Twin Cities

Friday Photo – Big Lake Side Eye

Streets.MN - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:00pm

I’ve never ridden the Northstar line.  But knowing what I know about it, I think it’s safe to say this house in Big Lake wasn’t expecting to see a train pull up a quarter-mile away, and its reaction is priceless.

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

Road Re-Purposing’s Political Spectrum

Streets.MN - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 11:21am

In 2012, Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis re-striped Park and Portland Avenues, thereby reducing automobile capacity on two thirds of the corridor (from three lanes to two). These stretches were considered to be at ‘overcapacity,’ making them low hanging fruit for repurposing.

But complimented with stretches of Lyndale Avenue South and other areas around town, the decision to cut back on auto capacity was one of semi-historic proportions. It helped signal a threshold that was broken through in the spectrum of where, how, and why to repurpose streets. It helped set the stage for the future Washington Avenue repurpose downtown, where traffic lanes will be reduced to add bicycle lanes.

Transport systems in communities worldwide slowly evolve. The next evolution will likely respond to technological innovations (e.g., driverless cars) and environmental or other pressures (e.g., cars, in their current form, are largely demonized). Critical questions moving forward revolve around what areas of what streets should serve what purpose. Areas in the right-of-way, most of which are currently devoted to moving cars, will likely be repurposed (not all, but some, if not most). This means changing the proportions and purpose for how this space is used, broadly speaking.

Repurposing can take many forms. It can mean taking away a shoulder and installing a bus rapid transit system. It can mean replacing a vacant 12 foot median with a light rail route. But these are examples with excess space that might be empty in the right of way. What happens when all space in the right-of-way is spoken for? What happens when people say all of that is needed for cars? In these cases space needs to come at the expense of automobile capacity; in most communities, this proves a difficult sell.

Places across the globe are at different points on the spectrum for accepting repurposing arguments. Narrowing the discussion to just the role of automobility and streets, what does this spectrum look like? Where is your community? I offer five tiers.

  • Stage 1 applies to most communities across the U.S. as there is little acknowledgement that street space will be or needs to be changing. In fact, there might be efforts to find additional space for auto capacity (e.g., more roads, more lanes, wider lanes, more parking). To the degree that non-auto-based infrastructure is discussed or desired, it centers on finding empty space within existing rights of way (e.g., excessively wide shoulders).
  • Stage 2 is exemplified by efforts to retard expanding the two dimensional capacity of auto-based infrastructure. This might be an explicit commitment to not build more roads (such as in Boulder, Colorado), expand lanes, or increase the level of service of intersections. Given that potholes are often thought of as the original form of traffic calming, Stage 2.5 might involve considering auto capacity in three-dimensional space. Select stretches of roads might be left to wither, while other stretches might be better maintained to support increased variety of use.
  • Stage 3 might be exemplified by a widespread willingness to re-design select sections to reduce vehicular presence. Such areas, historically, have been recipients of traffic calming techniques. But the reach of these areas is increasing.
  • Stage 4 might build on Stage 3 by thinking in terms of full corridors. Efforts might be centered on longer stretches of road where there is a willingness to reduce lane capacity.
  • Stage 5 would be represented by evidence of aggressive attempts to reduce vehicular space in a community. This might be in the form of removing parking overall, installing parking in former vehicular lanes, or any of a series of other treatments (e.g., buffered bicycle lanes, bulb-outs). In this stage, precedents and protocol are more established, thereby easing the path by which the public, engineering or public works offices (in snow country) might more willingly accept such projects.
  • Future stages would be added as the evolution continues…
  • Simply applying this spectrum to capture broad-based transport and corridor discussions is too crude. There is inevitably variation in the needs across an entire jurisdiction. An isolated traffic calming treatment does not catapult a community forward.

    Some communities have swallowed the “auto-repurposing pill” more quickly and swiftly than others. Several indications suggest that Minneapolis might be ahead of the curve in this respect. Because of such, it helps lays the foundation for future conversations to be more progressive. There is precedent to which one can turn.

    Changing the purpose of auto lanes which have largely existed in their current form for over a half-century is difficult but likely inevitable. The sooner such conversations start to happen in communities, the more nimble they will be when more monumental transport changes start coming.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Gas Prices Over Time

    Streets.MN - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 10:10am

    Here’s two charts of gas prices over time, one showing nominal dollars and one showing real dollars (adjusted for inflation.)

     

    (The second chart is from that Millennial report I mentioned last week.)

    Everyone’s talking about how gas prices are low, but everything’s relative. (Also, because the the oil market is closely linked with the dollar, the US might have a different perspective on gas prices than other countries with other currencies… or so my economist friends tell me.)

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Aging Baby Boomers Could Help Push Walkable Infrastructure

    Streets.MN - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 10:00am

    Ed Yourdan via photopin

    America’s population is aging. Nearly a quarter of the population, 76 million people, were born between 1946 and 1974, and an estimated 10,000 baby boomers reach traditional retirement age every single day.

    It turns out that walking is an incredibly popular form of exercise for this age cohort. Walking is low impact, has zero entry cost, and comes with a host of health benefits, from slowing bone loss to reducing heart attack risk.

    Transportation walking among seniors, as well as recreation or exercise, is also on the rise. A recent Dutch study concluded that an increase in “functional features,” including sidewalks and benches, combined with an increased number of destinations within a 400 to 800 meter buffer led to increased transportation walking among the study group aged 65 and older.

    According to this 2012 paper by sociologist Peter Tuckel and Urban Planner William Milczarski, adults over 60 (empty nesters and those approaching retirement age), when given a choice (in a survey) between living in a typical “suburban sprawl” community or a “smart growth community characterized by mixed housing, ample sidewalks, and access to businesses and public transit,” opted for the smart-growth communities more than any other age group surveyed.

    This segment of the population is also the wealthiest in the nation, has an enormous voting block, and frankly, has a lot of political capital. Advocacy seems to have focused largely on Millennials and their changing preferences. It’s time to get the Boomers on board, too. Together, these two groups make up 50% of the US population. Maybe we can bridge the generation gap with sidewalks and bike lanes.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Transit Usage of Metropolitan Council Probably Relevant

    Streets.MN - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 8:00am

    Earlier this week, the StarTribune published a dynamite survey of the transit usage of the 17 members of the Metropolitan Council. As it turns out, not many of them use transit particularly often.

    Here’s my sample ballot–still need to look into that school board situation… (Source: Minnesota Secretary of State)

    The Metropolitan Council, established by the Minnesota Legislature in 1967, is charged with things like land use planning, transportation planning, and sewage treatment in the seven county metropolitan area. In 1967, seven counties was a fairly broad interpretation of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, but in 2014, the Census Bureau now counts 13 counties, stretching from the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin to Munsinger Gardens in St. Cloud.

    Notably, the Metropolitan Council is also objectively, obviously, a good idea. Transportation, land use planning, and wastewater treatment are things that should be done regionally. Controversially, they are not elected, but appointed by the governor, and this is frequently pointed out by people who belong to whatever political party the current governor does not belong to. Maybe they should be elected, but already, no one knows who their county commissioner is, and given the way everything everywhere has become face-meltingly partisan in the past decade, maybe we don’t need another election generating terrible attack ad junk mail. What Soil and Water Conservation District are you in, anyway?

    The survey and the results and subsequent analysis generated lots of debate, and I was actually kind of surprised how many smart people quickly dismissed the notion that these leaders need to take transit in order to plan and manage it. And, I mean, the 17 councilmembers aren’t really “planning” our transit, it’s much more complicated than that, but I would imagine we would get very similar results if we polled county commissioners (counties, generally, have selected routes before handing them off to the Metropolitan Council) or people who work in Public Works departments across the metro area, or really any other influential group around the Twin Cities. One time, I did see my state representative (Chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee!) on the 6 during off-peak hours, and he didn’t look like he wanted any credit for it, so that’s good. According to the StarTribune survey, many senior staff folks at Metro Transit do take transit regularly, with their General Manager Brian Lamb leading the pack with hundreds of rides this year, and they should be credited for that.

    But, I dunno, it does seem like it’s sort of important to take the bus in order to understand the bus, right? I guess there are probably bald people who are great hairdressers. But transit is even more complicated than hair, and many of the longform answers in the survey betray a lack of understanding of what mass transit actually is, and how people use it on a daily basis as a way to get around in their lives. A stronger analogy: Imagine an office (totally hypothetical and not real at all) where the highly-used shared copier was an absolute nightmare, but the people in charge of buying a new copier did not regularly use the copier. They might have trouble fully grasping the situation…with the copier.

    On Wednesday, I took the Route 7 bus to Minneapolis Animal Care and Control to look at a cat (I found a cat) and there are also people who use transit to do equally important things, like, for example, all of the things in their lives. Transit isn’t just something you drive to so that you can save four dollars a day on parking downtown.

