of riding a train to a ballgame “untested.”

    Baseball is a game of historic records and always has been. The greatest appeal of both a ballgame and the history of baseball is that narratives of the sport lackadaisically write themselves into history with both poise and grace. In that way, the legends and legacies of baseball straddle the border of sport and folklore. Just consider the case of Morganna the kissing banditBabe Ruth’s called shot, or even the infamous Curse of the Billy Goat the Chicago Cubs live with to this day.

    Yet the best example of baseball’s folk musicality is the tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning. This particular tune was originally written in 1908 by Jack Norworth. At the time of the song’s inception, Jack was riding an elevated train in New York when he saw a sign advertising a baseball game. With a little help from his musician friend Albert Von Tilzer, an American musical classic sung at games to this day came about from the simple act of day dreaming on public transportation.

    It is not coincidental then that most major league baseball teams strongly encourage baseball fans to use public transportation to come to ballgames. In fact, riding a train is so natural to the game of baseball that it is written into the cultural narrative of the game itself. Calling riding a train to a baseball game “untested” borders on absurdity.

    But I do not write today in order to scold anyone or start any fights. I love baseball and I love my city. I think it will become readily apparent that CHS Field will be a fantastic asset to both our city and the vibrant culture our city provides. I do encourage the Saint Paul Saints to be more explicit to their fans that riding public transit is the best way to come to a game, as currently they list driving as the primary way to get to a game.

    Yet I don’t encourage baseball fans to come to games via public transit just because it is the clear and obvious sensical thing to do. I encourage fans to use transit because driving to ballgames robs us of the ability to daydream on a summer day. We don’t know the opportunity cost of disallowing a muse to alight upon us because we are hurriedly looking for parking. I personally think it’s much more pleasant to sit and dream looking out the window in lazy anticipation of our national past time.

    So please, come to a Saints game this summer. And please, ride public transit or ride your bike. Who knows, you might even see me rolling down the Bruce Vento Trail on my bike whistling silly songs to myself. In fact, you might even find yourself humming that age old song, “Take Me Out the Ballgame.”

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Bicyclopolis: Episode Eight, The Gates of Bicyclopolis

    Streets.MN - Sun, 04/19/2015 - 10:00am

    Streets.mn presents Bicyclopolis, a graphic novel by Ken Avidor in serial form. In last week’s episode, The Monorail Cult, Dan and Archie learn about Dr. Leon Carlson and the subversive, neo-modernist rebellion against Bicyclopolis. In this week’s episode, our travelers arrive at the gates of Bicyclopolis and get their first glimpse of the city.

    If you missed an episode, you can find links to episodes at the archive. For easier reading, click on the pages a couple times to make them bigger.

      

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Sunday Summary – April 19, 2015

    Streets.MN - Sun, 04/19/2015 - 6:58am

    We’re delighted to have been named City Pages Best Local Blog Minneapolis 2015, but “we” could also include you.  You can write for us or  Join streets.mn Committees and Task Forces to have some impact. Or, you could just take a survey one writer has created to inform a future post: Questioning Our Pedestrian Lives

    Wrapping up the tournament madness with the Green Line as the overall champ; here’s the streets.m(ad)n(ess) Postgame Show.

     Vikings and Downtown East Commons

    The Vikings Stadium and the environs have sparked much writing here on streets.mn; this week brings another round of coverage.  The Met Council is Spending $6,000,000 on this Unnecessary Pedestrian Bridge? is incredulous about the price and dubious about the need for this bridge for crossing the street and LRT tracks recently approved by the Metro Council Transportation Committee (the full Council votes April 22, 2015).  This post was far and away the comment winner of the week with some comparison to the Killebrew Bridge at the Mall of America, comparing costs of enforcement and traffic control at grade level, and quite a lot of comments about trolls of the Norwegian/Three Billy Goats Gruff variety.

    Two posts look at the Downtown East Commons park. The Case for Closing Portland Avenue in Downtown East picks up a thread from a couple of months ago (see here and here from February 2015) to advocate for closing Portland Avenue to cars through the proposed park.  Taking a far more concrete look, Park Entrances at Downtown East Commons: X Marks the Spot thinks about how to best plan the park to move people into and through it.

    Location of proposed pedestrian bridge

    Hopkins

    The suburb of Hopkins (America’s Raspberry Capital) has not figured prominently in streets.mn coverage until this week.  It’s Time For Hopkins to Be Selfish looks at possible configurations of Blake Road as it is reconstructed.  Blake Road is also Hennepin County Route 20 and the tension between building a local street which serves Hopkins well and a county highway which moves traffic through Hopkins is obvious; the post provides detailed consideration of plans, alternatives and rationale.  As is often the case with project-based posts, the comments dig into details, compare other projects and add some thoughtful suggestions. Also about Hopkins is this short video about the Southwest LRT – Downtown Hopkins but also about connecting the LRT stations with the heart of downtown.

