[Joe, the normal Friday photo person, is off today.]
Here’s a picture of an egret hanging out on a park bench on Raspberry Island during the recent flood in Saint Paul.
This is a horrible picture. Let’s not let this happen again.
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The lack of suburban sidewalks has long been a legitimate urbanist complaint. While more new suburban developments are being built with sidewalks, it’s still a huge job to retrofit all the suburbs that grew up without them. For this discussion I’m not talking about trails. Trails get plenty of attention and have large, active constituencies behind them. Retrofit sidewalks, however, seem to be the overlooked cousin and fly under the radar. They’re more likely to be used by people who are transit dependent and tend to be ignored by city hall.
Since no one has the money to retrofit everything at once, it’s useful to set some priorities. While we’re doing so, I know that the cynics will still complain that providing a sidewalk doesn’t make it a pleasant walking experience. Point taken, but you have to start somewhere, and I submit that the person walking from the bus stop to his or her suburban job isn’t doing it for the esthetic experience.
So where to begin? The obvious place is to connect transit service with surrounding development. When you get off the bus, can you safely and conveniently accomplish the rest of your trip? If no sidewalks exist, where do spend your dollars first?
Start with the assumption that the bus route is on an arterial street with commercial development. If so, moving up and down that street safely is priority number one. It gets the first sidewalks.
Priority 2 is sidewalks along busy arterials that intersect the bus route. They should extend about a half mile from the bus arterial.
A special case within Priority 2 is to create access is all directions from suburban transit centers, park-ride lots and rail stations. When the region has invested in high levels of service converging at one location, it ought to be possible to conveniently walk half a mile in any direction. I always cite Southdale as an example of both good and bad. There are pedestrian connections on the north, northeast, east, and south sides of the Southdale property. All, by the way, were later retrofits. However, try walking west across France Avenue to the pair of office towers, or northwest to the intersection of 66th and France and the residential high rise. The property boundary is bermed, ditched and landscaped to prevent ped movement. The signalized intersections west across France are signed to forbid pedestrian crossing. These situations are the low hanging fruit.
Since we’re setting priorities, it’s only fair to define low priority sidewalks. I grew up in Fridley and my residential street had no sidewalks, or even curbs. But it also had miniscule traffic levels, just residents accessing their houses and the occasional garbage truck. Sidewalks would be nice, but walking along the edge of such a street is completely safe, so spend the money where it’s needed more.
Breaking the private property barrier
Having a sidewalk from the bus stop to the edge of a commercial property doesn’t mean you’re walking trip can be easily completed. Now you face obstacles entering the private property itself. The newfound willingness of suburbs to build sidewalks has not been transmitted to adjacent property owners. They continue to wall off their developments from the streets with berms, ditches, fences, retaining walls and dense landscaping. Often the only way for a pedestrian to reach the front door to is brave a busy and narrow auto entry. It’s both dangerous and unwelcoming.
It’s also usually inconvenient as well. Pedestrians want the shortest path. Even when sidewalks pierce the private-public boundary, they tend to be next to the auto driveways and therefore circuitous for anyone on foot.
Solving this is technologically simple—punch a short sidewalk through to the huge parking lot that undoubtedly starts just inside the property line. The problem is legal and institutional. Cities generally lack the ordinances to require such connections. They happen only of the property owner consents.
The current best example of this disconnect is along Cedar Avenue in Apple Valley, where the Red Line BRT is struggling to attract riders. Cedar has wide sidewalks, but there are extensive barriers that separate the sidewalks from almost all the adjacent commercial and residential development.
The problem is more difficult in residential neighborhoods. An egregious example is at the Northstar Coon Rapids station. A 1960s-70s single family neighborhood abuts the west side of the tracks, but you can’t walk directly from there to the station, which is behind a fence and through someone’s back yard. There’s no way to get to the tracks. It’s a stone’s throw, but a walk of over a mile. In contrast, Brooklyn Park reserved pedestrian access between houses that allows a quick and direct walk to the Metro Transit park-ride lot at Noble Avenue and Highway 610.
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Recently, Ramsey County and Saint Paul joined forces to delay the opening of the B-Line, to coordinate transit studies, ranging from the Riverview study to a streetcar study and this arterial-”BRT” (a.k.a. faux Bus Rapid Transit) study. This was a good move for the city and transit users. Due to changes to the 54 since the line was initially planned, and the low return on investment the B-line will provide, Saint Paul and Ramsey County are being smart delaying the process at this time.
This type of “BRT” is meant to be used in corridors without the space, demand, and development opportunities for other modes to be worth the investment, or even be plausible improvements for the corridor. West 7th, along which the B-Line would run, is already a heavily used transit corridor, and had been a candidate for light rail or full BRT until 2002, when the legislature used the funding for the corridor to balance the state budget, and expansions of the corridor near downtown Saint Paul seemed to have little support from neighboring businesses. The line ran entirely along West 7th during this stage of planning.
aBRT was selected for this corridor, seemingly as a consolation prize for Saint Paul. While a direct connection between downtown and the airport/ Megadale would be feasible for a higher capacity transit service (transfers downtown from the east side especially), the difficulty in getting one built caused Metro Transit to decide to do something, anything, for this corridor in the meantime. The aBRT would have provided more frequent service, and (slightly) faster running times, when it was planned.
Why not aBRT?
The first reason for aBRT not being a good investment is the travel-time savings that the service provides are negligible. Currently, during evening rush hour, the 54 runs every twelve minutes, and has a 36 minute trip time, for its entire length. With aBRT the service can be improved to ten minute headways, and travel time can be reduced by two minutes. Let me say that again, travel times can be reduced by two minutes. If I were to arrive at one end of the route, immediately after a bus pulled away, my total time savings to ride to the other end of the route would be a total of four minutes, less than ten percent of the total time. For comparison, the A-line has a total time savings of 18 minutes, and no other planned route for aBRT has as little improvement as the B-Line in travel time savings.
