Twin Cities

Bridge Reconstruction Just April Fools’ Joke, City Says

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 12:30pm

The bright orange sign has been out there for weeks — “Road Work Beginning April 1: Expect Delays” — forcing drivers and residents to bite their nails and re-think their summer plans. But city sources revealed that the bridge closure is not happening after all. The signs were placed in an attempt to be more light-hearted at city hall.

“We’ve been hearing from constituents about how we’re always so serious,” said Tyrone Slothrop, City Administrator in charge of Civic Affairs. “We’re trying to let our sense of humor out a little bit more. It’s part of a new direction for city departments, trying to re-think how we engage with our citizens.”

The signs are part of a city-wide effort to “have more fun,” and have been a high priority part of civic attempts to reach more vibrant audiences.

“Millennials are the future of our city,” said Sauncho Smilax, Deputy Assistant in Charge of Morale (DAiCoM). “Last year we received a grant to do a study about something called social productivity, and so we hired a consultant who told us that millennials — and that’s anyone under the age of 40 — really like something called ‘irony.’ Well, we looked it up, and thought, ‘Yeah. Irony. We can do that.’ We’re waiting to see how successful it can be. But so far, so good.”

Other attempts to be humorous include the city’s new “Free Parking Tomorrow” stickers, which have been placed on meters all through downtown, and switching the city’s official “on hold” helpline music to the theme from the Benny Hill show.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing actually wrong with the bridge. According to city bridge engineers, the structure is just fine and not at all falling apart due to decades of aging and weather erosion.

“We keep hearing that we should under-promise and over-deliver,” Slothrop explained. “Well, nothing says ‘over-deliver’ like canceling road construction. Happy April Fools’, everyone!”

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Categories: Twin Cities

Southdale to Rebrand, Establish Stroaddale Preservation District

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 11:30am

Edina, Minn — The City of Edina today announced ambitious plans to rebrand the aging Southdale District as “Stroaddale”, and to establish strict historic preservation guidelines to ensure that its low-density, stroad-oriented development is cherished for future generations. Stroaddale District is named for Stroaddale Center, and is roughly bounded by Crosstown to the north, Valley View Stroad to the west, 494/5 to the south, and Xerxes Avenue to the east.

“If there’s one thing we’ve heard loud and clear from residents, it’s that they want lower density of housing, and higher density of cars,” mayor Jim Hovland said at a press conference Wednesday. “Edina’s density is about 3,000 folks per square mile, roughly half that of our first-ring neighbor Richfield and a solid 25% less than St. Louis Park,” Hovland acknowledged when asked by Streets.mn. “But it’s just not low enough. Preserving stroad character is one of the best things we can do to keep these dangerous numbers down.”

Early Beginnings

The beginnings of the Stroaddale District in 1956. Image: MHAPO

The Stroaddale District began with Stroaddale Center, built in the late 1950s. At the time, Stroaddale was a radical departure from the form of surrounding built areas. The only immediate neighbor at the time was to the east, Richfield’s Lincoln Hills, which was built with small blocks, narrow lots, and alleys. But the new Stroaddale super-block was seven blocks wide and three blocks high. Big blocks meant big stroads, built with all the grandeur of rural expressways.

Stroaddale was a quick success, and set the stage for future stroads throughout the Twin Cities. Engineers and landscape architects responsible for Hiawatha Avenue, Virginia Triangle, and the Olson Memorial Stroad in Minneapolis — as well as Richfield’s 77th Street — have acknowledged that they drew inspiration from the seas of pavement in the Stroaddale District.

New Competition and Loss of Stroad Character

Despite initial success, interest in Edina’s stroads waned in the decades that followed. The 1990s in particular was a difficult decade for the Stroaddale District. 1990 saw the opening of the Mall of America, one of the most ambitious stroad projects the Twin Cities has ever seen. Stroads were built as seamless extensions of the regional freeways, with none of the bordering streets under seven lanes. “When it comes to creating a pedestrian-repellant urban form, it’s tough to beat Bloomington,” acknowledged Cary Teague, Edina’s director of Community Development. “I mean, they made it illegal to cross the street! By comparison, meager 5-lane York Avenue might as well be a dirt path in the countryside.”

Porkchops were a popular pedestrian amenity

Unrest came from within, too. Centennial Lakes was a large public-private project that developed gravel pits to the south of Stroaddale Center. Although the design was careful to preserve roadway character on France Avenue — with parking garages and surface lots facing the stroad — the interior design posed serious risk to the character of the District. A spectacular public park surrounded recreational ponds, including many public amenities. “Centennial Lakes was a big risk, and I think we’ve learned our lesson,” said Teague, acknowledging that the creation of attractive, actually public space was not in-line with the vision for the area.

Recent Assaults on Stroadiness

Unfortunately, Centennial Lakes wasn’t the end to decisions that would jeopardize the Stroaddale District. In recent years, neighbors to the west have consistently fought against attractive, mixed-use buildings along France Avenue.

“7200 France is really a bellwether project,” said Wilford Nimbybotham III, chairman of Cornelia Residents Uninterested in Density (CRUD). “If we have people living in apartments, going to a corner shop on the first floor… what will become of our neighborhood?” Despite not being asked about the matter, Nimbybotham further volunteered that the presence of Section 42 workforce housing in the project was not a factor in CRUD’s opposition. “I have many workforce friends,” he said.

Even more contentious was a proposal for a homeless youth shelter to the north of Stroaddale Center. The project plans to turn a small site of an old TCF Bank into 39 studio apartments for homeless youth. An group of unnamed citizens sued in an attempt to block the project, but ultimately failed. The leader of this group agreed to speak only under the condition of keeping their identity totally anonymous.

One of the biggest concerns was the proximity to a Montessouri school. “Criminal activity and children are not compatible,” said the group’s leader, using homelessness and criminal activity synonymously. “Safety is an issue for the female employees of the school.”

“But really, this is about what’s best for the community as a whole. We even funded our own detailed parcel-by-parcel analysis determining where a homeless youth site might be better located.” The results of that study were provided to Streets.mn:

Detailed analysis of suitable sites for homeless youth shelter provided by group suing to prevent 66 West. Base map: Hennepin County

A New Plan Forward

New standards will be drafted by Edina city planners to ensure adequate parking visibility, single-use zoning, and sufficiently low Floor Area Ratio (FAR), and are expected to be adopted by the City Council in late 2015. But public improvements to the Stroaddale District have already begun, starting with a pedestrian improvement project last summer along France Avenue.

“The key with the France Avenue project was to make it safer for pedestrians, while still making sure it was an environment no one would ever choose to walk in.” said Chad Millner, Edina’s city engineer. “We took a lot of flak from national stroadscape architects for removing all those free right turns, but they miss some of the finer details — we removed crosswalks, left the boulevard barren of trees. We’re dedicated to making sure the character of France is preserved.”

Gateway signage will be installed in early May, and will be modally specific. The welcome message for motorists will be displayed across the Fairview Stroaddale skyway, while pedestrians will be greeted by orange construction barrels, located in roughly the middle of the sidewalk.

Rendering of proposed gateway signage. Base image: Google Street View

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Categories: Twin Cities

TV’s “Real Renters of Minneapolis” to Debut in 2016

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 10:00am

“The true story of seven transients picked to live in a tiny apartment.”

A local production company has completed casting for “The Real Renters of Minneapolis,” which promises viewers a look at the conflict that arises “when people stop living in houses, and start living on top of each other.” The show will be set in The Wedge neighborhood of Minneapolis, the heart of recent battles over development. Filming will coincide with the opening of a brand new apartment building at 2320 Colfax Avenue South, with most of the action taking place in a 400-square-foot studio apartment.