    An example of what a neighborhood-scale Blake Road, Hopkins might look like.

    Not otherwise classified

    These posts don’t fit in any neat categories, but Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos II: The Return of the Refreshed is a second conversation with a real life graphic designer about local city logos, this time about logos which have been recently revised or redesigned (the first conversation was in 2014). The question I have is why are blue and green so prevalent? Why Do Electric Cars Brake So Often? answers this question directly.  And The Future of the Midtown Greenway Bridges takes a close look at the 37 bridges crossing the greenway, many of which are aging and will need repair or replacement soon; this post shows us details (and provides history) we probably wouldn’t otherwise see.

    Minneapolis Logo ca. 1975

    Audio visual department

    Charts of the Day and Map of Monday: Vehicle Miles Travelled 2014 (and since 2000) correlates this statistic with economic and demographic data. Central City Share of Subsidized Housing highlights the concentration of subsidized housing in the central city. Map Monday: Time Lapse Photos from 1939 links to a Minneapolis map showing 1938 to 2011/12 aerial photos of Minneapolis where you can slide the bar and see it change.

    Videos: Almanzo 100 is a short video about the near legendary gravel race in southeast Minnesota. This free, register-on-a-postcard 100-mile race was created and sustained by Chris Skogen until this year; now the city of Spring Valley is organizing the May 15-17 race weekend (you still register on a postcard).  Southwest LRT – Downtown Hopkins is a Hopkins promotional video about the benefits LRT will bring to downtown Hopkins and what the city will do to link the not-quite-downtown station to the historic downtown.

    Photo road trip: Main Street – St. Bonifacius, Minnesota is another photo-trip to a small town which was once the taxi capital of the region (others are here and more are to come).

    Graphic novel continues: Bicyclopolis: Episode Seven, The Monorail Cult.

    Spring is really here with daffodils but also with worms which cling to bicycle tires (and every other part of the bike) after Spring rains. Get outside and look around your streets, then write about it for us.  Have a great week!

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    GOP War on Cities Begins and Ends with Hypocrisy

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 11:14am
    [Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), second from left, cutting a massive road project ribbon.]The low rumbling sound you hear in Saint Paul these days isn't the re-construction of Wabasha Street. It's the continuing attempts to erode the financial solvency of urban Minnesota. This has been going on all session with the strange obsession with anti-urban (and pro-rural?) politics coming out of the Republican-controlled house, but yesterday's article in the Star Tribune about draconian cuts to the state's three largest (and poorest) cities sets a new low bar. It shouldn't be necessary to point out that Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Duluth are the three cities in the state that are coping with the largest amount of (racially concentrated) poverty, but that's the simple truth. Glancing at map of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and a tiny handful of suburbs) are where all the poor people of color live.[Poor brown people shaded in purple.]Note that this comes on top of the 5-county metro area's attempts to ignore racial inequality by attacking the Met Council's new (and still largely symbolic) recognition of poverty as a factor in transportation spending.  The fact that this small step toward redressing long-standing racially problematic policies is being fought so vociferously makes the race and class dynamics of Minnesota politics surprisingly clear... That is, if you're paying attention.Simply put, by going directly at the three core cities, the GOP is attacking poor people and people of color. Whatever urban vitality we might have is caught in the crossfire.Regional and State Policy: Not Dead Yet!The bigger picture is a policy battle over whether we think about policies at a regional or state-wide level. The LGA program is a recurring political football whereby wealthy cities pool money to give to poorer cities. Along with the Met Council's planning and transportation programs, the metro-area tax-base sharing fund, and the vague Minnesotan predilection for income over property taxes, it's one of the few so-called "Minnesota miracle" programs lingering around since the 1970s.In the case of a city like Duluth, which is struggling with large areas of poverty and aging infrastructure, and is so cash-strapped that it routinely considers selling off its museum holdings, cutting the city budget is literally undermining the marginal lives of tens of thousands of poor people in Minnesota.Here's the most eye-opening part of the Star Tribune story:David Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer, told lawmakers, “Our entire fire department budget is $14.8 million. We could eliminate our fire department completely and we would still have to find $5 million to cut.”Montgomery said such a massive cut in aid would likely force Duluth to lay off 300 of its 830 employees.Anyone who's been paying attention to Duluth city budgets lately knows that a cut like this would be a death sentence. The same kind of effect would happen in Minneapolis or Saint Paul.[A sign of things to come if the GOP gets its way.]The Hypocritical Case of Rogers, MN[Counties subsidized by the state are colored in red.]The particularly ironic part of the picture is that out-state Minnesota already receives massive amounts of redistributive income from the wealthier urban areas.If you read the next two paragraphs of the article, you get this precious quote from Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), the Minnesota House Majority leader:But House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, maintained that the three cities are getting more than their share of local government aid, known as LGA.“Minneapolis and St. Paul do get a large portion of LGA. I think it’s something that needs to be looked at, frankly,” Peppin said. The city of Rogers does not get local state aid.It's ironic because Rogers, a tiny exurban town of about 9,000 people, has been by far the #1 recipient of Governor Dayton's transportation spending slush fund, the "Corridors of Commerce" program. As I wrote back in 2014, when Dayton's Mn-DOT back-room list was first revealed, the program is a way to funnel money directly to "key transportation investments", which often means rural roads. For some reason, Rogers, in Peppin's home district, received the lions share:[$130M in state general fund dollars doing directly into Peppin's district last year.]I wrote back in 2014 that it seemed stupid to spend so much of the Governor's discretionary transportation budget in and around Rogers, a place that has about as much chance of supporting DFL policies as Charlie Brown has of kicking the football. Since those massively expensive freeway investments, there's been a huge industrial warehousing boom all throughout Rogers and Peppin's district. If you listen to people like Peppin, all that new economic activity is simple reflecting the free market. In reality, it represnts a return on the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dolalrs that have poured into Rogers over the last few years. The GOP's anti-urban, anti-poor rhetoric should be called out for the race and class war that it is. It's the Minnesota wing of the Scott Walker revolution going on next door. Lets hope this is the last we hear about it.[Rogers: a great place to play lacrosse and pretend poor people don't exist.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Questioning Our Pedestrian Lives