    Also, this is a pretty good quote:

    “The nature of my two jobs is that I am all over the metro area for meetings and am often unable to include the additional time needed for transit in my schedule, which limits my usage,” Haigh said.

    There’s that. Don’t wanna pick on her too much, but she sort of lives in St. Paul and those two jobs, TC Habitat for Humanity President & Chairperson of the Metropolitan Council, are sort of located…on the Green Line.

    Anyway, our existing rail transit is okay enough, but the day-to-day experience on many local route buses is not very fun. These are the routes make up the vast majority of the rides in our system–the Route 5, 18, 21, 22, and so on. Every day, thousands of people move along Nicollet Mall on buses at walking speed for the amount of time it would take a person in a car to drive from Downtown Minneapolis to Wayzata, except they’re only covering about 12 blocks. And that’s fairly simple to grasp in the abstract: transit service not of very high quality, okay, got it. But it’s more personal when you experience, firsthand, a full bus running drop off only skipping you while you’re at a bus stop trying to get to class. Or waiting out by one of many thousands of sad, lonesome bus stop sign poles in the dark in the winter. Or when you see (I certainly can’t grasp the actual experience) a disabled person trying to get on a bus on Nicollet Mall during rush hour. Or many other things.

    But.

    What it really gets down to is land use. People don’t understand what land use is, and if you don’t understand land use, your transit and transportation in general will be forever terrible. Like even lots of really smart people with MBAs and BMWs don’t get it. Hundreds of thousands of people in our metro area sit in traffic by themselves for hours (!) listening to talk radio and don’t stop for a second to think that that is anything other than the default way that the world is, and in fact get extremely agitated and emotional over even considering that there are other options–check out the comments on the survey.

    Metropolitan Council Districts, 2014 (Source: Metropolitan Council)

    So there’s a map of all of the 16 districts (the Chair, Ms. Haigh, is a floater) and, I mean, look at that. To be honest, I sure as hell wouldn’t blow billions of dollars trying to pretend that we can ever adequately provide transit service to everyone on even just the middle 50% of that area. We can’t even do that. People and their employment aren’t just spread out (and spread out they are) but they’re spread out in the landscape in a way that’s fundamentally impossible to serve at a reasonable cost.

    Minneapolis and St. Paul (and some first ring suburbs) have the land use pattern that makes transit work–gridded, walkable streets; dense, walkable employment centers; dense, walkable retail centers; and many areas with at least medium residential density. A secret: Most of Minneapolis and St. Paul are basically suburban. But they’re easily infillable and can be redeveloped into areas that support transit investments–if that’s your goal. A good goal would also be to serve the people who are already using it, but serve them better and encourage higher use of the routes that already seem to work.

    The second ring suburbs and beyond aren’t really like that. These places were intentionally built for cars and cars alone. The windswept parking lots and eight lane arterials and never ending cul-de-sacs and beige vinyl siding will be hard to change. But barring some sort of catastrophe, this is the metro area we have in 2014 and will continue to have for decades. If trends (gas more expensive, people poorer, Chili’s less cool) continue, there may not be a Plymouth where Independence is in 2040, but Plymouth will still be there. And because the land use in Plymouth is so fundamentally different from the land use in even St. Louis Park, not to mention Minneapolis, it’s hard to imagine too many ways to serve people in Plymouth that make any sense, other than express buses to Downtown Minneapolis.

    I, personally, am not really on team “get rid of all the cars,” but as a thought experiment that’s the direction you should be headed in when thinking about transit–are we building transit so that a small number of people in a relatively affluent area can use it for a segment of one trip at the expense of other peoples’ entire multiple trips? Are we building transit as a handout to the construction industry? Are we building transit so that we can say we built transit, throw some colored lines on a map, and show it to our friends in other cities?

    Maybe we shouldn’t have folks planning transit who live in areas that can’t support it in a reasonably effective way. We’d probably have to stop taking their money, of course, but the rush to get more counties in the transit sales tax tent has led to some rather dubious investments. The Metropolitan Council is a good idea and should stick around regardless, but maybe there’s a better way to arrange representation, or committee assignments, or something.

    In any case, for now, everyone on the Metropolitan Council should be compelled (obligated?) to take transit, if only as an annual adventure. Go stand at Nicollet and 7th in February with a stroller, or even pretend you’re trying to get between two jobs. And not just the Metropolitan Council, everyone in the Twin Cities metro area in a position of influence over this system should probably get in on it. County commissioners, city councilmembers, state representatives, the whole gang. And not the train; take a bus somewhere. If you’re going to put anything about mass transit on your campaign literature or in your bio, you should back it up with some action.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Podcast #74 – Explaining the Transportation Equity Formula with Russ Stark

    Streets.MN - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 12:49pm

    The podcast this week is a conversation with Russ Stark, the City Council member for Saint Paul’s Fourth Ward, which covers the Northwest stretch of the city from Hamline-Midway to St. Anthony Park.

    In addition to being on the city council, Russ Stark represents Saint Paul on the Met Council Transportation Advisory Board (TAB), a rather complex committee composed of elected officials, engineers, and appointees that makes recommendations on federal funding applications in the Twin Cities. Stark was one of the key voices pushing for a change to TAB decision making processes this summer, changes focused on using transportation funding to help balance inequality around race and class. We sat down during last month’s Railvolution conference in downtown Minneapolis to talk about the funding formula, the TAB, and the debate around transportation funding in the Twin Cities.

    The link to the audio is here! I hope you enjoy the conversation.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Effect of Parking Benefits on Commute Mode

    Streets.MN - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 11:02am

    While this is technically a table and not a chart, it’s still interesting. It’s a table from a study about what kind of influence parking benefits (e.g. free parking for employees) has on people’s tendency to drive vs. take transit vs. bike to work.

    The idea here is that if you provide free parking for your employees, they’ll be more likely to drive and less likely to take any other mode of transportation. Here’s the conclusion from the study:

    Overall, our results support earlier findings in the literature that suggest com- muter benefits for walking, cycling, and public transportation may be effective at supporting TDM objectives. Free car parking tends to be associated with more driving to work, public transportation benefits tend to be associated with riding public transportation, and trip-end facilities at work such as showers/lockers and bike parking tend to support walking or cycling. Our results also add to the literature by presenting an evaluation of the joint supply of benefits. While benefits for alternatives to driving are associated with individuals choosing to walk, cycle, and ride public transportation, free car parking is associated with driving, and the joint provision of free car parking along with these other benefits may blunt the efficacy of efforts to get commuters to walk, cycle, and ride public transportation to work.

    Check out the whole report here.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    The Vikings Stadium / Star Wars Metaphor

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 10:13am
    Seeing the Vikings stadium rise up over the city of Minneapolis reminds me more and more of the Death Star from the Empire Strikes Back. It doesn't help that the stadium design looks almost exactly like an Imperial II-Class Star Destroyer, or that everyone keeps raving about the stadium's "impressive equipment." (Get a room, preferably a non-taxpayer funded one.) Or that the stadium development's demands for an elaborate set of space dock-like skyways only make sense if you think about Minneapolis as being a total vacuum. Or that there will now be a sci-fi-looking landing platform over the light rail station.So now I can't look at the construction without seeing the (second) Death Star. So I posted this image on my Facebook/Twitter feed and then Michael asked whether bicycling around the city was Endor and now I'm wondering how far the metaphor can go!Vikings Stadium = Death StarGiant horrifying thing slowly being built.  Admiral Ackbar = Mark DaytonSomehow in charge. Eyes reveal complete cluelessness. It's obviously a trap. The Deflector Shield = Stadium GlassThe way that that the rebel fighters bounce of the Death Star's (cloaked) shield is exactly how migrating warblers bounce off the bird-killing stadium glass. The Emperor = Zygi Wilf Brains behind the scenes. Fond of maniacal laughter. Entirely evil.Darth Vader = Lester BagleyMind control tricks. Threats to politicians. Pounding on tables. Almost entirely evil.The Death Star Super-Laser = Brain InjuriesInstead of going around blowing up innocent planets, the Vikings Stadium goes around destroying people's brains.Han Solo and Princess Leia = The Audubon Society Both trying to destroy the shield. Facing daunting odds.Luke Skywalker = Ed Kohler on TwitterDeploying massive (Jedi) skills to constantly fight off an endless supply of uniformed morons. Fondness for mind tricks.Ewoks = The People of MinneapolisBoth powerless, adorable, massively outgunned, like to shake things in the air.Endor Speeders = Biking in MinneapolisBecause it's the most fun you'll have in the movie or the city.Jabba the Hut = Joe SoucherayBoth repulsive and horrible. Like to keep women in chains. In charge of some sort of strange cult-like society in the middle of nowhere (Tatooine or Saint Paul).BUTIn the movie, the people blow up the Death Star and celebrate around a campfire in the primeval woods while fireworks go off in the sky. In the real world, the Empire wins.[Oh well.]Update:My friend Nate asked me, "Which Star Wars character would RT Rybak be?" The answer is obvious.Lando Calrissian = RT RybakSmooth talker in charge of a city. Sense of style. Likes himself a bit too much. Sells everyone out, and then pretends he didn't.
    Categories: Twin Cities

    The Effectiveness of Non-Downtown Transit Hubs

    Streets.MN - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 9:00am

     

    Southdale Transit Center

    In 1970, when Metro Transit purchased the privately-owned Twin City Lines, the route system was essentially the old streetcar system plus some suburban extensions. Except for a handful of urban crosstowns and one suburban crosstown, all routes radiated from the two downtowns. If your origin and destination were in the suburbs or the outer center city neighborhoods, getting there by bus meant an extremely indirect trip via downtown, or a 2-transfer trip via one of the crosstowns.