The reason for such little travel time improvement is largely due to the fact that the 54 is already a limited stop route. Even where the stops are closer together and the 54 currently provides local service, no stops are being eliminated for aBRT. Maintaining the current route, along the current alignment, with no change in stop location. That does not sound like a transit improvement, it sounds like new paint on a current bus.
The improved stops that aBRT can offer also do not contribute much to this route. Along West 7th there are already heated, lighted shelters at bus stops with large numbers of boardings. Instead of rebuilding these structures, what if a ticket machine was added to facilitate boardings, eliminating the need to pay in cash and instead using a transfer that was already bought?
Several other routes evaluated rated much higher for aBRT implementation. Of the weighted scores used to evaluate and schedule the system’s implementation, the West 7th line placed tenth out of the twelve routes studied. Above only Robert Street and East 7th, West 7th ranks below improving American Boulevard’s service. The main reason these other routes were passed over was that they were already being studied for other transit improvements at the time, Hennepin Avenue had a bus study underway, American Boulevard was being delayed to wait for more ridership from the 542 bus to warrant improvements, and the rest of the corridors? They were being studied by Minneapolis for streetcars. The routes were not taken further, not studied, because Minneapolis might try to make the lines into streetcars. When Saint Paul announced its plan to study streetcar routes shortly thereafter, instead of trying to make a cohesive study and evaluate the options, Metro Transit went ahead with the A and B-lines. While the A-Line’s route has been eliminated from Saint Paul’s streetcar studies, the B-Line overlaps heavily with the city’s streetcar starter corridor, and Ramsey County’s Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) has restarted studies on the Riverview Corridor for rapid transit. While Minneapolis’ study did come out first, Metro Transit’s second, and Saint Paul’s third, everyone should stop and think for a moment, “Is this really needed? Can we combine parts of these studies? Maybe we should all cooperate instead of just calling dibs on lines and acting as if that is the be all end all of the discussion.”
But if not aBRT what about right now?
I don’t see why only aBRT can improve the headways by two minutes, why not do this now? Why not add an express bus from downtown to the airport via Shepard Road? We can build ridership and measure possible demand for aBRT and Rapid Transit while spending minimal capital costs. Could we ever get light rail to the airport? Maybe, eventually, and it’d have to be an express service, (along a rail line, anyone?). But we cannot let our desire for any transit improvement allow us to spend money where it isn’t needed and won’t help.
aBRT has better corridors to be implemented on.
Developments after the release of Metro Transit’s report have changed the criteria that the report was based on.
Due to the limited stop nature of the 54, aBRT does not eliminate any stops along all of the current 54 route, which means that time savings are minimal.
Saint Paul and Ramsey County are doing studies on the corridor for other modes already, maybe these studies/planning can be combined, or at least recognize each other exist.
Do we really want a new fancy million dollar paintjob on some buses instead of just adding one bus per hour? (12 minute headways = 5 buses per hour, 10 minute headways = 6 buses per hour)
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Last weekend we had a really important Strong Towns retreat. Not only did we finalize the agenda for the National Gathering – which is going to redefine all your expectations of what a conference should be – but we made some important progress on how Strong Towns, the organization, is evolving and adapting to grow this critical movement. I left excited and energized; we have some real visionaries working with this organization, as members and volunteers, and being with them is invigorating. Now we all switch to baby watch as our former board president – Faith Cable Kumon – and her husband, our Executive Director Jim Kumon, are expecting any day. August is going to be a great month.
While I would love to berate the Red Line for bad planning/engineering with an “offline” station, making pedestrians as unwelcome as possible or the general confusion of why the metro needed the line, but let’s try to be positive and constructive instead. Here are some easy and rather cheap improvements to the Red Line that we could start right away.
Where are they? Really, where are they? The system has been open for thirteen months now, I doubt this is just a backlog of orders at this point. I know they were part of the original plan, their signs are bolted onto your stations, so where are the machines?
Otherwise, take down this sign;
While I don’t often ride the Red Line, I have been told off by a bus driver for assuming I could board through the back door, a principle of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Instead, the driver refused to open the back door and made me use my transfer as if I was on a normal city bus. I am not opposed to showing that I have paid, but the concept of any off-board fare collection is that you have checks (or barriers, but that’s expensive and hard), and have high enough penalties that if you’re caught, it would have been better just to pay for every ride you’ve ever taken, or even thought of taking.
Practice Coming to a Stop
A few drivers are very good at this skill, being able to eliminate almost any gap between the floor of the bus and the platform. Others… not so much. I get it, not banging up the front right of the bus takes a lot of effort and it’s a hard skill to learn. But the Red Line needs to improve on this. Level boarding doesn’t mean anything if you have to jump across the chasm.
Keep up the Good Work at Cedar Grove
This week Chuck does a solo podcast talking about the Federal Highway Trust Fund and the implications of its pending insolvency.