    Streets.MN - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:30am

    Part 1 in a series on pedestrian laws and practices across jurisdictions. To help with the discussion, please take this short survey. Results will be shared in Part 2.

    I don’t recall if he was more Eric Estrada or Barney Fife as he peered from his patrol car, but he told us we’d been riding on the wrong side — which was the right side(!)

    My older sister and I had been pedaling our Schwinns down the main street of our town of 2,500. The flashing lights behind us had sent shivers down my seven year old spine.

    No ticket. Instead: An invitation to a “workshop” for all two-wheeled scofflaws who’d been picked up in the city’s recent dragnet to make the streets safe again for town drunks swerving home from Schmitty’s after their shift at the mill. Justice had been done. Order had been restored.

    This memory comes back to me when I (literally) run into walkers and runners who use the left side. Yup, we’ve now mostly accepted that bicycles really should go on the right side, yet we’re confused about other non-automotive traffic. And these confusions are amplified on biking and walking paths where lanes seem to randomly merge and diverge.

    To help explore this, I created a little unscientific survey that will remain open until April 24. In the next installment, I will share the results, along with some analysis and personal rantings.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos II: The Return of the Refreshed

    Streets.MN - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 8:15am

    [See also the first installment of A Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos, where an actual professional working-for-a-large-Twin-Cities-company graphic designer discussed the logos of Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth, Apple Valley, and many other Minnesota cities.]

     

    Bill Lindeke (BL): Hello how are you today? Do you have time to chat?

    Real-Life Graphic Designer (RLGD): Great. I can chat now, if you like.

    BL: So the big news is the Minneapolis logo. Have you seen this amazing article on the history of the logo? Here’s the interesting part:

    This [new skyscraper] prompted some bigger thinking about redesigning the stationery and conveying the existing City of Lakes brand in a new, more versatile logo that could also be affixed to calling cards, Schulstad said. They considered using the outline of a lake, but realized that Minneapolis’ lakes don’t have very unique shapes.

    “Then we thought, ‘Our lakes are restricted, it’s only for canoes and sailboats. You can’t use a powerboat on a Minneapolis lake,'” he recalled. “So we thought about a canoe. That just didn’t look very good. So then we thought, ‘Well how about a sailboat?”

    So the two men, neither of whom had design background, went to work with a compass, some black paper and an X-Acto knife. Neither thought they were creating anything more than an icon for stationery and business cards.

    “This was not something where we went out to an advertising agency and paid $50,000 to get the design,” Schulstad said. “This was two people in the communications department … It was just strictly an in-house thing.”

    That’s from 1975.

    RLGD: I read the whole article. It’s pretty fascinating.

    BL: People didn’t used to think much about logos or design, I suppose.

    I love the detail where they’re using X-acto knives.

    RLGD: That is another era of design, for sure.  I did some stuff like that in high school and middle school.

    BL: I cut out shapes of construction paper in kindergarden. So, what is your take on the great 2015 Minneapolis logo debate?

    RLGD: I kind of like the 1975 version.

    Haha. It needed a refresh, but it looks so much like many other logos out there right now, especially in the corporate world.

    I think it was a missed opportunity.

    BL: To do something different? something non-sailboat-y?

    RLGD: But refreshes can be challenging, especially with an established “brand” like Minneapolis.

    BL: Nobody likes change. I had a friend who worked for a while trying to write new jingles for Folgers, which has one of the most famous jingles in the world.