    These trips were certainly not competitive with the automobile. They were incredibly slow because the routing was so circuitous and because almost all the transfers occurred at random—very few buses were scheduled to connect with each other. It wasn’t as bad if both lines ran at least every 15 minutes, but most lines didn’t run that frequently. In fact most buses serving the suburbs or outer portions of Minneapolis and St. Paul never ran more often that half-hourly, so random transfers never worked outside the center city.

    I was working in Metro Transit’s Service Planning department at the time. We started to hear about a new approach to timed transfers being advocated by Professor John Bakker of the University of Alberta and applied in Canada. Today we’d call it hub and spoke, the well-known model used by the airlines. Bakker proposed a network of transit hubs located 20-25 minutes bus travel time from each other. Bus routes would radiate from each hub, in the process connecting the hubs with each other. All the buses would leave all the hubs at the same time, arriving at the next hub 20-25 minutes later. There would be 5-10 minutes for all the buses to exchange passengers, then off they’d go again. The short route lengths and generous layovers would ensure reliability and all transfer connections would be guaranteed. By hopping from hub to hub, trips could be made reliably and in a reasonable amount of time, even with hourly frequencies.

    Here was a strategy that could make transit workable in the suburbs. It might not get people out of their cars, but at least it could serve the ever-growing number of transit-dependent suburbanites cost-effectively.

    Fast forward to today and much of the Twin Cities’ transit hub network is in place. Geography doesn’t permit the purity of Bakker’s vision, with all the hubs evenly spaced and uniform departure times. Nonetheless, even in an austere funding climate, mobility away from the downtowns has greatly improved. Along the way some other lessons have been learned.

  • Where possible, the hubs have been co-located with large retail concentrations. Might as well put them where more people want to go anyway, although the large regional malls have fought transit facilities on their property.
  • Co-locating them with park-ride lots opens up the opportunity to add express service to the mix and for local routes to feed the expresses.
  • Off-street facilities that have a real identity and decent waiting shelters attract many more riders than anonymous on-street transfer points.
  • Add light rail to the mix and the boarding counts increase dramatically.
  • So how are the hubs (Metro Transit calls them transit centers) doing? I recently was able to access Metro Transit’s bus stop database to get a count of the boardings at each of the Twin Cities’ transit hubs. Here’s a list of them from most to least busy. Note: This analysis doesn’t include the transit centers in Burnsville, Apple Valley, Eagan and Eden Prairie. Ridership numbers for them are unavailable because they are run by the opt-outs. That’s also true for boarding counts for opt out buses that serve Metro Transit’s hubs, so I’ve made estimates.

    Mall of America Weekday boardings: 2472          Blue Line LRT 378            Red Line BRT to Apple Valley 644            Bus route 5 to Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis 684            Bus route 54 to downtown St. Paul 8                Bus route 415 to Mendota Heights (rush hours only) 300(est) MVTA Bus route 444 to Burnsville 367            Bus route 515 66th Street Crosstown to Southdale 134            Bus route 538 86th Street Crosstown to Bloomington and Southdale 234            Bus route 539 98th Street Crosstown to Bloomington 208            Bus route 540 77th Street Crosstown to Richfield and Edina 58              Bus route 542 American Blvd. Crosstown to Bloomington (rush hours only) 5487            Total

    MOA is the best local example of piggybacking a suburban transfer hub onto a popular destination and the numbers reflect that. Although the LRT runs every ten minutes and bus routes 5, 54 and 515 run every 15 minutes, the less frequent routes do classic timed transfer on the hour and the half hour. There is officially no park-ride lot at MOA, which is why the 28th Avenue park-ride was constructed a couple of blocks to the east. Nonetheless, Twins and Vikings fans routinely park-ride in the Mall ramps. Plans call for Route 5 to be replaced by arterial BRT in the future. Route 54 was originally to be upgraded to arterial BRT, but that has been postponed to study LRT in the Riverview Corridor.

    Blue Line Midtown Station Weekday boardings: 2572            Blue Line 378              Bus route 21 east to St. Paul 765              Bus routes 21 and 53 west to Lake Street and Uptown 74                 Bus route 27 26th Street Crosstown 33                 Bus route 53 limited stop to downtown St. Paul (rush hours only) 3822            Total

    This isn’t really a transit hub, but a traditional on-street transfer point. Nonetheless it shows the power of LRT to create ridership where there wasn’t any before.

    Brooklyn Center Transit Center Weekday boardings: 644            Bus route 5 to Fremont Avenue in Minneapolis 446            Bus route 19 to Penn Avenue in Minneapolis 362            Bus route 22 to Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis 85            Bus route 717 to Robbinsdale and New Hope 206            Bus route 721 Bass Lake Road to Crystal and Hennepin Technical Center 422            Bus route 722 to northeast Brooklyn Center 341            Bus route 723 to Brooklyn Park and North Hennepin College 645            Bus route 724 to Brooklyn Park 135            Bus route 724 limited stop to downtown Minneapolis 41            Bus route 801 to Columbia Heights and Rosedale (rush hours only) 3393            Total

    BCTC is the biggest all-bus hub in the Twin Cities, with total bus boardings that beat MOA. It’s also the purest timed transfer operation in the metro area, with all buses meeting on the hour and half hour. Visit it sometime—it’s quite a show. Ridership demand from a heavily transit dependent population has led to service increases, with most of the hourly suburban shuttles going to half-hourly, along with the limited stop to downtown Minneapolis. Route 19 to Minneapolis has also become more frequent and is now scheduled to become an arterial BRT.

    Before the present site was selected, Metro Transit carried on a huge multi-year fight with the City of Brooklyn Center to keep the hub close to Brookdale. Then Brookdale closed down and ridership has still increased. This hub has no park-ride lot.

    Uptown Station Weekday boardings: 533            Bus routes 6 and 12 to downtown Minneapolis 403            Bus route 6 south to Edina 590            Bus route 12 to St. Louis Park and Hopkins 342            Bus route 17 to downtown Minneapolis 371            Bus route 17 to St. Louis Park 840            Bus route 21 to Lake Street 175            Bus route 23 38th Street Crosstown 53            Bus route 53 to Lake Street and St. Paul (rush hours only) 56            Bus route 114 to University of Minnesota 3363            Total

    Before Uptown Station was built, some of these bus routes took layover on the street blocks apart, with transferring passengers having to walk from up to two blocks from one obscure bus stop to another. No one wanted the buses in front of their buildings, so stops were always moving. Building the station was only possible because new land was created by widening the Hennepin Avenue bridge over the Midtown Greenway and filling in the greenway’s south side slope. By all accounts the station has been a huge success, increasing ridership and customer convenience, while providing needed restrooms for the bus drivers (always a side benefit of new transit centers). Furthermore, it closed the greenway gap in the Hennepin Avenue street frontage, making the neighborhood more walkable. The Uptown Station is positioned to serve future rail in the greenway.

     Lake and Chicago Transit Center Weekday boardings: 1108            Bus route 5 to downtown 472            Bus route 5 to Richfield and MOA 719             Bus route 21 east to Lake Street and St. Paul 690            Bus routes 21 and 53 to Uptown 47            Bus route 39 limited stop to downtown (rush hours only) 62            Bus route 53 limited stop to St. Paul (rush hours only) 3098            Total

    Constructed as part of the Midtown Exchange project that saved the Lake Street Sears building, this transit center replaced the traditional Lake and Chicago transfer point that dated back to the streetcar days. Why do that? The transfer point was a haven for drug dealers who hid among the bus passengers. Passengers would cross the busy streets against the light to try and catch connecting buses. The new off-street transit center is more convenient to the Midtown Exchange and Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Passengers making connections no longer risk getting run over. Security cameras and police surveillance rooms built into the new bus shelters have prevented crime. And climate controlled waiting rooms make waiting much more pleasant. The only downside is that buses have to divert from the route to serve the center, but it’s well-placed for future greenway rail and arterial BRT on Chicago Avenue.