The show will spotlight the tension caused by cramped urban life, as well as battles between the transient cast and the neighborhood’s long-time homeowners. Producers plan to foster conflict by regularly sending cast members, equipped with smartphones and out-of-state ID cards, to meetings of the local neighborhood association. The show’s creator, Fedora Hedge, calls it a cross between MTV’s The Real World and the horrific “Mouse Utopia” experiments of John B. Calhoun.

In a twist on the typical “weekly elimination” formula of many reality shows, the cast is expected to grow as the season progresses. New “renters” will be added to the apartment when underemployed cast members are unable to pay rent. Rent credits will be offered for completing certain challenges: furnishing the apartment by struggling with bulky Ikea packages on lengthy bus rides; overcoming the parking crisis created by the new building by stashing tiny Smart cars on neighboring porches; and making camouflage suits out of keyboards, to wear at public meetings.

Over the course of an 80-minute ride, renters will compete to see who bonks the fewest fellow passengers with an Arkelstorp coffee table.

Hedge has revealed little about the cast, saying only that we can expect to see some of the more “irritating” users from the internet forum UrbanMSP: “These guys are ready to stop hiding behind keyboards and silly usernames. They want to show the world that they live their values, they walk the walk–and that walk is about more than trampling the landscaping on the way home from the bar.” At least one “closeted” homeowner will be cast as a roommate, in an effort to manufacture a tearful “coming out” or a violent tantrum.

Many neighbors are unhappy with the prospect of television crews invading their backyard. A Facebook page has emerged with posts arguing that North Minneapolis is more deserving of television exposure. Other critics worry about the displacement of “The Andy Griffith Show” and similarly vulnerable reruns. There’s also the contention that constant filming would mar the historic character of the neighborhood. Producers respond that the location is no stranger to reality TV. The area has been featured on other reality shows: HGTV’s Rehab Addict, an episode of Ghost Adventures, and an upcoming season of Ice Road Truckers.

Next season: the truckers attempt to move as many homes as possible to open lots in North Minneapolis before the ice thaws–and teardown season begins.

The show’s feline cast members pose yet another concern. “These urbanist guys own a disturbingly large number of cats,” said Hedge. “While our teeny tiny apartment is technically safe for humans, we’re bringing in animal welfare specialists to make sure nothing goes wrong in that regard. As far as the longer term risk of schizophrenia from living in a small space with dozens of cats, we’ll be requiring cast members to sign a release.”

The show faces one last hurdle before production can begin: candle light vigil protests against a plan to “place-make” an adjacent 100-year-old house into an open lot. Max Musicant, a series consultant, says this is necessary to accommodate the weekly, ceremonial tossing of a bocce ball through a neighbor’s window. Producers are prepared for an extended legal battle.

MORE HEADLINES:

“Ex-Renter” Movement Gathers Steam – Downzoning evangelist comes out as former renter, advocates “homeowner conversion therapy.”

Analysis of NexTrip Data Uncovers Thousands of Missing Passengers – Transit riders feared lost to other dimension.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Franchise Threatens to Move to AL

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 9:01am

Rage the Roadkill

Minnesota Commuters United, a franchise in the Professional League of Major League Commuting Professionals, has threatened to move to Birmingham, Alabama (a city without Professional Commuting, relying instead on amateurs) unless it gets both new facilities for daily commutes, and a practice facility in the suburbs, as well as improved training at both the high school and post-secondary level.

The Commuters, whose mascot is Rage the Roadkill, are complaining about the quality of the track on which they drive, as well as a lack of overpasses and luxury skyboxes through which fans can watch the Professional Commuters in their daily match. With over 1 million players, if MC United relocated, it would be a major loss to the Minnesota tax base, Guy Le Flack, a professional flack working for the team stated.

Last year MC United came in 19th in league standings, according to a poll of traffic counters conducted by the Texas A&M University.

The team estimate the new replacement facilities will cost $50 Billion, amortized over 20 years. It is expected to be a hotly debated topic in the Minnesota legislature.

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Categories: Twin Cities

New Recycling Program Offers Residents a Taste of Their Own Medicine

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 8:30am

That which does not kill you… can now be put out with your recycling. In what’s being called a natural step toward “zero landfill living,” Hennepin County launched an innovative program last month to collect residents’ unneeded pills and redistribute them through a network of “med pantries.” Residents with a valid prescription can pick up medications like simvastatin and omeprazole at no cost.

Last year, Hennepin County’s med-only landfill reached 80% capacity.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” explained Roxie Kodone, Communications Director. “They say laughter is the best medicine. Well, giving back to others is also good medicine, especially when it involves giving others good medicine.”

The initiative is modeled after a similar program in Dordrecht, Netherlands, which includes cigarette butts and used chewing gum. It’s the latest in the county’s efforts to encourage recycling, “upcycling” and sharing.

“Last year, the county’s med-only landfill site reached 80% capacity.” said Kodone. “And the Department of Health’s report on SSRI levels in metro lakes just put us over the edge. I mean, snapping turtles no longer snapping? Something had to be done.”

Residents are being urged to place their unneeded prescription medications in special “PharmaKeeps” that the county is distributing on a phased-in basis. The five-gallon bucket is meant to hold two-weeks’ worth of leftover meds from a typical Twin Cities’ family of four.

The initiative is the brainchild of Phil Skripson, M.D., president of Minnesota association of Engaged Health professionals (MEH). For two years, MEH has sponsored “Open PhArms,” a charity that encourages pharmacies to donate gently used or slightly expired pills to the needy.

“We’ve been so jazzed about the success of Open PhArms, as well as our ‘Take a pill, leave a pill’ campaign we piloted at pharmacy check-outs over the holidays. Then, at our quarterly MEH meeting, a lightbulb just went on! So we approached the county and quickly worked out the little legal technicalities.”

Meds are collected every two weeks by converted pothole-patching trucks and taken to a new building at the county’s recycling center. Pill bottles are opened and emptied into vats, which are then dumped onto a conveyor belt, where the pills are sorted by color, size and any legible markings.

Five-gallon med recycling pails designed to hold two weeks of typical household’s old meds.

The facility is managed by Ed Erall, a former salvage yard operator and licensed pharmacist. The work is done mostly by teens from Patheways, a career exploration program that’s part of a nearby prep school, St. Loki’s Academy.

When asked about training and safety concerns, Erall explained, “Look, every one of these kids is like a little pharmacist. No, they don’t have fancy ‘credentials’, but we got ‘em little white jackets and taught ‘em the basics. They use smart phone apps to identify pills and call their friends for stuff they can’t figure out.”

When pressed further, Erall bristled: “Look, we’re doing our best. Can I guarantee that we won’t pass some cat de-worming pills on to your mother? No. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water either — especially if that baby has erectile dysfunction or gastroesophageal reflux disease or whatever, ‘cause we got lotsa free meds for that baby, OK?”

Student workers from St. Loki’s Academy sort pills at county’s new pill recycling center

The program has not been without its critics. Personnel from Minneapolis’s health department have expressed concerns about prescription painkillers falling into the wrong hands. When asked about safeguards, Erall lowered his voice: “Look, let’s just say… we got a guy who knows a guy who handles that stuff for us, OK? Next question.”

One person who won’t be complaining is 81-year-old South Minneapolis resident, Ida Nowell. “Why, it’s just been a godsend. Most months, things are tight with just my Social Security. But last week, my daughter picked up my blood pressure and arthritis drugs at the pantry. They looked kind of different from the ones I usually take… But it’s really put a spring in my step — I guess from knowing I’ll have more money for groceries this month. I mean, after taking the pills, I went out to my garden and worked nine hours straight!”

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Categories: Twin Cities

In Memoriam: The April 1st Parking Massacre of 2014

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 8:00am

MINNEAPOLIS – Dignitaries from Internet comment sections and public meetings around the nation and around the world arrived in Minneapolis early Wednesday for ceremonies marking the first anniversary of the April 1st Parking Massacre. A 9:00 AM service on a windswept Glenwood Avenue sidewalk under Ramp A drew thousands of parkers mourning the over 800 spaces that lost their places.