    He said it was very frustrating, because you couldn’t change very much. It still has to be “the best part of waking up.”

    RLGD: The audience hates it too. Look at Gap. Though that was crap.

    Heh, that rhymed.

    BL: LOL. Probably the top all time logo disaster? Until the Hillary campaign?

    RLGD: That one is funny. And the response from the design community is even better.

    BL: So I tried to find a logo for Maplewood but all I could get was this:

    RLGD: LOL.

    BL: It’s surely one of the ‘classic’ corporate logos, no? Is it good because the 3 and the M are stuck together, and the company makes adhesive products?

    RLGD: Yes, but that was a slow evolution.

    BL: By slow evolution you mean, it changed slowly as the company makes tiny changes?

    RLGD:

    BL: O wow. Aha. Cities don’t really spend as much time thinking about their brand image as companies do, I bet.

    RLGD: Hard to say for a city the size of Minneapolis. They would at this point.

    But a suburb or small town? Probably not as much.

    BL: Here’s my favorite one I’ve found so far.

    RLGD: Yes. It makes a good t-shirt. I grew up in Burnsville. That’s been around since the 80s at least.

    BL: O wow. Yes.

    So for some reason almost all Minnesota cities have river themes.

    RLGD: It’s a watery place.

    BL: Burnsville is weird to me. I’m not sure what I’m looking at.

    RLGD: That looks like a really bad refresh or not the logo at all.

    BL: Nope, it’s real. I just checked on the city website.

    RLGD: Well this is the one I grew up with…

    BL: That’s so 70s.

    RLGD: But yes, their refresh looks like some drunk accountant bought Illustrator and did the logo one night.

    BL: Actually, the Burnsville logo evolution reminds me a lot of the Minneapolis “update,” just make everything more swooshy.

    RLGD: It looks like a mistake. 70s was fine time for design, IMPO.

    BL: So much freedom.

    Another river theme…

    RLGD: Crapids.

    BL: Hey now. They have a fine roller rink.

    RLGD: Skateville is better. Another fine specimen from the 70s.

    BL: I like the raccoon. Logos with cute animals seems like a win-win.

    RLGD: It’s very cute and very different for a city logo, but how effective is it on a cop car?

    BL: Racoons are inherently thieves?

    It’s harder to make an elk cute, I guess…

    RLGD: I bet there’s a cute elk in an anime somewhere.

    BL: Actually, the forest god from Princess Mononoke is kinda cute and elk-y…

    So this came up in the comment thread from your last column…

    NSFW?

    RLGD: That logo?

    Reminds me of this…

    BL: Yes, Dodge of Burnsville!

    Well you got to give Woodbury points for having “balls.”

    RLGD: Kind of looks like something else …

    BL: I wish the ‘W’ wasn’t truncated on the bottom. It really bothers me.

    RLGD: I like the typeface for Woodbury.

    BL: The ‘o’s are perfectly round.

    We received a logo submission via Twitter: Little Canada, which a reader said “I like the idea, but seems a tad cheesy.”

    RLGD: Hmm, why the Fleur?

    BL: Because Canada. I learned the other day that the fleur de lis is based on an iris.

    RLGD: Is that a strong Canada symbol?

    BL: Traditional French… It’s all over Quebec.

    RLGD: Ahh. I’d take out the “LC.” It makes it too busy. And the leaf is poorly drawn.

    BL: Yep. It’s almost like a vertigo spiral.

    Speaking of fleur de lis…

    RLGD: That’s a better Fleur at least.

    But the colors lack value contrast. The typography is weird too, and the lines are not needed.

    BL: The ‘City and the ‘Of’ not being lined up…

    Risque or slapdash?

    RLGD: It needs cleaning up.

    BL: Want to see the weirdest one?

    RLGD: Yes!

    BL: Check out the gradient…

    RLGD: I don’t even know what to say. I hate gradients in logos. A good logo should look good in black and white.

    Also, this one is too busy with the lines.

    But the “P” is interesting. I like that it has, on its own, a subtle water-drop motif

    BL: What do you mean by that?

    RLGD: Not the leaves and pubes. Or the udders. Just the “P” itself.

    It’s actually pretty elegant, but it’s buried in the other stuff.

    BL: Oh, I see the water drop now.

    They have their own semi-privatized bus system though…

    All this slanty text makes it seem like the bus is moving even when its stuck in traffic.

    Well we’re almost done here.

    I thought this was awesome but I can’t explain why. It’s also sort of a map, shaped like the city itself.

    RLGD: It’s clean but dull. So many cities do use blue and green as a crutch. It reminds me of the bad Blimpie logo redesign…

    BL: The one on the right is the newer one?

    RLGD: Yeah.

    But they fixed it recently…

    BL: Yeah why blue and green all the time? Earth and sky…

    Here’s the official flag of Rochester, Minnesota.

