Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Share of Regional Population Growth by Development Type, 2010 – 2014

Streets.MN - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 12:00pm

In case you’re wondering why there are so many new apartment buildings in downtown Minneapolis, the Met Council released this delicious pie chart showing in what type of environment the regional population growth has been occurring over the last few years. As you can see, the largest slice has gone to “urban center”:

Here is the analysis from the agency:

The growing population in the central cities reflects both an increased preference for walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods and the new residential construction along the METRO Green Line. 

But while the central cities led in population growth, growth occurred in a balanced fashion across the region.  Urban communities grew at a healthy pace, led by St. Louis Park, Bloomington, and Edina, with a 9% share of the region’s growth. Suburban cities—generally suburbs that saw their peak development years in the 1980s and early 1990s—constituted 17% of the region’s growth. Examples include Eagan and Brooklyn Park.

In my opinion, planning is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If our planning agencies predict that the majority of growth will be in the core cities or outlying suburbs, then it probably will. That’s why it’s interesting to see actual data on housing. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Bad Idea of the Day: Minneapolis-Saint Paul Should Bid for the Olympics

Streets.MN - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 9:00am

Boston is out.

That was the word on Monday from the US Olympic Committee, with regards to the American bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. After publicly cheerleading the bid from Beantown, the city’s Mayor Marty Walsh made a big show of refusing to sign a guarantee that city taxpayers would foot the bill for cost overruns. The USOC promptly yanked the bid. The result came after support for the games cratered in recent months as the organizing committee stumbled and the opposition scored hit after hit.

Makes sense. The Olympics are a complete and total boondoggle, and when democratic societies find out what they entail, they tend to turn against them. Consider the 2022 Winter Olympics bid from Oslo, which was near certain to win. But already-fragile support collapsed when the Norwegians learned some of the International Olympic Committee’s demands, of which the cheapest and least myopic may have been: “Doves must be released after the parade of athletes but before the head of the Olympic organizing committee speaks at the Opening Ceremony.” The Norwegians (who, again, were all but sure to win, have gobs of oil money, and are nuts for winter sports) withdrew, leaving the IOC to choose (on Friday, in fact) between Beijing and Almaty.

To host the Olympics, you pretty much have to be an autocratic nation, or profoundly unwise with your money. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics cost over $50 billion dollars. The 2004 Athens Olympics have become an arresting metaphor for a nation that lived beyond its means, and now is paying a bitter price. No Olympic city has broken even since Los Angeles hosted the games in 1984. It’s no surprise that with the demise of the Boston Olympic dream, the USOC is expected to turn to LA to carry the torch once again. It is the only city among the original four US bidders (Washington DC and San Francisco were the others) with the sports facilities to host the games already in place.

Wait a minute, are we talking about cities with a glut of sports facilities? I know just the place!

I’ve written before that once US Bank Stadium is complete, Minnesota United FC have their stadium, and the Target Center has been renovated, MSP will have one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of sports stadia. We are, in essence, an Olympic city without the Olympics. Don’t take my word for it, plan it yourself! If you play the game of trying to assign a venue to each sport, everything falls into place remarkably easily. Here’s the current Olympic program, applied to Minnesota locations:

Aquatics – University of Minnesota Aquatics Center (NEW!)

Archery – Harriet Island

Athletics – US Bank Stadium

Badminton – University of Minnesota Gymnasium

Basketball – Target Center

Boxing – Minneapolis Convention Center

Canoeing/Kayak – Mississippi River, Downtown Saint Paul

Cycling (Track) – National Sports Center (Upgrades needed)

Cycling (Road) – Urban course

Cycling (BMX/Mountain Biking) – Duluth, Duluth Traverse

Equestrian – Somewhere in the suburbs

Fencing – Minneapolis Convention Center

Field Hockey – National Sports Center

Football – Minnesota United FC Stadium (TBD)

Golf – Hazeltine National Golf Club

Gymnastics – Xcel Energy Center

Handball – Target Center

Judo – Minneapolis Convention Center

Modern Pentathalon – All over

Rowing – Mississippi River, Downtown Saint Paul

Ruby Sevens – TCF Bank Stadium

Sailing – Duluth Harbor

Shooting – Harriet Island

Table Tennis – Minneapolis Convention Center

Taekwondo – Minneapolis Convention Center

Tennis – University of Minnesota Tennis Courts (Upgrades needed)

Triathlon – Urban Course

Volleyball (Indoor) – The Armory

Volleyball (Beach) – The Commons (Upgrades needed)

Weightlifting – Minneapolis Convention Center

Wrestling – University of Minnesota Gymnasium

This list has several obvious flaws. TCF Bank Stadium is horribly underused. Neither baseball stadium has been used at all (although baseball and softball could make it). Duluth is involved, which means that Rochester should get something as well. Upgrades for more seating would need to be made for several sports, and both the east and west bank stadiums would need to have their turf covered over with sod.

And yet, these obstacles are easily overcome. Seating capacity for mid-sized events sports like tennis, track cycling, and indoor and beach volleyball could be addressed with temporary bleacher stadiums. Seating capacity for smaller events (like archery) would similarly be temporary. The football offseason is more than long enough for crews to install and strike a track at US Bank and a grass field on both bank stadiums. The only genuinely new facility that might need to be constructed would be a new aquatics center. But that could be built as an upgrade to the University’s current aquatics facility, and it would leave a legacy for the school.

To stating the obvious: the Olympics would be really fun. Everyone loves a party. I can’t be the only one who would love to see the fencing finals take place in the hall of the Union Depot. Or for the sailing finish line to be under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. Some running race could end on the Stone Arch Bridge. The water racing events could take advantage of the Mississippi River gorge. Think of the possibilities!

There are a number of corporate opportunities as well. As we all know, the Twin Cities have a remarkably high number of Fortune 500 companies for our population. Imagine what General Mills could do with Wheaties. Or imagine 3M designing swimsuits. That sound you’re hearing, by the way, is the hummingbird heartbeat of a Mayo Clinic executive as he silently mouths the words “the Official Sports Medicine Provider of the 2024 Olympic Games”.

Minnesota is already lined up to host the Super Bowl in 2018, the 2019 NCAA Final Four, and a group wants to bid for the 2023 World’s Fair. Why not the 2024 Olympics?

Well, okay, because it would still probably be a big waste of money. Having the stadiums on hand would reduce the cost considerably, but there are other absurd costs in 2012, London spent £1 billion on security alone, and they used it to do things like put missile launchers on apartment buildings. That’s the social cost. The Olympics turn cities into armed, excessively sponsored camps for two weeks. The Strib’s comment section would be nuclear. If the games actually made money; if Twin Citizens didn’t flee the cities en masse to their lake homes (if they have them) so that the tourist money was a supplement, not a replacement; if the world was appropriately impressed by our collective niceness to decide they wanted to do business or move here (like Steve Van Zandt’s mobster in ‘Lilyhammer’) then it might just end up being worth it to host. And even then, we could get a lot more for our money by spending it on other things.

In other words, we’re better off pretending we’re hosting the Olympics of early childhood education, than the actual Olympics.

About that, though—the Olympics are undoubtedly good for one thing, and that’s the generation of political capital. That’s part of the allure, even for cities in democracies who know they’re throwing money away. Governments use events like the Olympics as an excuse for infrastructure that was needed, but somehow more politically palatable as an expense for a two week party than as a lasting investment in a community. We’re complicit in this game as much as anyone. Infrastructure isn’t sexy, but the Olympics are. Unfinished or shoddy infrastructure is built all over the world for residents, but when it’s built for the Olympics, it’s a scandal. If, say, the all-powerful lobby decided that Riverview Corridor LRT had to be done by 2024, it would be a hell of a lot easier to get it done if we were hosting the Olympic games. Or, again, if hosting the Olympics depended on making a certain investment in early childhood education.

That’s the allure really. It’s possible to both be mesmerized by the Olympics and to never want it in your city. And by a similar token, it’s possible to be offended and just a bit envious by the way money, power, and interest seem to be uncorked when they’re tied to the games.

We’re ready to host the games. We’ve got all the stadia, a budget surplus, and plenty of urban momentum. Which is all precisely why we won’t hold it. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

TC Sidewalks Live!: Old Streetcar to Wildwood Tour this Sunday

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 4:03pm
Seeing a map of Twin Cities' historic streetcar network goes a long way toward explaining the urban geography of the city. Most of the existing commercial corrdors, those places with the historic density, mixed-use nodes, and interesting old buildings are along the old streetcar lines. Even though the streetcars were all ripped up, burned down, and defunded over 50 years ago, there's a way in which they're still alive today.[The streetcar map on the wall of Minneapolis Central Library.]Some of the streetcar routes are pretty straightfoward. Others (like the old route through Minneapolis's) are crooked and confusing. Most have become bus routes, but a few of them have completely disappeared.[The route in question.]The old route to Willernie, White Bear Lake, and Stillwater is one of the latter. Together with Mark Brauer, a long-time East Side Saint Paul bicyclist, retired Mn-DOT planner, and amateur urban geographer*, we'll be tracing the old route of the Wildwood streetcar as best we can.It'll be an adventure. Some parts of the route are completely gone. In other places, you'll be able to find it. And waiting at the end will be Willernie, a crazy East Metro town that used to be an amusement park and still feels like its at the the end of a long drive up to the cabin.
  • What: Bike ride to Willernie, along the old Stillwater streetcar line
  • When: Sunday August 2nd at 11:00AM. Shoudld take 2-3 hours, probably more depending on stops
  • Where: Meet at the corner of Payne and Edgerton, across from Yarusso's
  • How long: 25 miles round trip
  • How much: Free! (Or buy Mark or me a beer.)
[Please RSVP to the Facebook invite if you get a chance.]Willernie is fascinating all by itself. Last summer, Andy Sturdevant, Steven Lang, and myself toured through it. Here's a bit from Andy's column:Like so many Twin Cities neighborhoods — St. Paul’s Union Park, Lake Minnetonka’s Excelsior, the stretch of Longfellow once known as Wonderland — Willernie owes its odd footprint to an amusement park. Wildwood Amusement Park, another of the cities’ many trolley parks built to lure city dwellers out to the end of the lines for recreation, sat on the site from 1889 through the 1930s.[Read the rest...] I've been looking forward to this ride for a while. If you're free Sunday, join in and explore the streetcar of your imagination.PLEASE NOTE: The ride's pacing will be leisurely. I am not a speed demon and neither is Mark, who has an upright handlebar type bicycle. It'll be a relaxing ride befitting the pace of a streetcar and the idea of Wildwood bourgeois leisure. [Wildwood spirits.][Willernie stop sign.][Willernie back roads.][Do you even know what this means?][Willernie main street.]* As if there was any other kind.
Categories: Twin Cities