[Alice in Wonderland sidewalk.]If you're around downtown Minneapolis tomorrow over the lunch hour, come on down to the Hennepin Avenue Parklot. I'll be joining Joan Vorderbruggen, one of my favorite public artists, to talk about how to create public art using private space.Date: Tomorrow August 1stTime: NoonPlace: Hennepin Avenue between 9th and 10thJoan has long been interested in shop window design, and over the past few years begun combining that with an interest in temporary and pop-up art installations. She was one of the people working on activating Block E (before the remodel), and is currently working on improving some of the marginal (parking lot) spaces along Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. I did an interview with her for the streets.mn podcast, and recently wrote about her for a piece at Minnpost.We'll be chatting about public art, temporary urbanism, and the challenges of combining private and public interests while sitting in one of her brand new projects, the Parklot! See you there.Here's the Facebook page:Join us for the second installment of our Lunchtime Parklot Speaker Series with Cultural District Arts Coordinator Joan Vorderbruggen. Joan will discuss the basic steps involved implementing artists work in vacant commercial storefronts, as well as general insights in regards to creatingpublic art in privately owned commercial space. Topolo Tacos will be parked in the Parklot and open for service starting at 11am. Joan will start her talk at noon. Since creating Artists in Storefronts in 2012, Joan has implemented well over 200 visual displays of MN based creatives work in vacant commercial storefronts, as well as produced and supported 75 live performances in alternative space, six large scale murals, and dozens of community engaging walking and biking tours and activities. She now serves as Cultural District Arts Coordinator for Hennepin Theatre Trust activating the downtown Cultural District with public art and activity. With Made Here, nearly 40 window showcases are currently on display over 15 city blocks downtown.
Tweet of the week on the Strong Towns National Gathering.July 31, 2014
You need to be there. Get signed up today.
At CNU 22 in Buffalo last month, I met an Englishman during a pub crawl. He was a pleasant enough chap, but kept wandering in to the quiet streets of downtown Buffalo, as if to demonstrate how much space we waste in our cities by giving it over solely to cars. Little did I know this Englishman was Ben Hamilton-Baillie, a traffic and urban design consultant, and that he’d be giving the keynote lunch address the following day at lunch. Well, Hamilton-Baillie, shown below lying on Bank Street in Ashford (he does this everywhere), knocked it out of the park. Among the many provocative and relevant things he said during his keynote was “I encourage you to take out all the traffic signals in the United States.” And so that brings us to the failed stop sign experiment in Minneapolis.
As it turns out, shortly before CNU 22, the City of Minneapolis turned off the traffic signal at 42nd Street and 28th Avenue to test public opinion using a four-way stop sign. During the experiment, I wrote this piece about my hopes for a more pleasant urban corner. Unfortunately, the only explanation given to the public is that turning off the signal was part of a “test,” and that people should call the city’s 311 line with any opinions. Neither the city nor any other entity gathered any data about whether or not the intersection functioned better or if it was a nicer place to spend time, so lo and behold the majority of people who called 311 were complaining that they could no longer fly through the intersection on a green light. The test (shown below functioning quite well with cars stopping for pedestrians) was supposed to last one month, but after two and one-half weeks the volume of complaints (and robust discussion on the neighborhood forum) was so great that the decision was made at city hall to turn the signal back on.
Fast forward two weeks to Hamilton-Baillie’s June keynote in Buffalo where he referenced a video documenting an intersection redesign in Poynton, England. Called Fountain Place, this intersection in Poynton is at a crossroads of two major roadways, and over the years traffic increased and impacted the quality of life at the town center that surrounded this intersection. So, with Hamilton-Baillie’s design and the support of the local city councilor (this is key), the traffic signal was removed, sidewalks were increased in size and two mini roundabouts, called “roundles,” were installed (shown below).
Curbs were removed, approach lanes were reduced in number and width, and crosswalks were widened. The intention was to create a shared space (below) where traffic moves more slowly through the intersection. More notably, because they no longer have to wait for crossing signals, pedestrians have an improved experience. As Hamilton-Baillie explains in the video, “Once you bring speeds down you get a totally different relationship between pedestrians and drivers.” I encourage you to watch the Poynton video, and while you are at it take another look at A Conversation with an Engineer.
Television host and traffic calming advocate Martin Cassini was quoted in the Poynton video as saying that “Green lights encourage speed and license aggression.” True enough, when the signal at 42nd and 28th was turned back on, the first thing I observed was not only that cars were able to roll through the intersection at an unsafe 30MPH, they again resumed swerving in to the right lane to go around a left turning car, and also resumed accelerating a half block away when they saw the Don’t Walk sign and countdown illuminate. Cassini points out that in the shared space scheme in Poynton, “Pedestrians are fellow street users rather than obstacles in the way of the next light.” Not so at 42nd and 28th. When it was a stop sign, I saw pedestrians and cyclists alike approach the intersection and have the immediate right to cross as “fellow street users.” Once the light was turned back on I saw pedestrians crossing the street against the red light at midday with no cars around.
In Poynton, as the video notes, traffic accidents are down after the redesign of Fountain Square. To their credit, they measured this. At 42nd and 28th in Minneapolis, traffic accident and incident data was not measured before or during the test, so we don’t and never will know which way is safer, for traffic or pedestrians.
So watching the Poynton video demonstrates that removing traffic signals can level the playing field between pedestrians and cars, it can also be better for business. Poynton city councilor Howard Murray explained the shared space concept as being good for business because the town center is more pleasant because of the calmed traffic. “If you are not comfortable, you won’t dwell. And if you don’t spend time there, what’s the chance of you spending money there?” After Fountain Place in Poynton was rebuilt as shared space, retailers reported an 88% increase in footfalls. At 42nd Street and 28th Avenue, nobody asked about the effect on local businesses. So I asked Gary Tolle, owner of A Baker’s Wife, and while he indicated he didn’t think he lost any business, he also noted that the lights weren’t turned off long enough to provide meaningful data. Furthermore, the city of Minneapolis didn’t gather data on impacts on business, much less performance of traffic at the intersection.