    What type face is that?

    RLGD: Woah. I can’t say specifically.

    BL: The colors almost have a Shepard Fairey quality to them to my eye. The font is like the old 80s digital stuff.

    RLGD: It’s as OCR looking font.

    I weirdly like it. Even if it doesn’t make much sense.

    BL: I do too. Don’t tell anyone.

    Do you have any last logo remarks?

    RLGD: Yes, I hope Hillary didn’t pay too much money for her logo.

    BL: LOL. Logos make politics fun.

    RLGD: It’s not the worst, but the lack of color contrast with the arrow is a basic design no-no.

    BL: Wait a sec. What do you mean lack of color contrast? Is there lots of color contrast?

    RLGD: I meant value contrast

    BL: Ah. I will google that.

    RLGD: If it was in b + w it would look one color. That’s not good for people who are colorblind or who have vision problems. A good logo, should look good in one color.

    BL: I am learning!

    RLGD: Now you know!

    BL: Keep up the good work, making the world fit to be seen.

    RLGD: Thanks! Let me know if you want to do another.

     

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Vehicle Miles Travelled 2014

    Streets.MN - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 2:17pm

    Via Planetizen, here’s an informative chart about an oft-discussed topic here on streets.mn: annual vehicle miles travelled. The nice thing here is that it attempts to correlate VMT with other economic and demographic data:

     

    Planetizen’s Steve Polzin has a few prescient takeaways:

    Fuel prices and a soft economy were important contributors to slowing VMT in the past decade, but the body of evidence suggests that other factors were also contributors. The population is slightly more urban with lower travel levels, millennials are traveling less, and people are substituting communications for travel with growth in e-commerce, e-learning, telecommuting, and texting and messaging in lieu of some social travel. Thus, a stronger economy and lower fuel prices are likely to restore some but not all of the historic growth in travel demand.

    Declines in travel over the past several years included disproportionate declines in non-urban travel and in freight travel. These components are significantly impacted by both economic activity and fuel prices. Both are subject to rebound with a stronger economy and moderating fuel prices.

    Year-over-year comparisons of VMT have been on a general upward trend since 2008 and have been in positive territory the past three years. Transit ridership trends remain positive but the magnitude of year-over-year changes have been on a declining trend since 2011.

    Based on a visual analysis of Figure 1, transit ridership has generally responded positively to labor force growth.

    You can read the whole thing at their site. There are also tons of other charts and discussion of VMT in our archives.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Park Entrances at Downtown East Commons: X Marks the Spot

    Streets.MN - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 9:30am

    With so much attention focused on bells and whistles and whether or not Portland Avenue should be closed through the park, when it comes to the debate about Downtown East Commons, perhaps quite literally we can’t see the forest for the trees. Playgrounds, restaurants, gardens, terraces, and even water features are all well and good, but what about the countless visitors to the park who simply want to stroll in, maybe find a bench, or just pass through? Past coverage has estimated that, for the park to be successful, 1 to 2 million people must visit per year, and it is reasonable to estimate that a large percentage of those aren’t necessarily there for a specific reason like a movie, a meal, a playground or tailgating. Therefore, the “commons” needs access from every corner, which will not only encourage more people to visit for these specific reasons, but all those casual users who are indeed just passing through. The paths and access of Downtown East Commons must acknowledge the context of the surrounding neighborhood.

    Original (2013) Rendering of Downtown East Commons by Ryan Companies (not Hargreaves)

    Think about all the times you have visited a park in a dense, urban, downtown-like setting.Were you there for a specific use, more casually to find a bench or people-watch, or even just passing through because it is a nice diversion?No matter how you started your journey, you likely entered the park on foot, right? And probably from an intersection at the corner of the park, right?

    After giving this some thought, I realized more often than not that I visit an urban park for a casual stroll rather than specific event, and having a direct path to enter the park at the corner or nearest street sure helps invite me in, much less get me out the other side. This will hold true for Downtown East Commons; nearly all visitors (including those coming from the skyway) will arrive on foot from across a street and at a corner, so providing direct access in to and across the “commons” from all corners will encourage more visits, both specific and casual.

    Cambridge Commons, Elegant Entrance Paths (and Direct Routes Across Park) for Specific and Casual Visitors Alike

    For example, consider another “commons,” Cambridge Common in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Look at the paths through the park; nearly all line up with streets and sidewalks that access the park. Cambridge Common exists within the context of its surrounding neighborhood. Approach the park from any direction, cross in to the park and you are met with a shortcut path to just about any intersection on the other side. It is simple, elegant and encourages park usage. Getting from the Sheraton Commander hotel to the Harvard campus or dinner near Harvard Square offers a pleasant but direct path through Cambridge Common. To get from Mason Street on the west to Cambridge Street on the east; straight line. Appian Way to the north end of the park; same thing. The park doesn’t have to be a destination in and of itself, it can be a pleasant diversion to simply pass through. I’ve visited Cambridge several times in the past couple years, and in all my visits Cambridge Commons itself was my actual destination only once. However, I estimate that three-quarters of my journeys to and from my hotel included passing through the park, because it was a pleasant option but also because there was a direct, convenient route to get where I needed. A simple X-shaped path from corner to corner of the park goes a long way, and we can’t forget this as we design our “commons.”