The Right Turn on Red and some Free Ideas

Streets.MN - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 11:30am

Time to continue my series on traffic signals with the red-hot topic, the right turn on red, and some ideas for improving things.

The Right Turn on Red

We all know right turn on red (RTOR) is extremely dangerous, leading to motorists mowing down workers carrying plate-glass and old ladies pushing baby buggies. Or is it? Well, it seems to lead to a lot of aggressive behavior from both motorists and pedestrians, which has been well documented here on and even noted in official studies, but actual crash data shows it’s very safe.

California, with its wide streets and auto-centric culture, has had RTOR since 1939. The first study was in 1956 by James C. Ray in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Richmond which found just 0.3% of intersection crashes involved a RTOR. Also of note: RTOR maneuvers involved 11% of the right turning crashes but 18% of the total right turns (And the same motorists that can’t make a RTOR would make a right turn on green during the next phase, which has the issue of motorists not yielding to pedestrians, along with much higher speeds).

Later studies have similar results. For vehicle vs. vehicle crashes, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  1989-1992 study of Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Missouri (selected because crash reports from those states included data on whether a RTOR maneuver was being performed) found they amounted to 0.05%, of all injury crashes, and 0.06% of all fatal crashes.  A 1994-1996 study limited to San Francisco found they amounted to 0.45% of all intersection crashes.

Nor do things change much for car vs. pedestrian crashes. A 1994-1998 San Francisco study (to determine if RTOR should be banned citywide) by Jack L. Fleck and Bond M. Yee showed just 0.8% of all car vs pedestrian crashes involved a RTOR maneuver. To try to see if there may have been some problems with reporting, they picked 100 random car vs pedestrian crashes to analyze in detail. They found that of the 25 that occurred at signalized intersections, zero involved right turn on red and 12  involved right turn on green. Quebec, long the lone holdout against RTOR, finally allowed them in 2003 after reviewing the studies.

There are some conflicting data: one study of several states (by Paul Zador, Jack Moshman, and Leo Marcus) showed that when RTOR was enacted crashes at intersections increased 20.7% from what they would have been but there was no significant change in severe or incapacitating crashes.  A similar before/after study by Claude Dussault had similar results. One possible explanation for the discrepancy is a learning curve from both motorists and pedestrians, and that when the law was changed there were specific intersections that should have had restrictions that hadn’t been identified and so marked yet.

I acknowledge the possibility that a lot of very minor crashes between cars and pedestrian are not reported. This is not something I’ve personally observed (I’m rarely outside a car unless I’m on recreational trails which tend to have few signalized intersections and I try to avoid driving in pedestrian heavy areas if at all possible).  However there have been no studies on this, just anecdotes, and thus I can’t support or refute them since there’s no data on how common they are in objective terms. No one chimes in and says “I was not knocked over by a car today”. Maybe that’s a good area for a future study?

The MUTCD Speaks

Here are the MUTCD guidelines for NTOR, section 2B.54 03:

A No Turn on Red sign should be considered when an engineering study finds that one or more of the following conditions exists:

  • Inadequate sight distance to vehicles approaching from the left (or right, if applicable);
  • Geometrics or operational characteristics of the intersection that might result in unexpected conflicts;
  • An exclusive pedestrian phase;
  • An unacceptable number of pedestrian conflicts with right-turn-on-red maneuvers, especially involving children, older pedestrians, or persons with disabilities;
  • More than three right-turn-on-red accidents reported in a 12-month period for the particular approach; or
  • The skew angle of the intersecting roadways creates difficulty for drivers to see traffic approaching from their left.
  • For a long time there was a no RTOR at Lyndale Avenue and 66th Street, but this was removed because there wasn’t engineering justification.  Of course this specific example is soon going to be a roundabout…

    Lyndale Avenue at 66th Street

    “Unacceptable number of pedestrian conflicts” is kind of subjective, so if they really wanted to keep the ban it they might have been able to justify it here, and I agree this might be a good place for one.  And this is only a recommended practice (The MUTCD has three levels of guidelines: “May”= Optional, “Should”=Recommended, and “Shall”= Required). San Francisco, in fact, bans RTOR in some places just to prevent motorists from inching into the crosswalk. .

    But take another kind of intersection: If you ban right turns from a shopping mall to a wide suburban style road, traffic on the main road has to screech to a halt every time a motorist wants to turn out of the mall, and there’s probably not a pedestrian there and hasn’t been for the past hour. When you count all the suburban intersections around, there are probably more places they should allow RTOR than shouldn’t.

    MN 252 at 85th Ave N, no reason to ban RTOR here. Pedestrians aren’t even allowed at street level because of the pedestrian bridge.

    My Own Thoughts

    1) As should be obvious by now, due to the improved LOS for motorists and the preponderance of studies indicating it is actually extremely safe, I fully support allowing RTOR where appropriate. 

    2) I don’t like city-specific bans like NYC, or Montreal where you have to be aware of different rules of the road. This diverges from everything we’re trying to accomplish now with standardization, and I think NYC can afford signs at this point.

    3) As for whether the problem of motorists making illegal turns where banned is an engineering problem, enforcement problem, or both, I don’t know. Lighted blankout signs grab your attention, but have typically been used only at specific times of day, or when there’s a train on adjacent tracks. We use lighted indications for everything but a NTOR prohibition, so while not excusing bad driving, it’s understandable why it’s sometimes hard to see.


    First Free Idea: Flashing Yellow Arrows for Right Turns

    Directly related to the problems with right turning traffic at intersections, I propose increased use and modification of four section arrow heads on the right to try to make intersections safer.

    The states that allow a right turn on a red arrow would have to change, and the MUTCD would have to allow a flashing red arrow, but this is how I see it operating:

    • Green Arrow: Go, no conflicting vehicle or pedestrian phases
    • Flashing Yellow Arrow: Yield to pedestrians or vehicles
    • Red Arrow: Stop and do not turn / Flashing Red Arrow: Stop and turn if safe

    A four section head with a red ball on top is already legal if the intent is to allow RTOR, but I would prefer that we narrow the meanings of red balls , just as we are for green balls.

    Three section flashing yellow arrow heads are now permissible, but installing a standard 4-section head may be more problematic when physically mounted on the post for right turns. The lack of positional change from a flashing yellow to a steady yellow would be mitigated because the through signals would always change at the same time. It seems motorists have a problem with the “yield to pedestrians” on a green ball, just like they do for “yield to oncoming traffic”on a green ball.

    Second Free Idea: Ditch the Pedestrian Change Interval

    The idea for a pedestrian signal got started when streets got wider, traffic got faster, and things got more dangerous for pedestrians stranded in the intersection when the light changed. So the “Walk” light was added to tell pedestrians when it was safe to leave the curb.

    Early pedestrian accommodations, first with the green lens designed to throw some light downward, then with the separate “Walk” lens

    Since then, we’ve added the “Don’t Walk” and countdowns, but we’re still telling pedestrians that we’re the better judge than they are if they can make it across. And the long clearance interval, designed to accommodate the slowest of pedestrians, encourages jaywalking and disrespect for traffic control devices, and destroys the LOS for law-abiding pedestrians.

    Now that we have countdowns, what about eliminating change interval entirely and let pedestrians use their own judgement as to whether they can make it across the intersection? An 80-year old has a different crossing speed than a bicycle on the sidewalk or a multi-use path, but they are treated all the same. The countdown would start at the beginning of the Walk Interval, then count down to the buffer. We could extend the buffer a bit if we wanted to (but making it too long would again encourage jaywalking and reduce LOS). An eight second buffer, rather than the standard three, would allow 10 seconds of the red hand before the light turns green for cross-traffic.  Even at a narrow intersection, you could probably triple the walk interval. If a visually impaired person pushed a button, it could say “20 seconds left, Penn Avenue is 45 feet wide”. Would this increase crashes? I don’t know.

    Third Free Idea: Bring Back Red Light Cameras.

    To put it bluntly, as much as I like cars and driving, I have no tolerance for motorists that deliberately break the law and in 20 years of driving I’ve never been cited. One of my most satisfying moments was driving home from Biwabik and another motorist was tailgating me when I was driving the speed limit. I pulled over to let him pass, he zoomed by, and 10 miles later I passed him again he was pulled over by a cop. Red light cameras would also address the problem of motorists illegally turning on red where it isn’t and should not be allowed.