    Blue Line 46th Street Station Weekday boardings: 1777            Blue Line 56            Bus route 7 north to Minnehaha Avenue 113            Bus route 7 south to 34th Avenue S. 110            Bus route 9 north to Longfellow and Seward 44            Bus route 46 to Highland Park 43            Bus route 46 46th Street Crosstown to south Minneapolis and Edina 447            Bus route 74 to Highland Park and Randolph Avenue 244            Bus route 84 Snelling Crosstown to St. Paul 100(est) MVTA Bus routes 436 and 446 to Eagan 2934            Total

    This transit center opened up transit travel options where none existed before, simply by tying together the Blue Line with all the bus routes that happened to be nearby. About 60 percent of the Blue Line passengers at this station transfer from buses. The Route 46 46th Street Crosstown was a new service that started with the LRT. The multi-route synergy persuaded MVTA to discontinue its Eagan reverse commute buses from downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul and the St. Paul Midway in favor of a shuttle to 46th Street Station, a fine example of coordinating metro resources. Next year Route 84 will be upgraded to region’s first arterial BRT.

    Blue Line 38th Street Station

    Weekday boardings: 1607            Blue Line 34            Bus route 14 north to Bloomington Avenue 87            Bus route 22 north to Cedar Avenue 159            Bus route 22 south to 28th Avenue S. 67            Bus route 23 east to 38th Street and Highland Park 234            Bus route 23 west to 38th Street and Uptown 2188            Total

    Like 46th Street above, the 38th Street Station opened up transit travel options where none existed before, simply by tying together the Blue Line with the bus routes that happened to be close by. About 30 percent of the Blue Line passengers at this station transfer from buses.

    Blue Line Franklin Avenue Station Weekday boardings: 1515            Blue Line 119            Bus route 2 east to Riverside Avenue and the University of Minnesota 316             Bus route 2 and 9 west to Franklin Avenue 58            Bus route 67 to Prospect Park and St. Paul (Note: this number is for Route 8, since combined with Route 67 since the Green Line opening) 87            Bus route 9 to Seward and Longfellow 2095            Total

    Like the Lake Street Station, this is really an on-street transfer point under the LRT station, but at a location that previously had no ridership.

    Rosedale Transit Center Weekday boardings: 143            Bus route 32 Lowry Crosstown to northeast and north Minneapolis 186            Bus route 65 Dale Street Crosstown 534            Bus route 84 Snelling Avenue Crosstown 132            Bus route 87 Raymond Avenue-Cleveland Avenue Crosstown 45            Bus route 223 to Roseville, Little Canada and Maplewood 79            Bus route 225 to Shoreview 48            Bus route 227 to Shoreview 122            Bus route 264 express to downtown Minneapolis 96            Bus route 801 to St. Anthony and Columbia Heights 1385 Total

    Rosedale has fought this transit center, which is located on their property. Only pressure from the City of Roseville made it happen. Rosedale successfully evicted the park-ride lot, which was replaced by a new parking ramp a mile to the west. The transit center has a finite lease, and it will be interesting to see if Rosedale evicts the center when the lease expires. In the meantime, this is a true timed-transfer operation, at 20 and 50 minutes past the hour. This year the frequency of Routes 65, 84 and 87 was increased in conjunction with the Green Line opening, so hopefully these ridership numbers will increase as well. Next year Route 84 will become the arterial BRT A Line.

    Northtown Transit Center Weekday boardings: 522            Bus route 10 to Spring Lake Park, Fridley and Columbia Heights 67            Bus routes 25 and 825 to Mounds View, New Brighton and St. Anthony 141            Bus route 805 to Coon Rapids and Anoka 156            Bus routes 824 and 854 express to downtown Minneapolis (rush hours only) 100            Bus route 831 to Blaine 85            Bus route 852 to East River Road and downtown Minneapolis 107            Bus route 852 to Coon Rapids Blvd. and Anoka 117            Bus route 860 express to downtown St. Paul (rush hours only) 1310             Total

    One-fifth of Northtown’s ridership is express park-ride. However, the rest is time transfers and people going to Northtown Mall. Route 10 frequency was recently doubled, so some increase should occur.

    Maplewood Mall Transit Center Weekday boardings: 425            Bus route 64 to North St. Paul, Maplewood and St. Paul 65            Bus route 80 White Bear Avenue Crosstown to St. Paul’s East Side 153            Bus route 219 Century Avenue Crosstown to Lakewood Community College 49            Bus route 223 to Little Canada and Roseville 48            Bus route 265 express to downtown St. Paul (rush hours only) 8            Bus route 265 to White Bear Lake (rush hours only) 414            Bus route 270 express to downtown Minneapolis 8            Bus route 270 to Mahtomedi (rush hours only) 30            Bus route 272 express to the University of Minnesota (rush hours only) 1213             Total

    This hub owes 40 percent of its ridership to the park-ride lot. Transferring is rather light. As with many of the suburban hubs, the local bus ridership is heavily skewed to the routes from the center city, with the mall as the destination.

    Southdale Transit Center Weekday boardings: 349            Bus route 6 to Minneapolis 80            Bus route 6 south to Edina 270             Bus route 515 66th Street Crosstown to Richfield and MOA 47            Bus route 537 to Normandale College 77            Bus route 538 to east Bloomington 55            Bus route 578 express to downtown Minneapolis (rush hours only) 35            Bus route 579 express to the University of Minnesota (rush hours only) 50(est)   Southwest Bus route 684 to Eden Prairie (rush hours only) 963            Total

    Buses have served Southdale since it opened in 1956. The new transit center is the fourth location on the grounds and it happened because the City of Edina forced Southdale’s hand. The new facility is the nicest ever and finally the park-ride lot has been placed next to the transit center. That appears to have doubled the park-ride use, although that’s not reflected in these numbers.

    Sunray Transit Center Weekday boardings: 290            Bus route 63 west to St. Paul via 3rd Street 76            Bus route 63 east to Maplewood 116            Bus route 70 to St. Paul via Burns Avenue 195            Bus route 74 to St. Paul via East 7th Street 89            Bus route 80 to Maplewood Mall via White Bear Avenue 170            Bus route 219 to Maplewood mall via Century Avenue 936            Total

    Located next to Sunray Shopping Center, this transit hub ties the East Side of St. Paul and nearby suburbs together with timed transfer connections for the first time, so most of that ridership number is new since it opened.

    Robbinsdale Transit Center Weekday boardings: 385            Bus route 14 to Minneapolis 111            Bus route 43 Lowry Crosstown to Minneapolis and Rosedale 69            Bus route 716 north to Brooklyn Park 50            Bus route 717 east to Brooklyn Center Transit Center 65            Bus route 717 west to Crystal and New Hope 680            Total

    Route 14 used to run every 20 minutes from Minneapolis to Robbinsdale, where it split into three hourly branches to points farther north. The branches weren’t timed to connect with each other, which prevented local trips within the suburbs. With the opening of the transit center the branches were turned into separate shuttle routes that meet each other and the Route 14, opening up suburban trips that were not possible before. When the Bottineau LRT is built along the adjacent railroad right of way, this transit center will be waiting and ready to serve it.

    Louisiana Transit Center

    Weekday boardings: 32            Bus route 9 to Minneapolis via Bryn Mawr 8            Bus routes 9 and 663 to St. Louis Park via Cedar Lake Road 17            Bus route 604 to St. Louis Park via Louisiana Avenue 17            Bus routes 643 and 649 reverse commute expresses to Minneapolis (rush hours only) 32            Bus route 652 express to the University of Minnesota (rush hours only) 379            Bus routes 663 and 675 expresses to Minneapolis 99            Bus route 705 to Golden Valley, Crystal, New Hope and Brooklyn Park 615            Total

    Until a few years ago this center, built by MnDOT along with I-394, was only used as a park-ride lot, and that is still the case for most of its riders. Built on surplus highway land at an interchange, there isn’t much retail nearby. The west metro suburbs is a tough transit market and Metro Transit has only recently started developing suburb-to-suburb connections here. The Southwest LRT will have some positive impact.

    Columbia Heights Transit Center Weekday boardings: 159             Bus routes 10 and 59 to Fridley and Blaine 228            Bus routes 10 and 59 to Minneapolis via Central Avenue 137            Bus route 11 to Minneapolis via 2nd Street NE 17            Bus route 118 to the University of Minnesota (rush hours only) 48            Bus route 801 east to St. Anthony and Rosedale 19            Bus route 801 west to Fridley and Brooklyn Center (rush hours only) 608         Total

    This center in the parking lot of a small strip mall at 41st and Central hasn’t achieved its potential because Route 801 service was reduced during one of Metro Transit’s budget shortage years, eliminating half of the transfer options. Also, the southbound buses stop across the street on Central Avenue instead of entering the center.