    Cambridge Common, Cambridge, Massachusetts

     

    Look around at other downtown parks or squares surrounded by a lot of urban density (i.e., people). Washington Square Park in New York City has access from the many streets that intersect it.

    Washington Square Park, New York City

     

    Across the pond, Soho Square in London twists the X-shape in to a cross but still provides direct access from the surrounding grid.

    Soho Square, London

     

    Across the river in St. Paul, both downtown parks have the simple X-shaped access. Rice Park has access from all corners, and at 1.6 acres isn’t that much less than the largest block of Downtown East Commons (2.4 acres).

    Rice Park, St. Paul

     

    Mears Park has a classic X-shape set of paths but also a stage, winding trail and stream. It invites people from all directions to pass through or stay and linger.

    Mears Park, St. Paul

     

    Maybe the most appropriate example is Folger Park in Washington D.C., because it is two parks bisected by a road (gasp!), but each has access from every corner. This isn’t rocket science. As with St. Paul, often the solution is a simple X-shaped set of access paths, elegant and inviting to the actual people who use and love these parks.

    Folger Park, Washington D.C.

     

    Hargreaves Associates should overlay a simple X-shaped set of paths through each block of the “commons,” welcoming people to the park but also encouraging others to pass through. Want to get from City Hall to the stadium? The Mill District to the Armory? Either light rail station to Wells Fargo? HCMC, new apartments and retail, future land uses we haven’t thought of? Providing direct access from all corners will make the “commons” more welcoming for all. Not every visitor will be there for a specific event or activity, but whatever the reason, better access from the corners helps all visitors access and enjoy the park. It is important to point out this is true whether or not Portland Avenue passes through the park; embrace the grid and pedestrians can approach from any direction, going anywhere, and they can either pass through or stay and linger.

    One of Four Concepts by Hargreaves – Access From Corners Required

     

    Some of those in favor of closing Portland Avenue have used the slogan “one park not two.” I’d rather have two well-designed parks than none. Hargreaves has so far taken public input and created four concepts, presented last week (scroll down and link to the 37 MB presentation), which include very sensible ideas like a playground, restaurant, and space for events. Whether we/they choose the “contrast,” “connect” or “unite” concept, and whether or not Portland is closed, we must put more emphasis on the context of the surrounding Downtown East neighborhood and how people will actually get to and enter, much less use, the park. Access from every corner is critical and can be achieved while still accommodating all proposed uses within. Doing so can increase the number of visitors, both specific and casual passers-by, and create a more welcoming and accessible park for all. A “commons”, if you will.

    This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    The Met Council is Spending $6,000,000 on this Unnecessary Pedestrian Bridge?

    Streets.MN - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 8:17am

    Check out this bridge! It’s a pedestrian bridge–meaning that it’s for pedestrians, walking “on foot” with their legs. For the sake of this post, say that you were in the market for a pedestrian bridge and, bear with me here, you wanted one that looked just like that one in the picture, but less pixelated and with a better-looking train under it.

    How much would you bid, on this pedestrian bridge that crosses a lightly-used two lane street and the corner of a train station?

    One half of one million dollars?

    One million dollars?

    Two million dollars?

    More than that? And yes, we are speaking about American dollars, currently one of the stronger currencies out there.

    So…three million dollars? No?

    If you would have stopped bidding at two million dollars, you would have lost the “auction” handily!

    Location of Downtown East Station, planned pedestrian bridge

    On Monday, the Transportation Committee of the Metropolitan Council (an organization the author of this post has gone out of his way to defend the existence of at length in his free time) voted to spend $6 million dollars on that pedestrian bridge! The need that has been expressed is that many people (thousands!) are expected to arrive at the new Vikings stadium via light rail transit on the Blue and Green Lines, a mode shift that should be celebrated. In the future, the extension of the Green Line will directly connect the Vikings stadium by rail transit to Vikings season ticket holder central, in the southwest metro, and maybe even more people will arrive via transit.

    But is preventing thousands of Vikings fans from touching a Minneapolis street worth the cost of this pedestrian bridge?

    Martin Olav Sabo Bridge (Source: bikede.org)

    Seeking to discover how onerous this proposition in fact was, I researched “pedestrian bridge costs” and it would appear that this is an expensive pedestrian bridge by many measures. The Martin Olav Sabo bike and pedestrian bridge over Highway 55 and the Blue Line, which is far larger than this bridge and also looks nice and used by people everyday and is not completely unnecessary, cost $5.1 million dollars.