    What sunk the initial red light camera program was that the Minnesota cameras only photographed the license plate, and it was a crime (a petty misdemeanor). The courts ruled that you couldn’t charge the owner of a car with a crime unless you had photographic proof it was them driving. The city of Chicago, with its extensive program, treats red light camera tickets as an infraction, along the lines of a parking ticket, and doing so here would likely be OK with the courts as we don’t require proof it was the owner that parked at that expired meter.


    In the future I may write about such topics as the evolution of LED pedestrian modules or, but this concludes the “series within a series” of traffic signal controllers and questions.

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

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Why Are Bicycle Sales Declining (for the 14th year)?

    Streets.MN - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 8:30am

    The Bicycle Shop business in the U.S. is tough. Margins are thin, future sales tough to predict, good employees hard to find, and manufacturers refuse to protect bricks & mortar dealers from lower price online competitors. To owners, shops often seem more a labor of love than a source of income[1].

    The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) recently published a report that really brings this to light. It focused on the continuing decline of bicycling and bicycle sales in the U.S. for the past 12 to 14 years. In 2000, 43.1 million people rode bicycles six or more days which is 148 riders per thousand population; by 2014 this had declined to 35.6 million or 111 riders per thousand[2].

    In 2005, 67 bicycles were sold per thousand people and in 2014 this had fallen to 57 per thousand[3]. Perhaps worse, sales of bicycles with a 20” or larger wheel size have fallen from a high of 67 per thousand population around 1974 to just 39 per thousand in 2014. The number of bicycle shops has fallen by 18% over the past decade while combined sales floor square footage has remained stagnant.

    None of this is new. It’s been the number one topic of conversation for over a decade among bicycle shop owners.

    Myopic Vision?

    I often wonder if the major impediment to sales growth is that U.S. shops are largely and often exclusively focused on recreation rather than transportation. U.S. shops are selling something that isn’t very critical nor even very useful for many people, instead of selling a valuable necessity.

    An average person will only do something recreational for a short bit before they move on to something else. Many are also hesitant to spend money on recreational pursuits. This does not a broad, diverse market make.

    There are certainly people who are devoted cyclists who will ride frequently throughout their lives and buy a lot of cycling stuff. These are very few, though, and unfortunately for local bicycle shops are also more likely than the average consumer to purchase online, especially highly profitable accessories.

    Photo: Henry Cutler, Workcycles (Amsterdam)

    Even the majority of papers and articles about getting more women riding bicycles (and buying bicycles and accessories) focuses on fitness and recreation rather than daily transportation. One woman told me that she’s visited two woman-owned shops in other cities and both were great at telling her about women-specific bicycles and lycra and classes for adjusting a derailleur, but neither had a clue about her need to take her children to school, bring groceries home and not wanting to worry about anything mechanical beyond air in her tires. This, by the way, goes for most guys as well.

    The Death Cycle

    Our current recreational focus has resulted in people having a garage full of bikes that aren’t very durable, go out of adjustment quickly, are uncomfortable to ride, and can’t easily be ridden in ordinary clothes.

    So, we have millions of bikes hanging in garages, collecting dust and rarely ridden. Who wants to change in to shorts, search for wherever they put their helmet last year and struggle to get their bicycle down from the ceiling before trying to find the pump for the now flat tires and all only to then ride a bicycle that’s uncomfortable and has out of adjustment clackity-clacking gears? And this is the simple process for those who don’t load them on their car to drive to some place that they feel is safe enough to ride (I’ve always found it fascinating how many more bikes on cars I see in the U.S. than The Netherlands).

    Worse, because people don’t want to ride their uncomfortable pants-leg eating bicycles, they are missing out on what may be the best source of routine activity available and they become overweight or obese. If you’re overweight, you’re even less likely to want to ride your out-of-adjustment bicycle. BTW, I’m not blaming our poor health and obesity on the bicycle industry; Wendy’s Baconator, among many others, contributes it’s share.

    Plus, we’re also ending up with bikes that either can’t carry anything or get squirrelly when more than a loaf of bread is squished on the rack. So much for useful transportation.

    Time for a new bicycle? Hardly. If you already have a rarely-used bicycle collecting dust in the garage, you’re unlikely to want to spend more money on another for fear that it, too, will do nothing but hang in the garage, collect dust and it remind you of this every day it hangs there. That’s not good for sales.

    The Fraternity

    Many people don’t want to be ‘cyclists’. They don’t want to wear lycra or clackety shoes. They don’t want to wear helmets or get helmet hair or drip sweat all over the floor in their favorite cafe. They don’t want to abide by The Rules or build a bicycle repair station in their garage.

    Perhaps most of all they don’t want to be associated with ‘those cyclists‘ — the ones who run red lights when others have right-of-way or block traffic because they-have-a-right-to-the-road (Note: they do have a right to the road, but that’s another topic). They don’t want to be associated with people who have irritatingly bright blinkie strobe lights that blind them when they’re driving. They don’t want to be confused with people whose common pose is an anti-social fist up in the air gesticulating to the car that just passed them too close.

    They’ve heard enough anti-cyclist rhetoric on radio and at dinner parties to know that this is a group that perhaps they don’t want to be associated with.

    This isn’t a criticism of people who wear lycra and helmets, I have a closetful myself, but simply a note that ‘cyclists’ are not always viewed very positively and this might not be the lifestyle to be selling.

    What’s a bike shop to do?

    Today we have the wrong bikes for the wrong reason and no place to ride. No wonder sales have been flat, and declining per capita, for 15 years.

    What if we turn this around? Give people a good reason and purpose to ride often — transportation. Build safe and comfortable places to ride — protected bikeways. Provide people with proper bicycles that are simple and durable.

    1) Sell the idea of riding for transportation. Give people a reason and a purpose to ride every week or every day. Plant the seed that a bicycle is much more than a recreational toy. Someone who rides frequently, like to dinner once per week, is more likely to want to invest in an upgraded bicycle in a few years and more likely become interested in other bicycling, like racing or off-road.

    2) Do everything you can to make bicycling in your neighborhood and sales area comfortable and safe for normal average people. There’s a reason that The Netherlands has a busy bicycle shop on just about every corner. Get copies of the CROW Design Manual For Bicycle Traffic, learn it, and promote it. Get involved with the NBDA’s Green Lane Project. Read A View From The Cycle Path and Bicycle Dutch.

    3) Sell bicycles that work for average people. KISS is important — don’t make bicycling complicated. Start each sale with a good city bike. Sell them something that will always be easy and ready to ride and they are more likely to ride often rather than just a couple of times per year. A bicycle that can be ridden in any clothes, that won’t eat their jeans, and that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.

    4A) Hide your inner cyclist (and the associated accessories). Don’t appear to be part of the fraternity. Don’t use buzz words. Don’t try to impress customers with how much they don’t know about The Fraternity.

    Don’t tell them to HTFU and learn to drive their bike with 4000 lb weapons disguised as cars. Acknowledge that riding on most of our U.S. roads is dangerous, uncomfortable, and sometimes terrifying. Let them know what you are doing to change this (and maybe enlist their help).

    Help average people feel comfortable when they walk in. Don’t make them feel like they’re out of their element and in a place they don’t belong. Rather than posters of racers and off-road folk, maybe have posters of average people riding a bicycle wearing nothing but the normal clothes they wear to work or dinner.

    4B) Put bicycle fraternity accessories in a corner or separate room, if you carry them at all. This includes clothing, shoes, helmets, nutrition, and parts.

    Recreational Cars

    Imagine if car dealers only sold recreational cars. Cars for racing and off-roading. Cars not really suited to daily use. If part of every sale included a lecture on the need to buy and wear a helmet and safety vest and take a class on repair and maintenance? If your car came without lights or locks or fenders or anywhere to carry anything home from the store. And if it were suggested that you HTFU and learn to operate your car among 200 mph trains.

    A bike that’s easy and comfortable to ride is more likely to be ridden, less likely to collect dust, more likely to result in a healthy fit customer, more likely to be replaced with an upgraded model, and more likely to result in people seeing others riding and want one themselves.

    * Photos (unless noted): Franz-Michael S. Melbin, Copenhagen Cycle Chic.


    [1] And of course, the best way to make a million bucks is to start with two million and open a bike shop.