     South Bloomington Transit Center Weekday boardings: 52            Bus route 18 to Richfield via Nicollet Avenue 20            Bus route 18 to south Bloomington via Lyndale Avenue 65            Bus route 535 and 554 express to Richfield and Minneapolis via I-35W 80            Bus routes 535 and 539 to Normandale College 48            Bus route 539 to Mall of America 12            Bus route 597 to west Bloomington (rush hours only) 200(est) Bus routes 597 and MVTA 465 nonstop express to Minneapolis 30(est) Bus route MVTA 465 to Burnsville Transit Center 507            Total

    This center does a nice job of tying together south Bloomington destinations and has some nearby retail. Its park-ride lot has been expanded once and is again at capacity. This will be a stop on the Orange Line I-35W BRT between Minneapolis and Burnsville.

    Starlite Transit Center Weekday boardings: 55            Bus route 705 to Crystal, New Hope, Golden valley via Winnetka Avenue 94            Bus route 723 to North Hennepin College and Brookyn Park 271            Bus route 724 to Brooklyn Center Transit Center 420            Total

    Starlite, named the drive-in theater that used to be here, is the third of the transit center trio (along with Brooklyn Center Transit Center and Robbinsdale Transit Center) designed to tie the northwest suburbs together. It’s in a strip mall with a Super Target, so there is destination shopping. An experimental route from here to Maple Grove failed a few years ago, but should be revived because the center is next to the proposed Bottineau LRT line alignment.

     I-35W and 46th Street Station Weekday boardings: 36            Bus route 11 to Minneapolis via 4th Avenue S. 43            Bus route 46 east to Blue Line 46th Street Station 44            Bus route 46 west to Edina 129            Bus route 535 to downtown Minneapolis 43            Bus route 535 to Richfield and Bloomington 295            Total

    Because there isn’t much walkup potential, this hub is basically reliant on bus transfers. It provides a southern outlet for the Route 11 4th Avenue bus, which previous deadended at 48th Street and 4th Avenue. Metro Transit is hoping for better transfer volumes from new crosstown Route 46, but those numbers have been modest to date.  46th Street should reach its potential when it becomes a station on the Orange Line BRT connecting Minneapolis with Burnsville via I-35W in a few years. The BRT is waiting on some major infrastructure improvements at Lake Street, 98th Street and I-494.

    Connecting the hubs Following Professor Bakker’s model of being able to move from hub to hub, the following are connected.

    Rosedale to Maplewood Mall via Route 223 Maplewood Mall to Sunray via Routes 80 and 219 Rosedale to Blue Line 46th Street via Route 84 Rosedale to Columbia Heights via Route 801 Rosedale to Robbinsdale via Route 32 Columbia Heights to Northtown via Route 10 Columbia Heights to Brooklyn Center via Route 801 (rush hours only) Brooklyn Center to Robbinsdale via Route 717 Brooklyn Center to Starlite via Routes 723 and 724 Starlite to Louisiana via Route 705 Uptown to Southdale via Route 6 Uptown to Lake & Chicago and Blue Line Lake Street via Route 21 and 53 Uptown to Blue Line 38th Street via Route 23 Southdale to Mall of America via Routes 515 and 538 Mall of America to South Bloomington via Route 539 Mall of America to Apple Valley and Cedar Grove (Eagan) via Red Line South Bloomington to Burnsville via Route 465 Blue Line 46th Street to Eagan Transit Center via Route 446 South Bloomington to I-35W and 46th Street via Route 535 Blue Line 46th Street to I-35W and 46th Street via Route 46

    About the only corridor without a transit hub is the Robert Street Corridor in West St. Paul, which deserves a connection to the Eagan hub and the Blue Line at the airport.

    Although the Green Line doesn’t have off-street transit hubs, it does have a pair of important on-street transfer points that add a lot to regional connectivity. That’s at Snelling Avenue (connects to Routes 16, 21, 84 and the future A Line BRT), and at Raymond Avenue (connects to Routes 16, 63, 67 and 87).

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Saint Paul Healthy Transportation for All: A Growing Reality

    Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:20pm

    This coming Saturday, October 25th, elected leaders, transportation officials, business leaders, non-profit groups, community leaders, and transportation enthusiasts from around St Paul and the metro area will come together for a first-of-its-kind event: a day-long convening “designed to educate, engage and empower Saint Paul residents from diverse backgrounds to play an active role in shaping their city’s transportation systems.” This is a fantastic opportunity for knowledge sharing and relationship building with community members and stakeholders across the board.

    Mayor Chris Coleman will be speaking, as well as Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle and Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. Sessions will cover a wide variety of topics, from racial equity to demystifying the city’s funding process for capital improvements (CIB).

    The event organizers recognize the need for greater community involvement if transportation changes and improvements are to benefit everyone, especially those who need them the most. “Improved transportation can help address disparities in health, economic vitality and access to opportunity if the community processes that inform decisions about funding are inclusive and represent the interests of every community in Saint Paul,” says Lauren Fulner, transportation and sustainability coordinator for the Hamline Midway Coalition and SPHTFA project coordinator. “To truly create equitable transportation development, a diversity of voices must be present at the decision-making table early in the process,” says Tong Thao, community organizer with East Side Transit Equity.

    The convening is intended to be the first in a series of events, partnerships and collaborations that improve equity in transportation into the future.

    This event should build on the momentum provided by Gil Penalosa’s residency in the Twin Cities this past spring. His encouragement to build “8 to 80 cities”  has inspired a new fund at the city level, written about by streets’ Anne White, as well as excitement and projects around the area.

    I’ll be at the meeting this Saturday, along with a number of other streets.mn writers. I’ve heard there are still registration openings. You should come join us.

     

    See you Saturday!

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    End of the Road for the TIGER Trail in Northfield

    Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:00am

    On October 7, 2014, the Northfield City Council voted to reject all bids received for the construction for what’s been called the TIGER Trail, killing the project. It’s been almost 3 years since Northfield received word it had been awarded a $1.1 million TIGER grant and almost 3 years of decisions and discussion to reach this dead-end. Although this project is dead, the issues are certainly not.

    Looking north on Highway 3

    Minnesota Trunk Highway 3 is a perfect stroad. Designed (only) to move traffic through Northfield, its single-purpose objective created a large physical and psychological barrier through Northfield. The TIGER trail was intended to make the stroad more permeable and help reconnect the two sides of town. With the demise of the project, the challenge of making Highway 3 safe, easy and pleasant to cross remains.

    Southbound Highway 3 into Northfield

    The two sides in this debate have been the obvious opponents who focus on cost (too much) or need (not enough) and the strong supporters (including a bare majority of the City Council) who cite transportation equity, reducing automobile demand (for public health and environmental reasons), and the many benefits of active transportation. I’ve supported this project, but now’s the opportunity to look back and learn from the process.  This post is less about the design specifics and more about looking back at the politics of getting from A to B both on the street and in the Council chambers.

    Planning it

    The project began with the 2009 Modal Integration Study which identified possible grade-separation projects on Highway 3 and Highway 19 to improve multi-modal integration; the multi-modal trail under the highway was one of them.

    In hindsight, that grade-separation limitation seems especially significant. Looking only for grade-separated solutions narrowed Northfield’s vision and perhaps incentivized grant-seeking behavior. Identifying bigger projects coupled with the availability of big grants drives the planning decisions toward projects we would not otherwise attempt and/or are not likely to be included in the ongoing capital improvement planning process. Grants start driving what we plan so that rather like teaching to the test, we plan for the grant.

    The policy big picture also got in the way. Grants, of course, are tools to carry out policy by incentivizing types of projects. TIGER grant projects, according to the federal grant guidelines, were to be

    “multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional or otherwise challenging to fund through existing programs. The TIGER program enables DOT to use a rigorous process to select projects with exceptional benefits, explore ways to deliver projects faster and save on construction costs, and make investments in our Nation’s infrastructure that make communities more livable and sustainable.”

    The grant policy seems like a near perfect fit for just the issues which make Highway 3 challenging. Northfield’s trail is multi-modal (bike/pedestrian – and “multi-modal” really just means “not cars), multi-jurisdictional (city, state and two railroads) and it is challenging to fund given MNDoT’s previous planning and construction of TH3. Northfield’s TIGER project was also well grounded in city policy and earlier projects (read the history in the grant application) and not just plucked out of the air.  MNDoT’s decision to help with funding helped reinforce this goodness of fit between policy and project and bridging jurisdictions.

    Questions I’m left with (and I was a member of the City Council while this project was planned and initially approved, so I’m implicated here) include (1) why didn’t we question the grade-separated limitation in the modal integration study and planning the TIGER project, (2) did identifying a big project distract from continuing to look for additional improvements along the highway, and (3) would Northfield have attempted to plan a project like the TIGER trail if grant funding were not available?