Lastly, a pleasant city is a happy city. When the lights were turned off at 42nd and 28th in both 2013 for construction and 2014 for the “test,” I firmly believe the intersection overall was more pleasant. It was easier to cross the street, no cars were moving at 30 MPH, it was quieter and pedestrians and cars were on more equal footing. The before and after in the Poynton video certainly demonstrates the hostility of the intersection before and the relative calm after. When kids who can’t drive believe it is safer and easier, maybe we’re on to something. One Poynton resident was quoted in the video as saying the intersection design has a calming effect. “I think we’re all being kinder to each other.” It is important to strive for a happier city, and I encourage you to read “Happy City” by Charles Montgomery right now.
No important transportation or land use decision is made without controversy. Was closing Times Square in New York popular? Of course not! Janette Sadik-Khan said it herself this past March at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, “closing Times Square was not for the politically faint of heart.” If we base our decision-making on public opinion, like stores do for customers, we won’t meaningfully change our cities for the better. Allowing 100 angry drivers, whose commutes might be one minute longer (again, we don’t know this because nobody measured it), to dictate changes (or lack thereof) to our cities, we’ll be forever stuck in a car-dominated situation.
Gil Penalosa was in Minneapolis in May of this year, and he frequently is quoted as saying “you can build cities for people or for cars, but not both.” With the 42nd and 28th stop sign experiment, the intent was to do the former – build our city for people. Maybe we didn’t roll out this stop sign experiment at 42nd and 28th very well, because certainly the larger issue of the long-term health of the corner was not part of the discussion. All we asked was essentially - “hey drivers, do you like a stop sign or a green light?” What did we expect the answer to be? If we’d have asked instead “do you want a safer, more prosperous, more pleasant and happier commercial node?”, I’m sure people would largely say “yes” and maybe be willing to sacrifice a fraction of their drive time to do so. Then again, as Jeff Speck recently pointed out at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “When you make a change — and it could be any change, good or bad — there will be more complaints than support, because happy people don’t talk much.” In Poynton, there were skeptics to be sure, but there certainly was also a lot of planning and the focus was an effort to make the town center stronger for the long term, and they were wise enough to know that speeding up traffic would have a negative impact.
So if could do this again I’d have done it last summer when the old traffic signal was removed as part of a street construction project (for the record, I tried this, but our neighborhood group didn’t act fast enough to get public works to do it). There was a temporary stop sign then, and I’d have left it and not installed a new signal, saving taxpayers $200,000 to $300,000. I’d also have installed temporary bumpouts for shorter crossing distances, more prominently painted crosswalks, trees and greenery, an on-street bike rack, and a big PR campaign that said “This is a happy corner. This shared space is for people, residents, neighbors and customers of local businesses.”
We can still get this right, people like Hamilton-Baillie with examples of shared space like Poynton can help us get there, and can even do so lying down!
This was crossposted at Joe Urban.
By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow
Once upon a time, a leading right-wing criticism of public transit cast it as an unwarranted subsidy to the undeserving poor. To Margaret Thatcher, a bus rider beyond young adulthood was a failure; to George W. Bush, strap-hangers needed only enough work to afford a car.
Strangely, this argument lately has been turned on its head. It's fashionable now for conservatives to deride transit as a subsidy to the undeserving affluent. Even some Minnesota progressives have adopted this frame—speciously, in my view—in the ongoing debate over the proposed Southwest Green Line light rail extension to suburban Eden Prairie.
"Transit spends an inordinate share of its resources on suburban riders, short-changing the core city riders who cost transit agencies far less to serve and are also far more numerous," writes Heartland Institute senior fellow Wendell Cox, summarizing and expanding upon work, from a more moderate perspective, of Columbia University Prof. David King. "Transit policy has long been skewed in favor of the more affluent."
On the left side of this talking point, Michael Mcdowell, transit organizer at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, bemoans the "lack of equity" in the Southwest LRT plan. "It remains unclear how this project will benefit the Northside communities it's running through," he adds, complaining that the Metropolitan Council's commitment to improve bus service and bus shelters in minority-majority north Minneapolis areas falls short of 100 percent coverage.
Then, reversing field, Mcdowell takes an opposite tack on "a multibillion-dollar transit investment in our neighborhoods" that may increase "the likelihood of gentrification and residents being priced out of their neighborhoods as the light rail comes in." The way I read this, both too little transit investment and too much of it are equal evils, making it pretty hard for policymakers to please Mcdowell and the NOC.
A different strain of this criticism comes from south Minneapolis progressives, who want the light rail to run directly south of downtown, skirting both the underprivileged North Side and the overprivileged lakes district. Some of those critics live in the latter area, and blame a nefarious desire for faster travel times to the suburbs for the imminent disruption of their quiet Kenilworth neighborhood. Those suburbs, by the way, are rich in jobs that the light rail would give city-dwellers better access to, as Aaron Isaacs explains in a streets.mn blog.
(The Nicollet Avenue route preferred by South Side critics would provide greater connectivity to city activity centers, but it was studied and rejected on grounds of not just longer travel time, but also cost and spacial-logistical challenges. Those who advocate a subway to solve the latter problem, show me the money to pay for it.)
Unfortunately, all this bickering among folks disposed to support transit, at least in concept, only emboldens the autocentric transit bashers on the right. The conservative Minnesota-based Center of the American Experiment took a breather from its ongoing jihads against public employee pensions and smart metropolitan planning to rip the Twin Cities transit system for poorly connecting people to jobs and, in the next breath, call for shifting much of its funding—as well as that of other, unspecified government functions—to roads.
Specifically, in their CAE report, lawyers Fritz Knaak and Amy Roberts contend that "congestion is the most visible challenge facing Minnesota drivers" and call for solving it by, among other things, stopping all light rail development because "the money would be better spent on improving the bus system."
Never mind that the federal half of light rail construction funding wouldn't be available for most buses. Knaak and Roberts do show some love for bus rapid transit, which they describe as "more flexible and less costly transit options." I'm mystified as to how BRT, with its dedicated guideways, is more flexible, and that wouldn't be much of an attraction anyway for developers seeking the permanence of 21st century transit improvements.