    [2] This and other data is from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, July 1, 2015, The 2015 NBDA Specialty Bicycle Retail Study ( and the NBDA U.S. Bicycle Market 2014 (

    [3] Total bicycle and accessories sales was $7.4 billion in 2014 of which $4.7 billion or 63% was from local bicycle shops. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    The single-tracked world of American railroading

    Hi / Zeph / 400 - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 3:25pm
    Here's a map I put together using the Federal Railroad Administration's Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory database, focusing on the number of main tracks at public grade crossings across the country. The main thing to see is that the vast majority of our rail infrastructure is single-tracked, only allowing trains to travel in one direction at a time on segments of track that don't have passing sidings. (For this version of the map, I didn't attempt to show sidings.)There are only a dozen or so major double-tracked corridors that show up on this map. Some routes, like the double/quadruple-tracked Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts, are mostly or wholly invisible, since they are grade-separated and don't have any level crossings. Many metropolitan areas and rail hubs have splotches where there are three or more tracks, but they're usually for very limited distances.Some rail routes are double-tracked due to running heavy, slow trains. This includes routes in northern Minnesota that were built to haul iron ore/taconite to seaports on Lake Superior. In Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the triple-tracked Joint Line shows just a few public crossings. It's used to haul coal out from the region's mines to connecting routes, some of which are themselves double-tracked.BNSF's Southern Transcon connecting Southern California to Chicago shows up particularly well—it's a route that carries a lot of intermodal traffic from West Coast ports. Union Pacific's corridor between Northern California and Chicago doesn't show up quite as much—for some reason, there aren't many crossings shown out west, though it also has more single-tracking.Routes that have a significant amount of double-tracking correspond pretty well with maps of Amtrak service. Out west, the Amtrak Cascades corridor is easily visible between Oregon and Washington, and the Capitol Corridor stands out in California. Other long-distance routes in the Eastern U.S. and Midwest also show up pretty well: The route of the City of New Orleans, the Crescent, and the Silver Star (which shares parts of its route with a couple other long-distance Amtrak services).Double-tracking isn't a requirement for passenger routes, but double-tracked lines make scheduling much more flexible and can dramatically increase capacity over lines that only have a single main track. Single-tracked lines are constrained in the number of trains they can carry by the number of sidings, spacing between them, and siding length, not to mention the general condition of the line and other design features that limit train speeds.Most rail maps of the United States don't differentiate between busy and lightly-used rail lines, in contrast to maps of the highway system which are able to classify roads based on design. Each can be misleading, though—just as a busy rail line doesn't look much different than a quiet one, it also isn't obvious from the design that that Interstate 94 is far busier in Wisconsin than it is in North Dakota or Montana.
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Hit By a Car (again) in Downtown St. Paul, or Why We Need the Bike Plan

    Streets.MN - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:54pm

    Dana, Quinn, and Daphne.

    My six-year old son and I got hit by a car in downtown Saint Paul last night. We’re fine, except for a good scrape on my leg, a busted fender, and a nervous little boy. It could have been worse. Before leaving work on 10th Street and Cedar Street I carefully studied the routes I could take from Harriet Island, where Quinn was participating in a Saint Paul Parks and Recreation day camp, to an errand we had to run off Summit Avenue on our way home to Hamline-Midway. There were no stellar options. Aside from no bike lanes, Wabasha Avenue and Kellogg Boulevard are under construction (neither of these projects include bike infrastructure). I decided to take Wabasha Bridge into downtown and then decided to take the sidewalk on Kellogg Boulevard up to College Avenue, across from the Minnesota History Center to get to Summit Avenue.

    I have been bike commuting for a decade and am an extremely experienced rider. I teach bike commuting and safety as part of our employee development seminar at my place of employment. I previously served on the board of directors of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and was a co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition. In other words, I know my business. I knew that biking on the sidewalk was more dangerous than taking a lane on Kellogg Boulevard. I have counselled countless new riders against biking on the sidewalk. Nevertheless, I felt it would be safer to bike slowly on the sidewalk given the construction, the rush hour traffic, the hill up Kellogg Boulevard, and my son on the back of my bike. I stopped at every intersection because bicycles on the sidewalk should act like pedestrians.

    We came to the intersection of Kellogg Boulevard and the I35 Northbound exit ramp. I stopped and waited for the walk signal. We started across the intersection when the person driving the SUV, waiting to make a right turn, started forward. He had looked left for traffic coming down the hill eastbound, but did not look right for pedestrians on the sidewalk (or a mother on a cargo bike). He hit us. We fell. My first instinct was rage, but also awareness that he still might not know we were there. I ran over to his driver side window and let loose a torrent of obscenities. My son and the bike were still lying in the street and I calmed down (a little) when I saw that my son’s eyes were as big as saucers. I stopped and got my son onto the sidewalk. I realized that he was more scared of my reaction than what happened so I tried my best to calm down.

    The intersection.

    A nurse from Children’s Hospital was in the car behind the man who hit us and she helped comfort my son and made sure he was not injured. The man who hit us got out of his car, which surprised me because last time I was hit a decade ago on Saint Peter and Fourth Street my bike and I went over a car’s windshield and they did not stop. This is sadly typical from many stories I hear from friends who have been hit. The homeless people begging on the corner ran over and helped bring my bike on the sidewalk. One of them stood in front of the man’s SUV, making sure he was not going to drive off. The driver and I exchanged information. He was very concerned.

    Once I knew we were okay and the bike was rideable, all the people left. I sat down on the sidewalk with my son. He was surprisingly calm and never cried. He quietly told me that he remembered to keep his legs in like I had taught him. I asked if he felt okay biking home or whether we should call his father to come and get us in the car. He said he wanted daddy. We walked down to the Liffey, called my husband, and had lemonade at the bar while we waited.

    Riding with Quinn in the winter.

    Maybe I should not have been on the sidewalk. The man who hit us should have looked both ways, even if it was one-way automobile traffic. I know some people would say I should not be biking with my children, should just take our car, that I am taking unnecessary risks by riding a cargo bike in rush hour traffic downtown. Believe me, my children are my life. If Quinn would have been injured or killed, I do not know how I would continue living. He and his sister are the center of my universe. I took every precaution I thought reasonable. If there were a single bike lane in downtown Saint Paul, I would have taken it.

    Others insist streets are for cars. That building bike and pedestrian infrastructure is just catering to a left-wing minority, wasting tax dollars on the fringe. It does not matter what choices I or the man who hit us made – cars are legitimate road users because most people drive cars. I drive, too. We called my husband who came to pick us up in our family’s car. I am thankful we have one.

    But, that’s not the vision I want for our city. Not only is that corner of Kellogg Boulevard dangerous, it is ugly and barren. It’s not a place I want to walk or bike. I want it to be normal for mothers to pick their children up from Parks and Recreation day camps on a bike, especially when that ride is only about five miles and it is a sunny summer day. I want it to be normal for people of who do not identify as A-level, experienced cyclists to decide it is easier to bike the three miles to the grocery store or the park. I want a vibrant, busy downtown that is also welcoming and comfortable for people arriving in cars, on foot, by public transit, or by bike.

    Let’s stop dithering over parking. Saint Paul’s parking study clearly shows that downtown is not at capacity parking. The bike loop and other improvements will not end the economy of downtown Saint Paul. Make it a nicer, more welcoming place where people want to be, not just drive through. Make it safer for all road users. Give a mother on a bike at least one safe choice to get through downtown so the sidewalk seems like the best choice when it is not.

    The man who hit us called me last night. I did not feel like talking so I let my voice mail pick it up. He said he was very sorry about our “incident” and wanted to see if we were okay. That was nice, but I still don’t know if I feel like calling him back.


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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Transit Labor Efficiency in NY Metro Area

    Streets.MN - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:45pm

    Via Alon Levy’s great walkability and planning website, Pedestrian Observations, here’s a chart showing transit operating costs using two different payment models:

    [Note: these data are from New York City commuter rail, e.g. the Long Island Railroad or LIRR and Metro-North, a NYC commuter rail line.]

    Levy has a lot of information on how scheduling and staffing levels can affect costs. Here’s Levy’s key idea:

    But whatever happens, the most important reform from the point of view of reducing marginal off-peak service provision costs is letting go of redundant train crew. Halving the variable operating costs is exactly what is required to convert the nearly empty off-peak trains from financial drains to an extra source of revenues, balancing low ridership with even lower expenses. This would of course compound with other operating efficiencies, limiting the losses of branch lines and turning the busier main line trains into profit centers. But nowhere else is there the possibility of cutting costs so much with one single policy change as with removing conductors and changing the fare enforcement system to proof-of-payment.

    There’s been lots of conversation about enforcement on the Green Line. People ask things like “why aren’t there turnstyles?” or “why aren’t there more police checking tickets?”

    Well, the answer lies in economics. In general, I think Twin Cities rail transit is pretty efficient! is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    The Single-Tracked World of American Railroading

    Streets.MN - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:33pm

    A map of grade crossings across the United States showing the number of main tracks.

    Here’s a map I put together using the Federal Railroad Administration’s Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory database, focusing on the number of main tracks at public grade crossings across the country. The main thing to see is that the vast majority of our rail infrastructure is single-tracked, only allowing trains to travel in one direction at a time on segments of track that don’t have passing sidings. (For this version of the map, I didn’t attempt to show sidings.)

    There are only a dozen or so major double-tracked corridors that show up on this map. Some routes, like the double/quadruple-tracked Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts, are mostly or wholly invisible, since they are grade-separated and don’t have any level crossings. Many metropolitan areas and rail hubs have splotches where there are three or more tracks, but they’re usually for very limited distances.

    Some rail routes are double-tracked due to running heavy, slow trains. This includes routes in northern Minnesota that were built to haul iron ore/taconite to seaports on Lake Superior. In Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the triple-tracked Joint Line shows just a few public crossings. It’s used to haul coal out from the region’s mines to connecting routes, some of which are themselves double-tracked.

    BNSF’s Southern Transcon connecting Southern California to Chicago shows up particularly well—it’s a route that carries a lot of intermodal traffic from West Coast ports. Union Pacific’s corridor between Northern California and Chicago doesn’t show up quite as much—for some reason, there aren’t many crossings shown out west, though it also has more single-tracking.

    Routes that have a significant amount of double-tracking correspond pretty well with maps of Amtrak service. Out west, the Amtrak Cascades corridor is easily visible between Oregon and Washington, and the Capitol Corridor stands out in California. Other long-distance routes in the Eastern U.S. and Midwest also show up pretty well: The route of the City of New Orleans, the Crescent, and the Silver Star (which shares parts of its route with a couple other long-distance Amtrak services).