“See where those orange cones are? That’s where I used to park,” explained one solemn onlooker, wiping a tear from her eye.

Early on the morning of April 1, 2014, parking terrorists placed a “closed” sign in front of a parking ramp at Nicollet Mall & 4th Street, and a second team simultaneously fenced off a full block of surface spaces several blocks away in Downtown East. This coordinated attack cost the downtown area hundreds of spots, catching commuters off guard as they arrived in the morning rush hour.

Nicollet & 4th garbage ramp is closed for good. Demolition tailgate party TBA pic.twitter.com/iQdee9aBl7

— UrbanMSP (@UrbanMSP) April 1, 2014

The 463 spaces in the Nicollet Mall & 4th Street ramp gave their lives to make way for a new headquarters building for Xcel Energy.

A full block of surface parking bit the dust today in Downtown East! Making way for new office tower. #Minneapolis pic.twitter.com/v6AcYzvahq

— UrbanMSP (@UrbanMSP) April 1, 2014

The surface parking lot bounded by 3th and 4th Streets South and 4th and Portland Avenues provided 340 parking spaces for downtown commuters. The lot had to go to make way for half of an office complex built by Ryan Companies for Wells Fargo–the other half claimed a StarTribune office building and additional surface parking in a separate, earlier attack.

The extremists promised in later videos (warning: NSFW if you like surface parking) to tear up the full block of surface parking in front of the Armory, for a “park,” with no parking, which raised the question: where will park goers park?

“It’s too hard to park downtown,” said literally hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans about Downtown Minneapolis, where it is not hard to park. “You may have to walk several blocks,” they repeated. “It’s better at home, where I park my car.”

Surface parking dominoes continue to fall across Downtown Minneapolis in trapezoidal block, half block, and quarter block chunks. The cost of parking has risen at two local parking ramps–last week, early bird daily rates at the Haaf Ramp rose $1.50 to $7.75, and at the Gateway Ramp–an inbred relative of the Nicollet & 4th Ramp–early bird daily rates rose $1.00 to $8.00.

Metropasses remain $76/month, or less. Parking also continues to be cheap and easy.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Southwest LRT Planners Resolve Final Lawsuit by Eliminating Last 15 Stations

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 6:00am

Planners at the Metropolitan Council say they have solved the latest, and hopefully final, lawsuit over the planned Southwest LRT transit line by eliminating all but the first three stations of the line. The line will now begin at Mitchell Station and end at Eden Prairie Town Center Station. “We’ve talked with all the stakeholders and local governments along the line,” said Chuck Rootbender, lead planner with the Metropolitan Council. “This is a solution that everyone can get behind and support and finally move this project forward.”

The line has been plagued by debate and lawsuits, including the latest by a group of Minnetonka residents claiming that the route would harm a local natural area. The Metropolitan Council also sparred with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board over the design of a channel crossing in Minneapolis. The new route plans would solve those disputes by ending the line before it left Eden Prairie city boundaries.

Park and ride plans for Mitchell Station

The new line would now serve primarily suburban residents, moving shoppers quickly to Eden Prairie Center Mall from further flung destinations. “Everyone agrees that parking at Eden Prairie Center gets nearly three-quarters full around the holidays, and a nice warm LRT ride from the park and ride at Mitchell would really help out,” said Eden Prairie mayor Archibald Freelane.

The new routing plan would also shave over $1 billion of the cost of project, bringing the cost to $300 million, versus the previous estimates of $1.65 billion. “This is a heck of a deal,” said Rootbender. “We’re getting a significant savings here. $300 million is only a little more than it would cost to put bus shelters at every stop in the metro that needs one. That is value.” A funding package for the new line still needs to be finalized, according to Rootbender, but sources will include a bread tax, local, county, state, and federal sources, a donation from George Soros, and aluminum cans collected at Metro Transit waste baskets that will be driven to Michigan on an old Route 16 bus.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Al’s Dinkytown Diner Downsizing

Streets.MN - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 1:00am

Due to an increase in demand, Al’s Breakfast is downsizing to a smaller nearby location. It will move from just north of the Espresso Royale, to the gap just south of that same cafe, adjacent to the China Express. Council Member Frey praised the new slender building. Critics suggested he was “fat-shaming” the existing Diner.

Al’s Breakfast – Current Location

Al’s Breakfast – New Location

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Categories: Twin Cities

Motivational Poster #1

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 1:42pm
This one is certainly true.
Categories: Twin Cities

Muckraking on West River Parkway

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 10:30am

A lot of magic can happen in nine months: A woman can create life. A child can pass through puberty (well, sort of). A Vikings team can win a Super Bowl. But to make West River Parkway safe again for traffic? Unfortunately it will take well over a year.

It wasn’t originally supposed to be so. News reports following the June 2014 rain-induced mudslide suggested that the road between Franklin Avenue and Fourth Street would likely remain closed, “for a few days until the debris can be cleared.” But the road, which carried 10,000 bicycle and car commuters a day from South Minneapolis to downtown, has remained closed, making original reports a bit humorous in retrospect.

The mudslide sent a 100-yard swatch of the hill below the University of Minnesota Medical Center onto the road, leaving it covered in six to eight feet of mud. In the weeks following, the buildings above were tested and found structurally sound. Authorities then said the road would be closed until the Fall of 2014. Then, it became Spring of 2015 and the parkway is still closed.

So, overcome with spring fever a few weeks ago, I sent my city council member, Cam Gordon, an email inquiry. No response. What did they find in them-thar mud-covered hills? Remnants of Cold War era biological experiments?

Then last week, the city put out a survey asking for citizen input into the design. Great! Except now, we learn that the work hasn’t even been bid out yet — and won’t begin until June. And, it’ll take about “three to four months,” or “until repairs are complete.”

I know. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the ash on Pompeii wasn’t cleared in… ever? I’m just hoping the city/park board could find a way to create a narrow passage through this 100-yard stretch so that at least bikes and pedestrians could travel through this summer while work is being done on the hill above.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Reduce Affordable Housing Need in Three Steps

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 8:30am

This is part 3 of a series on the interaction between the rental housing market and rents. Read part 1, “How I Set Apartment Rents,” and part 2, “Housing Markets? Humbug!

I’ve dedicated the last 15 years of my life working on affordable housing policy. Mostly, I’ve worked where some sort of subsidy helps make it (more) affordable.

In this post, informed by what I’ve learned about the scope of our problem and the inadequacy of existing subsidy programs, I’ll share actions and policies that I think could ameliorate our affordable housing problems.

It’s common knowledge we have an affordable housing problem. It might be surprising to learn just how bad the problem is. I had a lengthy conversation with Leigh Rosenberg of Minnesota Housing Partnership trying to find a sourced number of people needing affordable housing, and learned why it’s hard. She offered a short-cut. In the Twin Cities,

“Over 91,000 renter households and 72,000 owner households now pay more than half of their income for housing in the Metro area. The burden falls especially heavily on lower-income area residents.”

Using HUD’s 30% of income definition of affordable, 71% of renter households with incomes below $50,000 a year are “rent burdened.”

Source: Minnesota Housing Partnership

 

And, here you can see where those people paying so much of their income in rent live.

Rental Burden (paying more than 30% of income in rent)Map credit: Elliot Altbaum

 

Affordable Housing 101

I want to figure out how we actually solve this huge gap, and I’ve learned that we can’t do it with subsidy. (Maybe I should say, “won’t” as there isn’t the budget or political will to spend the ballpark $7 billion it would take subsidize construction of homes to assist those 91,000 renter households paying more than half their income for housing in the Twin Cities Metro).

How much subsidy is available? 