The CAE duo's "less costly" claim is questionable as well. Yes, BRT costs less to build, and it is appropriate for relatively lower-traffic corridors such as Cedar Avenue in Dakota County and Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. But operational costs and traffic impacts are a different story when it comes to the busiest routes, where trains with greatly more passenger capacity per driver, longer vehicle life spans, less wear on right-of-way infrastructure and less dependence on oil beat buses handily on operational and maintenance costs.
According to William Lind, a rare conservative rail transit advocate, nationwide rail transit returns 50 percent of its operating costs in farebox and other revenue, compared with 28 percent for buses. That puts rail dead even on subsidies with roads and bridges, according to the conservative Tax Foundation.
Knaak and Roberts try to finesse this inconvenient truth by apparently cooking the books on projected operating costs of the new Green Line and the proposed Interstate Hwy. 35W BRT Orange Line. Neglecting $8.6 million in expected annual advertising income from the Green Line, they claimed it will be 30 percent more expensive per rider to run than the BRT.
Wrong! Counting all the revenues, the light rail comes out cheaper. Besides, people who actually know something about transit planning say BRT on the Green Line's very high ridership route between the two downtowns would have required the unworkable stacking of buses end-to-end.
Meanwhile, the CAE is promoting an upcoming visit to Minnesota by Randal O'Toole, an inveterate transit basher with the libertarian Cato Institute.
In his latest screed, O'Toole rejects the label "anti-transit," but in the same opening paragraph concludes that "all government transit is wasteful transit." His focus is on increasing subsidies for transit—too much going to "unionized transit workers," he says—but he doesn't mention our nation's vastly greater subsidies for driving, the popularity of which is a direct function of the heavy hand of government that O'Toole, Cox, Knaak, Roberts et. al. abhor.
Little wonder, then, that Lind and three fellow conservatives found no fewer than 52 "false or misleading statements" in just 16 pages of another O'Toole rant.
This time, he cites King's work about who rides transit these days and concludes: "Between high rates of auto ownership even among low-income people, the growing use of shared rides and the soon-to-arrive self-driving car, there doesn't seem to be much use for transit anymore ... Even to the extent that some low-income households lack cars, it would cost a lot less to give each one car than to continue subsidizing transit at the rate we do."
In other words, transferring that subsidy to driving, increasing congestion and ramping up wear and tear on roads and bridges, not to mention reducing choice, a concept that right-wingers seem to embrace in every area but transportation. The car giveaway idea is a disingenuous canard once promoted by the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. It reminds me of the arguments tobacco lobbyists make against tougher regulation of their deadly products: "Why not just ban it? We know how well Prohibition worked!"
OK, OK. I'm getting worked up and off point. Sorry. Amid all this noise from both ends of the policy spectrum, let's remember the wisdom of Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who introduced a hugely successful modern transit system to his city of nearly 8 million: "An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport."
The Proposition 7 propaganda in Missouri mirrors that from other states where similar debates over transportation funding are taking place. One of the cheap and easy arguments is over safety. I say "cheap and easy" because, not only it is an emotional one, but it plays to our base instincts. We all want to feel safe. That is why ads like these work.
I’ve appreciated the streets.mn blogging about Central Corridor coulda-woulda-shoulda’s. Other than signal-timing, I think it’s fair to say they mainly relate to pedestrian needs. Well, pedestrian needs have gotten short shrift to date for the SWLRT West Lake Station (also future Midtown terminus) – although it may not appear that way at first glance.
Unfortunately, until now, the freight railroad and tunnel issues have sucked up all the attention. The City of Minneapolis – Met Council tentative agreement, arrived at in secret mediation sessions, shows costly, undesirable ‘vertical circulation.’ Other Minneapolis stations absolutely require highly engineered solutions to provide ‘aerial’ pedestrian access, but West Lake does not. Many people have been advocating for what has come to be called ‘terrestrial’ access.
One of the major needs in our community is improved north-south connectivity for ALL modes. Erecting a fence on the north side of the freight tracks and forcing pedestrians and bicyclists up onto the yucky Lake Street bridge (to then go back down by elevator/stairs) would be regrettable. Engaged stakeholders aren’t ready to accept this as the final outcome.
Since municipal consent is focused on the basic location of tracks and station platforms, there is flexibility to adjust the pedestrian/bicyclist/bus-rider access details. The Memorandum of Understanding calls for a traffic study (including pedestrian issues) to be conducted for the West Lake Station vicinity. It needs to be stressed that this should inform design, not merely justify the presently proposed concept. This requires an openness to approach it with a ‘complete transit stations’ mindset. (It’s frustrating and ironic that we’ve made inroads on ‘complete streets,’ but struggle when it comes to transit station design.)
To minimize future regrets, we need a dialog involving more perspectives and ideas. (Information available at the website for Public Works for Public Good (www.pwpg.org) can aid in the discussion.)
While I have a few problems with Robert Putnam’s methodology, he’s not wrong about the decline of picnics. In his book, Bowling Alone, he writes:
The practice of entertaining friends has not simply moved outside the home, but seems to be vanishing entirely. Informal outings, like picnics, also seem on the path to extinction. The number of picnics per capita was slashed by nearly 60 percent between 1975 and 1999.
Well, here at streets.mn we’re doing our best to reverse this trend. We had a great Writers/Members Picnic last Sunday. Thanks to everyone who made it, and I put up a few photos on the Facebook page. Become a member today, and join in our next event!
This will give everyone a sense of just how important this is going to be for shaping the Strong Towns movement. Get signed up today.Strong Towns National Gathering An idea, a movement, ready for the next step.Minneapolis - September 12-14
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12 – WHAT DO WE WANT? Friday will be devoted to what we are trying to accomplish as advocates for building strong towns. 1:00 PM Conference Kickoff, Founder Chuck Marohn Chuck will give a brief history of the Strong Towns, introduce the Platform and talk about expectations for the Gathering shaping the future of the movement. 1:40 PM State of Strong Towns, Executive Director Jim Kumon Jim is going to give an update on the re-organization of Strong Towns and how he and the Board of Directors are working to expand the movement. 2:00 PM Platform Discussion Kickoff, Andrew Burleson Andrew is going to provide the rationale behind having a Platform and begin a conversation of its content among attendees. 2:10 PM Platform Discussion Attendees are going to be asked to react to the Platform and work together to refine it.
3:40 PM Break
4:00 PM Keynote: Monte Anderson on Incremental DevelopmentWe are honored to have Monte Anderson, the president of Options Real Estate, talk about his experience with incremental development, salvaging buildings and building strong communities. 5:00 PM Break for Dinner Tables will be reserved at a number of nearby local eating establishments. 7:00 PM Attendee Presentations Pecha Kucha Style We invited attendees to share their Strong Towns–related work and insights with others. We have just ten slots available for a mix of local and national voices. If you would like to present, contact Nate Hood at email@example.com. 8:00 PM Drinks and Conversations on the Street There are a number of quality social establishments within easy walking distance where we can continue the conversation and wind down the day. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13 – WHAT DO WE KNOW?
Saturday is devoted to refining our knowledge and adding to our shared understanding.
8:00 AM Coffee Meetups
8:30 AM Fellows on Focus
This is an opportunity for our fellows to present initiatives they are working on for feedback and refinement by members. If you have an initiative you would like to add to the agenda, send your request to Jim Kumon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Transportation in the Next American City – Questions to the Prime Minister
Chuck Marohn is going to present the long-awaited “mobility report” and then field hard questions/critiques “parliament style” from the assembled crowd. Attendees will get a copy of materials ahead of time and are asked to come prepared to be the steel that sharpens steel.
2. Launching the Individual Call to Action
Andrew Burleson is going to lead attendees in assembling a 6-12 month action plan for launching an individual call to action. What are the steps that Strong Towns, the organization, needs to take over the next year to mobilize individuals to live as Strong Citizens?
3. Being Active in a Strong Town - Active Towns Bike-shop
Join John Simmerman and local bike/ped enthusiasts in a bicycle tour of Minneapolis as a feet-on workshop of the Active Towns Initiative. The group will merge what it sees on tour with a dialog about what the role of active transportation system is in a Strong Town. Materials will be forwarded ahead of time to prompt feedback and suggestions for refining and expanding the message along the way.
12:00 PM Lunch (with ongoing discussion)
Food trucks will be available at the Gathering location for some local eating.
1:30 PM Keynote: Mike McGinn
Former Mayor of Seattle (2010-2013) will set the stage for the afternoon burning topics sessions by weaving together his personal story as a neighborhood advocate, environmental and political organizer with the challenges that face today's towns, cities and regions. His term as mayor focused on reallocating resources to improve transportation access, safety and economic opportunity in city neighborhoods as the core investments to building a resilient community.
2:30 PM Burning Topics Forum
There are a handful of pressing issues where attendees are going to be asked to refine and expand existing Strong Towns thinking and help set the direction of the organization. If you have an additional topic, please contact Jim Kumon at email@example.com.
4. What is a Strong Towns approach to transit?
5. How should Strong Towns approach local elections?
6. How do we mature our existing places, and unwind unsalvageable places, without leaving people behind?
4:00 PM Break & Conference Photo
4:30 PM The Next Generation of the Curbside Chat
Gracen Johnson is going to update attendees on her work with the Next Generation of the Curbside Chat, an initiative to put the message of Strong Towns in the hands of every storyteller in America.
5:15 PM Break
6:30 PM Dinner Gatherings
We have some interest for scheduling salon conversations over dinner. If you have a specific topic you would like to get programmed into this time, please contact Jim Kumon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise this time is being left intentionally informal for attendees to continue their work and conversation.
9:00 PM Movie Showing – The Human Scale (tentative)SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14 – WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
8:00 AM Coffee Meetups
8:30 AM Synthesis and Action
The specific process and agenda for Sunday is going to be set Saturday evening. We intend to use this time to synthesize all we have done over the past two days and identify opportunities for attendees and members to be active in growing the Strong Towns movement.
11:30 AM Closing Remarks
Chuck Marohn is going to deliver some final remarks to bring the National Gathering to its close.
12:00 AM End of Gathering
There is an Open Streets event on Nicollet Avenue, between 31st and 42nd Streets, in Minneapolis right after the Gathering that attendees are invited to participate in.
- Hotel rooms at the Hyatt Regency are available in a block until Friday, August 8. Go to https://aws.passkey.com/g/24641126 to make a reservation.
- For those arriving Thursday evening or are local to MSP, there will also be a pub crawl Thursday night in the Lyn-Lake District. More details to follow.
- Friday morning there is an additional workshop (separate registration) being presented for continuing education credit. If you would like more information or to attend, please see here.
- Venues are not listed on this agenda but will be included on the final program. Most all the activities will be along either Nicollet Avenue or 38th Street in South Minneapolis. The Sabathani Community Center Auditorium will be the location for all of our keynote events.
May 20, 2014 10.8 miles
I spent a good part of today’s ride in the Lex-Ham neighborhood of Saint Paul, specifically at the newly rehabbed 869 Fuller. That story is on the previous post titled “A Cinderella Story.” I moved south on Victoria Street for the second part of the outing.
The unique Fire Station Number 5 features a collection of noteworthy stories. First, the charming fire house is another of the City structures designed by Architect Clarence “Cap” Wigington. Wigington, as you may know, is considered the nation’s first African-American municipal architect. He is credited with many fire station, school and other public building designs around Saint Paul.
As I took pictures of Station 5, I caught sight of a neighbor intently watching me. Dick Sarafoleon greeted me and began talking about Station 5, which quickly led to more tales. It turns out, Dick worked for the Saint Paul Fire Department for 33 years, including several at Station 5. “I started on the fire department January first of ’64. First they had me on the West Side, on the other side of the river, and then they had me out in the Midway. I worked five years out there and I kept complaining that I wanted some action. I wanted to go where there was some work.”
Dick said winning the Jaycees’ Firefighter of the Year Award 1968” opened the way for his assignment to Station 5, “So when I got that award I went to the chief and I says, ‘Now can I get what I want? I want some work. I want to go to a busy house.’”
“When I was workin’ here, every night we’d have a fire in the neighborhood.”
Back then, Station 5 housed more rigs to keep up with demand, “We had a hook and ladder on one side and we had the engine on the other and we were out running all the time.”
By the mid-1970s, the workload at Station 5 decreased enough for Dick look for a new assignment, “Things changed and it got very quiet. So, in 1976 I said ‘I’m goin’ to go to the paramedic program; I’m tired of sittin’ and waitin’. So for the last 21 and a-half years I worked as a paramedic and I loved every minute of it. I would have stayed longer but my wife was dying with cancer and gave me my marching orders.”
Sadly, Dick’s wife, Dorothy, passed away 5 and a-half months later.
I asked Dick about the interior of Station 5. “The woodwork was pretty special. It was a maple; it wasn’t Birdseye maple but it was a really nice finish. The kitchen was upstairs and there was the chief’s car that went out onto Victoria where there is a door closed up; that’s where the kitchen is now.”
Originally, this front was all dormitory where the firefighters lived. The captains had their own rooms in the back with their own bathroom. You know, rank has its privilege.”
Dick has lived in Saint Paul for 74 years, including the last 31 two doors west of Fire Station 5, at 870 Ashland.
Here is the map of the entire May 20 ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/468912562
[Milwaukee, WI.] [Milwaukee, WI.] [South Minneapolis.] [Centuria, WI.][Hinckley, MN.] [Duluth, MN.] [Duluth, MN.] [Downtown, Minneapolis.]
Swing At YourOwn RiskNoLifeguardOn Duty[Bridge. Milwaukee, WI.] WE ARECLOSE[and]We AcceptFood Stamp[Door. Location forgotten.]WEL CO MEBKER S[Wall. Osceola, WI.] CLOSEDUntil further noticeI apologize for theinconvenience.Thank You Steven[Door. Centuria, Wisconsin.] ROBOVILLAGE[Hedge. Osceola, WI.] POWER PLANTSTOP[Pole. Lindstrom, MN.] AUCTIONHEREJUNE5THNOT GOING OUT OFBUSINESS[Driveway. Pine City, MN.]FOR SALEBeerBurgersBusinessBuildingINQUIRE WITHIN[Window. Hinckley, MN.]
Tactical Urbanism Creating Opportunities from Challenges to better move and connect people and businesses so that communities can THRIVE!
Level of service was a solution of the Federal and State Interstate Highway era. The LOS concept was introduced in the 1965 Highway Capacity Manual to help "appropriately" size and design Federal and State highways. Unfortunately that solution was quickly accepted as the standard of measure for highways and freeways (largest and most expensive public works project in United States history that still continues today) and was later modified and adopted by local communities to size and design their roadways. The difference is that local communities serve "people" and many of our interstate highways prohibit or discourage or scare most people from using them. So when the LOS HCM solution was used in communities, our roadways often became sterile of human life (except if people were in a car). Our community "people moving and connecting" roadways started looking and feeling like interstate highways. These community roadways became bigger, wider, and faster contributing to hundreds of thousands of life altering collisions and as a result became barriers within communities to move and connect people, neighborhoods, schools and businesses. So maybe we need to redefine the problem we are trying to solve and how we as communities serve our people and businesses.
#1 COMPLAINT from PEOPLE in COMMUNITIES - MOTORISTS DRIVE TOO FAST
As a result, the people are starting to take action to take back their streets from vehicle (even their residential streets) back from this bigger, wider, and faster roadways mantra.
Fast forward, fifty years and communities are focused on revitalizing their downtowns, calming traffic in residential neighborhoods, creating economic vibrancy, building transit oriented development, struggling to identify ways to maintain their infrastructure, and focused on identifying ways to move and connect people and businesses more effectively and safely. And the Federal and State governments have created environmental regulations on greenhouse gases and air quality and are now providing public health care. Both of which are directly impacted by our built communities and how we move and connect people. The challenge is that there is this man-made "rule" called "LOS" that was developed to solve a different defined problem fifty years ago and this "rule" is perceived to be in the way, forcing us as planners and engineers to do things right rather than focus on doing the right things. How we define the problem will often determine the solutions and opportunities. Focusing on the right things and not doing things right is the difference in being effective and efficient. Because of how the problem is defined you could be doing the wrong things right and efficiently. I would rather my community be sustainable (economically, socially, public health and environmentally) and effective rather than efficiently building roadways based on the wrong set of solutions. It is time to redefine the problem, change the rules, and focus on building sustainable and effective communities that better serve its people and businesses. California is doing just that with SB 743 and hopefully communities will see the many opportunities available to them as LOS becomes a distant vision in the rear view mirror.