    Double-tracking isn’t a requirement for passenger routes, but double-tracked lines make scheduling much more flexible and can dramatically increase capacity over lines that only have a single main track. Single-tracked lines are constrained in the number of trains they can carry by the number of sidings, spacing between them, and siding length, not to mention the general condition of the line and other design features that limit train speeds.

    Most rail maps of the United States don’t differentiate between busy and lightly-used rail lines, in contrast to maps of the highway system which are able to classify roads based on design. Each can be misleading, though—just as a busy rail line doesn’t look much different than a quiet one, it also isn’t obvious from the design that that Interstate 94 is far busier in Wisconsin than it is in North Dakota or Montana. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Reading the Highland Villager #135

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 2:52pm
    [Villagers perch a few miles past the top of the High Bridge.][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: Coleman puts Midway site in play for major league soccer; Mayor invites MLS to tour 34.5 acres at University-SnellingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A bunch of really rich people from West of Minneapolis want to build soccer stadium in Minneapolis but are looking at Saint Paul anyway, and the mayor and others are enthusiastic.  The most talked-about spot is owned by Metro Transit, is right next to the freeway and Snelling Avenue [which is pretty much a freeway] and has been a parking lot for decades. There are thoughts that the stadium will "jump-start" development of the old [almost unwalkable] strip mall on the rest of the site. Article references the $31M gap in parking structures that were preventing development on the site in a study released last year. The Chamber of Commerce is also excited. Mayor says "It's too early to talk about financing." There is talk of TIF money being used, but there is a limit on the city's TIF capacity and others would like to use it for the Ford redevelopment. Article includes quote from neighborhood group about the "proposal moving too quickly [to allow] meaningful discussion." Neighbors want limits on parking. [Good! That's a big key to whether this plan will work for the city or not.] Headline: New home design standards posed for approval; reduced height and lot coverage limits in store for new Highland, Mac-Grove homesAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city council is set to approve new limits on the size of "teardowns" in the most affluent part of the city. Some neighbors want a moratorium on teardowns. [I'm of the opinion that these standards won't really solve the problem that some people would like it to solve; developers will keep doing that they've been doing, which has everything to do with real estate markets, capitalism, and private property and historical trends around home size.] Article includes details about lot size coverage and height restrictions. [Also concerning is having separate zoning codes for wealthier vs. less affluent parts of the city.] Headline: Coming home to Fort Snelling; veterans are moving into 58 new housing units on Upper PostAuthor: Kevin DriscollShort short version: Cool historic buildings by Fort Snelling owned by the Veterans Administration are going to have people (veterans) living in them. [Seems great.]Headline: High Bridge scheduled to close for redecking in 2017Author: Jane McClureShort short version: A bridge [by my house] will get a new driving surface and be closed while its under construction. [I can only hope that Mn-DOT will do something to make Smith Avenue more pedestrian friendly while this is going on! It's almost impossible to cross the street and bumpouts would go a long way to fixing that problem.] Article includes quote from neighbor who wants stairs "added back" to the bridge to connect the West 7th area to the dog park and riverfront. [That would be crazy expensive, but interesting that they'd existed in the past. Also, it would be really cool if they could maintain bike/ped access during construction.]Headline: Jobs, housing at redeveloped Fort site discussed on July 22Author: Jane McClureShort short version: There will be jobs and housing at the old truck factory.Headline: St. Paul accepts $6M grant for new facility for homelessAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The new Dorothy Day homeless shelter sill get a grant.Headline: Financing for new Davern Hill sidewalk approved by councilAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A really hilly street in Highland that has never had a sidewalk even though tons of people walk on it is finally getting a sidewalk even though it's not "historic" for people not to walk in places where they might be hit by cars. Also some other streets. The HPC voted against the sidewalk. [I agree with HPC about lots of things but when it means putting people in danger, I just don't get it at all.]Headline: City Council awards STAR funds to four area projectsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Two projects on long-vacant lots in Selby Avenue, a noodle restaurant in Lowertown, and a café on Grand Avenue will get city grants to improve their buildings.Headline: Bonds approved for addition to Recording Arts High SchoolAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A high school on University Avenue will get some city money.Headline: Target Express rolls out; downsized store opens July 22 in Highland VillageAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A small Target is where a Barnes and Noble used to be. Both had parking lots for people to store their cars while they shop.Headline: Johnson Bros. withdraws Shepard Road apartments plan; new ideas, new partners sought for 19-acre projectAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A developer who had wanted to build a building with apartments by West 7th, Shepard Road, and the river is not interested anymore after the city, led by neighbohroods, told them they couldn't build it six-stories tall. They're looking for new ideas, but nobody knows how long it will take.Headline: STAR funds fill $57,500 gap in Marshall median financingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: [In a long-running saga] the city has found some sales tax money to fund a median in the middle of a street with businesses along it where lots of people try to cross the street. The city had had a grant from Macalester but the money was taken away when the project added a turn lane for a liquor store.Headline: Support grows for return of West End's Stone SaloonAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A really old building is being rehabbed and will eventually become a brewery.Headline: Zoning Committee splits over plan for new Grand condo;Commissioners are OK with rezoning single-family lot but not needed variancesAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The Planning Commission's Zoning Committee voted to not approve tearing down a single family house to replace it with an apartment building. [In the full Commission, the plan was rejected on an 8-6 vote. The building was a pretty close to the same size as the 1920s apartment buidlings on either side of it, only with underground parking.] Article includes details about exact lot coverage percentages. The neighborhood group did not like the proposal, saying it was "out of scale" and because of "parking issues." [Is it hard to park near Grand Avenue?]Headline: Controversial lot split clears way for new Fairmount Ave. homeAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A woman wants to remove her swimming pool and build a handicapped-accessible house there instead of selling it to someone and having them tear down everything and build two houses. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved the lot split on a 4-3 vote. Article includes quote from neighbor: "Like everyone else, I have been dismayed at the overbuilding in our neighborhood." [Like everyone else, I don't own a car.]Headline: Low turnout offers little direction for Riverview transit lineAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The county wants to build some sort of transit line down the West 7th Street corridor only nobody knows where and nobody seems to care enough at this point to even come to public meetings about it. Article includes map with many many lines on it. [Sometimes you gotta just jump into the pool.] Article includes quote from neighbor: "People may be jaded because this has been discussed for so long."
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Of patterns for street-names

    Getting Around Minneapolis - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 12:31pm

    If there’s anyone who hasn’t yet discontinued their feed for this now-dormant and never-very-interesting blog, here’s a reward: most of the chapter on street-naming from the delightful Names on the Land by George R. Stewart. Enjoy!

    First, the owners of the land had it surveyed, and from the survey a plat was drawn up, showing the plan of the streets. Then the owners petitioned the Legislature for incorporation under a certain name, and filed the plat. Generally the streets formed a checkerboard after the model of Philadelphia, and there were seldom fewer than ten each direction, though they might exist only on the plan and still be unbroken forest or a muskrat swamp. Usually from the beginning, these streets bore names. Thus every new town — and there were hundreds of them — required some twenty new names for streets.

    No one passed any laws about naming streets, or even wrote a book of advice. As often in democracy, however, the result of complete freedom was not complete chaos. The town-planners tended to repeat traditionally, with slight variation, what was already familiar. So arose the four basic patterns of American street-names, more or less associated with different great cities, which served as models.

    First of all, there was the pattern which might be said by paradox to be no pattern. The streets running in both directions bore names, and these followed no system. Boston furnished the model in the farther north. Most of the New England towns copied the Boston names, so that the typical pattern included State Street, Federal Street, and Congress Street, and probably Summer, Winter, Spring, Pleasant, and Commercial.

    The older South also named its streets in both directions, taking its chief model perhaps from Baltimore, which became the first large southern city. But, even more than New England, the South held to itself, state by state, and even county by county. So no special series of names ran through the new southern towns. Instead, they more often named their streets for local heroes or plantation-families.

    The most truly American pattern, however, remained that of Philadelphia — to have streets designated by numbers in one direction and by names in the other. The Philadelphia pattern spread west into Ohio and Kentucky and beyond. It followed down the Mississippi through Memphis, and took over many of the American-founded towns of Louisiana. It had outposts in New England — Bangor, New Bedford, Pittsfield, and others. It encroached strongly upon Virginia and Tennessee. Even in the farther South it furnished the pattern for many towns, such as Charlotte and Macon.

    Like all systems of naming, it offered some problems. Where, for instance, should First Street lie? With a town on a river or lake, the conventional solution was to put First Street along the riverfront. Even so, time might bring difficulties. Often the shallow water was filled in, and First Street was no longer the first. These new streets were conventionally called Water or Front, again the Philadelphia pattern. On the other hand, a town laid out on a riverbank might find First Street caving into the water. Sometimes the river took the whole town, but sometimes only a section, so that perhaps Fourth Street became the first street, as in St. Joseph.

    If no body of water was available to give a natural starting-point, First Street was merely placed along one edge of the plat. Then, if the city grew across that line, that part of it had streets which were outside the pattern.

    Penn used his cross-streets the names of trees — “that spontaneously grow in the country.” Many founders of towns blindly followed his lead, using Chestnut, Walnut, and Mulberry, without any thought as to whether those trees grew there naturally. The trees, however, gave no indication of the succession of streets, and no order every became conventional. The followers of the Philadelphia system, in fact, never solved this difficulty. In certain regions of Ohio and the states north and west, many towns used the names of the first five Presidents in order. Any American might be expected to know that Monroe was the third street beyond Adams. The election of a second Adams, however, spoiled the system, and the intensified of party strife at the end of the Era of Good Feeling made some of the later Presidents too unpopular.