    Furthermore, this bridge is being built (by the Metropolitan Council, not the Vikings!) for Vikings games, which occur at home eight times per annum, plus the playoffs, maybe. A Vikings game is the only conceivable event for which this bridge will be used, because all other non-2018 Superbowl and 2019 Final Four events that this stadium will host will be so lightly-attended that people will just cross the tracks at the light rail station rather than backtrack up some ramp. Unless they do something absurd like fence off the existing pedestrian route, which will probably happen in two years in order to justify the $6 million dollars spent on the bridge.

    In addition, the underground parking ramp sitting next to Downtown East Station is owned by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, and, in theory, would be a good candidate for redevelopment at some point, but it will be significantly impacted by this bridge, which will eat up much of its above ground area, and make it much less attractive for private sector redevelopment.

    One option for not spending $6 million dollars on this pedestrian bridge is that people could instead cross Chicago Avenue, a fairly lightly used two lane street which separates the train station from the Vikings stadium. It is odd that 23rd Avenue Southeast, between the Gopher football stadium and Stadium Village station, is closed at the end of Gopher football games (and, currently, Vikings games) to facilitate pedestrian movement to and queuing for the Green Line, and that is all kosher, but this would not be.

    Furtherestmore, are there better uses of $6 million dollars of finite Metropolitan Council money?

    Per a Finance & Commerce article,

    “Council member Jennifer Munt, who represents the Minnetonka area, agreed that the pedestrian connection is needed for safety reasons but said the Vikings should be paying more because the project will mostly benefit the team’s fans. She pointed to other system priorities—like shelters with light and heat in the region’s poorest areas—as better uses of $6 million in Met Council funds.”

    Council member Jennifer Munt from Minnetonka is correct that those things are better uses of $6 million dollars. The International Space Station orbits between 330 and 435 kilometers above the Earth; if you stacked $6 million dollars worth of pennies on top of each other, it would be more than twice as tall as that orbit. Alternatively, 1,000 bus shelters could be purchased, or perhaps 100 heated bus shelters. Or, if we were averse to spending money on buses for fear our constituents would not use them, we could put $6 million dollars towards converting Downtown East Station to a center island station, so that people transferring betwixt the Blue and Green Lines would not need to walk across the tracks.

    The full council will vote on this $6 million dollar pedestrian bridge on April 22.

    4/17/15 Update: It has been mentioned in several places that comparing the height of a stack of 600 million pennies to the orbit of the International Space Station is an unhelpful metric for assessing the cost of this unnecessary $6 million dollar bridge. The author admits that this is perhaps an irrelevant comparison, as it will not be paid for in pennies, but rather in crisp, new dollar bills. A stack of 6 million dollar bills would be only 2,150 feet tall, equivalent to 2.71 IDS Centers. Thank you.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Almanzo100

    Streets.MN - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 3:00pm

    How does a man move and shape a culture? Our love of storytelling compelled us to find out, so we dug into the story of the Almanzo 100 gravel road race–the granddaddy of them all. We found that a single man’s passion for community has manifested itself in a bike race. The challenge: to race 100 miles of gravel roads without assistance or outside support. Pain and suffering exist temporarily, but the satisfaction of a battle won will empower these racers the rest of their lives. Call it a movement if you’d like but please don’t call it a fad. Gravel racing is here to stay.

    Directed by: Tony Franklin Director of Photography: T.C. Worley Edited by: Matthew Kroese Assistant Camera: Jonathan Chapman Assistant Camera: Matthew Jensen Location Sound: John Fontana Sound Design: Kent Militzer Colorist: Sue Lakso Music: Doomtree

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Best Local Blog Minneapolis 2015 – Streets.MN

    Streets.MN - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 10:31am

    CityPages named us “Best Local Blog” for 2015. They write:

    Streets.mn has a small army of well-educated urbanists offering smart, thoughtful takes on all things transportation and development — two topics frequently making front-page news lately. Its bloggers are no homebodies; these are people who use city infrastructure frequently and have detailed, well-researched thoughts on how to improve it. And it’s not all data, graphs, and maps, although they have plenty of those. They also host an annual Snark Week, which — hit or miss — is pretty damn entertaining. The site is also currently running the serialized graphic novel Bicyclopolis by Ken Avidor.

    Woot!

    Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    streets.m(ad)n(ess) Postgame Show

    Streets.MN - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 10:00am

    Welcome back to the streets.m(ad)n(ess) Postgame Show presented by Microsoft Excel–that’s Microsoft Excel: You Can Use It To Make Charts. I’m Nick, and this is my co-host Jim, and we were just doing a bit of wrap up and reflection about this, our first-ever streets.m(ad)n(ess), where you, the streets.mn reader, got to vote for your favorite goings on in the world of Twin Cities urbanism. 