    Execution

    The TIGER trail project (here’s the Project Memorandum) faltered when the idealism of the grant application met the realities on the ground. The grant awarded $1.1 million with $500,000 in local matching funds creating expectations this would be the total project cost. Unfortunately, the project almost immediately proved to be more difficult than the grant application anticipated including roadblocks with railroads, changes in design requirements for a retaining wall, bids higher than anticipated, and other needed design variances. Each change brought additional costs causing a struggle to either “find” more money or reduce the project scope.

    TIGER project original trail plan

    TIGER trail redesign

    A big grant brings a large chunk of money, but also imposes costs (Northfield’s annual budget is about $10 million; a $1 million dollar project is very big). Some are obvious (but still not budgeted), like local matching dollars. Then there is the significant cost in staff time (and remember, Northfield has 20,000 people with the small engineering staff to match), unanticipated costs when the project scope is changed as it is designed and the immense political capital cost of trying to defend the project in the face of each dollar cost adjustment. Add to that the inflexibility of the grant funding – Northfield was limited to a grade-separated crossing and could not redeploy grant dollars to a different project serving the same general policy goals.

    What’s next?

    First, a deep breath. The community support for the idea of the TIGER trail was strong from the outset with multiple letters from community groups accompanying the grant application to stalwart supporters at Council meetings throughout the process. Retirees, residents of Northfield’s manufactured home park, young families spoke to the Council about how they would like to be able to cross the highway safely and easily but don’t see the current design as adequate. The TIGER project focused both the supporters, but also made it an easier target for opponents and made it easier to dismiss improving bike/ped transportation as big ticket/small impact.  Aiming for the 8-80 standard which is easily understood – would you let your elementary school child or grandmother cross Highway 3 (alone) on foot, bicycle, motorized scooter, skateboard, etc.?

    Next, a step back.  In the bigger picture, the case for active transportation continues to grow and push bike and pedestrian improvements from nice extras to necessities for public health, environmental issues, livability, and economic development. Building grassroots support for change is still needed for systemic change rather than special projects, but the likely supporters keep growing as the benefits are recognized. The most important development during the TIGER Trail was the emphasis on equity and making not driving a real option in Northfield. Let’s not lose this.

    Smaller and/or different projects: If Northfield can build on the TIGER trail’s support, broaden it with continued education, then what projects can happen?  I’ve indicated a preference for trying to keep the planning and funding as local as possible, so what pieces of the TIGER project still be built with more local dollars extended in time? Which portions might bring the biggest impact?  Beyond grade-separated crossings, how do we make sustained improvement using the capital improvement process? Can other Northfield plans like the Corridor Improvement Plan be marshalled for planning purposes? Streets.mn readers can probably imagine different solutions along the corridor from road diets, intersection improvements, and other stroad-reduction design changes (suggestions welcome).

    Finally, vote: If Northfield is to be an 8-80 City, Northfield (and other communities) needs elected officials who understand the bigger picture of linking transportation improvements and land use, multi-modal transportation as an equity issue, and the longer term benefits which can result.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Perceived Comfort for Varying Bike Faciltiies

    Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:11am

    This is a chart from a recent study out of Portland State University about measuring perceived comfort for different types of bicycle facilities.

    You can read the report and the methodology here, but this basically says that more people think they feel more comfortable in more protected bike infrastructure.

    (One other interesting result were that age didn’t have much effect on perceived comfort.)

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Making Transit-Oriented Development Great at Lake and Hiawatha

    Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:00am

    There is room for improvement at the transit-oriented development proposed at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue. It has been a long time coming, but the latest version of the project (shown below) has Hennepin County acting as master developer, working with a private design and development team led by BKV Group. A Hennepin County service center will be the primary tenant of a mixed-use office/retail building on the 6-acre site, which will also include an approximate one acre public plaza that will be home to the Midtown Farmers Market, as well as around 500 housing units. The county has indicated a short timeline to get the county services building up and running, and I fear in their haste urban design and public realm issues won’t be properly vetted.

    I was part of the BKV Group design team that started working with the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization (CNO) in 2009 (five years ago!) to push forward on design ideas for the site. I’m no longer on the BKV team, but have been asked by CNO to weigh in on matters of design, particularly the public realm and plaza. So here goes.

    First, the public plaza is in the wrong location. Second, pedestrian connections around and through the site may be less than adequate. Third, it is critically important to pay close attention to how the ground floor of these buildings (commercial and residential) relate to the sidewalk and street. Hennepin County needs to put the brakes on this project to get the public realm and urban design right.

    Regarding the plaza, placing the county services building with ground floor retail frontage right on Lake Street is all well and good and follows basic urbanism principles. However, in this scenario I continue to question why the public plaza remains squished up against the rail viaduct. True, it will have good access to and from the station entrance, but it will be largely hidden from view from Lake Street and not visible at all from the adjacent YWCA. I think this is a huge mistake. Besides, it is always worth quoting Joe Riley, who says “great cities give their best edges over to the public realm.” So why is the supposed lynchpin of this site – a public plaza – not facing Lake Street? Doing so would allow all – train riders, bus riders, drivers and pedestrians on Lake Street, guests coming and going from the YWCA, and students of nearby South High School – to see and experience a high-quality public space in any season, whether the farmer’s market is operating or not (Eastern Market, below, is but one of many examples).

    Furthermore, the current plan places two retail spaces facing Lake Street, but also a community room. While the preliminary designs show lots of glass and transparency (a good thing), I’m not sure that only two retail spaces will be enough to activate the Lake Street side of this project. It also feels like the community room is just filler. A third retail space faces the plaza only, which I believe is a pretty major flaw and will be a very hard space to fill. My gut says if you can’t get it right, don’t do it at all. Placing the plaza right on Lake Street, with the county building and retail space set back and essentially facing both the plaza and street at the same time, could very well assuage this problem, as it gives both public space and retail full visibility and exposure. It would allow all retail space to face both street and plaza, making them more viable. The community room should be on the second floor, not taking up potentially valuable and active retail space.

    If we accept that the Hennepin County services building must be on Lake Street, then we must address the grade-level midblock passage proposed to cut through the block. In concept, this is a good idea. After all, adding streets to the grid is Jane Jacobs 101.

    Adding one street increases pedestrian choices by a significant factor, and breaks up megablocks. The problem is, the current plan calls for a midblock passage that not only passes under an unnecessary second story appendage of the Hennepin County building, but next to an at-grade parking lot covered by the private rooftop amenity deck for the proposed market rate apartments. The path crosses what appears to be the retail truck loading area as well. So yes, a pedestrian can choose to take this path, but why would anyone do so?

    The good urbanist in me would ask why not just take the sidewalk along Lake Street to reach a popular destination such as the YWCA? Well, one answer is they provide free parking so I just drive. I only mention the YWCA because close to 1,000 people per day pass through its doors, and the most active pedestrian door at the YWCA faces the parking lot (not Lake Street), as do a large bank of second story windows in the fitness area (eyes on the street/lot). And it is important when planning this site to acknowledge surrounding land uses that aren’t likely to change. Hoping everyone chooses to walk and use the Lake Street entrance is farfetched at best, is a case of hopeful planner thinking, and we’d all be better off if existing conditions and human nature were taken into account. Today one can see in a direct line from the light rail station entrance to the most used entrance of the Y, and vice-versa. Furthermore, a natural location for a stage, fountain or meeting place on the plaza is also in this line of sight. So why block that view with a parking lot, building appendage and private amenity space? The design team has proposed to shield the view of this parking/drive area with a bicycle storage facility, which seems like a good gesture but masks a fundamental design flaw. Regardless of where the plaza is, it is important that it be visible from both the transit station and the YWCA and that any midblock passage be dignified and humane.

    Here’s why I’m concerned. BKV is the architect of The Marshall in Dinkytown, where they recently designed a midblock passage, and this is what they came up with.

    While they did provide a means for pedestrians to pass through, the design is certainly lacking. This makes me bristle – an uninviting, potentially unsafe passageway with no vista nor visual attraction.

    The midblock passage can work, but let’s do it some justice and make it more dignified, more urban, more like a street, and less like an underpass next to a parking ramp. Let’s make it more like Warren Place in Brooklyn…

    …Tongli in Suzhou, China…

    …Zakkendragerssteeg in Utrecht, Netherlands…

    …or even Carrer dels Cecs de Sant Cugat in Barcelona (but straight so as not to block the views up and down the street).

    Lastly, I very much applaud that residential units will have ground floor walk-out entrances. However, even the details of this must be paid close attention. Front doors must be inviting and facing the street but not overly gated off or with steps that appear to be hanging off the building. Doing it right like Vancouver…

    …St. Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn…

    …or our very own Lake Street in Minneapolis, is critical.