    The planning and naming of the national capital offered a third model for new towns. The whole city was split by two main axes into four sections, designated by the half-points of the compass. East and west of one axis the streets began with First, and so continued. North and south of the other axis the streets began with A Street and continued through the alphabet. Broad diagonal thoroughfares, called avenues, bore the names of the states. The avenues and the alphabetically designated streets were the important innovations.

    Although a plan of Washington was published in 1792, its building proceeded slowly and its influence was delayed. Richmond, Indiana, platted in 1816, followed it. In 1821 Alexander Ralston, who had helped with the laying-out of Washington, was appointed to survey the site of Indianapolis, also to be a capital city. He consciously imitated Washington, but in the end Indianapolis showed little of the name-pattern except for a few diagonal avenues named after states.

    The Washington plan and name-pattern, both usually simplified, spread on to an occasional Illinois town, across the river to Iowa, and thence north and west. But it was nowhere dominant. The Americans simply did not like it.

    One detail only of the Washington-pattern became popular. The French avenue, meaning usually the tree-bordered approach to a country-house, had been used in English for some time. It had even attained rhetorical usage, as when a Revolutionary orator cried out: “Oppression stalked at noon-day through every avenue of your cities!” But let oppression stalk where it might, no American had Avenue as his address until after the founding of Washington. Even the later popularity of Avenue may be partially credited to New York.

    In 1807 a Commission was appointed to lay out a plan for the as yet unbuilt parts of Manhattan Island — “The leading streets and great avenues.” On April 1, 1811, the map was finished and filed. It presented the basic plan and name-patter of midtown and uptown New York which by the prestige of the city have become familiar to the whole world. The cross-town streets were numbered, after the Philadelphia fashion. The broad north-south thoroughfares were called Avenues after the Washington fashion; but, again after the Philadelphia fashion, they were numbered successively from First along the East River. The bulge of the island below Twenty-third Street, however, lay east of First Avenue; the Commissioners accommodated this geographical difficulty by the Washington device of using the letters of the alphabet from Avenue A to Avenue D. All the elements of the New York pattern were thus borrowed from Philadelphia and Washington, but their combination was something essentially new. The device of having numbered avenues cross numbered streets avoided the lack of system in the Philadelphia cross-streets. Yet the pattern was simpler than that of Washington.

    Americans had been familiar with the Philadelphia pattern for nearly a hundred and fifty years before the New York adaptation even got on paper, and many more years elapsed before the midtown section became important. By that time most of the towns east of the Mississippi had already named their streets. The New York pattern was to be of influence in a few newer eastern towns, and in the newer sections of older cities, and especially in the farther West.

    In naming their streets, the Americans were obviously torn between two basic emotions. First, they were a practical people, and vastly admired themselves for being so. Numbered and lettered streets thus attracted them greatly. One writer declared that a good street plan was incomplete:

    unless there exists an orderly and methodical system of suitable names, so arranged as to enable the resident and the stranger within its gates to ascertain for themselves and without needless trouble or delay the relative positions of the different highways through which they might be called to pass.

    Boston and Baltimore failed entirely to meet this requirement, and were rejected. Washington raised undue complications, and tended to defeat its own object. New York was the ideal of practicality, with the result that of all great cities it remains (with the exception of its downtown district) the easiest for anyone, resident or stranger, to find his way around in. Philadelphia was a compromise.

    Its strength lay in that very fact. For, besides being practical, the Americans were like all peoples in having a strong tinge of sentiment in association with names. Names may be poetry; they readily become symbols of patriotism, achievement, or love of home. Numbers and letters sometimes attain symbolic value, but less easily and often.

    The Philadelphia pattern allowed sentiment along with practicality, and its success fell little short of an overwhelming triumph. More than half of all our towns, perhaps three-quarters of them, have a system of numbered streets. The numbered avenues, after the model of New York, fail to appear in more than about one in six. About one town in ten shows the Washington pattern of lettered streets. The New York device of Avenue A makes a negligible showing. The repetition of individual street names tells the same story. Chestnut Street is far commoner than Pearl, and Pennsylvania Avenue is hardly in the running.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Roadkill Bill: Second Class Citizens

    Streets.MN - Sun, 07/26/2015 - 9:03am

    Ken and Roberta Avidor are packing their art supplies for another multimodal  traveling and sketching journey up to Bemidji via Jefferson Lines and down the Paul Bunyan trail on their Bromptons which means work on Bicyclopolis Book 2 will cease for the moment.  Do not despair for here is another Roadkill Bill comic from the era when cell phones had antennas.

    Click on the comic to make it bigger: is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Sunday Summary – July 26, 2015

    Streets.MN - Sun, 07/26/2015 - 7:00am

    A lazy summer week here on with many quick looks in the Charts and Maps, some fun, and only a couple of posts about hot topics – yes, the discussion does continue about LRT projects in the Twin Cities. But don’t stop here; did you know you can continue discussing the issues below and much, much more over on the Forum?

    Light rail

    Start Linking the Green Line Extension with North Minneapolis responds pragmatically to last week’s Stop Linking the Green Line Extension with North Minneapolis saying “it is time to shift the conversation to making the most out of the light rail line where it will be, instead of wishing it was somewhere else.” Making the most of planned light rail could involve transit-oriented development such as the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan for the area surrounding the planned Van White station. Commenters are mixed with some agreement for the pragmatic, positive approach and some disagreement calling for the project to be halted.

    Maps don’t usually generate much discussion, but Map of the Day: The Southwest Routing We SHOULD Be Building maps an alternative route; many commenters debate the suggested alignment as well as continued laments and complaints about the process and actual result.

    The author’s suggested Southwest LRT alignment, including stations.


    In Stop the Saint Paul Saints Anti-Bus Propaganda! Bill Lindeke exposed the anti-bus bias in the Saint Paul Saints’ inter-inning races sponsored by Metro Transit. These races have spectators hold giant cardboard cut-outs of Metro Transit buses or light rail trains while running a sort of footrace and, we learned, the bus almost never wins. Fortunately, applying some pressure helped; Bill reported on a subsequent race in Saints Transit Victory: The Anti-Bus Stops Here where the light rail cars didn’t even get into the race.

    Finally, the bus wins

    On the streets

    Main Street – New Ulm, Minnesota takes us to the “local urbanist small town Utopia” and introduces us to New Ulm’s founding socialist Turner Society.  No matter where your road trips may take you, there’s more to learn about traffic signals. Having explained local Minnesota traffic signals in great detail, Monte Castleman moves further afield. Traffic Signals Abroad considers signals outside Minnesota, but still in North America as well as a quick look at the wider world. This series is a love song for traffic signals like the “beautiful “Spiderweb” lenses” which helps us all look more carefully at something we rely on, but probably haven’t considered closely.

    No mistaking this for a vehicle signal

    Audiovisual department

    Charts of the Day: Three charts deal with some aspect of housing: Percentage of Income Paid in Rent over Time (Age 22 – 34)Median Asking Price vs. Growth in Housing Units and finally Twin Cities Rents and Vacancy Rates which generated considerable discussion about the tightness of the rental market, rising rents, opposition to creating additional rental units and (tangentially) capital gains issues for sale of homes. The last chart, Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement diagrams the ways internet writers dispute or critique other posts from name-calling (which writers and commenters refrain from doing for the most part) to explicitly refuting points made (which is what we try to do here on

    Maps: Map of the Day: The Southwest Routing We SHOULD Be Building is covered in more detail above since it generated much discussion. Map of the day: Residential Water Use Per Capita, 2005 is a useful adjunct to the Metropolitan Council’s Master Water Supply Plan now out for public review (follow the link to learn how to comment).

    Comics: More of Roadkill Bill!Roadkill Bill: Obesity and Roadkill Bill: Thinking Seriously

    Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement

    Streets.MN - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 12:00pm

    Here is a fun visualization of the types of disagreement you may find on the Internet, as described by a fellow named Paul Graham. You should click that link and read the whole thing on his website, but in any case here is the intro and the hierarchy.

    The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.

    Many who respond to something disagree with it. That’s to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there’s less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you’re entering territory he may not have explored.

    The result is there’s a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word. That doesn’t mean people are getting angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it. But though it’s not anger that’s driving the increase in disagreement, there’s a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it’s easy to say things you’d never say face to face.

    If we’re all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages. So here’s an attempt at a disagreement hierarchy:

    I printed it out and put it up in my cube at work.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Saints Transit Victory: The Anti-Bus Stops Here

    Streets.MN - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 11:51am

    Thanks to you, the outcry over recent transit-oriented injustices at the Saint Paul Saints game led to swift action. At last night’s Saints game, the Metro Transit sponsored race around the bases, which has been documented as a sham and widely publicized on this website, was resolved. For the first time ever, the Metro Transit race included ZERO (0) light-rail vehicles. Instead, the race was held between three (3) Metro Transit cardboard buses.

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

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Traffic Signals Abroad

    Streets.MN - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 11:30am

    As the next part in my ongoing series of traffic signals and controllers, here is a look at what the rest of the nation, Canada, and the rest of the world do differently than Minnesota.