UTILIZING TACTICAL URBANISM to MOVE and CONNECT PEOPLE and BUSINESSES
In my first hour in the Public Works Director position with Fremont, CA, I was asked to solve a safety crossing situation for the Washington Hospital campus (largest employer in downtown Fremont) adjacent to the BART transit station where seven recent pedestrian-vehicle, life altering injury collisions occurred because of distracted motorists and pedestrians and speed of motorists. Both the City and Hospital were debating the solution, or the "what's", and the issue quickly escalated into what I call a "kidney stone" project; small but politically painful. Engineers were concerned about manmade warrants and policies and the old "we don't want to create a false sense of security for pedestrians." The hospital wanted something done to improve pedestrian safety crossing a city roadway that bisected their hospital campus and created a barrier between Fremont's downtown and a BART regional mass transit station. So, we brought a fresh perspective and took a step back to focus everyone on the "why" and when we came to agreement on the "why" the solution presented itself. The "why" was to improve pedestrian safety or in short make the pedestrian "King of the Roadway." When you make a roadway safe for people, the most vulnerable users of the roadway, you enhance the safety for all users of the roadway. We then utilized the Aim Frame approach of "What is the current situation?", "What do we want to create?", and "How do we want to get there?" to identify the "how" and "what" to improve pedestrian safety. The solution pictured below and shared in the attached video was implemented by maintenance crews within two months utilizing a "Tactical Urbanism" approach, in time for the State of the City speech by the Mayor. What was once a significant safety issue creating political confrontation for over two years, resulted in the Hospital CEO and Board President attending a council meeting with a 2' x 3' card signed by the entire hospital staff saying "thank you".
How many capacity enhancing vehicle projects receive "thank you" cards from vehicles? It takes people and businesses to write thank you cards. When we focus on serving the people and businesses our relevancy as engineers and planners becomes greatly appreciated and valued.
The Tactical Urbanism Project
The original four lane roadway designed for efficiency of moving vehicles that bisects the hospital campus and downtown Fremont from the adjacent BART station.
The above graphic shows the six vehicle-pedestrian collisions prior to the road diet (lane reduction from four to two lanes) completed in May 2013. After which another vehicle-pedestrian collision occurred in September 2013 so something additional needed to be done to enhance pedestrian safety at this midblock crosswalk.
The concept solution design to facilitate discussion between the Hospital leadership and City Leadership.
The concept plan implemented within 6-8 weeks by city professional street maintenance crews included plastic water filled planter boxes to create curb extensions and a median island to reduce exposure of the pedestrian crossing the roadway. Solar powered Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons with passive (pedestrian motion detection) and active (push button) activation were also installed to warn motorists of pedestrians.
Travel lanes were narrowed to 9' in width as 12-13' wide travel lanes are designed for freeway use at 55-80 MPH. Narrower travel lanes help reduce motorists speeds. And motorists' speeds have a direct correlation with severity of collisions on a roadway. Above the left-turn lane was closed to reduce the "multiple threat" collision of a vehicle blocking on-coming motorists of seeing a pedestrian crossing in the midblock crosswalk. Left-turn lanes and right turn lanes were originally created to enhance the capacity and efficiency of a roadway for vehicles but they also increased the distance and exposure of a pedestrian crossing the roadway.
Advanced "yield" lines and regulatory "yield here to pedestrians" were utilized to bring greater awareness to motorists crossing in the crosswalk and where motorists should yield to pedestrians. The red AC Dike was used in May of 2013 to implement the road diet (lane reduction). However, there was still room for planter boxes and bike lanes to help narrow the crossing and reduce motorists' speeds.
You might ask why the Pedestrian Grade Separated Overcrossing is not used by the thousands of pedestrians (from both BART and Washington Hospital) crossing in the crosswalk. And that overcrossing goes from the 2nd floor of one building to the 2nd floor of the other building. It is not the quickest or most direct path of travel for pedestrians. Many of the pedestrians are not employees or customers/clients of the hospital. In this picture you can see the buffered bike lanes and narrow travel lanes. Notice that the motorist is stopping at the yield line. And there is still plenty of space for all the transit buses going to the BART station and ambulances and fire trucks going to the hospital.
The result of the "tactical urbanism" implementation was an increase of compliance for motorists stopping for pedestrians from 20% to nearly 90%.
The counterintuitive question we asked when narrowing travel lanes was: “Can making the roadway feel less safe to a driver’s perception (while still safe by all design standards) by narrowing the travel lanes actually increase safety by enhancing a motorist’s focus and awareness of the roadway?”
The answer was yes. Asking questions is the first step to reaching new solutions.
Bryan Jones, PE, PTP, AICP is a Senior Associate with Alta Planning + Design and the former Public Works Director for the City of Fremont. He has also held leadership positions with the Cities of Carlsbad and Fresno where he has inspired bold visions and big campaigns and aligned them with a strategic implementation plans that delivered numerous pedestrian, bicyclist, and complete and livable street projects. Bryan is passionate about helping move and connect people and business so that communities can thrive. He strives to foster innovation and develop leadership so that we can move in the direction of our potential. He believes where challenges exist so do opportunities when we redefine the problem we are solving and bring a can-do approach and results-oriented focus. He also serves as a voting member of the California Traffic Control Devices Committee appointed by the State of California DOT to represent bicyclists and pedestrians statewide as it pertains to standards, guidelines and policies in the California Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices. He received his civil engineering degree from UC Davis and his MPA from Norwich University.
Fall is quickly approaching, and with it comes the first ever Strong Towns National Gathering. The National Gathering is going to be a major moment in the history of our organization, as it’s the first time we will have assembled so many of our people together in one place to grapple with the issues facing our cities and citizens. We’re expecting to have a lot of fun, and to get a lot of work done.
We make no commitments, but appreciate the ideas.