When it comes to subsidizing apartment construction, last year had unusually high funding levels, and we funded 3,500 units. To reinforce how inadequate that is, that number includes new construction and rehabilitation of existing housing — across the entire state! In part 2 of this series, I argued we need 2,210 units in Minneapolis alone (at any price point) to get to a more tenant-friendly market.

We also offer subsidy through rental assistance. Funding here is equally inadequate. In February, the Met Council opened up their waiting list for Section 8 vouchers for the first time in EIGHT years. 36,000 people applied, and only 2,000 of them will get on the WAITING list. They’re likely to be waiting for up to three years. The Minneapolis list still has 9,000 people on it, and it was last opened in 2008.

Yikes. I hope you don’t need that assistance.

Who gets the subsidy?

A variety of programs serve people with a broad range of incomes. On one end, there is supportive housing for people who tend to benefit from more services – formerly homeless individuals and families, people in recovery, people leaving institutions. Rental assistance programs tend to serve people earning up to 60% of “Area Median Income,” or AMI*. That’s $64,000 for a family of four. Many home-ownership programs help families making 80% of AMI and some even stretch to 120% of AMI.

Twin Cities Metro Area Median Income Chart, Showing Annual Income Levels by AMISource: OwnaHomeMN.org

We are not going to subsidize our way out of this problem, and it seems to me there might be better ways to serve moderate-income people who currently struggle to afford adequate, safe housing. Personally, I’d like to reserve the subsidy for people need it most.

With some changes, I think it’s possible for the market to serve individuals and couples making $30,000 – $35,000 (50% AMI) or more, and hopefully most households at 60% of AMI. I recommend three steps to get there.

Three Recommendations

Implementing any one of these will help, and if we do all three, we’ve got a response that might even match the scale of our current housing cost burden problems. (Remember, this is in addition to the subsidized housing we are already building.)

  • Change policies to remove barriers to development and to lower the cost of building new homes. (I recommend focusing on apartments, whether owned or rented, as fixed costs like land and predevelopment can be lowered more when shared between multiple units.)
  • Build a ton of housing. A lot. Tens of thousands of units every year regionally. MHP’s December 2014 2×4 report reports over 14,000 building permits (single family and multifamily) issued through September 2014. I’m talking about twice that. Or more.
  • Raise the minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, minimum wage is worth $2.69 less than it was in 1968. It simply doesn’t cover the cost of building and maintaining even modest, safe housing.
  • Add enough supply, and the calculus for landlords changes. Lower the cost of supplying apartments, and the calculus for developers changes. Add income, and fewer people need a subsidy-boost.

    How Does it Work?

    Lowering development costs and building much more housing addresses two things.

  • Allowing more and lower-cost new housing opens new markets to developers that are currently not financially viable. To take one simple cost-reducing measure related to parking. It costs around $25,000 to construct a single structured parking space. If a developer can reduce construction costs by $25,000/unit because parking is not required, a developer can make equal profits on lower-cost housing. There are a host of possible cost-reducing policies.
  • Building a ton of housing brings down the cost of housing by increasing competition for renters.
  • Raising minimum wage helps reduce the number of very-low-income people — putting more people in the ranks of those who can afford housing. Note that if we raise minimum wage but don’t build more housing, the most likely outcome is that people bid up rents on existing housing. The only winners in that scenario are the owners who get larger profits.

    All three together frees up the subsidy we’re currently spending to help professional families buy first homes and moderate income people to rent $1200/month apartments. Then, we can offer it to people who the market really cannot serve.

    The Policy Prescription

    The minimum wage change is fairly straightforward, given political will.

    Building the housing will have to be done by the private sector. Removing barriers (for example, lack of developable parcels) and allowing lower-cost units (for example, smaller unit sizes, faster approvals process) encourages the private sector to create more housing. Both approaches simplify project financing by lowering risk of a project being derailed, the market changing before the project is complete and occupied, and simply by shrinking loans.

    So what policies could remove barriers and allow for lower-cost housing to be built? It’s a list of policies that have gotten more and less play on streets.mn.

    I’m sure this isn’t a complete list. Help me out in the comments. What an you add?

    *Minnesota Housing coordinates an annual Consolidated Request for Proposals, where most Minnesota agencies and organizations that award subsidy jointly review proposals and application processes. They jointly funded 3,650 units in 2014, 1630 units in 2013, and 3100 units 2012.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    streets.m(ad)n(ess) Round 3 – The Streets Sixteen

    Streets.MN - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:00pm

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

    If you’re just tuning in, welcome to Round 3 of streets.m(ad)n(ess), where you, the streets.mn reader, get to vote on your favorite goings on in the world of Twin Cities urbanism. I’m here with my co-host, Jim, and we were just discussing the results of Round 2. What a round.

    Lots of upsets, Nick. Lots of upsets with long names, in fact. How does that impact the bracket?

    Well the main issue here is that our bracket is handmade in Microsoft Paint, a great program and a great sponsor of streets.m(ad)n(ess)–that’s Microsoft Paint: You’ve Probably Got It. Unfortunately, each long name is requiring me to rejigger the whole bracket, and that’s an expense we just haven’t budgeted for. So if you’re enjoying streets.m(ad)n(ess), consider becoming a member today.

    Good advice as always, Nick.

    Well, every month or so. In any case, our membership program is being bolstered by our recent acquisition of some sick decals–which you get when you sign up. Anyway, before we get into Round 3, let’s take a look back at the scores from the last part of Round 2.

    Policy

    • (1) ADUs (75%) over (8) Clean Energy Partnership (25%)
    • (4) St. Paul 8-80 Fund (54%) over (5) Parklets (46%)
    • (6) St. Paul Bike Plan (66%) over (3) Open Data Portal (34%)
    • (2) Thrive MSP 2040 (65%) over (7) Curbside Organics (35%)

    Potpourri

    • (8) Social Media Parodies (56%) over (1) Holidazzle Market (44%)
    • (4) Open Streets Expansion (61%) over (5) State Money for Nicollet Mall (39%)
    • (6) Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar (66%) over (3) The Consortium (34%)
    • (7) Metro Urbanists’ Discovery of New Ulm (52%) over (2) 2014 MLB All-Star Game (48%)

    Lots going on there. I see that notable inside joke and 3 seed The Consortium lost to 6 seed Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar–what does this mean for our work khakis?

    Could go either way, Jim. On one hand, further empowering and encouraging food trucks is dangerous for your work khakis, but food trucks moving into brick-and-mortar establishments with napkins and seating may be a net gain for work khakis everywhere.

    Could be. And it was kind of a shame about 1 seed Holidazzle Market, right?

    You know I thought they worked pretty hard to get this far, Jim, and it was heartbreaking to see them go down in flames, but the readers have spoken. There’s a real possibility for Social Media Parodies to keep powering through all the way to the final, now that I look at how the seeding worked out there. What a science.

    Development (1) U of M Density vs. (5) Surly Brewery

    Perhaps ill-conceived, gang

    Our first two entries in Round 3 are very different but have a bit in common! You’ve got the large-scale transformation of Dinkytown and Stadium Village around the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus, and the new destination brewery built by Surly a bit east of there, near the border with St. Paul.

    All those new apartment buildings over by the U are changing the experience there–it’s less of a commuter school these days and more of a, well, I guess, more of a Madison-like school. And boo Badgers, etc., of course, but have you actually been to Madison? Really went for the first time for a wedding back in 2012, and hot damn we all kind of looked around and were like “shoot, we should have gone to school here.” A dense city of mid-rise buildings and full of people and stuff and things! It was great. Very…European. Maybe some of the new buildings in Dinkytown are a little tacky-looking and have ruined the word “luxury” for a generation, but it’s hard to see all of this as a negative, long-term.

    (Source: StarTribune)

    Over at Surly, we’ve got a brewery built by one of the Twin Cities’ older craft brewers, in an industrial park-ish area near the Green Line. This was a neat get for Minneapolis as it’s one of those few things (like, say, a university) that will actually get new people into the city. The area is a bit out of the way now, but Prospect Park has a pretty ambitious plan for growth over the next couple decades. Also, did you know that craft beer is still somehow only like 8% of the beer market? How? Who? What?

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    (3) Midtown Greenway Transformation vs. (2) Downtown East Redevelopment

    Both of these cats have a lot in common! Big, big projects along the Midtown Greenway in Uptown and Minneapolis’ Downtown East neighborhood. The development along the Greenway is largely infill in the traditional sense–taking gaps in an area and filling them in with productive uses. The Downtown East projects are a little different in that there’s almost nothing there right now, save for some jails and windswept surface parking lots. Both involve big numbers–“seven blocks,” “thousands of units,” “hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space.” Kind of weird that you can sometimes build these huge projects with little to no opposition but in other cases building a four story building will catch you hell. There’s something…something there, maybe.

    In any case, what would really make the Downtown East Redevelopment pop would be, obviously, the inclusion of fire pits in Downtown East Commons–Vote Fire Pits ’15.

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    Transportation (1) Green Line vs. (5) Car2Go Expansion to St. Paul

    And the cities were united (Source: Car2go)

    “What great synergy you have!” said Little Red Riding Hood about the opening of the METRO Green Line and the expansion of Car2Go to St. Paul within a month of each other. These two things (along with the enhancement of local bus service to coincide with the opening of the Green Line) working together greatly increased mobility in St. Paul, a city due east of Minneapolis. A thought experiment as I try to fill space on these two relatively straight-forward entries: how many Car2Go Smart cars could you fit in a three car light rail vehicle? Like…a bunch, right? Those Smart cars are so small. Probably like 18? With the seats taken out of the LRVs obviously. That’s a good image.

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    (3) Hennepin/Lyndale Bottleneck Rebuild vs. (2) Nextrip at LRT Stations

    Now here we’ve got the reconstruction of the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck in Minneapolis and the long-awaited switching-on of Nextrip at METRO LRT stations brought us kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Rumor has it there was some sort of patent troll situation going on there, or maybe someone kept hitting “remind me later” when prompted to update Windows over the course of eleven years. Nextrip not working was sort of a good metaphor (?) for other issues…I mean, it wasn’t really actually that big of a deal–the trains come every ten minutes or whatever. But it was this very visible thing that just didn’t work and stayed that way for years. I mean, the day they installed the first display flashing “PLEASE CHECK SCHEDULES” a kid was born somewhere in this city, and the day they got them working, the kid was in seventh grade.

    The Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck situation has a special place in my heart, as I walk through it about thrice weekly to points south. And it’s not great! But it will get better soon, and it was rather encouraging to see lots of reasonable, informed public input used for good.

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    Policy (1) ADUs vs. (4) St. Paul 8-80 Fund

    (Source: City of Minneapolis)

    Here we’ve got a Minneapolis policy going to war with a St. Paul policy, one of the better jurisdictional match ups. Last year, Minneapolis approved a city-wide policy allowing accessory dwelling units, while St. Paul set up a fund for 8-80 streets, or streets that people age eight to eighty would feel safe using. We could not reach any seven or eighty-one year old readers for comment, but I would note that ADUs don’t have any age restrictions *eyeroll*. We’re asking the hard questions here: Why doesn’t St. Paul want users younger than eight and older than eighty on their streets? Talk about biting the hand you feed and that used to feed you.

    Do you have concerns about our children and our seniors that aren’t addressed by this irresponsible policy? Call Mayor Chris Coleman’s office at 651.266.8510.

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    (6) St. Paul Bike Plan vs. (2) Thrive MSP 2040

    Pretty excited these two are facing off against each other in Round 3–they’re some of the best red meat around. You know when local news websites intentionally leave up a story about bikes or planning or the Metropolitan Council on their front pages for waaay longer than the newsworthiness of the story justifies, because they know that an extra 10,000 people will click the headline and immediately go right to the comments to see 200 unhinged morans going at it with each other? Right there–that’s cynicism. That’s the good stuff. Millennial snark’s got nothing on you, click-hungry web editors.

    (Source: audiobooks.com)

    We’ve got an extensive plan for bike infrastructure in St. Paul (a city named by a representative of the Papacy…hmmmm…) going head-to-head with a comprehensive plan for comprehensive plans in the seven county metropolitan area. In the immortal and mis-attributed words of Sinclair Lewis:

    When fascism comes to America, it will be offering public comment while riding a bike.

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    Potpourri (8) Social Media Parodies vs. (4) Open Streets Expansion

    Potential 2015 streets.m(ad)n(ess) Cinderella story Social Media Parodies is going up against Open Streets Expansion mere days after Open Streets announced their plans to expand to a record eight streets in 2015. Will the enthusiasm of Wedge LIVE!, MRRSVLD, MRRDC, Bloomingtonize, and others be enough to best that kind of momentum? Social Media Parodies distract us from the fundamentally maddening experience of being alive in 2015 with playful satire poking fun at our most lovably archaic entrenched institutions, while Open Streets tricks tens of thousands of Minneapolitans into imagining a world not ruled violently by cars. On some level, they’re both a little similar, in that they make you think differently about the status quo.

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    (6) Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar vs. (7) Metro Urbanists’ Discovery of New Ulm

    (Source: Bob’s Burgers Wikia)

    Your Only Comfortable Pair of Work Khakis everywhere lamented Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar’s upset of The Consortium in Round 2, but here we are. Two dissimilar topics, one culinary and another rurally academic. Trying new things, like acknowledging the existence of the millions of Minnesotans outside the metro area, is good, but be vigilant about going too far, lest you find yourself at the Beer Dabbler blowing a .25 in line at the Asian fusion-inspired lutefisk taco food truck.

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    CAST YOUR VOTES.

    This poll will remain open until 8 PM CST on Tuesday, March 31.

    Previous rounds:

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    No Outlet: A Review of Twin Cities Premium Outlets

    Streets.MN - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 7:00am

    Last year, to much fanfare, Twin Cities Premium Outlets were opened. While the center has recently encountered some controversy about the atrocious treatment of black shoppers, this post is about the design (recognizing its isolating design and nature as private property may have some relationship about how shop managers and police think about the presence of others).

    Aerial of Twin Cities Premiums Outlets from Google Maps.

     

    Located in Eagan, on the Red Line (Cedar Grove Station), it is just a short transit hop from the Mall of America, and a shorter drive, at the intersection of Cedar Avenue (Highway 77) and Sibley Memorial Highway (Highway 13). With a “race track” design, the expectation is users will flow through the center in a circular pattern and return where they started, shopping both sides of the “street” simultaneously. As the first new mall in 13 years, it represents the last gasp of traditional bricks and mortar retail before the full onslaught of online shopping decimates what is left.

    Twin Cities Premium Outlets: Source:

    Some photos are attached. I suppose the traffic is suppressed since this was a Sunday in February, though the stores were all open, and the temperature was above average. The Google maps shows a fairly full surface parking lot (though the top deck of the “garage” (you know, they meant “ramp”, even though the sign says “Garage” and the map says “Deck”) was largely empty. The site apparently has 3000 parking spaces (doesn’t look like it).

    Slippery when wet. Imagine.

    Twin Cities Premium Outlets, a plaza in the snow.

    A color coded guide. It would be more effective if they named the streets.

    A street through the center enters a covered but not climate controlled section. Feel the wind.

    An open plaza faces the parking ramp.

    Cedar Grove Parking Garage is a few short steps (the Transit Center is farther away)

     

    The food court has a wide variety of specialty vendors

     

    I do not understand the appeal of outdoor shopping in February in Minnesota. While there is a covered section, it is not enclosed, and thus remains cold. This design has many of the worst features of a shopping mall:

    • Parking (and transit)) far from the shops, the transit center is about 1000 feet (almost 1/4 mile) from the first store.
    • A finite space without any opportunity for discovery or serendipity, I really cannot accidentally leave the site. There are anchors at the end of the internal streets, foreclosing opportunities to extend the internal grid onto the surface parking. Is it really too much to consider the possibility you might want to expand this center without tearing down functional buildings and thus would have built an extensible grid.
    • Mostly ubiquitous chain stores (or the outlet versions thereof) with almost nothing local or unique.
    • Parking acting as a barrier to integration of the mall shops with the rest of the community. It could not have been difficult to have the parking garage back onto the highway so the stores could integrate with the neighborhood. Instead it is a fortress. I realize this might have cost some visibility from the highway from the shops themselves, but really, that’s what signs are for. Existing surface streets should have established the alignment of the pedestrian streets in the mall

    without the best:

    • Climate control. This is not California, people. Has no one learned anything from the AMC Rosedale debacle.

    It does of course prohibit cars on shopping streets, which is something we can only dream of in actual cities, and is an improvement over the fake Main Streets of places like the Shoppes Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove (which isn’t even Main Street).

     

    There are plans to reconfigure the Cedar Grove Transit Station on the Red Line so that it will an on-line station, saving time for users (though potentially making it even farther from the Mall) [Forum Discussion]. It apparently serves 200 employees and shoppers at the center per day. Notably there has not been much crime at the center, with 630 calls for service since its opening (reported Jan 20), or about 3 calls per day .

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Bicyclopolis: Episode Five, The Knights of Metroria

    Streets.MN - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 11:45am

    Streets.mn presents Bicyclopolis, a graphic novel by Ken Avidor in serial form. In last week’s episode, The Great Collapse, Dan Petosky learned from his travel companions Sara Raleigh and Archer Sturmley the catastrophic collapse of the industrial era in the United States.  In this week’s episode, Sara explains how the suburban survivors of the Twin Cities Metro Area evolved into medieval-style Metrorians.

    If you missed an episode, you can find links 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 – March 29, 2015

    Streets.MN - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 7:30am

    Marching out of March and into April, here’s the week on streets.mn beginning with March Madness, of course. So, while you should be working and March Madness is not yet a national holiday, use the commercial breaks from March Madness (the basketball variety) to keep up with streets.m(ad)n(ess) and this week’s round 2 results:  Policy & Potpourri and Development & Transportation.

    Bikes and pedestrians

    We Can Make 28th Avenue Better for People takes us to south Minneapolis on 28th Avenue from 38th Street to Minnehaha Parkway to consider testing simple, inexpensive traffic calming measures such as four-way stop signs, curb extensions, and removing the center line.  Bicycle Facilities Best Practices Report from Transport for London summarizes key pieces of the study commissioned by Transport for London to guide the writing of design standards for London (a city which is certainly not Amsterdam in cycling infrastructure); Minneapolis was one of the places studied.

    Would You Stop in the Middle of This Street? Time for Bumpouts Instead

    Transit

    Transpo Convo: “What’s stopping others from using transit more regularly?” asks people who can drive or take transit why they choose driving, but moves on from the simple answer “convenience” to ask who are Metro Transit’s target customers – the people who don’t have other transportation options, those who could drive or ride, or another characterization and“what criteria should be used to determine how Metro Transit resources are used?” (here are the other Transpo Convos in the series).

    The Disability Community is “Making Strides” Toward Better Transit Access continues discussion of the recently released Making Strides 2014 Accessibility Survey which studied challenges to Green Line transit access by the disability community and makes recommendations.  Among the recommendations is working with the state’s Olmstead Plan.  Olmstead Plans were new to me, but I learned they are named for the 1999 United States Supreme Court decision Olmstead v. L.C., the State of Georgia was sued for unnecessarily institutionalizing people with intellectual disabilities; the court ruled the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to provide services to people with disabilities in the “most integrated settings” appropriate to their needs and the Olmstead Plan and the Department of Human Services works to do this.

    Where Should the Orange Line Terminate? (in Burnsville) argues against using the existing MVTA Transit Hub and in favor of developing a MnDOT owned parking lot for the purpose; commenters disagree and find other ways to link the end of the line to the Heart of the City. Ban the Ban, Not the Plan reviews the recent news about a bill introduced in the Minnesota legislature; the initial legislation proposed banning funding and planning of the Zip Rail high-speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Rochester (reviving memories of the Dan Patch gag rule), while a revised bill has deleted the language banning route planning but retaining the material prohibiting the state, Metropolitan Council and regional rail authorities from allocating any funding for construction.

    Waiting to board the light rail

     Big policy picture

    Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (Per Mile)? breaks down the proposed $21 billion transportation funding package to tell you your share: $.10 per vehicle mile traveled. The numbers are crunched from two state documents: the 2010 Transportation Finance Advisory Committee Minnesota Moving Ahead report and MnDOT’s Daily (Average) and Annual (Total) Vehicle Miles 2013. In addition to breaking down the huge total funding amount into a human-scale burden, there’s discussion of the gas tax and other policy issues.

    Audiovisual department

    Minneapolis vacant properties (Data: Star Tribune)

     

    Forget March Madness, Gophers Women’s Hockey Team won their 6th National Championship with last weekend’s match against Harvard. Looking ahead, this week will see the end of March (going out like a lamb?), April Fools’ Day, Easter and the beginning of Passover – save some time to read streets.mn, maybe write for us, and have a great week!

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Magic Parks

    Streets.MN - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 8:30am

    Feeling like you’re ready for some green to return to the Minnesota outdoors? Me too. Let this very brief promo video I made for the Minneapolis Saint Paul regional parks system whet your appetite and imagination. Summer is coming.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Reading the Highland Villager #127

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 4:13pm
    [Springtime is Villagers unearthed.][Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]  Headline: Ideas tossed around for open space at Ford siteAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: An old truck factory is going to become something else, some of which will be "open space." There was a meeting. People would like access to the nearby Hidden Falls park [Note: I've never successfully found the falls], wildlife habitat, gardens, playgrounds, and a "market space." People may or may not want a dog park. [Probably depends on whether one has a dog.] Bike and pedestrian trails seem to be popular, including a "greenway." Article includes discussion of historic ballfields on the site and the city's "parkland dedication fund." Open space may or may not be near Ford Parkway, which may or may not be too busy.Headline: Blueprint for design of new single-family homes airedAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: City staff have come up with new "parameters" for designs of homes, like size, height, and materials, for the areas which have seen a lot of teardowns. "They aim to prevent monotony." [Lots of things have that aim, including this blog.] Article goes over background of the teardown issue, and has details about recommendations for sizes of home additions etc., e.g. "additions greater than 120 square feet [must have] windows and doors that account for at least 1- percent of the area of any exterior wall." [Sounds specific!] City staff would like to have any regulation extend city-wide. [That would be very difficult, I believe. Other parts of the city are not in similar boats, economy-wise.]Headline: Bike plan rounds corner to final approvalAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: The bike plan will go before the city council. [It did, and it passed.]Headline: Study hopes to improve on 40 years of free-market trash collection in city; New system sought to reduce cots and wear and tear on the streetsAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: Saint Paul has never had organized trash collection, but the Mac-Grove neighborhood got a grant to think about it. Some of the ideas are to "assign" haulers to different parts of the city. There are legal procedures for how to organize trash collection in state law. Minneapolis has organized trash collection. Many other cities have organized trash collection. [For a long time I was thinking about doing a rough anlysis of how much money the city loses in extra street maintenance costs by having 3-5X the number of heavy garbage trucks driving down its streets. The answer is that it's a hell of a lot!] There was a study in 2013 that said that nobody likes having lots of trucks driving up and down their street all week.Headline: BZA supports plans for Woodlawn teardownAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: A couple can tear down a home they bought and replace it. Neighbors are upset.Headline: Ward 1 DFL falls short of endorsing City Council candidateAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: Dai Thao did not get the endorsement. [Not sure why. He seems pretty good to me.]Headline: 'Making Strides' Report outlines steps for a more accessible Green LineAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: People are beginning to notice how crappy the sidewalks around University Avenue really are, especially for disabled people or old people [or anyone on foot, really].Headline: Lex-Randolph property purchase opposedAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: City and county plans [but mostly county plans] to widen a street by tearing down existing homes [and taking away some of their yards] in order to add turn lanes are not very popular. The local neighborhood group voted to oppose. They'd also like to move the Metro Transit stop farther from the corner. Article includes LOS grades ("between C and F") [for some reason]. "Adding a northbound lane is expected to bring the grade up to a D [from an E]." [$1.5M and the loss of valuable property for an extremely marginal change?] Randolph Avenue is being reconstructed anyway.Headline: Debate continues over Merriam Park cell tower agreementAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: People are still arguing about whether the city owes the neighborhood money about a cell phone tower that was built years ago.Headline: Residents appeal BZA decision to allow student rental on GrandAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: People who own a house on Grand Avenue would like to register it as a student rental but are having trouble with it because they forgot to register it when it was required after the student housing ordinance was passed two years ago. The neighborhood group is supporting the owners. Some people are upset.Headline: Goodwill moves into new flagship store on UniversityAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: There's another Goodwill on University now. [It's got a big surface parking lot right along the sidewalk, too.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Street Lighting and Safety Perception

    Streets.MN - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 3:29pm

    This chart’s methodology might not be that great, but it’s studying the oft-overlooked topic of street lighting. Check it out:

    The chart is from the Minnesota Daily, where issues around public safety have been on the radar following a few crime incidents. Here’s what Elizabeth Smith, the Daily writer, has to say:

    An estimate in July 2014 from the city’s public works department   showed that adding lighting in Southeast Como alone, would cost about $2 million, said SECIA’s director Ricardo McCurley.

    The proposal would charge homeowners an average property tax increase of  $4,000 over 20 years, which is slightly more than $16 a month per area property.

    Nearly 70 percent of students who took the MSA survey said they would be willing to pay at least five dollars more a month for increased lighting.

     

    Start seeing lighting.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    We Can Make 28th Avenue Better for People

    Streets.MN - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 7:00am

    Driving 28th Avenue from 38th Street to Minnehaha Parkway in south Minneapolis is a pleasure, a little too much so. Traffic is relatively light compared to so many busy streets in the city, the speed limit is 30 MPH, the road surface was repaved last year and is nice and smooth. The only likely place you have to stop is the signal at 42nd Street, but even there you have close to 50/50 odds of a green light. There is the occasional cyclist trying to cross at the Minnehaha Creek crosswalk. Otherwise 28th Avenue is clear sailing. Taken in isolation, smooth traffic flow seems like a good thing, until you consider all the people trying to cross or even access 28th Avenue. Testing some traffic calming measures such as four-way stop signs, curb bumpouts and alternative striping would be inexpensive and dovetail nicely with existing and planned land uses located along 28th Avenue.

    Remove the Centerline

    The entire stretch of 28th Avenue between 38th Street and Highway 62 (the crosstown) should have its painted centerline removed in lieu of painted parking lanes and suggested bike lanes. There is precedent for this on 54th Street between Lake Nokomis and Portland Avenue (54th Street which has traffic counts of 4,300 vehicles per day, which is within the same range as 28th Avenue). Not only will this help improve safety for cyclists, a study released last year shows removal of the centerline slows traffic by an average of 7MPH. Seven miles per hour! That would move the average speed on the street from 35 to 28 or 32 to 25, which, in the event of an accident, could very well mean the difference between life and death.

    54th Street With Bike Lane and Without Centerline – a Slower, Safer Street!

    I personally suggested this to Ward 12 Councilmember Andrew Johnson, and he checked in to it and replied that because the city has designated Nokomis Avenue (running parallel three blocks east) as an official bicycle route, it is not possible to paint bicycle lanes on 28th Avenue. I’m asking the city to reconsider. Nokomis Avenue is a relatively lightly traveled street with many existing four-way stop signs and is lined only with homes, whereas 28th Avenue has several major destinations, including Roosevelt High School, Roosevelt Library, Lake Hiawatha Park and two business nodes with many popular businesses. In other words, improvements to 28th Avenue would be meaningful and significant.

    Test Curb Bumpouts at the Minnehaha Creek Crosswalk

    It has long been a source of concern about the danger that vehicles on 28th Avenue pose to pedestrians and cyclists in the crosswalk. In fact, it is drivers who seem the most concerned about hitting someone. A couple years ago the crosswalk signals had actuator buttons installed, which triggere a flashing light. Some will say this has helped, although I maintain the buttons are far enough from the path it isn’t worth the effort to use them. Occasionally when a car stops for a pedestrian or bicycle, a car following behind will pass on the right, creating an even more dangerous situation. The primary problem is the geometry and width of the roadway that leads to excessive speeds.

    Vehicle Ignoring “Refuge” at Minnehaha Creek Crosswalk

    Last year the city painted what I understand is a mid-street pedestrian refuge, whereby traffic heading south is supposed to divert to the right. There are three problems I observe with this. The first is few drivers bother to swerve right, driving right over the paint instead (as the photo shows). The second problem is vehicles that do swerve around the “refuge” actually wind up closer to any pedestrians or cyclists waiting to cross. This is particularly troublesome when you consider state law states vehicles only have to stop for a pedestrian once they enter the crosswalk, which makes a lawful crossing all the more dangerous. Third, who the hell in their right mind is going to stop in the middle of this street in the first place? Would you?

    Would You Stop in the Middle of This Street? Time for Bumpouts Instead

    My suggestion for the crosswalk is to erase the existing “refuge” and instead install temporary plastic bollards in the parking lane of each direction. These bollards would essentially be curb bumpouts, providing a more visible place for pedestrians to establish intent to cross, while significantly narrowing through traffic lanes. Hopefully this will create a visual cue to drivers and slow cars, particularly when people are present.

    As with the centerline removal, I suggested this to Councilmember Johnson he indicated that because the 28th Avenue bridge over Minnehaha Creek is scheduled for reconstruction in the next couple years, now is not the time to study alternatives without bridge plans to also review. Again, I think the City of Minneapolis should reconsider. Now is absolutely the time to test alternatives that could make the crosswalk safer.

    I am aware that the Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Plan advocates for a pedestrian/bicycle underpass but also retains an undetermined access or crosswalk at street level. This is wise. For one, an underpass, if possible to build, will allow through traffic to avoid a crossing. However, eliminating the crosswalk has the potential unintended consequence of encouraging even higher vehicle speeds on 28th Avenue, which is certainly not an outcome we want. As well, we shouldn’t assume that all pedestrian and bicycle traffic is through traffic, and in fact I’ve observed on many occasions that cyclists and pedestrians follow the creek and then take 28th Avenue, or vice versa. The Angry Catfish bicycle/coffee shop’s location four blocks north only adds to this interchange of traffic between the creek and 28th. Human nature dictates that an access/crosswalk in some from will need to remain into the future, so let’s make this crosswalk as safe as possible, now and in the future. And with the Nokomis-Hiawatha plan hot off the presses, now is an excellent opportunity to test temporary curb bumpouts and traffic calming as we decide whether a bike trail under the new bridge is even feasible.

    Stop Signs Create Equity and Slow Traffic

    Establishing three- and four-way stop signs at 40th Street, 44th Street and 46th Street would enable people to more easily access our parks, library and schools rather than simply encouraging cars to drive fast.

    At a recent neighborhood meeting, a resident recalled that there used to be a seasonal three-way stop sign at 46th Street and 28th Avenue. I don’t remember, but it’s a great idea year-round! A stop sign would make it much easier to cross 28th to and from Lake Hiawatha, and may well slow traffic at the creek crosswalk a block to the south.

