Reconstruction of Minneapolis’ Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck has begun. There will be traffic tweaks and some much needed bike/pedestrian improvements, but this reconstruction won’t be a radical makeover of the kind Scott Shaffer proposed over a year ago. Scott suggested we “drop the spaghetti bowl” (a “mess of undulating streets and arcing flyover ramps to and from the freeway, and wide swaths of dirty, grassy land between and underneath them”) and fill it in with businesses, homes, and people.
There was such a time, before the spaghetti bowl, and I have GIF’d it (using maps from this archive).
For those susceptible to GIF-induced seizures:
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Watching a new David Simon show is like opening presents on Christmas Day. I loved The Wire (of course), and Treme hit all my favorite sweet spots: jazz, New Orleans, street life, and affordable housing debates. So needless to say, I’ve been watching Show Me A Hero with a big grin on my face, savoring every moment.
And Simon’s latest show surpassed my expectations, most especially because it has proved to be so timely. Show Me A Hero is bringing to live the hidden dynamics of race and housing that are omnipresent in every city in America today, and that makes it must-watch viewing for anyone who cares about our cities.
Here are five reasons you should sit yourself down and watch the mini-series.
#1. This is what US racism looks like
People like Dylan Roof aside, explicit racism has ceased to be the main problem in US cities. People rarely state clearly that they want to live in a “whites only” community, or that they want to send their kids to majority white schools. But people use other language to say the same thing.
Show Me A Hero tells the story of the last big fight over public housing placement, where the Federal government forced the city of Yonkers, New York (just north of the Bronx, along the Hudson river) to build “scattered site” public housing in its white, single-family neighborhoods. The proposal was met with violent resistance from white homeowners, and it took years of litigation and millions of dollars in fines to get Yonkers to finally build the townhomes.
Take the most heated public meeting you’ve ever been to (mine would be the Cleveland Avenue bike lane hearing), and multiply the NIMBY anger by factor of 20, and you’ve got the scenes in Show Me A Hero where mobs of white home owners are protesting the affordable housing, about how “those people” will ruin their neighborhood and its property values. Rarely does anyone say anything explicitly racist — nobody uses the ’n’-word — but you do get every other kind of veiled racism under the sun. People talk about “neighborhood character” and “quality of life.” At one point, Catherine Keener’s worried NIMBY character says “those people don’t want what we want,” and the great tortured racial logic of the show’s white homeowners emerges into plain sight.
Today’s mainstream racism isn’t cross burnings and name calling (though those things still exist). It’s zoning codes, height limits, and concerns about parking. And Show Me A Hero depicts this strain of America with vivid disgust.
#2. The affordable housing debate is back
Simon has been pitching Show Me A Hero to networks for years, and by telling a story set in 1987, you’d think that it’d be impossible to find a timely hook for the series. But in reality, there’s never been a better time to start thinking about how our cities use housing policy to segregate race.
Earlier this year, the US supreme court passed down a decision that’s almost a direct mirror of the Judge’s claim in Show Me A Hero, that US cities are concentrating affordable housing in places with already-existing poverty instead of distributing it throughout the (single-family, wealthy, white) neighborhoods.
Here in the Twin Cities, that’s a familiar refrain. One of the leading researchers on affordable housing concentration, the University of Minnesota’s Myron Orfield, runs a small think tank from the West Bank campus, and has spent years producing reports about the concentration of affordable housing in the Twin Cities.
The on-the-ground reality for affordable housing builders is pretty simple. Core city neighborhoods welcome an affordable housing project with open arms, while wealthy, white suburban communities often fight tooth-and-nail against projects (or keep them confined to very small areas). Given that political landscape, who is going to stand up and be “the hero”, and do the hard work of “forcing” affordable housing into our region’s white ‘burbs?
Show Me A Hero shows what a thankless job that can be, and I don’t see many folks at the Met Council lining up to fight with the Lake Elmos of the world.
#3. A #blacklivesmatter-style march
At the end of the 4th episode, there’s a great scene where the Yonkers’ black community (led by its religious leaders) march through the white neighborhoods in support of the public housing. Though Simon takes great pains to show the lives of the people of color living in the substandard (concentrated) public housing, the march is the first time that the voices of the black community appear within the show’s “public process.”
And it looks very familiar. The marchers chant “no justice, no peace,” and except for the 1980s outfits, it could be a scene straight out of today’s paper. It goes to show you just how long the struggle to end structural racism has been going on in the US.
(For me, the show’s most obvious progenitor is Thomas Sugrue’s great book on public housing battles in Detroit, set in the 1950s. Sugrue’s story is almost exactly like the Show Me A Hero, and shows why so much about US urban planning and racial inequality can be explained by looking at the history of housing.)
#4 & 5. Nerdy details + super timely
Show Me A Hero is full of all kids of delicious wonky bits. My favorite has to be the Amish-looking “HUD expert” character, who lurks in judgement at the margins of public meetings. There’s a great scene where the Jewish NAACP lawyer, the determined Federal judge, and the bearded HUD expert are sitting around debating the final design of the scattered site projects. It turns into a mini-Jane Jacobs lecture about “defensible space theory,” and why quasi-public spaces like stairwells and elevators lead to crime.
The show is full of these little details, so it’s a real treat for anyone who’s nerdy enough to know the difference between Section 8 and HOPE IV.
On top of that, as David Simon explains in a great Salon interview, the issue of segregating US affordable housing has been on the back burner since the Carter Administration (when the Yonkers case first emerged).
Because of how blistering Yonkers was, how insanely volatile and irrational Yonkers was. You have to remember that this case was brought at the end of the Carter administration. There wasn’t a single civil rights action filed by the Justice Department from 1980 to 1988 that mattered. Reagan effectively shut down the civil rights division of the DOJ. Then you had Clinton, who was doing everything he could during the Gingrich years to maneuver to the center. The reason you didn’t have aggressive use of this legal precedent under Clinton is the same reason you have those omnibus crime bills that filled up prisons as fast as we can construct them. Bill Clinton’s triangulation with the political center made things like fair housing prohibitive for his political priorities.
We haven’t seen any movement on this in any presidential administration until the last two years of Obama. They sort of opened the books on all their data to basically encourage the use of the Fair Housing Act to do precisely what they did in Yonkers. But notice that this is coming in the last two years of the administration, and it’s coming as an administrative act.
In short, Racist zoning and density fights aren’t going away any time soon, which makes SMAH required viewing for anyone who cares about our cities.
(I won’t tell you how it ends.)
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NOTICEthe consistencyof your pulse[Tree. Saint Paul.] SOME Junky STOLEdMY MOMS WATERFALLFrom 75 Winnpeg SundayNight if U know who has itPlease CALL Jody ###-#### Cash I willPay U[Vacant Lot. North End, Saint Paul.]Packers[Alley. Downtown, Saint Paul.] TakeaBeautifulPicture![Post it note. South Saint Anthony Park, Saint Paul.]NO PARKINGVIOLATORS WIlL be TOWEDThanks[Construction site. Loring Park, Minneapolis.] FREEWHEEL MONDAY BIKE RIDEStarts here every Monday at 6pm[Utility thing. Prospect Park, Minneapolis.]In the Last daythat great day at the feastJesus Stood and cried sayingIf any man thirst Let himCome unto me and drink. [Location forgotten.]FLORISTandMOREFREE ROSE[Pole. Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]
[Lake Street, Minneapolis.][Downtown, Minneapolis.] [Downtown, Chicago.][South Saint Anthony Park, Saint Paul.] [Downtown, Saint Paul.] [Frogtown, Saint Paul.][Saint Louis Park.]
[West 7th, Saint Paul.] [West 7th, Saint Paul.][West 7th, Saint Paul.] [Downtown, Saint Paul.] [West 7th, Saint Paul.] [Frogtown, Saint Paul.] [North End, Saint Paul.]
Each day 142,000 people drive through the interchange at I-494 and Highway 100 in Bloomington and Edina on their way to work, shop, or otherwise. What they don’t realize is, as of today, they are driving through the second most iconic place in the state.
That’s because UrbanMSP has placed the interchange in the number two slot on its list of Minnesota’s most iconic things. This move comes after years of pressure from the general public, along with private and government interests.
“This interchange has always been under-appreciated,” said a spokesperson for the City of Bloomington in a press conference. “But we knew that someday, those who run UrbanMSP would come to appreciate the mix of modern architecture and traditional interchange construction, as well as the place it holds in the history of our city.”
One of the first segments of I-494 constructed, the famed interchange opened to great fanfare in 1959 during a time of massive growth for the then-village of Bloomington. From 1955 to the 1960s, the population almost doubled from 28,000 to 50,000. The interchange opened three years after Metropolitan Stadium and at the same time as I-35W, which then ended at MN-13. At the same time, the growing city of Edina had only six police officers. Over time, however, the 100-494 Interchange became the center of a sprawl of hotels and corporate offices, each with a uniformly paved parking lot or garage. The buildings, however, are anything but uniform.
“On the one hand, you have the Hartford Building, which is mostly glass, with some nice beige, and of course its gorgeous multi-colored parking garage,” said the driver of a broken-down car we interviewed in the left lane of 494. “But then you have the crown jewel: the Doubletree Hotel. Man, I could stare at that building for ages.”
“That’s exactly what my agency wanted to happen when they built this 50 years ago,” said a member of the MnDOT tow crew that arrived later. “We’ve always said highways spur economic development, so to see this become the centerpiece of Bloomington and Edina and the second most iconic thing in Minnesota? It just confirms what MnDOT has been saying all along.”
So how did an interchange so widely appreciated go overlooked for so long? We spoke to one of the UrbanMSP icon judges, who operates under the pseudonym Mndible in order to avoid direct pressure from, artists, architects, and others who want their creations to be added to the list.
“I’ve always kind of stuck to the urban parts of the state,” they explained. “Minneapolis and Saint Paul have some really iconic stuff. I never really thought the suburbs could match it. But then my fellow judge, mister.shoes, found the website for an upcoming development called ‘The Link.’ On its homepage, one of their main selling points was its location at the ‘iconic interchange of Hwy 100 and I-494 in Edina’. Well, if it was that iconic, maybe everyone who’d been emailing us these past years was right.”
“They contacted us and asked for a tour,” said a spokesperson for the City of Edina. “So we took them through and showed them all the great buildings, the parking lots, and, of course, the cloverleaf that anchors the whole thing. We explained how we worked with MnDOT to create a very minimalist landscaping plan so that we wouldn’t distract from the roadway around it.”
UrbanMSP judge Mndible loved it. “They didn’t need to do much convincing. I knew immediately it should go on the list.”
But it couldn’t beat the Spoonbridge and Cherry, of course. “That’s just so Minnesotan that I couldn’t move it down a spot even if I wanted to. Purple Rain and the Stone Arch Bridge though? They’ve got nothing on this.”
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Kickoff Happy Hour and Project Presentation on Wednesday September 16, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the McKnight Foundation (near Mill City Museum and the Guthrie Theater).
[See Facebook invite here.] Streets.mn and Nice Ride Minnesota are excited to announce a new joint project to crowdsource analysis and recommendations for the evolution of the Twin Cities bikeshare system. Nice Ride is looking for ideas, advice and recommendations for station locations, system operations and overall system development from the mobility-savvy readers and writers of streets.mn. At the end of the project, recommendations will be compiled by Nice Ride, and assembled into a new plan to guide system growth for the period 2016 to 2020.Background
Nice Ride Minnesota owns and operates the Twin Cities bikeshare system. The system was one of the first in the US, launching in June of 2010 with 65 stations. It operates from April to November every year, and has almost tripled in size and coverage to 190 stations in 2015. Organized as a non-profit entity, Nice Ride funds its operations and stations through user fees, grants and sponsorships.
Nice Ride’s current network covers a variety of territory, from central business districts to university campuses, neighborhood commercial nodes, residential areas and regional parks. Not all stations are equally popular. The busiest station is used almost 100 times as much as the slowest station. If bikeshare is to grow sustainably and help improve transportation in the Twin Cities, the system needs to provide more stations at locations where they will be well-used.
When Nice Ride started, bikeshare programs were quite new. But now we have years of experience with programs across the country showing patterns, data and trends across cities and within neighborhoods. Recent national studies make recommendations for station density and locations, comparing Nice Ride to systems in places like Chicago, New York City, and Mexico City. Those reports never closely examine the performance of different stations within the system. But we wish someone would.
This is where you come in.Questions to consider
The mission of Nice Ride is to enhance urban quality of life by providing a fun, healthy way to get around town. How can we best accomplish this goal with limited resources?
We’re asking for your help in thinking about how to make the best possible bike share system. This might mean answering one (or more) of the following questions:
September 16 Kickoff Happy Hour and Project Process
To launch the project, Nice Ride and streets.mn will host a kick-off Happy Hour and presentation on Wednesday September 16, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm. The event will be held at the McKnight Foundation, 710 S 2nd St, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (near Mill City Museum and the Guthrie Theater).
For years, Nice Ride has made their data available to the public at www.niceridemn.org/data/. Using the data, you can see location and utilization of each Nice Ride station over the first five years of operations as well as other related planning documents, references and data sets.
From now until October 21st, streets.mn readers and writers are encouraged to dig into the data and develop responses to one or more questions. Send your responses for publication on streets.mn and help guide the next steps for the Twin Cities bikeshare system.
Anyone who participates in this project and publishes a post responding to these questions on streets.mn will receive a free one-year bikeshare membership, as well as other goodies from Nice Ride. At the end of October, Nice Ride and streets.mn will hold a wrap-up forum at Surly Beer Hall to discuss results, distribute prizes, and provide a roadmap for next steps.
After the project is over, Nice Ride will prepare a public report summarizing all the solutions, opinions and ideas published on streets.mn, and will use this report as a foundation for its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, which, once approved by the Nice Ride Board of Directors will guide its next five years of operation.
We’re excited to see the results of this data-driven, grassroots project. We hope you’re just as excited to help Nice Ride be the best bike share system it can be.How to participate
If you have an account, simply pick one of the above questions, draft a post, and set it to ‘pending.’ We’ll take a look at it and get it up ASAP, and you’ll be set up for a Nice Ride prize. There are no rules about the kinds of answers you can provide. Everything is on the table. Choose whatever “scale” of analysis you like. It could be something as simple as comparing two similar stations, or something as complex as tackling the data system-wide.
If anyone would like to help signing up for streets.mn, writing a post or getting access to the Nice Ride data, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.Initial resources
You can learn more about Nice Ride and about bikeshare by visiting the resources below:
Nice Ride Minnesota website: www.niceridemn.org
Nice Ride’s five-year assessment – provides an overview of the bikeshare system’s history, planning efforts, and ongoing initiatives: https://www.niceridemn.org/_asset/dvhz30/Nice-Ride-Five-Year-Assessment-060415.pdf
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)’s report “Walkable Station Spacing Is Key to Successful, Equitable Bike Share:” http://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/NACTO_Walkable-Station-Spacing-Is-Key-For-Bike-Share.pdf
The Atlantic’s CityLab “Future of Transportation” article on Nice Ride: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/07/this-really-might-be-the-nicest-bike-share-system-in-the-united-states/373679/
If you’d like to recommend a specific station location (rather than offering system-wide recommendations), please use our “Suggest a Station” tool: http://wikimapping.com/wikimap/Nice-Ride-Suggestions.html
Nearly every year, I go with my pals to the Minnesota State Fair to sketch people because it is one of the few places in the Twin Cities where I can see a variety of Minnesotans walking around, engaged in different activities on a public place. While I was sketching the throngs of fair-goers tramping down the middle of the streets with their corn dogs and mini-donuts, I wondered how many of them would want the same pedestrian-friendly experience, year-round in their cities and towns? What aspects of this experience can be derived from “The Great Minnesota Get-Together” that we can bring to our cities and towns year-round? Maybe instead of using terms like “complete streets” or “8-80”, should urban planners say they are just borrowing some of that pedestrian-friendly State Fair experience?
I marvel at how well the Fair’s management has accommodated the needs of the ambling hordes. Unlike Twin Cities’ downtowns, there are plenty of public bathrooms. There are lots of benches to rest weary limbs. Unlike the blank walls of Downtown Saint Paul, there is something of interest nearly every foot, no empty parking lots to traverse and no bleak intersections with beg buttons. Lots of trees and landscaped parts among the buildings and pavement. Many restaurants are open to the street with live musicians.
Unlike malls and most commercial sections of cities, there’s lots of stuff to do besides shop. There are politicians, educational booths, little museums and crop art. Most of all, there are people. Lots and lots of people wandering about, most with no particular destination in mind. I’m guessing one of the most popular, urban-style activities at the Minnesota State Fair is people-watching. It’s worth the price of admission.
I’ll be returning today (Tuesday) for the 7th annual Minnesota State Fair Sketch-Out. Here’s some sketches Roberta and I did last Thursday and Saturday:
Frank Lloyd Wright is a renowned as a great architect. His city plans are less well-loved. In the 1930s he proposed Broadacre City, a new American landscape where everyone would have an acre of land, a car, and a gyrocopter. Fueling those cars requires gasoline. Gasoline requires Gas Stations. FLW, being an architect, had a gas station design. It was actually built in Cloquet, Minnesota (map). Needing fuel, and liking Wright, I took the opportunity to acquire some black gold at this classic design. Now a full-service Spur Station (on Main Street, but I can’t say much about the rest of the town, since we just passed through), it continues operation. A history of the station is here.
We didn’t exactly build Broadacre City (described in his book The Living City), though we didn’t exactly not build it either, aspects of it infuse post-War suburban America. But one element was exactly constructed. and remains attractive, as gas stations go, to this day. The dreams of what became the modern landscape evolved not simply from the minds of post-war developers, but had many pre-war antecedents, reflecting the agrarian/urban conflict dating back to at least Jefferson and Hamilton.
Yup, it’s Minnesota State Fair time which means I will take a break from penciling Book 2 of Bicyclopolis to sketch people eating lots and lots of stuff. Here is the next comic about the cloning of Vincent Van Gogh. Click to make it bigger:
Before you go out to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, why not watch The Minnesota State Fair on Speed video for a frenetic, but accurate preview? It’s been a pretty light week here at streets.mn, perhaps because our writers have been eating cheese curds, witnessing the Miracle of Birth, answering legislative questionnaires, gathering piles of free stuff, or riding the rides on the Mighty Midway.Bikes
Lincoln Avenue a Good Alternate Route; However… while it’s a quiet, scenic route for bikes, it involves riding the wrong way on a one-way street; a quick fix could be to exempt bicycles on this low-volume street. Readers can probably suggest other places around the Twin Cities or their cities where small changes could make big differences.
In the bigger picture, It’s Too Hilly, Cold, Hot, Far, Snowy and Uncultured to Ride a Bicycle Here debunks myths and excuses about biking for transportation; no, Minnesota is not so intrinsically different from the Netherlands to make bicycling unwise, unlikely, or impossible in most of the weather, for many trips, much of the time. The comment section has some pretty rich discussion of helmets (always), weight/overweight cyclists, and individual stories of how people bike (or don’t).
59 Years On Sunny Slope is the first Saint Paul bike ride of the year by Wolfie Browender (here are all Wolfie’s rides). This ride introduces us to the couple who have lived 59 years on Sunny Slope lane and many other sights and sites along the way; any of these posts is a chance to take a meandering, closely observed tour of a particular place and its people.
Would You Pay $876 to Cut 6 Minutes Off Your Commute? critiques the recently released annual fear-mongering Urban Mobility Scorecard from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute which ranks metro areas by delays due to traffic congestion, fuel costs, traffic congestion. The post unpacks some of the numbers and points out shortcomings in the analysis and then commenters continue the process.
Signs and Sidewalks Don’t Mix looks at some particular projects in the Twin Cities to show how construction signs and barriers block access to sidewalks and bike lanes, usually unnecessarily. Taking the next step, a couple of simple principles for preserving right-of-way for pedestrians and bicycles are proposed. Commenters respond to the request for more examples of sidewalk construction obstructions with many past and present situations.
MnDOT and Saint Paul’s Apology Doesn’t Change Anything comments on the July 17, 2015 apology by Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman for the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood by the construction of I-94. From the title, the position of the post is clear: a verbal apology is insufficient to repair the damage done, especially when the same practice of paving over neighborhoods continues. Commenters agree the destruction was terrible, but it is well worth your time to read through how they think in greater detail about how to change highway construction going forward and retrofitting current places.
How Amy Schumer Taught Judd Apatow to Love Cities is part Trainwreck movie review and part observation of how popular culture portrays cities, urban planning and transportation (with spoilers) by a devoted Judd Apatow fan.
Video: The Minnesota State Fair on Speed describes this short video pretty well; no drugs are involved, but a speeded up view of Fair highlights is lots of fun.
Charts of the Day: Top 10 States for Vehicle Repair Costs over Time, Congestion Cost Estimate Ranges (and see the related post Would You Pay $876 to Cut 6 Minutes Off Your Commute?) and Minneapolis Electricity vs. Built Square Footage over Time.
Map: Map Monday: USA Turf Grass maps “Americans’ lawns [which] now cover an area three times larger than any irrigated crop in the U.S.”
Comic: Roadkill Bill: Part 3 of Vincent Van Gogh in America continues the graphic tale.
Summer is screeching to a close. By next week’s Summary, it’ll be Labor Day Weekend with only one more day left at the State Fair, but this means it’ll be the start of the New (School) Year. Think about a new year’s resolution to write for us or become a member or send us your transportation and land use events. Have a great week!
No, this isn’t a video about rampant illicit drug use at the great Minnesota get together. It’s a timelapse video shot 6 years ago by Pioneer Press photographer Ben Garvin. I imagine many of the same things are taking place this year as I contemplate the even heavier than usual car traffic passing through my neighborhood on Snelling Avenue.
Living in Lowertown, I have need to frequent my favorite shops/businesses on Grand Ave. Of course, this entails a good workout biking up the Grand Avenue hill. My preference, though, is to turn left and bike on Lincoln Ave (one block south and parallel to Grand) instead of the busy Grand or Summit Avenues.
I enjoy biking on Lincoln. It’s quiet and the canopy of the tall boulevard trees makes it a cool, delightful ride.
I feel like such a scofflaw, though. One block before every major street/avenue (Dale, Lexington, Hamline and Snelling), Grand turns into a one-way on either side of that bisecting street/avenue. No driver or walker there has ever confronted me on this, but I still feel sheepish about biking the wrong way down a one-way street, even if there’s hardly any traffic and it’s for only one block at a time.
If Public Works could put a “Bicycles Exempt” sticker on the ‘Do Not Enter’ signposts before all these intersections, I would be able to bike with a clear conscience and it would be a small step towards making St. Paul a more bike-friendly city.
Sidewalk Rating: LanguidOn the High Line, Ms. Lepeltier and Ms. Barel stopped occasionally to sniff some grasses or crumble some leaves in their hands. Ms. Barel pronounced one plant “minty, camphoraceous.” But on the whole they found the plantings, while attractive, strikingly unfragrant.-from this. [Singing the national anthem at Como Dockside before a big band performance.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***'*** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
My gut feeling is that part of this is because the average age of vehicles is increasing, and has been for a decade. People now own their cars for nearly twice as long as they did 15 years ago. Surely that entails many more maintenance costs.
But there’s probably something to the idea that deteriorating roads lead to automobile maintenance costs… Here’s the punchline from the WSJ article:
Using an infrastructure-specific inflation measure, the CBO estimates that in real terms highway spending by federal, state and local governments —which totaled $165 billion in 2014—has fallen by 19% from its peak in 2002. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says it would cost $740 billion to meet current demand.
Much of the cost is being transferred to individuals and businesses in the form of added vehicle repairs. “The consequence is that we’re all paying more to maintain our cars,” said Genevieve Giuliano, a transportation policy expert at the University of Southern California.
(On the other hand, the story also quotes the American Society of Civil Engineers, a group that might tend to overestimate the social benefits of road investments.)
Well, today’s news is dominated by the perennial congestion report released from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), which ranks cities based on congestion and then places a monetary value on that estimate. Feel free to read through James’ critique of the numbers, which was published on the site today.
Or check out this chart, from Todd Litman’s article on Planetizen. Litman is director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, and has long been something of a nemesis for the TTI. Here’s a chart from his well-sourced article:
[The Urban Mobility Report uses an upper-bound travel speed baseline and travel time unit costs. Most economists recommend lower values. The lower-bound estimate is based on Transport Canada’s lower baseline speed and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s lower travel time unit costs.]
Basically, this shows the possible range of “value” equated with time lost in congestion. Here’s Litman’s explanation of why the TTI’s methodology is flawed…
The Urban Mobility Report’s estimates represent the upper-bound range of possible congestion costs; applying methodologies and assumptions generally recommended by economists and government agencies can reduce these estimates by half or two-thirds. To be comprehensive and objective, the UMR should summarize current congestion costing research; discuss different evaluation perspectives and costing methods; explain why the methods and assumptions it uses were selected; apply sensitivity analysis; compare congestion with other transport costs; account for changing travel demands; consider all impacts when evaluating potential congestion reduction strategies, and provide more transparency, quality control and peer review.
I think the tide is starting to turn on congestion value estimates that rather sloppily equate money and time. What would a more careful accounting of the “cost of congestion” look like?
(Be sure to read James’ article. It focuses precisely on this question!)
The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to full his function --although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. His main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people.-Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact."[In front of the Saints stadium entrance at dusk. Small groups of people filter out of the stadium, a few innings before the end of the game. Julian stands next to his pedicab, chatting with strangers] Two kids passing by: What happened to the bug spray thing?Julian: The buy spray things are gone. All the bugs are gone… except you two. Except you two. [Points at the kids, rings bell] Hey, parking lot express! Express service to the parking lot. Passerby: Can you give me a ride to Roseville? Julian: Sure. Twin City Sidewalks (TCS}: [To a passerby] You need a ride? Best cab driver in town. Man with kids: Yeah, down to the tailgate lot [Man and kids get into the yellow pedicab, and Julian starts to take the family down the street.] Julian: [To family.] You having a good time tonight? [10 minutes later, Julian returns in his pedicab, rests alongside it.] TCS: Hey Julian, we got to finish our interview. Give me a little background on your storyJulian: Me? Translated east coast, a guy from Philly 35 years ago, Saint Paul guy ever since. Saint Paul parishes made me feel right at home. Of course they did.TCS: Why’s that? the cozy nature of it?Julian: Yeah, the cozy nature, but in Philly we had parishes. Yeah yeah of course we did. I went to Saint Margaret Marys. Once I figured it out, Saint Luke's, Saint Marks, all that stuff, I got Saint Paul. Very easy to do that. So that’s it. I've done politics, I've done a lot of non profits, I've done Ballpark Tours, I've done the 'Save the Met' routine. [File photo.]TCS: I want one of those shirts.Julian: Sure sure. What size you need? XL? TCS: Yeah, I’ll trade you a Saint Paul flag for it or something. Julian: [pause] Flag? There’s a flag? TCS: Sure. I got to get you one of these. Julian: Oh really? Yeah that’s a swap. Well what else can I tell you, I brain farted...TCS: What about pedicabs? Julian: Well pedicabs are two, three things. First off, they’re green. TCS: They‘re technically yellow. Julian: Yeah, do something green, ride something yellow. They’re transpo-tainment. We do events. Saint Paul is a little bit different. We don’t have enough folks to really make it go on an ongoing basis so we work events. And we got hills. But you learn, cab drivers, pedicab drivers are like mobile concierges. You can be standing on a corner in a group of people and a guy is going to walk up to a driver and say, Where do I go? What do I do? How do I have fun? You know? Because that’s what we do, we know where everything is. [Looks at sidewalk musician setting up his plastic drums.] Hold on, I gotta talk to my friend for a moment.[Julian chats with the young tub drummer, talks him into moving a bit farther away from the entrance.] Julian: [To crowd going past.] Hey express service to the parking lot! Rest those feet! TCS: Tell me about he Saints ballpark. How that’s going?Julian: This is just perfect for the Saints and the fans. They thoroughly enjoy the service, especially with parking being a little farther away than they thought, especially for folks from out of town. People forget that it is a decent walk to the ballpark. And you know population is aging, everybody ‘s got more mobility problems... Two larger women: [Seeing pedicab.] Oh we’re so doing it. Julian: ... the number of folks who hop into our cab that just had a surgery or something, is pretty amazing. Then the other side is family and friends. Woman: Hold on, he said six bucks. Julian: Where to? Woman: To the parking ramp, right across from … Julian: The Lowertown ramp?Woman: Yes. Three bucks. Julian: Three bucks? Gonna make me work. [Pauses for effect.] Five, ten bucks, we’ll be OK. Woman: [To her friend.] C’mon Barb. Go with her. Man: [To woman] I gave her money. [Two larger women gradually get up into the cab.] Julian: [Pulling away.] I’ll earn this one, Billy. [Julian heads slowly up a long hill looking exerted.]
There were some mighty big numbers in the annual Urban Mobility Scorecard that the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and data company Inrix released Wednesday. Twin Cities residents, the study found, spent an average of 47 hours in 2014 stuck in rush hour congestion. That put us at 23rd among the 101 ranked metros. Washington, D.C., led with 82 hours. Los Angeles was just behind with 80 hours, and San Francisco followed up with 78 hours.
These delays have a cost, according to the study’s authors. For Minneapolis-St. Paul, they estimate that congestion cost the Minnesota economy $2.2 billion in 2014.
But it’s worth digging into the formulas a bit before throwing that figure around. The economic cost is based on the assumption that each hour in traffic is worth $17.67 per person and $94.04 per commercial truck in lost economic activity, plus the cost of additional fuel burned.
The problem is that people don’t sit in congestion for hours at a time; they’re in congestion for a handful of minutes per commute in all but the worst cities. In Minneapolis, drivers are in congestion for a little over 12½ minutes per day, or a little over six minutes per rush hour trip.
Are Time and Money Commensurate?
In circumstances like these, money isn’t exactly equal to time because of the different ways they can be spent. Small amounts of money may not be worth much alone, but they can be collected over time and spent later on some larger purchase.
Small amounts of time aren’t worth much either. But unlike money, they can’t be collected over time and invested into something more meaningful. A teacher won’t be able to teach another lesson if the commute is shortened by a few minutes. A reporter won’t be able to write another article. A plumber won’t be able to fix another toilet.
The MnPass Example
Everyday people intuitively know money and time aren’t the same, and you can see this by looking at MnPass. The toll lanes save the average I-35W driver five to 10 minutes and have an average peak cost of between $1 and $4. The midpoint of that cost estimate works out to $892 per year, assuming a MnPass round trip every workday.
Meanwhile, the Urban Mobility Scorecard estimates congestion costs the average Twin Cities commuter about $830 a year through $17.67 per hour a person’s time is worth. It calculates that the average driver here burns about 18 more gallons of gas a year because of congestion, which works out to about $46.80 per year using the approximately $2.60 average at the moment. That total comes to $876. The cost and time savings aren’t exactly equal, but they’re close enough we effectively have a real-world experiment.
Drivers that have access to MnPass lanes can choose to avoid the congestion at approximately the same price as the study claims congestion costs them. If the study’s totals are accurate, we should see something close to an even split. Half the people making below the $17.67 average will decide that their money is worth more than their time and opt for the longer commute. The half making more than the $17.67 average will decide that their time is more valuable than the money they spend.
But that’s not what we see at all. In 2013, an average of 1,223 single occupants drove I-35W’sMnPass between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. using a transponder (that is, they weren’t using the lanes illegally or for free as part of a car pool or bus ride). By contrast, I-35W north saw from 2,000 to 6,000+ vehicles each hour during the same period at just one point (north of the Minnesota River Bridge in Bloomington). People clearly are valuing the cost of congestion less than the study’s authors.
We see this same phenomenon anecdotally where states have been able to put up full-fledged toll roads. Numerous drivers are willing to trade time for money by taking side roads.
The True Cost of Congestion?
It’s not unusual for something to wind up costing less than the official “value.” After all, a product or service is only worth what people are willing to pay for it — as my dad reminded me whenever I was tempted by some collectible fad. With traffic costs, people simply aren’t willing to pay to avoid congestion to the extent that the authors predict.
This is not to say congestion is without cost. As with any annoyance, there’s a point where congestion becomes so great I’ll gladly pay to avoid it. There’s also a price point so cheap that it’s no longer onerous to pay. That’s why our discussions about transportation should focus more on finding the right balance between cost and convenience. If we focus only on convenience (or even only on cost), we’ll continue to have a distorted decision-making process.
At the top of this post are figures from the Urban Mobility Scorecard. I’ve taken the report’s annual time spent in congestion and converted it to daily and per trip times, based on the OECD’s estimate for the average number of hours worked per year in 2014.
How much would you pay to halve the amount of time you spend in congestion? How much would you pay to erase it entirely?
The title seems to be the belief of many in Minnesota when the subject of bicycling for transportation comes up.
I often hear people say that we can never be anything like the Dutch because The Netherlands is flat, more temperate, less snowy, and bicycling is, after all, part of their culture, so we shouldn’t even try.
Too Hilly – Yes, much of The Netherlands is quite flat. Well, so is Shoreview; so is Minneapolis and even Boulder Colorado. Just because there’s a hill in Stillwater doesn’t mean I can’t ride my bike in Saint Paul.
Worse, for people using this excuse, not all of The Netherlands is flat, but much of the southern portion is quite hilly. Watch the Amstel Gold bicycle race and you’ll get an idea. That hasn’t stopped them though, they still ride bicycles for daily needs like my favorite video of the Postman riding up the Cauberg with Team Rabobank.
There are certainly places like portions of Duluth where the hills or mountains will severely limit how much people ride, but that doesn’t have to stop others. As well, the inventive folks in Norway have a solution in their Trampe lift (photo).
Too Cold – No doubt Minnesota is cold as are some other parts of the U.S…. and also some parts of The Netherlands. While Bill, Julie, and Tony might ride every day all year in all weather, I won’t. I’ll ride a mile in just about anything, but beyond that I’m good for about two miles above 10o F, three or four above 20o F and about anything when it’s above 30o F, but I’m a Southerner. And, just because it might be too cold for me in Minnesota a few days each winter doesn’t mean my brother Billy in Alabama can’t ride a bike one mile to work when it’s 50o F.
Oulu, Finland has a climate nearly identical to Minnesota in both temperature and snowfall yet they still have a bicycle modal share of 25%. Come to think of it, it gets quite cold across the river in Minneapolis and yet they still have one of the highest bicycle modal shares in the U.S. (Note Winter Cycling Congress 2016 will be hosted in Minneapolis the 2 – 4 of February).
Too Hot and Humid – There are days when it is, indeed, quite oppressively hot and sticky. Weather folk tell us it’s the dew point. This year hasn’t been a problem in Minnesota, but a few years ago there were several days that were over 100o F with high humidity that were certainly uncomfortable.
Folks in the deep south will often point out you’ll get just as sweaty or even more so just walking from your car across a parking lot as riding a few miles on a bicycle. Riding a proper upright Dutch bike will often keep you cooler than walking. I grew up down there, so I can attest to this.
Fashion can also play a part. I don’t wear lycra to commute, but I won’t hesitate to wear nice shorts and an oxford shirt which is quite accepted outside the U.S. Helmets are hot and prevent efficient cooling; from everything I’ve read, they are good for little more than fashion and I’m not sure they’re good for that.
For a cooler and more comfortable ride, ditch the helmet and gloves, wear nice shorts if you can get away with it, ride a proper upright bike (e.g, no weight on your hands, no leaning forward and creating sweat inducing folds of skin), and ride at a moderate pace of 10 to 14 mph. Oh, and if you’re overweight, lose it. I know this isn’t for everyone, but will work for many.
Too Wet – Really? Get Wet. Get an umbrella. Wear a poncho. Just because there’s rain on the plain in Spain doesn’t mean that I can’t ride on a sunny day in Woodbury.
OK, some days the rain is too heavy or there’s thunder and lighting. Just because you ride a bike most days doesn’t mean you have to do it everyday. This might be a good day to drive.
Too Far – But, but, The Netherlands is more dense and everything is closer together so it’s easier for them! Just because there’s a bunch of open space in Traverse County MN doesn’t mean that I can’t ride my bicycle to my local grocery two miles away in Roseville.
As a country, The Netherlands is indeed quite dense but each city, where most people actually live and go places, really isn’t much different than here.
As Alex Cecchini showed us, 55% of people in Minneapolis live within 5 miles of where they work. That’s a 30 minute or less bike ride. 16% within a mile or 5 minute bike ride. BTW, Minneapolis is fairly flat and as I write this it’s sunny and 72o F.
Within one mile of my house is a grammar school, grocery store, eight places to eat, and numerous stores. Another couple of miles adds more eateries, a pharmacy, and another grocery. I and my neighbors can quite easily ride to all of these if we have decent infrastructure.
We shouldn’t expect very many people who live 25 miles from work to ride their bicycles, but almost all of us can ride a mile or two to dinner. How many people driving in to the local park & ride to catch a bus drove from less than 5 miles away? Could they have ridden a bicycle instead? How many kids live within 5 miles of their school?
This doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do. At the top of my list is probably getting webs of safe and comfortable bikeways spidering out from schools and park & rides. Where our children cannot safely ride bikes to school it is a huge detriment to them and our nation.
Next is the big boxing of grocery stores. Where once we almost all had a local grocery within a couple of miles, those are disappearing and being replaced by big-box groceries that are five miles away. Interestingly, Walgreens and CVS are eyeing this space.
In the end, I have difficulty finding density to be much of a problem.
Bicycling Is Part Of Dutch Culture – Not really more than others. In the 1970s The Netherlands was on the same car-centric trajectory as all other developed nations. At that time, they actually cycled less than people in other countries such as the U.K.
The big change began only quite recently (and after the 1970 breakup of the Beatles). An increase in the number of people killed by drivers alarmed Dutch traffic engineers and parents. The Stop The Child Murder campaign is often seen as the seminal moment when The Netherlands began to give equal treatment to people walking and riding bicycles rather than focusing primarily on cars. Copenhagen followed soon after and Germany sometime later. Recently Spain, Sweden, and many others have been jumping on the bandwagon.
I’m not sure what culture has to do with it anyway. How would that prevent us from embracing the same thing?
The Netherlands has been successful because they realized 45 years ago that 15 mph 100 lb bicycle riders and much faster 3,000 lb cars do not share very well. Most people, Dutch or other, aren’t comfortable playing dodge-car with 3,000 lb weapons driven by people more interested in the latest Instagram than paying attention to their driving. People driving cars don’t like to be slowed to 10 mph by people taking blocking the lane, and when there’s a collision between the two it never goes well for the bicycle rider.
They began building their current bicycle infrastructure in the 1970s and had largely completed it 20 years later. While they built a lot of protected infrastructure in the early days, they also built a lot of unprotected painted lanes and other not-quite-up-to-par stuff. They’ve learned a lot over the past 40 years and since completing their network they’ve been working on updating older infrastructure to current protected standards outlined in the CROW Design Manual For Bicycle Traffic.
They built their network from scratch without others experience to lean on. We have a huge advantage in that we can lean on their experience and avoid their mistakes.
Most Dutch are also very quick to point out that bicycling is not part of their culture nor a cultural thing nor do they have a bicycle culture. They’ve simply embraced a more expansive solution to transportation.
Moreover, the Copenhagenize Index of the 20 best cities for bicycling includes cities in France, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Germany, and others.
Changing Modes – Once those myths above are debunked, people often then try to say that people don’t like to switch modes, but rather they prefer to use the same mode, usually a car, every day for every trip. They don’t want to ride their bicycle one day and have to switch to driving their car the next because of weather or trip length or whatever. I can only shake my head.
Most Dutch have cars and they do drive them occasionally. Their first choice is often their bicycle but if weather, time, distance, or cargo doesn’t favor their bicycle, then they’ll drive their car or take transit. Similarly, my bicycle is my first choice and my car second. This is really not difficult.
Bicycles are also not necessarily a replacement for cars. For a few they are, but for most of us, and for most Dutch, they are simply another tool that is better for some trips but not all.
Something that surprises me is I often hear the “problems” above as a list of blanket excuses to cover the entire U.S. What’s ridiculous is how often I hear these excuses from lycra clad cyclists who usually add, “We’ll never be like Europe and never have many people riding bicycles, so we shouldn’t try.”
There are people for whom riding a bicycle for transportation will not be a viable option. I think this is a very tiny minority, though. Most of us live where local errands are a short and relatively flat distance away and weather is rarely an issue.
For most of the rest of us, these impacts are temporary. Some winters I can ride every day. A couple of winters ago there were numerous days when I chose to drive due to below zero temperatures. Just because I couldn’t ride due to extreme cold didn’t mean that someone in Florida couldn’t.
For more excuse-maker myth-busting: Let’s put those tired anti-bike arguments to rest.
 I am not opposed to taking the lane when necessary. When I do, I am also very cognizant of the fact that I am negatively impacting a lot of others by slowing them down. I wish this were not necessary and that is one reason I believe we need to put considerable effort in to a separate protected bicycle network built to Dutch standards.
Road construction season in Minnesota is winding down and, as a result, many of the orange signs that are seasonal visitors to our urban landscape will soon be warehoused away. If you’re a slab of concrete in Minneapolis with the purpose of providing space for people to walk, this may give you some breathing room.
Temporary construction signs are often placed on sidewalks or in bicycle lanes, usually without reason. I’m not sure if this is a new trend, or just something I’ve noticed more this summer. A friend snapped this shot of a temporary sign placed on Lyndale Avenue in Richfield, but I’ve noticed similar situations in many places in Minneapolis this summer as well: Chicago Ave in my neighborhood during a chip seal project, East 31st Street in Corcoran during repaving, and 5th Ave South for signs related to East 28th Street repaving.A lane-eating corollary
I’ve noticed impacts to bicycle lanes and sidewalks from land development projects as well as street projects. Oftentimes it won’t be signs in the way of a bicycle lane or sidewalk, but rather the temporary elimination of this space in places where construction is happening adjacent to a street. I’ve noticed this on numerous blocks where my infrequent bicycle commutes to meetings downtown takes me along construction projects that extend past the curb.
While it’s understandable that building a skyscraper on a landlocked downtown parcel may require space for construction equipment and staging, we can still do a better job of providing temporary accommodations to walkers and bicyclists. It’s great many projects include complete reconstruction of the sidewalk, curb, and amenity space, but we can get to the finished state without limiting access in the short-term. Bicycle lanes, as well as sidewalks, need to be prioritized first for temporary accommodation around construction sites and through road construction projects.
Construction firms wishing to take some of this public right of way for their project need an obstruction permit. According to the city website, “There is no charge for the actual permit, but the permit is required to park vehicles in the obstructed area. Lane use fees may apply if a travel or parking lane is closed.” This makes it sound like we do charge for temporarily taking parking or “travel lanes” but we do not charge for usage of sidewalk space (and it’s unclear if bicycle lanes would be counted as “travel lanes”).
This creates an unfortunate incentive, especially on multi-lane one-way streets like what we have through much of downtown. The incentive is first to protect all space for vehicles, even parking, before accommodations are made for sidewalk users. Note: If I am interpreting this incorrectly, I hope someone from City of Minneapolis / Public Works comments to correct me.A new approach is needed
From what I’ve seen this summer, road construction signs are placed on sidewalks despite being next to multiple travel lanes or a parking lane. That’s flat out unacceptable. It’s saying that those who cannot or chose not to drive should have a complete loss in level of service in order to avoid inconveniencing those driving cars. I propose these principles:
- First, where multiple lanes of travel in one direction remain, including parking lanes, there’s no reason to obstruct sidewalks with temporary construction signs.
- Second, there’s no reason to sacrifice bicycle lanes or sidewalks for encroachment during private construction projects so long as at least one “traffic lane” in each direction is provided.
Have you seen examples of either of these two sidewalk impacts happening this construction season? Let us know in the comments.