    Minnesota vs the Rest of the Country

    1) As I’ve mentioned before, protected only turns (where left turning traffic has a red arrow and must wait a whole cycle if they arrive one second after the typical 10 second green), are much less common. Only in California have I seen more than in the Twin Cities suburbs. These are becoming less common with the debut of flashing yellow arrows, the feeling being that with the extra warning to yield, left turning drivers can now be trusted to make good decisions.

    Hurry up and wait.


    2) The usual arrangement for 5-light signals is the “doghouse”, rather than the 5-light vertical. Vertical signals are mainly used in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, South Dakota, and Arkansas; other areas use the doghouse configuration. With the adoption of the 5-light bimodal flashing yellow arrow, probably at the urging of the FHWA, Minnesota and Wisconsin are adopting the doghouse. (And much more common is a 5-light vertical  to be replaced with a 4-section flashing yellow arrow, although agencies that refuse to use flashing yellow arrows, like the city of Minneapolis, are still erecting new vertical installations.)

    Old 5-Light Vertical

    2) Signals hung from overhead span wires are not used in Minnesota, except in temporary installations (although some, like MN 62 at Hiawatha, persisted for decades for various reasons). MN 36 in Lake Elmo will likely be the same story. These are more common in permanent installations out east, which are usually metal poles, and usually a lot neater than the wood poles that Minnesota slops together. There are also quite a few surviving 4-way signals, some converted to LED. With the requirement of more than one signal head in each direction, these were augmented with two single faces tied together on either side, for a total of two facing each direction. Looking at old photos, Minnesota always seems to have preferred putting them on posts on the side, I’ve never seen a 4-way here.

    Old 4-Way signal in Cleveland, TN


    3)  Minnesota always puts signals on the poles on each side of the mast (and these are useful if there’s a truck blocking your overhead view. Other states do not always do this. It might be carried over from masts supplementing side signals in Minnesota, and replacing overhead span wires in other states.

    3) Of course, some signals are mounted horizontally elsewhere, as we’ve all seen in Wisconsin (although their new standards are vertical only). These are also common in Texas and Florida.

    4) Eagle brand signals are a lot less common elsewhere. Possibly because of their Quad Cities location (stuff cost a lot more to ship in days gone by), Eagle in all its various incarnations, from the 1940’s Eagleluxes up to the 2000’s Bubblebacks, had a virtual monopoly on the signal market. In other areas of the country, Crouse-Hinds (of New York), and Econolite (of southern California) are a lot more common. McCain, a new player making a big splash with boring but functional equipment, is becoming more common both in Minnesota and nationwide.

    Type SIG “Bubblebacks, later version, 98th and Dupont Ave / I-35W, Bloomington.

    5) Of course other agencies have their own quirks. Obviously there are too many to list, but Chicago DOT does whatever they feel like, nationals standards be damned.

    We don’t need any stinkin’ red arrows for protected only turns.

    The US vs Canada

    1) The flashing green ball in BC is used at intersections where a pedestrian can stop traffic to cross. The light will flash green until a button is pushed, then solid green, yellow, and red.

    In Ontario it has the same meaning as a left turn arrow in the US. In some places the flashing is much faster than in the US. I called them “seizure lights” and my sister called them “disco lights”.

    2) Some provinces use square reds and yellow diamonds as assistance to the colorblind. Except for Quebec, they seem to be on their way out.

    Traffic light in Charlottetowne

    3) Pedestrian symbols are red and green, and are always outlines (as opposed to the US where they’re now required to be all solid). There’s a subtle difference to the hands, but a large difference to the mans.  This one is Canadian standard but is actually in Osseo. A Canadian company called Ecolux was one of the first with LED signals, so some Canadian stuff snuck in down here. Canada also generally uses circular lenses.


    Not really related, but because I think they’re cool, a moose warning sign in New Brunswick, and a stained glass representation of the Confederation Bridge at the visitors center. Tolls on PEI are one way leaving the island, leading to the slogan “You only have to pay if you want to leave”, but still was a bit of a shock paying a $45 bridge toll.

    The Rest of the World

    I’ve not been out of the US and Canada since 1985, when I was a child, but here are some of my understandings based on conversations with other road and traffic signal enthusiasts.

    1) Fixed time signals are much more common than actuated signals.

    2) There’s a much wider variety of configurations, and some vehicle signals have countdown displays until the light turns green light, or until the light turns red. These are specifically banned by the MUTCD on the grounds that studies have shown no benefit, and there’s been suggestions to try to hide pedestrian countdowns from motorists because motorists were looking at them.  I’m guilty of that myself. After driving around San Francisco for several days where the vehicle light turns yellow at zero, I angered a truck driver behind me in Grant’s Pass by slowing down where the countdown went to zero with the light still green.

    To get vehicle countdowns to work in the US requires technology that hasn’t been implemented here yet. The pedestrian countdowns were designed to “drop in” to existing installations and memorize how long the change interval is, which works because unlike a vehicle signal the pedestrian change interval never varies; there’s no additional wiring beyond the mains wiring for the two indications.

    The beautiful “Spiderweb” lenses were only used in the US in the 1940s; they stuck around in Europe

    1940s vintage signal in Cleveland, TN

    2) They have stuck with LED look indications, and in turn have developed thinner signal heads that can only accommodate them rather than switching to “incandescent look” modules that require as much depth as an incandescent reflector.

    Relative depth of LED look module on the left, incandescent look on the right.

    Early Leotek LED module

    The famous Ampelmännchen of East Germany.


    Animations are common in Asian countries. Notice that the animated pedestrian speeds up and starts “running” as time expires

    Uniquely, some German pedestrian push-buttons allow you to play Pong with the person across the street while waiting for a “Walk” signal.

    This was actually an ad campaign: people could walk into a booth where their dance moves were copied on the Don’t Walk light, but 81% more pedestrians waited for the light.

    Fundamentally too, other countries, including Canada, use red and green for pedestrian signals, instead of orange and white. I covered the development of pedestrian signals earlier, but I’ll repeat, expand,and speculate. In the US the word “Walk” was originally in thin art-deco letters on  8″ round lenses, usually mounted on the same head as vehicle signals.

    A green lens would have made it even harder to read across an intersection and possibly be confused with the adjacent green vehicle light. When the orange “Wait” indication was added and moved to a separate head, an orange stripe was added to the top and bottom to make it easy to see and differentiate. The neons, which were a large separate head and one color, were as efficient as another and no way to be mistaken for a vehicle signal, used red and green until they were forced to change. (Red is the “default” color in neon because it is cheaper and lasts longer than other colors). I believe Europe used icons (easier to see) on a separate head from the beginning.

    Easy to see in my basement, not across a bright sunny street.

    No trouble reading this or mistaking this for a vehicle signal

    4) Some areas have a yellow before the green. This reduces reaction time and gives motorists with manual transmissions (the norm in much of the rest of the world) time to drop the clutch, but can also encourage people to jump the light. Interestingly some early American signals by their design also used a yellow before the green, like the el-cheapo 3-lamp Darley

    5) Installations are usually less elaborate than in the US. 

    6) Right turn on red is prohibited unless specifically allowed. Universal RTOR is one of the legacies of the 1970’s oil crises,  the other being the 55 mph speed limit. The first is definitely pro-motorist, the second anti-motorist, so it’s not hard to understand why the first hung around in North America but not the second. Various countries use various means to indicate that a RTOR is allowed. Some use signs and some use signal indications, for example Germany uses a sign and France uses a flashing yellow arrow.

    Of course RTOR is controversial in the cities, with some feeling they should be banned and some noting a problem of drivers doing them illegally anyway in places they are banned. And that’s a subject for another article, along with my ideas to make right turns safer and improve LOS for pedestrians.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Public Character #3: Wally Wonka, who sells ice cream in Victorian garb from his multi-colored ice cream trike

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 2:09pm
    The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to full his function --although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. his main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people.-Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact."[Wally Wonka selling an ice cream sandwich.]On Tuesday afternoons in the summertime you can usually find Wally Wonka at the top of Ramsey Hill, parked underneath his umbrella attached to his multi-colored ice cream bike. He'll gladly sell you an ice cream bar, give your dog a treat, make a balloon animal, or simply chat about the weather, sartorial arts, or Saint Paul goings on.Twin City Sidewalks (TCS): Tell me about that bike? What’s your name?Wally Wonka (WW): I go by "Wally Wonka." There are two of these trikes, they’re called Dreamcycles. [Rings bell.] It’s an old fashioned Good Humor trike made in New Jersey. I just fancied it up with duct tape and paint and whatnot. TCS: So, they’re designed for this? WW: Yeah they’ve kind of gone out of fashion. Especially around here. Just me and my son do it here. There’s someone in Minneapolis that does an Italian ice cart, but that’s a little bit different. This is my job, I’ve been doing it one-and-a-half years.TCS: Yeah I’ve seen you around. You usually dress in this Victorian manner.WW: Yep. Hymie’s Haberdashery makes all our clothes for us.TCS: I like that place. That’s where I get my haircut.WW: It's an incredible place. Actually for my son’s 13thbirthday I took him there for his first hot shave. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I had guys show up and share anecdotes about manhood on his 13thbirthday. TCS: That’s cool. WW: Honestly the idea came from something on Leave It To Beaver. Wally was feeling like he wasn’t being treated like a man, and Ward took him and gave him a shave in front of all of his buddies, so he could look like a man in front of his buddies. So I did it. Hymie’s is great.But I left my full time job a year and a half ago, this is all I do now.TCS: What other corners do you like going to?WW: I’m in Maddux Park on Mondays. TCS: Where’s that? [Turks rejecting dog bacon.]WW: It's over by Macalester, on Macalester and Palace. And I usually do special events. That’s what pays the most. [Two women walk up Summit Avenue, one with a dog.] Dog bacon?[Dog rejects the dog bacon.] TCS: Nice dog. What’s her name again? Woman with dog: Turks. She used to have a partner in crime called Caicos. Turks and Caicos.WW: She’s a doll. Woman with dog: Yeah. She really is. Thank you.TCS: See you. Thanks for the ice cream. WW: Appreciate you stopping. [To a guy getting out of a truck.] Need a little ice cream?[Wally Wonka and his ice cream trike.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Percentage of Income Paid in Rent over Time (Age 22 – 34)

    Streets.MN - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 1:00pm

    Keeping with this week’s theme of affordable rental housing, here’s a chart from Howard Blackson’s Twitter page (not sure its original source) showing the percentage of income paid in rent, on average:

    In general, one should not pay more than 1/3 of one’s income to the landlord.