    Yeah Nick, things ultimately ended up pretty predictably in the championship game, with the Green Line besting Thrive MSP 2040 74%-26%. But throughout the tournament, we did have our share of surprises.

    We definitely did–one of our 1 seeds, the Holidazzle Market, lost in its first game against 8 seed Social Media Parodies. In general, the potpourri category was all over the place. There were two entertaining 50.3%-49.7% squeakers from Hennepin/Lyndale Bottleneck Rebuild against Nice Ride Expansion and Nextrip at LRT Stations, before it ultimately lost to our overall winner, the Green Line.

    What are some lessons you’ve learned, Nick?

    Well, in the future we’ll want to have our Selection Committee seed our entries with an eye towards potential match ups in later rounds. We also may want to try to pick shorter entry names, considering the wild havoc wrecked on our poor bracket over the course of several weeks. We’ll also want to tighten up the criteria for eligibility a bit–we had things in the bracket that are planned and things that were completed–hard to measure those things against each other. We will also want to block repeat votes from the same IP address, due to some irregularities experienced in Round 3. Can’t trust anyone these days.

    Just tragic. So here are links to all of our games, which were a great deal of fun if you ask me. Over 10,000 words and thousands of votes and many hidden cat pictures and hours of typing!

    Great to hear you had fun Jim, I sure did too. If you appreciated streets.m(ad)n(ess) and the rest of the work this awesome site does, please consider joining today. We’ve got stickers, a PO Box, and are mere days from sending things out–the envelopes and stationary are on their way. Many, many thanks to all our excellent readers who voted. Until next year, this is streets.m(ad)n(ess), signing off.

    Click to enlarge, click again in top right to enlarge again

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Why Do Electric Cars Brake So Often?

    Streets.MN - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 8:30am

    The other day my wife was behind a Tesla and commented they used their brakes a lot more than other drivers.  Last summer I’d thought somewhat the same thing when driving behind a BMW i3. Was this our imagination or is there something to this?

    Tesla electric vehicle with bicycle (Photo: Tesla Motors)

    Regenerative braking

    The answer, I found, lay in the regenerative braking system in both of these cars. For the most part, an electric motor and a generator are the same. If you apply electricity to a motor, it will turn. Likewise, if you turn a motor, it will generate electricity. Electric cars take advantage of this duality with a regenerative braking system. When the driver lifts a foot off the accelerator or go pedal (since it is not, after all, a gas pedal in an electric car) the motor works in reverse; instead of using electricity from the batteries to turn the wheels, the kinetic energy from the car’s movement is used to generate electricity that recharges the batteries.

    Some electric cars (EVs) such as Tesla and BMW allow full regeneration. When a driver lifts their foot from the go pedal, the regenerative system causes the car to decelerate quite quickly, similar to pressing the brake pedal. People who own these will often talk about one pedal driving as they rarely need to use their brakes. Each time they lift their foot from the go pedal they’ll likely also activate their brake lights. They’re not really braking. But they are. Sort of.

    Other EVs limit regenerative braking so their cars will respond more like a familiar internal combustion engine (ICE) with an automatic transmission. Rather than significant slowing, they coast a bit more and brake lights are not as necessary.

    There are improvements coming to both. As drivers become more accustomed to electric, all EVs will likely allow full regeneration. As well, Tesla and BMW have both been faulted for brake light activation being too sensitive and are expected to make some adjustments.

    KERS in Formula One

    Spark-Renault all-electric Formula E race car. (Photo: SBNation.com)

    Formula One vehicles have utilized this technology since 2009. Though not really an electric car they are a hybrid with a KERS or Kinetic Energy Recovery System. The driver can utilize the KERS motor as a brake that charges a capacitor or battery (typically about 60kW). When they need a bit of extra power, they can engage the KERS motor for an additional 80 or so horsepower.

    Likewise, the new all-electric Formula E cars make significant use of regenerative braking and allow drivers fairly detailed control over how much regeneration is used through dials on the steering wheel.

    New World

    Electric cars are far from any kind of panacea. While they may reduce fossil fuel consumption as well air, water, and surface pollution (and noise pollution at lower speeds), they still require a lot of space to drive and park. Like all motor vehicles, they can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of the driver.

    I do believe EVs are a significant improvement over ICE vehicles however, and we’re certain to see increasing numbers of them on the road. Currently, we’re adding about 60 per month to the Twin Cities roadways (primarily Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, and BMW i3, with a few Fiat 500e’s, and Smart ED’s) and that’s expected to continue to increase. Altruistic virtues aside, they can also work from an economic standpoint. For many people the savings in fuel and maintenance more than make up for the higher initial cost.

    This is a bit outside normal streets.mn discussion but is presented in an effort to keep streets.mn readers the best informed on Planet Earth. Well, at least the best informed in the Twin Cities.

    Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities