[Replacing an ad on a flat-roof CBS shelter on Saint Paul's Minnesota St.]Last week, I wrote a Cityscape column all about bus stops and bus shelters. In doing so, I learned a lot about actual types of bus shelters and began noticing them as I went around the city.Here's a bit of background from the piece:The Twin Cities’ transit system has about 12,000 bus stops spread throughout the metro area, and somewhere around 800 of them have shelters operated by the agency. Of the stops with shelters, about 14 percent of them of have lights and 10 percent have heat for the winter. In theory, the agency has guidelines about which well-used stops should receive shelters, but in practice there are many stops in the center cities that lack shelters despite high ridership. As it turns out, once you start spotting different types of bus shelters, it's hard to stop. Here's what I've learned so far.There are three main types of bus shelters in the Twin Cities:
- 1) Metro Transit shelters (without ads)
- 2) CBS shelters (with ads)
- 3) Public/Private (aka "custom") shelters
Yesterday, I found an interesting article in the New York Times about which cities are rapidly growing their young 20-something (post-college) populations.
This is growth rates, not overall numbers, so the results may be a bit misleading. For example, Boston has huge numbers of post-college grads because of the massive amount of colleges in the area, and I’m sure the other typical young person destinations (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, DC, etc.) are still the most important. Instead what we learn here is that young people are moving to cities, and even theoretically non-appealing ones like Houston.
Still, Minneapolis doesn’t do too bad according to this metric, coming in right around average. But we’re getting our butt kicked by Denver. Apart from mountains, light rail, and legalized pot, what do they have that we don’t have?
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When I draw cartoons about imaginary bicycles, I try to make the designs believable and think about how they might actually be constructed.
In this first example, the projector bike would be pretty complicated to build, perhaps impossible, but the other three designs wouldn’t be that hard and they might produce bikes that would be fun to ride .
The same thing is true of this Rowing Recumbent bike or this Orchestrocycle. Both of them wouldn’t be that hard to build and they’d be super fun to ride, row and play.
Outlandish bicycle designs bring attention to bicycling. Drivers, cyclists and everyone else can’t help but notice a tall-bike, towering above traffic. Some locally made, pedal-powered contraptions have been highlights of the May Day parade and images of them get passed around the internet. I’m thinking of the “summersault bike” or various pedal-powered elevators. A lot of cities have “Art Car” parades. It would be fun if the Twin Cities had an annual “Art Bike” or pedal-powered parade. The Saint Paul Classic and other local bicycle events have a little of this. People create fish-bikes, buffalo-bikes, flamingo-bikes and other stuff but, once a year, it would be nice to get them all in one place.
In addition to the outlandish, I’d love to see the Twin Cities devote some energy to more practical bicycle or tricycle designs. Cargo trikes or “Box Trikes” are perfect for Minnesota winters. Their three wheels make them stable on ice and snow. When my wife and I got a house, the first thing I did was get a Christiania Trike from Denmark. In Denmark, at the low-end, they cost between $1400 and $1600 dollars for the basic box trike and a few extras. You can choose a steel or (lighter) aluminum step-through frame, and anywhere from a 3-speed to an 8-speed Shimano internally geared rear hub. They have disk brakes up front and a drum brake in back for quick stopping. You can get a frame lock, different types of removable seats in the box (with seatbelts), and different styles of optional rain covers. There are lots of other optional design features as well, including removable front doors, custom colors, different saddles, etc..
The boxes are made from panels of enameled, marine plywood riveted to an aluminum frame. I’ve had mine for 5 years of fairly heavy use and it’s still going strong. I use it all winter (and summer) to get groceries and run errands, or I ride it for everyday transportation when winter streets are so slick that I don’t trust the studded tires on my regular bike. It can haul 220 pounds in the cargo box. That’s a decent sized adult, multiple kids, groceries, garden supplies, or just about anything else.
The one problem with the Christiania Trike (or a Dutch one made by Bakfiets) is they cost a fortune to import. I only spent $1600 to buy my trike but I spent over $1200 to ship it to the US and pay all the tariffs, taxes and customs fees. This is why, in the USA, they retail for over $2800. This seems like a great opportunity for a local manufacturer in Minnesota. There are lots of great custom frame-builders in the Twin Cities as well as big companies like Quality Bicycle Products. We could build a box-trike of similar quality here and save people the $1200 in shipping and customs fees. At a $1500 price point, it would attract a lot more buyers like me who want something that works in the winter and it might convince more people to give up their cars. There are a few domestically made box trikes (Haley and Worksman) but they just don’t compare in terms of design, handling and quality to the Danish and Dutch ones.
So get out there and make some outlandish and practical new bike designs. …Or lend me your arc welder and pipe cutters and I’ll give it a try.
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Minneapolis folks, the draft ordinance for Accessory Dwelling Units is available! It’s like Christmas-come-early for urbanists. Ok, maybe not that extreme, maybe it’s more like President’s Day? I dunno. Either way, the pace that the city council and planning staff have moved this particular topic through to this point is very encouraging, as is the level of support (92%!) so far from Minneapolitans. That’s insane – I can’t imagine 92% of us agreeing on what color pavement our streets should be, so, good job!
We’ve covered ADUs here only briefly here before, but there are tons of great resources to get yourself familiarized with the concept if you havent already. I took some time over the weekend to read through the draft, and wanted to get a few thoughts out there to make this foray into a new housing option as successful as possible.A Realist’s Preface
I love ADUs. I want to build one in my backyard. But for all their positives, the realist in me can’t imagine them making a serious impact on the housing market. Look at Portland ADU permits by year (keeping in mind Portland has almost 3x the land area and an already 200k+ larger population than Minneapolis)
Yes, there’s been a jump recently after some policy changes, but we’re talking maybe a couple hundred a year, and less than 1,000 in existence in total. It could be a very long time before Minneapolis sees over 100 permit applications in a year. There’s nothing wrong with that. They can be tricky, expensive, and they need the right lot, location, occupant, personal finances in place to align, but they’re still a valuable tool in the “making Minneapolis affordable, walkable, etc” toolbox.The Positives
First, let’s call the positives out. I think it’s safe to say that anything we end up with is better than not having ADUs at all, and Lisa Bender + project staff have done an excellent job getting us to this point. The communication has been clear, and the process wide open with tons of meetings across city neighborhoods. Great job.
I also love that we’re not shying away from multiple forms of ADUs here. Allowing these new units to come from basement or attic space, an addition to a primary structure, or via a detached structure all give options and flexibility. Kudos.
The ordinance also encourages eyes on the alley via requiring 10% of the alley-facing façade to be windows. My gut reaction was “overly burdensome,” but the weekend made me re-think that. This likely won’t be hard to achieve, would have been done in most cases anyway, and really does have some positive benefits to keeping alleys safer (and beautifying them!).
Finally, parking! The behemoth that sinks any productive conversation for new development. I was pleasantly surprised to see that an ADU unit does not come with a requirement to provide off-street parking. The ordinance does require property owners to maintain the minimum parking spaces for the primary structure, which is fair. But exempting the ADU gives flexibility in design, lot placement, and cost for builders.Room For Improvement
Despite all the positives, I believe there’s still room for improvement to the ordinance in a way that will still get this thing passed. I’m keeping the list fairly short to be pragmatic. In order:
Flat roofs should be allowed a full second story (20′), and pitched roofs should get more wiggle room (25′ max?) to allow for large enough habitable spaces on the outer edges where the roof slopes.
Ok! I’m sure not everyone will agree with me. That’s fine. Use this post as a talking point to reach out to your councilmember. I can’t imagine 92% of city respondents supporting something the way ADUs have been. So before this thing gets passed and we feel like we can’t touch it again for more than a decade, let’s maximize that support to make some minor improvements. Thanks!
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This is from a recent post on the Strong Towns blog, a kind of figure-ground map of “places” and “non-places” in downtown Pheonix.
Not only does this map remind me of the famous Nolli map of Rome, it seems to rhyme with Nate Hood’s map of parking in downtown Saint Paul. To me the concept of “place” is useful, if flawed. To some people a “non-place” might be very important (e.g. a skateboarder might see a marginal concrete space under a freeway as very valuable). But as one person’s view of where value can be found, a map like this is revealing.
[Childhood home, raised by whirrs.]Somehow, I didn’t notice it very often. I grew up in an old farmhouse in the suburbs, a one-acre lot surrounded by trees and lilac bushes in the golf course suburbs of Saint Paul. It was easy to pretend that you were “in nature,” getting lost in the patches of forest or climbing trees to be with my off-brand walkman. But every once in a while I’d go out into the front yard, and I’d hear the sound of the freeway. It was easy on to notice, but my house back then was exactly 3/4 of a mile East of Interstate 35E, the last leg of the Twin Cities’ inner-ring freeway system to be built (completed in the mid-1980s). I remember once climbing the tree in the front yard to watch the sun set in the West. I remember hearing the sound of the freeway off in the distance, a never-ending high whirr of tires, sounding insistent, almost angry. Today the 80,000 cars each day works out to almost a car per second.The freeway is surprisingly close to the house, and it made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whirr of tires all hours of the day and night. Sonically speaking. The sound of car tires is a soft blanket covering the metro with an unceasing high frequency bed behind everything we hear. Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.[The freeway free pocket map. Pink = one-mile buffer from a freeway.][There's a little sound crotch by Lake Hiawatha.]The other day at streets.mn, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whirr? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off, enough I think to prevent the high bed from ringing in your ears.Freeway sounds happen in the background. If you hear something every day, all the time, if fades into the recesses of your attention and you stop hearing the thing. Freeway sound becomes invisible (sonically speaking).There are precious few of these freeway free pockets in Minneapolis: a pie slice of Northeast Minneapolis, a halo surrounding Lakes Harriet and (Haystacks) Calhoun, a few tiny pieces of South, and a peripheral edge of North Minneapolis. Is there a silent way that these neighborhoods help with delicate sanity? Last night I had the bedroom window open, and I woke up in the middle of the night after a particularly vivid dream about Baroque city planning. (Yes.)I lay in my bed looking at the shadows of streetlights, and I could hear the sounds of the city reaching their thin fingers into my apartment: a train horn repeating, insistent and cheerful; the wind rustling the too-dry leaves; the tinkling wind chime; and yes the constant whirr of Highway 52, ADT 58,000 which runs a mile away to the East. (Or was it Shepard Road, ADT 17,000, slightly closer in the river valley?)I’m almost out of the freeway pocket, but I can still hear it. Or is it all in my head?[My current distance from a freeway is about a mile, pretty good for the core cities.]
Videos this week include the fun tour of some of Saint Paul’s new bike boulevards with Bikerlapse: Dayton to Griggs to Charles and two somber and shocking safety-related videos with Saturday Music Video: White Bike (Me For Queen) and Hit me at 30.
Charts of the Day include Charles Jencks’ Architectural Evolutionary Tree shows how the architecture theorist and critic’s represented development of architectural styles and Minnesota County State Aid Highway Funding shows the funding formula and dollar amounts for that piece of the transportation funding pie Millennials, however, top the charts this week with Millennial Mode Share and More Millennial Trends for four charts from the new USPIRG millennial transportation report.
Maps & photos: Map Monday: Neighborhood Funding in Minneapolis is a clickable map of special neighborhood districts created more than 35 years ago showing the money which has accumulated in the various districts. And, two photos: Friday Photo: Down the middle and Photo of the Day: The Intercity Monorail that Never Was.
Listen to Podcast #73: The Great streets.mn Railvolution Debate which is the actual debate by streets.mn writers at the recent Railvolution conference (which was previewed earlier).Green Line & beyond
Discussion continues about various aspects of the relatively new Green Line LRT. Green Line Getting Up to Speed in Fits and Starts updates the discussion about signal timing on the Green Line with details of recent improvements. LRT Beats Bus in the Central Corridor in number of riders and this post also provides details about how many riders board at which stations. Green Art for the Green Line — Part III suggests something like David Zinn’s temporary street art as a way to beautify the Green Line and keep it captivating (See Parts I & II of Green Art for the Green Line, too)
Extending the Green Line in time, The Evolution of the Green Line: A Retrospective takes a look back from 2074 when the Green Line will have been abandoned (and many other changes will have taken place in the Twin Cities). If life expectancy keeps increasing, perhaps I’ll be able to check how accurate this is when I’m 113 or some younger readers should keep track and write a review for streets.mn at the appropriate time. Extending light rail in space, Midtown Corridor: A Grade Separated Central Corridor advocates for the proposed rail options in the Midtown Corridor with possible connections to the Green Line.
Twin Cities posts take us first to Edina with France Avenue: Pedestrian-Friendly at 40 MPH reviews bike/ped improvements (and “improvements”) in the Southdale area of France Avenue in Edina; this was also the comment winner of the week with extensive conversation/debate on this project and the larger policy and design problems it raises. A Look Inside Saint Paul’s 8-80 Vitality Fund follows last week’s review of the fund by recapping the Saint Paul City Council budget review session on projects which could be funded.
In Greater Minnesota, Woodley Street, Northfield: Narrowing the focus suggests narrowing travel lanes as a way to make sidewalks fit the space available. On the East Coast, New York, #1 Bike City describes a trip to NYC which the author reports “required a great amount of mental effort, but I didn’t die, and it was great fun.” And, out on the West Coast, Seattle-Area Transit Vs. Twin Cities Transit compares the two systems without declaring a clear winner; commenters offer additional perspective on both.
Defying categorization is an Interview with Tom Fisher about Congestion Pricing in the Twin Cities which transcribes a conversation with University of Minnesota Design School Dean Fisher about location-sensitive pricing in several contexts.
The beautiful autumn weather continues here in Minnesota as political candidates door-knock their way toward Election Day. Use what you learn here on streets.mn to quiz your local candidates about their transportation and land use priorities! Have a great week!
A hand held hyperlapse shot with the iPhone 5 while biking along parts of Saint Paul’s newest neighborhood street bikeways.
Thanks to Mark @ IBikeLondon for the tip on this one.
Worth noting as New York City goes to a 25 mph speed limit ( which is still 40 km/h for you speed demons)
Sidewalk Rating: GraveHe spent all that day roaming over the house. He nearly drowned himself in the bath-tubs, put his nose into the ink on a writing table, and burnt it on the end of the big man's cigar, for he climbed up in the big man's lap to see how writing was done. At nightfall he ran into Teddy's nursery to watch how kerosene-lamps were lighted, and when Teddy went to bed Rikki-tikki climbed up too; but he was a restless companion, because he had to get up and attend to every noise all through the night, and find out what made it. [Rudyard Kipling.][An alley getting bricked up in Saint Paul.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** It doesn’t bother me in the least, for a moment I enjoy the genderless-ness, until they see my soft, pink face, and the unnecessary apologies start. I don’t feel particularly feministic about it all, I just marvel about how comfortable and beautiful I feel in an un-pretty occupation.[this]*** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** JPods: Let's Fix Traffic from Bill James on Vimeo.*** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
The podcast this week is the audio from the special streets.mn panel at the recent Railvolution conference that took place in downtown Minneapolis this September. Earlier this year, some of the conference organizers approached the streets.mn board about setting up a panel session that would feature a bunch of our writers debating key issues from the streets.mn archives. Well, we did it. We had a room packed planners, engineers, and officials from all over the country to hear six streets.mn writers debate the pros and cons of three often controversial topics: urban streetcars, light rail and equity, and the downtown skyway system. I was one of the speakers, arguging the pro-streetcar position, and I was joined by Nick Magrino, Cameraon Conway, Alex Cechinni, Janne Flisrand, and Sam Newberg. We got great feedback, and the conversation went really well, and I think you’ll enjoy the conversation.
The audio link is here. Thanks for listening!
[PS More pics of the debate below.]
There are a whole lot of similar trends in the report, which analyzes how meaningful the low-car trend might be, and looks at some of the likely causes of the millennial shift away from driving.
The report also has some interesting advice for transportation decision makers. Here’s the punchline:
Transportation experts and policy-makers tend to view the implications of changing driving trends within the “predict and pro- vide” framework of traditional transportation planning. That is, it is assumed that demand for transportation is determined by a series of independent factors and that the job of transportation planners is to supply the optimal amount of service or capacity to meet that demand.
However, we know from decades of experience that transportation investments don’t just accommodate demand; they shape it. Numerous studies have documented that highway expansion projects usually fail to deliver anticipated reductions in congestion because they spur new development on the urban fringe and encourage people to take trips they otherwise would not have taken—an effect known as induced demand.150 The same principal applies to investments in transit, bicycling and walking infrastructure.
Cities across the country are already taking action to capitalize on the increased demand for transportation options among Millennials—expanding bicycling infra- structure, adding late-night transit service, providing access to and appropriate regulation for carsharing and ridesourcing providers, and encouraging residential development in areas where Millennials and others increasingly want to live. State and federal officials should retool transportation policies to encourage—rather than undermine—those moves toward an efficient and sustainable transportation system.
Interesting advice in light of some of the tensions between city, county, regional, and state transportation planning these days.
Heading east from Minneapolis, the Westgate Station is the first Green Line port of call in Saint Paul. Trains stop in the shadow of the KSTP radio mast, out front of an apartment building with a ground floor Dunn Brothers Coffee, Metro PCS, and Snap Fitness.
Sometimes they also stop a little bit before they’re intended to.
Like many other stations on the Green Line, Westgate’s platforms are offset. This requires Green Line trains to pass through a cross-street immediately before pulling up at the platform to pick up passengers. Occasionally, the stoplight at the intersection is red for University Avenue traffic—and for the trains.
It can be a frustrating experience for riders. One of the great advantages of public transit is predictability. Another is avoiding the stopping and starting that urban drivers are all too familiar with. When the train is made to brake every couple blocks to wait at a red light, these benefits are erased. It’s equally frustrating to stand waiting on a platform for a stopped train that you can see and nearly touch but cannot board.
The road that splits the Westgate Station is called Berry Street, and it is an exceptionally egregious example of the problems that have plagued the Green Line this summer. Berry Street does not fully cross University—it is a three way intersection. It is one block long. Traffic is so low that the city has not bothered to do an actual count. KSTP employees and residents of an apartment complex are the only regular users of the street. In other words, barring an emergency, there is no reason a Green Line train should ever stop at Berry Street.
Yet, every day, many do.
How many? Over the course of several days, this writer (who lives nearby) observed 100 trains pass through the Berry Street intersection, exactly 50 each way. All told, 32 trains were forced to come to a complete stop and an additional three slowed almost to the point of stopping. The length of the wait varied considerably. The average delay was about 17.5 seconds, but the longest delay ran nearly 50 seconds.
Per the Star Tribune, there are nineteen similar intersections along the Green Line. Back of the envelope estimate: if we extrapolate from Berry, trains are stopped at a third of all low traffic intersections for an average of 17.5 seconds. That adds nearly two minutes to all trips from the “low hanging fruit” intersections alone. That’s not including the effect of busier cross streets like Snelling, where riders can wait a minute or more, nor the time wasted simply by trains slowing down. Multiply by the average weekday ridership of the Green Line (again, back of the envelope) and that comes out to over 1,100 hours lost, per day. In less abstract terms, Green Line delays inevitably result in missed connections and a lot of waiting on platforms (which will sap energy and patience in the winter).
Ever since the June 14th opening, it has been clear that red lights are one of the most pressing issues facing the Green Line. These intersections should be low hanging fruit for the city to fix. It’s surprising that these delays existed at launch at all.
Changes are coming, although not as quickly as one would hope for.
“Predictive priority has been implemented at several low-volume intersections along University Avenue,” wrote Drew Kerr, Public Relations Specialist with Metro Transit, in an email conversation. “We expect predictive priority to be implemented at [the rest of the low traffic intersections] over the next several weeks.”
Predictive priority is the name of the system that identifies approaching trains and attempts to time the traffic light to let the train pass without stopping. It is not the full preëmption that Aaron Isaacs argued for in his earlier post on this blog, but it appears to be working well. This writer observed several hours of train crossings at Pascal St., which was one of the initial group of intersections that tested the priority system. Only one in every six trains noticeably slowed their speed, and none were made to come to a complete stop.
As of this writing, predictive priority has been implemented at ten intersections in Saint Paul: Park, Western, Mackubin, Grotto, Victoria, Chatsworth, Griggs, Pascal, Aldine and Fry. In addition, Marion St. has also been given an advanced detection system. The fixes are moving westward in Saint Paul, presumably with Berry Street the last to be addressed.
“With successful implementation of predictive priority (note: so far) end-to-end Green Line trips are now averaging approximately 52 minutes westbound and 50 minutes eastbound,” said Kerr. “Trip times have also become more consistent.”
Metro Transit is also looking at implementing the same system for busier, medium-traffic intersections. However, giving the Green Line a measure of priority over the most highly trafficked intersections is not currently in the plan. Instead, Metro Transit hopes that in fixing the majority of intersections the waits at the remainder will straighten themselves out. Every intersection where the train may or may not stop is a variable that makes predicting where the train will be at any given time more difficult. By eliminating as many variables as possible, it will be easier to predict the train’s arrival at several key intersections.
While the work on streamlining the Green Line’s route is not yet done, it’s clear we are near something like a finished product. The train may soon complete its trips in the 48 minutes that was originally promised. “Metro Transit is pleased with the progress that has been made since predictive priority was introduced,” said Kerr. “[We] look forward to continued success as the technology is implemented.”
Better late than never.
Today, I’m going to focus on David Zinn’s temporary street art, as an example of a way to create an ever-changing treasure hunt along the Green Line. With small creatures to be discovered on the sidewalk and in the landscape, walking is greatly enriched. In my neighborhood, I know of three locations that are favorites for family walks, as the children rush ahead to check on fairies hiding in a garden, a tiny doorway between the roots of a tree, or solar powered dragonflies that change colors at dusk. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Saint Paul commissioned an artist to create a changing array of images on the sidewalks and curbs along the Green Line?
In researching the images that appeared in the Green Art collection in my October 5th post – “Green Art for the Green Line”, I found that three of them were the work of David Zinn. Here they are again:
According to his website, zinnart.com, “David Zinn has been creating original artwork in and around Ann Arbor since 1987, serving all manner of commercial clients from small shops to major municipalities while simultaneously sneaking “pointless” art into the world at large.”
“David’s temporary street art is composed entirely of chalk, charcoal and found objects, and is always improvised on location. Most of these drawings have appeared on sidewalks in Ann Arbor and elsewhere in Michigan, but some have surfaced as far away as subway platforms in Manhattan and construction debris in the Sonoran Desert. Zinn’s chalk work began in 2001 as an excuse to linger outdoors, but has since achieved global notoriety through the sharing of photos on Facebook, Huffington Post UK, The Cheezburger Network, Street Art Utopia, and Archie McPhee’s Endless Geyser of Awesome. His most frequent characters are Sluggo, a bright green monster with stalk eyes and irreverent habits, and Philomena, a phlegmatic flying pig. As of 2013, there have been a lot of mice as well.”
Some additional images feature David Zinn’s favorite characters:
Some of his art celebrates holidays and seasons of the year:
Other characters appear from time to time:
This image suggests perhaps the art might serve to remind people to look before crossing the street:
And all his art attracts children to interact with the characters:
In the final image, the whole message reads: “Occupy Your Imagination or Someone Else Will”. Wouldn’t it be great if the City of Saint Paul, or a non-profit, sponsored an artist to create sidewalk art along the Green Line, especially in the blocks between stations, so that families would go walking together, looking for the latest piece of Green Art along the Green Line? Perhaps there might be a treasure hunt on a Sunday from time to time, with prizes for those who found a certain number of images.
Is there an artist out there who would like to take this on? Is there an agency that would like to sponsor it? Or maybe it could be a kickstarter campaign. It’s the type of project that could go a long way toward creating an 8-80 City that works for everyone.
[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: Not all applaud plan for reviving old Palace Theater; Concerns raised over $8M city subsidy, return on investmentAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: There's a big pot of city money available, and it's ostensibly earmarked as an "8-80" fund [which means it should go to complete street improvements on would think?] but the Mayor's office wants to use $8M of the fund (to match $5M in state bonding money) to restore the Palace Theater in downtown Saint Paul. A Mayor's office guy says it would pay for itself because it fills a niche and would be managed by the folks at First Avenue. Some City Council members don't like the plan, especially CM Bostrom [from the East Side] who says "I'm a little nervous saying these are our friends and they helped use" [when referring to the First Avenue team]. Article includes a bunch of details of the theater's history. [The theater sits on the 7th Place Mall, one of the more uncannily depressing spots in Saint Paul, which is saying something. Regardless, even if it's a good idea, using the "8-80" brand name to restore a theater seems like a stretch to me.]Headline: Mayor proposes $54M in street repairs in 2015; But plan could postpone completion of residential street repaving until 2050Author: Jane McClureShort short version: The Mayor has a plan to change how streets are repaired that basically shifts money away from the RSVP (residential street vitality program) and into a different fund called the SVP (street vitality program) where more of the money would be spent on repaving [but not necessarily reconstructing] arterial streets in the city [i.e. more trafficked commercial-type roads]. The plan also throws a bunch of city money at these arterial projects for next year (2015), most especially St. Clair between Albert and W7th, Kellogg Boulevard between Marion and W7th. This would take some money from residential street projects, which are more spread through the city. [Basically, it seems like more money going to downtown and the already wealthy southwest quadrant, i.e. Villager-land, instead of other less well-off neighborhoods?] Article includes [sympathetic] quote from CM Stark: Based on road conditions, we have to be doing this. The arterial streets are that bad." Article also mention of the downtown bike loop and the "grand round" bike loop projects [even though it seems like that money is coming from a separate pot, the one-time funding mentioned above. Christ why do I know all the details of this crap? What am I a government accountant now?] Headline: Snelling Avenue road, bridge work to have major impact in 2015Author: Jane McClureShort short version: The bridge over I-94 at Snelling Avenue will be closed because it needs to be rebuilt. [Hide your children.] The new bridge will have wider sidewalks. [Holy crap, so long overdue... No seriously, hide your children.]Headline: HRA awards loan for Old Home redevelopmentAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city is loaning $250K to the folks who are redeveloping the old yogurt factory on University and Western and turning it into affordable housing. [That's a beautiful art deco building.]Headline: Funding comments sought for Rondo Commemorative PlazaAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Someone is working on a a monument to old Rondo Avenue.Headline: DNR presents new regulations for Mississippi River CorridorAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The DNR has some rules for the river area. They'll present them to the Planning Commission tomorrow.Headline: City snuffs out tobacco license for Merriam Park grocery store [Boo pun!]Author: Jane McClureShort short version: A corner store on University Avenue can't sell smokes any more because they were selling them to kids.Headline: Rebound in home values to bring big tax increases to someAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The economy, housing market still exist. [Yes, even in Saint Paul!]Headline: Tax levy overall is held to 1% increaseAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city tax rate is only going up slightly.Headline: St. Paul's 10-year-old street maintenance fee still drawing protestsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city charges a fee to people when they reconstruction their sidewalks. [Yes, even churches!] People don't like paying taxes.Headline: Palace Rec project is on tap for 2015; $5.46M plan unveiled at Oct. 28 open houseAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A rec center in the West End will [finally] get fixed up next year. People have been talking about this for a long time. Article includes details, like a new gym, ballfields, etc.Headline: City resumes Ford Plant reuse planningAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A city task force is trying to figure out what to do with the old automobile factory site. Ford wants it on the market by late 2015. Article includes shout out to bike infrastructure.Headline: HDC, task force favor keeping Sibley Plaza's current zoningAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Plans to re-zone a strip mall to have less parking along West 7th street seem to be unpopular in the neighborhood. The strip mall owner wants to tear down the shopping center and built a mixed-use development. [See last fortnight's recap for more on this.] The key issue is that the owner doesn't wants to keep his surface parking in front of the building. Article includes quote from one of the HDC members saying that the owners comments "feel like a threat" and that "frankly this part of Highland Park deserves better; the development doesn't fit what I envision for Highland." The issue seems a bit controversial. The rezoning plans are part of a much larger study of the area. [Note that this area is highly unwalkable and dangerous and also coincidentally home to many poor, transit dependent people of color. You know, for kids.]Headline: Fresh Perspective; Michael Noble walks the walk when it comes to promoting energy efficiencyAuthor: Melenie Soucheray [Wait what?!]Short short version: Bio fluff piece on the director of Fresh Energy, an environmental policy non-profit.Headline: New design for Dickerman Park is in the works at University-FairviewAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A weird park right on University Avenue might be getting $3-4M in city money [from the "pot" mentioned in the first article above] to fix it up. Article includes some of the strange history of the park. Details are unclear.Headline: Bikeway plan gets more tweakingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city's [long overdue] bike plan was released in its final draft form. It adds some stuff about bike parking, lockers, and some other [obscure] details but subtracts details about the Ford area. Article includes quote from neighbor : "the only one [of the 20 street repaved this year] that got bicycle lanes was Marshall Avenue." [See this streets.mn story for more on this.] Article also includes quote from city engineer about adding bike lanes: "If it's simply paining stripes, we can do that." [Seeing is believing, Saint Paul! PS This plan was supposed to be done many years ago. Please let's just pass it yesterday.]Headline: Coat for many colors; Needy can find free goods and support at West 7th Street storeAuthor: Leslie WaltersShort short version: Neat piece on Josepht's Coat, a "store" for homeless/needy people on West 7th Street that gives away clothes. [I've often seen a line outside that door in the mornings, waiting to get in.]
[Trotters boasts one of the city's better sidewalk patios.]Hey I'll be reading a few things from this sidewalks blog as part of the Saint Paul Almanac crew tonight at Trotters' Café. It'll be just like if you were reading this blog at home, only instead of the voice in your head, it'll be my actual voice.I definaitely read my short essay on the closing of Serlins' Café, (which is what appears in the 2015 Almanac), but will also add a few other of my favorite blog bits. I'll likely keep going until they forcibly remove me from the stage.Come on by. It's tonight at 7:00 at Trotters (which is a very fine café in Saint Paul on Marshall and Cleveland).Facebook invite is here!The Saint Paul Almanac Literary Festival features writers published in the 2015 Saint Paul Almanac reading their stories and poems in venues around the city. Events are free and open to the public. Be among the first to get you copy and hear the stories from the writers. Almanac readings are hosted by Cracked Walnut! #2015AlmanacFeatured Authors:Rebecca RoepkeRebecca RamsdenSatish JayarajBill LindekeRobert McClainArdie Ann MedinaSee you there.
Even though I think streets.mn might want to add a ban on the word ‘millennial’ into its stylesheet, this week an interesting report came out from USPIRG about transportation habits of the generation that is just slightly younger than me (i.e. “millennials”) called “Millennials in Motion.” It comes complete with a bunch of interesting charts like this one…
… which shows different transportation mode usage rates for different generations. Note especially the big spike in transit usage for the under 35 crowd! You can get the whole report here.
Northfield’s City Council is getting ready to discuss Woodley Street’s sidewalks on October 28. If this work session conversation follows the well-worn path of earlier sidewalk and street improvement projects, it will go something like this: progressive Council members who consider projects in the context of Northfield’s adopted policy (Comprehensive Plan, Safe Routes to School, Complete Streets), support building transportation equity into the system, and generally look for long-term, high return on investment solutions will support sidewalks noting the importance of the corridor for schools, parks, and downtown. The others will respond to the project in isolation, highlight the shortest term bottom line, question the need for sidewalks, and respond immediately to NIMFYs. Sidewalks have become the litmus test which reveal the Council’s and individual Council members’ priorities and values rather starkly.
My earlier post about Woodley tried to expand the conversation to think about streets as public space, but now let’s narrow it – by 2’ per travel lane to be exact – to help the Council think about sidewalks. Jeff Speck, of Walkable City fame, wrote for CityLab recently that “the single best thing we can do for the health, wealth, and integrity of this great nation is to forbid the construction, ever again, of any traffic lane wider than 10 feet.” While the statement is grand, the rationale is simple:
“When lanes are built too wide, many bad things happen. In a sentence: pedestrians are forced to walk further across streets on which cars are moving too fast and bikes don’t fit.”
For Woodley Street, this statement (and much of Mr Speck’s post) makes great sense since there are three likely arguments against sidewalks on (both sides) of Woodley Street. They are…#1) There’s not enough space!
Rice County encourages sidewalks (and trails and earthen berms) along minor arterials like Woodley Street (although classified as a minor arterial, the current design of Woodley Street more closely matches the standards for major collectors), but requires they be placed outside boulevards which demands an additional 10-16’ of ROW for 5-8’ sidewalks. For Woodley, which functions as a local street with driveways, homes fronting the length of this segment, and multiple intersections, and its context which connects schools, homes, downtown and more. constrained by the homes on either side, this is not very encouraging at all.
Northfield, in its Comprehensive Plan, calls for 10-12’ travel lanes with an assortment of other requirements for parking, sidewalks, bike lanes, and boulevards depending on how we classify the street. The policy guidance could be seen as more encouraging – narrower lanes, variable shoulder/parking requirements etc. appear possible – but also less clear. Northfield’s Complete Streets guidance to narrow lane widths as part of developing better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure also gestures in the right direction, but does not require action.
So we could make “more” space by shrinking travel lanes if Rice County could be convinced to consider design changes, and help solve some of the issues noted earlier – shrinking crossing distance for pedestrians and building more function and value into this corridor.#2) It’s not safe!
“Safe” has become one of those red-flag words for me. When someone on either side of a debate uses the “S” word, it’s intended to stop debate because no one can argue against safety, can they? But what is really safer (and supported by relevant data)? Jeff Speck’s piece lined up the literature showing narrower lanes are often safer, rather than the reverse, in urban settings.
Woodley Street serves as a local street with driveways, regular intersections, etc. but it is also a County road intended to move traffic through town. For a rural County road between, say, Northfield and Faribault through agricultural land, the transportation and access needs are rather different from a street through the Urban Core and the design should shift accordingly.
Narrowing travel lanes (and perhaps the shoulder) on Woodley Street would help cue drivers they had left the wide open rural roadway and should slow down, look for entering and existing traffic, pay attention to intersections and consider non-motorized transportation. Safety could be enhanced, rather than the opposite.#3) Sidewalks cost too much!
If there’s space and it’s safe, we can still argue about cost. In Rice County, the city bears most of the cost of building (and all the cost of maintaining) sidewalks since these are (quite properly) a city need and the city gets the benefits, too. So, yes, sidewalks will cost some money, but what offsetting savings could there be? Narrower pavement saves money on the paving (initially, and when maintenance is required), reduces stormwater runoff, improves safety by slowing traffic and reducing crossing distances (especially in a corridor with limited sight distances for pedestrians like Woodley’s Death Curve), promotes active transportation and public health and increasing transportation options. Northfield’s Complete Streets policy explicitly calls out the intent to realize long-term savings on the triple bottom line to offset higher short-term costs.Reallocating space and priorities
Really, the issue is not so much a question of space as priorities. County roads allocate space exclusively to motorized traffic; this is not unreasonable for roads with limited access to property and few intersections intended to move vehicles, including large farm equipment, between cities at high speeds. City streets – or county roads in the urban core – have also allocated almost all their space to motorized traffic, too, with 12’ lane widths and inconsistent sidewalks.
Northfield has waved its policy-making hands at shifting priorities, so at the safe distance of a Comprehensive Plan and Complete Streets policy, sidewalks and non-motorized transportation are important and should be improved, but fall by the wayside when particular projects are on the table. For both County and City, there has been willingness and eagerness to fund “soft” improvements like the Bikable Community Workshop and bicycle safety training (through Rice County Public Health and the City of Northfield), but stopping short of “hard” infrastructure change.
I have two fears. First, the Council will take the County design standards as inviolable and, at best, try to scrape as much accommodation for bicycles and pedestrians as possible under those very limited circumstances/strict constraints. Multi-jurisdictional projects are always more complex, but the Council could ask questions about real safety (rather than just conversation –stopping “safety”) and adapting the standard collector/arterial design to better fit the surrounding land use and community needs. There’s more space for sidewalks than the County standard design suggests, narrowing the street is safe and efficient, and the long-term benefits are great.
Second, NIMFYs (Not In My Front Yard) are loud, angry and persistent in Northfield, especially when it comes to sidewalks. In a recent sidewalk issue on Maple Street, one Councilmember stated “Citizens know better than we do what they want” so if current property owners don’t want sidewalks, that’s sufficient for deciding the issue against them. Again, as policymakers for the city as a whole, the Council should consider how to build value and equity into the system for the long-term and broader population rather than capitulating to the loudest and most personally interested voices.
My hope is the Council will see this project as an important time-limited opportunity both expand and focus their conversation next week with some attention to lane widths. Considering the simple change of narrowing travel lanes (without sacrificing safety or traffic flow) could change the broader landscape for the better.