    The idea behind this chart is that you can pinpoint the exact time when “your city became unaffordable.” Does anyone have info on average income for young people in Minneapolis or other parts of Minnesota? How would we compare? is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Stop the Saint Paul Saints Anti-Bus Propaganda!

    Streets.MN - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 8:30am

    The exception proves the rule: the only documented bus victory at a 2015 Saints game.

    CHS Field is a lovely new addition to Lowertown, well served by transit of all modes, from bus to slightly faster bus to slightly faster light rail with a dedicated right-of-way.

    And the Saint Paul Saints are rightly famous for their wide range of non-baseball entertainment. They have a ball-pig. They have humorous announcers. They pick a player on the opposing team and call him the “K-man,” so that if he strikes out, everyone in the stands gets some free swag. They have a whole bunch of amusing “ushertainers” like the French Chef, the Nerd, the Coach, and the Stepford Wife.

    They also run different races in between innings. In one of them, people spin a tractor tire around the basepaths. In another, people race with giant bodies on stretchers (sponsored by a hospital).

    And in each game, in a race sponsored by Metro Transit, people holding giant cardboard cut-outs of Twin Cities transit options have to “pick up passengers” and run around the bases. The race always pits two cardboard light rail trains against one cardboard bus. (To my untrained eyes it’s an articulated express-style bus, like the 94 or the 144. It’s just a regular bus.)

    Here’s the problem: the bus never wins.

    I sat down recently with longtime urban design advocate, Lowertown resident, and Saints season ticket holder Jim Ivey to discuss the anti-bus conspiracy. Here’s what I found out.

    [Transcript follows.]

    Paging the 1919 Black Sox.

    Bill Lindeke (BL): Tell me about the obvious conspiracy about the bus races.

    Jim Ivey (JI): It’s not a conspiracy; it’s biased propaganda. It’s biased propaganda when multiple entities are all working together behind the scenes.

    BL: When did you first notice what was going on?

    JI: I’d been to a few games and it seemed like the trains were always winning. I started taking note of how they always stacked the equation against the bus. There’s two trains and one bus…

    BL: Yeah.

    Not even Ryan Braun would defend this.

    JI: So that’s already the odds are against you. [In the real world,] there are hundreds of buses and only a couple of trains. So they’ve clearly got a bias against buses right there. They clearly put the smallest kid in there, and then get in the way of the bus. They do everything possible. One of the trains always wins. Usually both of the trains win.

    BL: How many games have you been to so far?

    JI: Probably three-quarters of the games. I’ve seen the bus win once.

    BL: I’ve seen the bus win once, too. I texted you about it.

    JI: And a couple of games now, the last few I went to on Sunday and Monday, they were using buses and trains as obstacles for paramedics taking people to the hospital. You were supposed to be a paramedic taking people to the hospital, and to get there you had to jump over the bus and the train.

    BL: It’s quickly spiraling out of control.

    Pete Rose would be proud.

    JI: Clearly a bias against transit. What are we going to do about this?

    BL: Raise awareness?

    JI: We should raise awareness. Is there a bias on the part of Metro Transit? Are they sick of having buses?

    BL: There’s this thing called rail bias. You heard of that? You think it’s real?

    JI: There’s an aspect of that. The reason people like the Green Line is they walk up and it’s always there. I know where it is, and where its going, and that it will take me to my destination.

    BL: I think a big part of rail bias is overcoming the kinds of misinformation that’s being purveyed by the Saint Paul Saints’ organization right at this very moment.

    JI: Absolutely. Why do they hate buses?

    BL: If you ask me they’re preying on our children. They know the children our the future. They’re teaching them well and letting them lead the way… to rail bias. Jim are you gonna boycott the Saints?

    JI: I’m totally not going to boycott the Saints. I spend most of my evenings there. What we should do is ask to participate in the bus vs. train bonanza and we should win.

    BL: Jim, my final question is what is this world coming to?

    JI: Um, more parking.

    Irrefutable evidence 1.a.

    Irrefutable evidence 2.3b.

    “If the bus does not fit, you must admit.” is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    4 Easy Steps to Squash the “There’s No Parking” Complaint

    Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 12:13am

    Before we start, I wanted to insert a shameless plug. I am starting a newsletter (via TinyLetter) that includes 2 short, smart, witty paragraphs each week, and 1 local Twin Cities recommendation. You can sign up here.

    “There’s no parking!” – Concerned Citizen

    I wish I had a bus ticket for every time I heard someone say this. Unless you’re Manhattan or San Francisco, it is fair to say you don’t have a parking problem. I take that back. You do have a parking problem – there’s too much of it.

    Here is a quick how-to guide on dealing with those who claim your city or town lacks adequate parking.

    1. Understand Perception

    The easiest and most time-effective way of convincing your opposition is to have them acknowledge that the perception of parking availability is different than the reality. People come to the conclusion of parking scarcity for a good reason; many live elsewhere and only visit the city during peak periods or special events.

    The mindset is beautifully captured by a recent Twitter exchange. I asserted that our downtown does not have a parking problem, and a person responded by complaining that parking for his dinner at an upscale restaurant was an unreasonable $20 (the timing coincided with a professional baseball game on a beautiful weekend night). It was pay $20, or he would be forced to walk from somewhere near the interstate (which happens to be about 5 blocks).

    This person likely visits from the suburbs once every other month, and each visit is likely for an event or dinner on a weekend night. They are not present when spaces sit vacant 90 percent of the time. I recommend politely asking them if they’d be willing to drive and park on a Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, or Friday morning.

    Now, before you start rapidly Tweeting links about Donald Shoup (such as this, this, and this), I recommend the next step …

    2. Map Parking Supply

    Load up Google Maps in your favorite web browser, search for your local area, and do a screen capture. Paste the image into MS Paint, or similar program. Start highlighting the open surface parking lots and parking garage structures. I recommend downloading Google Earth for this task.

    Don’t spend a lot of time doing this. If you know your downtown, it should be straight-forward. Be honest, but don’t nit-pick; this isn’t a scientific peer-reviewed study. Here is a map of downtown St. Paul (created in 2013, slightly outdated):

    Creating a visual can be shocking. The above blue spaces represents only off-street surface parking lots and parking garages; but do not highlight on-street or underground parking. Also, they represent only, to the best of my knowledge, available public parking. There are a few more small parking lots but Google limited me to 75 shapes per map.

    Make this map and share it on social media and e-mail it to your local Council Member.

    3. Document Unused Supply

    Walk around your selected area during normal conditions and take photos. By ‘normal conditions’, I mean you shouldn’t document supply the evening of a Rolling Stones concert, nor should you snap photos at 4am on Monday morning.


    I did this in St. Paul’s Lowertown. I decided upon an early Thursday evening and a Saturday mid-afternoon. I figured these times would capture both commuter parking during the weekday and out-of-town visitors on the weekend (photo collage available here).

    Optional upgrade: convert images into black and white to maximize effect. However, most American downtowns don’t need the extra help. Here is a sample comparison:


    It is at this point where you may be called out as cherry-picking locations. Hence, I encourage you to be fair and also document areas that have cars parked, such as this. As a final bit of advice, make sure to also snap photos of people out and about. Here is a block of sidewalk cafes during the same time frame, such as this photo taken on Saturday afternoon.

    4. Use Yourself as a Case Study

    Do it yourself advocacy is as simple as parking. I recommend getting a cheap dashboard camera (or mounting your phone) and recording yourself trying to park. I did this and here are the results on YouTube. I called it a challenge. It was anything but. As expected, parking was simple.

    The rules: drive to the contested area, take the same route everyday, park as close as possible to most congested spot, and park for free (yes, $0).

    To quickly summarize, my findings for the “Challenge”:

    • Furthest distance: 610 feet away
    • Closest distance: During three of the trips, I found a spot directly on the park
    • Cost: I never once paid for parking (note: I did pay for gas)
    • Shortest time spent finding a spot: 2 minutes and 15 seconds
    • Longest time spent finding a spot: 3 minutes and 41 seconds

    All of the times included waiting at stop lights. To enhance enjoyment, I added a soundtrack and sped up the video to 2x. Now, this is not an academic study. I merely sought out to prove that, under current conditions, a person can drive into Lowertown and park with relative ease and do it for free. I also wanted to mention that I’m keenly aware of the limitations of this challenge (e.g.; time of day, work week, etc.).

    Follow these three easy steps (and one difficult, time-consuming step involving video) to start combating the perception of a shortage of parking supply in your downtown or neighborhood. These won’t solve anything overnight, but act as a visual display of advocacy that people can relate to.

    Categories: Twin Cities