    A simple instinct is that we’ve been planning this project for so long, let’s just get it done! That would be a shame, as it risks winding up with a very average result. We’ve taken so long but still not gotten the plan right; it is even more important that we take the extra time needed now to do so. The plaza can be moved, and regardless, the public realm can be improved. (Of course the cruel irony in planning for a transit-oriented development is parking dictates so much of the design.)

    I encourage councilmember Alondra Cano to risk that this project may not host its ribbon cutting on her watch, and that she work with CPED staff and Hennepin County to get the public realm right. I encourage commissioner Peter McLaughlin to step back and put urban design ahead of a tight timeline of providing county services. I encourage city and county staff and CNO to focus first and foremost on the public realm. I encourage all readers to contact elected officials and demand better urban design that benefits all.

    Hennepin County wants this project done fast. We need to demand it be done right.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Signs of the Times #95

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:55am
     grow[Powderhorn, Minneapolis.]E-CIGSSOLD HEREALL FLAVORS[Tree. Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.]  LIFEISFUN[Trash can. West Bank, Minneapolis.] For Osip Nikiforovplease drop thepackage inside here.Thank you[Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis?]  Clean UP AfterYour DOGIt's TheLAW[Location Forgotten.] I [heart]Pedal Pub[Northeast Minneapolis.]WELCOMEto theNIGHT MARKET[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]PLEASEdo nottakeVegetables[Garden. West Side, Saint Paul.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Twin City Doorways #14

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:49am
    [E Lake Street, Minneapolis.] [NE Central Avenue, Minneapolis.] [Lake Street, Minneapolis.] [Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.] [Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.] [University Avenue, Saint Paul.] [University Avenue, Saint Paul.] [Grand Marais.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Transpo Convo: Francine With Her Daughter

    Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:37am

    [This is part of streets.mn's "transpo convo" series, which aims to be an oral history of getting around the Twin Cities, one person at a time.] 

    “I’m just out grocery shopping,” says Francine as she is walking down University Avenue, pushing her daughter in a stroller.

    Francine identifies signal crossing time as an issue when out walking

    It is a warm 56 degree fall afternoon and rush hour traffic is just barely creeping along down the avenue.

    “When it’s nice like this, it is so easy to walk with her,” Francine points to her daughter.

    Francine has lived in the Union Park neighborhood connected to University Avenue for about seven months.  She identifies the convenient location as a reason she chose to move here.

    “I don’t need to take the bus, the train or ride a bike.  Everything is right here,” she says.  “It’s just so easy to walk to get anything.”

    It’s not always easy, however.

    “I won’t take her out in the winter.  I’ll just drive,” Francine says, identifying a problem that can’t be changed when living in the Midwest.

    “It sometimes gets hard to walk.  You have to watch out for cars.  People are always in a hurry.”

    “But, it’s mostly easy to walk on a day like this.  They could make the walk signals longer for people like me who are with a stroller,” she adds.

    Francine smiles and reiterates that she enjoys the opportunity to be out walking for errands on such a nice day as she wanders away with her daughter and groceries in tow.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Why Hierarchical Road Systems Are Good

    Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 7:57am

    A topic that has arisen a few times is the New Urbanism concept of a using a grid street system to disperse traffic rather than concentrate most traffic on a few major arterials with a hierarchical road system. This is one element of New Urbanism that I disagree with.

    I’m not at all opposed to street grids, I am opposed to using them to disperse traffic since I believe that this promotes driving and will keep bicycling from being a viable option for the vast majority of our population.

    Safety and comfort are requirements

    Most average people feel unsafe and uncomfortable riding a bicycle in close and unprotected proximity to a lot of fast cars. Trucks add an even greater level of discomfort. The faster cars are going (and the more cars there are) the more we desire and need protection from them.

    The Dutch have determined, after decades of pushing the limits, that people’s comfort level sharing a road with cars quickly decreases when cars are traveling faster than about 18 mph. So, above 18 mph their code now requires a minimum of a painted bike lane (though a segregated path or cycletrack is recommended). Above 30 mph requires a physically segregated path or cycletrack and the distance of separation increases with increases in speed. Note that these are actual speeds not just posted.

    While most people are likely comfortable sharing the road with cars traveling 16 mph and nearly as many at 18 mph, very few, perhaps only a quarter, are likely comfortable doing so with 30 mph traffic and many fewer at 35 mph. Keep in mind that this does not mean that this many people will ride, only that this many people would be comfortable doing so.

    So, if you are planning a street with 30 mph traffic and install no bicycle facilities you’ve likely eliminated about half to three-quarters of the population from riding a bicycle right from the start. Even a painted bike lane will only provide a feeling of safety and comfort to a very few more. A cycletrack however might be comfortable for nearly all.

    New Urban-ing Summit Hill

    Consider east-west traffic in Summit Hill that we previously discussed in St Paul Bicycle Plan: Completing The Local Mile, everything from St Clair north to 94. Assuming that traffic on each residential street is about 800 cars per day then we have 57,000 vehicles per day wanting to travel east or west in this area[1].

    If we take 1/3 of the traffic on the six arterials and disperse it among the residential streets they’ll now average about 2,000 cars per day on each. At the same time we’ve reduced the traffic on the arterials so Selby is now about 4,000 instead of 6,000. Good for Selby, not so good for Goodrich and other residential streets.

    If we achieve New Urbanist Utopia then traffic will be evenly dispersed and we’ll no longer have arterials. Each of these streets will now have 3,000 vehicles rolling along them each day. To be fair, New Urbanists would like to see a lot more people walking so let’s assume that a third of all of these folks stop driving so now we’re at about 2,000 cars per day on each street.

    Problem for bicyclists

    The simple increase in traffic volume on these residential streets is a bit of a problem though likely not huge. It makes them a bit less comfortable to ride a bicycle and increases noise and air pollution. The biggest concern for most bicycle riders with increased volume will likely be at intersections. Even so, many Dutch engineers will still put a cycletrack on a street with 18 mph speeds but higher volumes.

    Dutch cities want most of their streets to be pleasant and safe for bicycling without the need of special facilities.

    The type of traffic, the type of people driving the extra 1200 cars, is a much bigger concern. How fast are they driving and how well are they paying attention?

    Someone just leaving or arriving at their destination, especially if on a street they live on, is likely to drive a bit slower, pay better attention, and be more considerate of others.

    Someone using a street as a thoroughfare has a very different mindset. This especially if they’ve already been delayed a bit and are using this residential street as a rat-run to bypass the arterial traffic.

    How comfortable are you riding your bicycle on a street with only local drivers vs about three times as many drivers and with two-thirds of them people from elsewhere in a hurry to get somewhere else? How comfortable sending your 8-year-old out on this street?

    Problem for drivers

    If we want to be able to ride bicycles more and have others do so then we need to make it feel safe and comfortable on every street. We can either reduce traffic volume and speed enough that most people are comfortable sharing the road with cars and having their children do so (alone), or we can install facilities like cycletracks.

    Now, what to do with the 40,000 people who don’t live in this area and aren’t driving to someplace in this area? The 40,000 people who are in a hurry to get from somewhere else to somewhere else? These people need a place where they can safely drive 30 or 35 mph and where people walking and riding bicycles are safe from them. If it’s not provided they’ll simply turn our residential streets in to arterials.

    Do we slow all streets to 18 mph? Do we put a cycletrack on every street so that people can use them all as a through-way?

    But, but, we’re creating car sewers!

    Yes. Instead of the sewage being scattered all over doing all kinds of random harm we’re keeping it in one place where we can deal with it appropriately[2].

    Good safe segregated bicycle, disabled and pedestrian facilities and other measures to mitigate the impact of a lot of fast motor traffic aren’t inexpensive and the cost doesn’t really change based on the volume of traffic.

    A residential street with a few hundred local cars per day can be made quite safe and comfortable fairly inexpensively with 15-20 mph speed limits, shortening of the distances that can be travelled by car, maybe some no-passing rules, some chicanes and other elements.

    A street carrying more and faster through traffic is a different animal. Here we need to segregate bicycle riders, pedestrians, and disabled from cars for them to feel and be safe and comfortable so we’ll need cycletracks and good sidewalks. Buildings along here might want some additional sound proofing. It makes little difference if there are 4,000 cars per day (Selby reduced by one third) or 14,300 (Grand currently). The impact of motor traffic is about the same and the needs and costs for mitigation will be about the same.

    As much as we might want it, there really is no good in-between that I’m aware of.

    Conclusion

    I think we’re much better off in our example with 13 residential streets that are comfortable for all and only need cycletracks on six stroads rather than have 19 streets/stroads that are all uncomfortable and all in need of cycletracks.