    I had a lot of fun with the 44th Street intersection, and yes I’m being sarcastic. The traffic signal at 44th Street was replaced last year as part of repaving 28th Avenue. Regardless, it should be tested as a stop sign, which would improve the safety and access for people to get to Lake Hiawatha Park, one of the most loved places in my neighborhood. The signal is one of those that stays green for north/south traffic on 28th unless a car or person triggers a signal change, and that is where the problems start. I observed, tested and timed the signal at midday. I observed a westbound vehicle on 44th Street stop at the signal (rolling over the in-pavement actuator) and await a left turn. It took approximately 35 seconds for the signal countdown to begin. Adding the 12 second countdown, that is a total of a 50 second wait, and in that time not a single vehicle passed by on 28th Avenue. Incidentally, when a vehicle triggers the signal a Walk signal does not appear! I then “applied” to cross on foot, and just as before, it took 50 seconds before I could do so, and when the Walk signal appeared it took me five seconds to cross. Incidentally, as I did so, a cyclist on the 28th Avenue sidewalk (maybe if there was a suggested bike lane in the street, he’d choose to ride there instead) saw no traffic and just crossed against the red, safely.

    Vehicle Waiting for 44th Street Signal to Change. Pedestrians Must Apply to Cross.

    My general observation is a great number of pedestrians don’t bother to press the button. Worse, they press it and then grow impatient and just cross anyway, meaning drivers have to pointlessly stop for a red light 30 seconds later. More perverse is that for drivers, when a car or pedestrian triggers a red light for 28th Avenue, drivers have to wait through the entire signal. That’s a small quibble, but the larger point is a four way stop sign instantly prioritizes pedestrians. So we can argue that more cars travel 28th Avenue compared to cross to get to the park (FYI – we haven’t counted), but that misses the point. If we want to meaningfully prioritize all modes of transportation in our city, then installing a four-way stop sign is the best alternative.

    Stop Signs Along 28th Avenue Would Improve Access to Much Loved Neighborhood Park

    I’ve beaten this intersection to death, but think about this for a moment. With the current signal at 44th, the only ways to cross 28th Avenue are to “apply” and then wait 50 seconds to do so, or break the law. Considering a wonderful park and playground that has no parking lot (and isn’t considering one) is right there, we should be doing a better job encouraging people to arrive on foot and by bicycle.

    My eight year old son isn’t comfortable walking one block to the library because he has to cross 28th Avenue and traffic is too busy and fast. Therefore, I believe a four-way stop sign at 40th Street would not only encourage him to cross but also make it safer to do so for all library visitors. Moreover, it would help the hundreds of kids and visitors at Roosevelt High School.

    Crosswalks at 40th Street and 28th Avenue Are Heavily Used

    Considering traffic counts (ADTs of 3,700 between 38th and 42nd, 5,900 between 42nd and Minnehaha Parkway and 6,000 between the parkway and 50th Street, then 4,650 and 6,100 farther south where four-way stops exist every two blocks), it could be argued that four-way stop signs can be consistently placed every two blocks along the entirety of 28th Avenue would better manage traffic speeds. The existing precedent south of the Parkway is evidence that it can work.

    Better for All

    There will of course be some who view these ideas as impediments to their fast commute, and I understand the impulse. I for one am willing to sacrifice a little speed and privilege to allow for the right of all citizens to have safer and better access to our city.

    The City of Minneapolis has made significant strides very recently with bicycle and pedestrian improvements to make the city safer for all people, so let’s continue that momentum. Slowing traffic speed can occur in many forms, which will improve access for all people to the parks, schools, libraries and businesses our neighbors love. Let’s also enhance the exciting plans laid out in the Nokomis-Hiawatha Master Plan by making it easier for people to access Lake Hiawatha and Lake Nokomis. Changes to 28th Avenue can genuinely make our neighborhood safer, more accessible and more pleasant for all people, not just drivers. We can test all of these measures quite inexpensively, and I’m willing to work with the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association, Councilmember Johnson and the new Bike/Ped Coordinator Matthew Dyrdahl to make it happen.. Now is the time to try it, so let’s do it!

    This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Transpo Convo: “What’s stopping others from using transit more regularly?”

    Streets.MN - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 3:00pm

    [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.] 

    Compiled below are statements recorded from people who have the means to drive and choose to usually drive over taking mass transit:

    At Snelling and University, your choices include walking, taking the bus, taking the train, or driving.

    “When I first got married, I used to take the bus, but now we have two cars and I’m so happy to not have to do that anymore.”

    “I don’t want to wait around after work for the bus.  I just want to go home.”

    “I would take the bus, but what if one of my kids gets sick at school?  It would take too long to get back to them and then back to work.  I can’t miss that much time from work.”

    “I would take the bus more, but it only goes by my house every 30 minutes, every hour on weekends.  If I miss it, I can’t wait for the next one.”

    “The people on the bus make me feel uncomfortable.  They use foul language.  They are loud.  I don’t know if I’m safe.”

    “I would take the bus, but I’m a photographer.  I have a lot of photography equipment that I carry around with me and I just can’t take all of that on the bus.”

    “I normally take the bus, but today I had to pick up my child after school.  It just didn’t work out.”

    “It’s not possible for us to take the bus to work.  We have to go to meetings downtown, carrying poster board and other things.  We need to drive to those meetings.  It wouldn’t work on the bus.”

    “I’m afraid I’ll get lost or won’t know where I’m supposed to get on or off of the bus.”

    “I would never take a bus.  But, I do like to drive (from Saint Paul) to the park and ride (in Bloomington) to take the train to Vikings games.  That works out well.”

    “I don’t always have correct change for a bus and the bus won’t give me change.  It is just easier to drive.”

    “If the bus shelters didn’t smell like a men’s bathroom, I’d take the bus.”

    “I have to walk a mile to get to the bus stop.”

    “There are too many germs on the bus.  Think of how many people have sat in those seats and used those hand holds.”

    All About Attitude

    At first glance, the question “What’s stopping others from using transit more regularly” seems to be an easy answer.  Convenience.  After all, a popular saying in the US used to be, “this is the best thing since sliced bread.”  But is the answer more complicated than that?

    Listening more deeply, and if one had the ability to converse with people who have made these statements, would we find that another theme is actually freedom to choose?  After all, many people who cannot afford a car or are in a situation where they cannot obtain a driver’s license also face many of these obstacles, but due to their circumstances must face them on transit. Making mass transit more convenient would certainly improve the quality of life for users who need to take transit, but would the others take transit or still choose to drive?  And would those who are currently without a car still choose to buy a car once they could afford one or obtain a license?

    Every organization, whether governmental, non-profit, or for profit, needs to clearly define its customer base in order to operate effectively.  So, rather than asking “what’s stopping others from using transit more regularly,” the better question might be, “what criteria should be used to determine how Metro Transit resources are used?”  Who should be defined as a Metro Transit customer and how do we use public dollars to best serve them?

    The attitudes of the majority of people who own cars seems to be that transit use is for those who are less fortunate.  Does that mean transit use should be treated like welfare, where it is a means to improve one’s life and then not used once one can afford other options?  Or should transit customers include the business class, where transit is used to ensure employees get to work on time and investments can be made to expand offices on campus rather than to expand parking lots?  Would more investment mean more convenience and better service for all?  Or would those with the political clout still get the best service? Would the well off be better served through a more private transit system, like Google and other tech companies provide in San Francisco?

    Once questions start getting raised, it becomes a complicated issue, even among transit supporters.  Debates are made about what is the higher priority– speed or access, increase frequency of all routes or provide more service to underserved areas, etc.  One can see why there is controversy and why it is a long, slow process to get any changes made to the transit system, especially in a country that values power and where the freedom to make choices is itself an example of exercising one’s own power.

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    Categories: Twin Cities