    Some might consider this all very unfair. We’ve chosen some streets to be quite pleasant and others to be car sewers. I don’t know that we have much choice. More, I don’t know that our car sewers can’t be made fairly pleasant as well with cycletracks, trees, and other elements that soften the impact of the cars and make them feel instead rather vibrant. Best of all, if we make bicycling comfortable then we may well succeed in significantly reducing the number of cars going down our sewers.

    —-

    [1] I was not able to obtain accurate counts for these streets. Best guess is probably about 800 on average.

    [2] This is kind of like building a big window well. The builder will often run drain tile (perf pipe) through the window well and then run the drain tile in to a sump pump inside the basement. Seems illogical because the goal is to keep water OUT of the basement. By doing this though the builder gains control of the water and can now safely direct it to where it should go.

     

    Thanks to David, David, Reuben, Bill, and Marven for your valuable input.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    A Field Guide to Bus Shelters

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:14pm
    [Replacing an ad on a flat-roof CBS shelter on Saint Paul's Minnesota St.]Last week, I wrote a Cityscape column all about bus stops and bus shelters. In doing so, I learned a lot about actual types of bus shelters and began noticing them as I went around the city.Here's a bit of background from the piece:The Twin Cities’ transit system has about 12,000 bus stops spread throughout the metro area, and somewhere around 800 of them have shelters operated by the agency. Of the stops with shelters, about 14 percent of them of have lights and 10 percent have heat for the winter. In theory, the agency has guidelines about which well-used stops should receive shelters, but in practice there are many stops in the center cities that lack shelters despite high ridership. As it turns out, once you start spotting different types of bus shelters, it's hard to stop. Here's what I've learned so far.There are three main types of bus shelters in the Twin Cities:
    • 1) Metro Transit shelters (without ads)
    • 2) CBS shelters (with ads) 
    • 3) Public/Private (aka "custom") shelters
    Within those broad categories, there are even more distinctions depending on age, roof type, and size. Here's a rough sampling of a dozen or so.CBS Shelters - These shelters are actually owned by CBS Outdoor, a large media/advertising company that also runs billboards, and advertising laden benches. Oddly, considering the trend toward privatizzation in other cities aroun the country, Minneapolis recently cancelled their contract with CBS Outdoor, so CBS shelters in Minneapolis are gradually being phased out. However, they are still being built and operated in Saint Paul and some other suburbs (I heard Roseville...).Note that these shelters typically have ads only one side, usually the side that is the "far side" of whichever direction the police typically come from. (E.g. downstream from the direction of traffic.) Safety and transparency (meant quite literally) is a key consideration in bus shelter design.[A flat roof CBS shelter, probably the oldest of the type. Wabasha and 6th, DT Saint Paul.][Metal variation of CBS shelter, probably much newer. Hennepin and Washington, DT Minneapolis.][Curved roof CBS shelter. Nicollet and 16th, Minneapolis.]Metro Transit Shelters [basic] - These are the most common type of shelter, particularly once you get out of Minneapolis and Saint Paul proper. They are distinctive because of the lack of advertising. You can tell the ages of the shelters by looking at the type of metal and glass used (striped = more recent) and whether the roof is curved perpendicularly (older) or whether the curve is aligned with the shelter (more recent).Also, increasingly these come in different sizes and configurations, such as fully enclosed and half enclosed.[Curved roof MT Shelter without striped glass. Wabasha and 5th, DT Saint Paul.][MT Shelter with a higher peaked roof. Nicollet and 18th, Minneapolis.][Larger version of the above. Note different size roof and glass panes. Nicollet and Franklin, Minneapolis.][High peak half-shelter. Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.][Silver MT "logo" shelter, the newest model out there. Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.]Metro Transit Shelters [deluxe] - In addition to the basic shelter, there are certain special Metro Transit-owned shelters that are becoming more common throughout the Twin Cities. Right now, the best example are the Marq-2 shelters along Marquette and 2nd, however as the proposed aBRT system rolls out, more deluxe Metro Transit shelters will become more common.[A Marq-2 Shelter with NexTrip sign, quasi-benches. Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis.][One of the proposed aBRT "A Line" shelters.]Public/Private Shelters - These are the really idiosyncratic ones. There are a whole range of privately-built and sometimes publicly maintained "custom shelters" throughout the Twin Cities. Sometimes, if they are designed to be compatible with Metro Transit's components (e.g. glass), they are maintained by Metro Transit. Otherwise they are wholly private.[The "flower shelter", a custom design in North Minneapolis.][The "Taj Mahal" shelter on 6th and Jackson, DT Saint Paul.][A large non-bus stop shelter by the bus waiting area. Parking lot next to the library, Minneapolis.][Custom shelter. Hennepin Avenue, downtown Minneapolis.][Custom shelter. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.][Custom shelter. Note absence of glass panes. MT probably doesn't do much to this one. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]Update:This amusing photo was sent in by a friend, showing a new Metro Transit shelter side-by-side with a custom shelter in Richfield.
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Growth in Post-College Residency

    Streets.MN - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:09am

    Yesterday, I found an interesting article in the New York Times about which cities are rapidly growing their young 20-something (post-college) populations.

     

     

    This is growth rates, not overall numbers, so the results may be a bit misleading. For example, Boston has huge numbers of post-college grads because of the massive amount of colleges in the area, and I’m sure the other typical young person destinations (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, DC, etc.) are still the most important. Instead what we learn here is that young people are moving to cities, and even theoretically non-appealing ones like Houston.

    Still, Minneapolis doesn’t do too bad according to this metric, coming in right around average. But we’re getting our butt kicked by Denver. Apart from mountains, light rail, and legalized pot, what do they have that we don’t have? 

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Ideas for Twin Cities Bike Builders

    Streets.MN - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:00am

    When I draw cartoons about imaginary bicycles, I try to make the designs believable and think about how they might actually be constructed.

    In this first example, the projector bike would be pretty complicated to build, perhaps impossible, but the other three designs wouldn’t be that hard and they might produce bikes that would be fun to ride .

    The same thing is true of this Rowing Recumbent bike or this Orchestrocycle. Both of them wouldn’t be that hard to build and they’d be super fun to ride, row and play.

     

     

    Outlandish bicycle designs bring attention to bicycling. Drivers, cyclists and everyone else can’t help but notice a tall-bike, towering above traffic. Some locally made, pedal-powered contraptions have been highlights of the May Day parade and images of them get passed around the internet. I’m thinking of the “summersault bike” or various pedal-powered elevators. A lot of cities have “Art Car” parades. It would be fun if the Twin Cities had an annual “Art Bike” or pedal-powered parade. The Saint Paul Classic and other local bicycle events have a little of this. People create fish-bikes, buffalo-bikes, flamingo-bikes and other stuff but, once a year, it would be nice to get them all in one place.

     

    In addition to the outlandish, I’d love to see the Twin Cities devote some energy to more practical bicycle or tricycle designs. Cargo trikes or “Box Trikes” are perfect for Minnesota winters. Their three wheels make them stable on ice and snow. When my wife and I got a house, the first thing I did was get a Christiania Trike from Denmark. In Denmark, at the low-end, they cost between $1400 and $1600 dollars for the basic box trike and a few extras. You can choose a steel or (lighter) aluminum step-through frame, and anywhere from a 3-speed to an 8-speed Shimano internally geared rear hub. They have disk brakes up front and a drum brake in back for quick stopping. You can get a frame lock, different types of removable seats in the box (with seatbelts), and different styles of optional rain covers. There are lots of other optional design features as well, including removable front doors, custom colors, different saddles, etc..

    The boxes are made from panels of enameled, marine plywood riveted to an aluminum frame. I’ve had mine for 5 years of fairly heavy use and it’s still going strong. I use it all winter (and summer) to get groceries and run errands, or I ride it for everyday transportation when winter streets are so slick that I don’t trust the studded tires on my regular bike. It can haul 220 pounds in the cargo box. That’s a decent sized adult, multiple kids, groceries, garden supplies, or just about anything else.

    The one problem with the Christiania Trike (or a Dutch one made by Bakfiets) is they cost a fortune to import. I only spent $1600 to buy my trike but I spent over $1200 to ship it to the US and pay all the tariffs, taxes and customs fees. This is why, in the USA, they retail for over $2800. This seems like a great opportunity for a local manufacturer in Minnesota. There are lots of great custom frame-builders in the Twin Cities as well as big companies like Quality Bicycle Products. We could build a box-trike of similar quality here and save people the $1200 in shipping and customs fees. At a $1500 price point, it would attract a lot more buyers like me who want something that works in the winter and it might convince more people to give up their cars. There are a few domestically made box trikes (Haley and Worksman) but they just don’t compare in terms of design, handling and quality to the Danish and Dutch ones.

    So get out there and make some outlandish and practical new bike designs. …Or lend me your arc welder and pipe cutters and I’ll give it a try.

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    Categories: Twin Cities