Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Types of Fire Calls over Time

Streets.MN - 3 hours 3 min ago

Here’s a chart from Vox about the changing trends in fire department calls, showing the number and type of fire calls over time:

One common objection when a bike lane, traffic circle, median, or road diet is proposed is that emergency vehicles won’t be able to get through the now-narrowed street. I’d never thought much about the slim marginal value of the vast majority of fire calls before, but here’s one of the conclusions from the article, taken from a “libertarian economist”:

Typically, they’ll get there a minute or two before an ambulance does, and in some cases they start treatment,” Tabarrok says. “In my view, it’s mostly redundant. Other people will say that getting there earlier can save a life, but most of the time it has no bearing whatsoever.”

He points to a study conducted in Toronto that found having firefighters on the scene improved health outcomes in about one to two percent of all medical calls — essentially, instances of cardiac arrest in which they happened to arrive first. The study also found that, on average, firefighters respond to a call no more quickly than paramedics and had much less medical training.

The reason firefighters’ numbers continue to grow, he says, has more to do with their strong unions than their usefulness. This ends up being expensive for taxpayers: in Boston, the fire department consumed 7.5 percent of the city’s total budget. And even if we do want to use firefighters as extra paramedics, there are cheaper, more efficient ways of doing so. “Why are we sending these huge trucks careening through traffic just to give someone oxygen?” Tabarrok asks. “I say, ‘send the guy on a motorcycle.'”

Food for thought next time you’re in a meeting about public safety!  (There’s another good story on topic in the Boston Globe.)

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Categories: Twin Cities

Map of The Day: Truckee Railyard

Streets.MN - 3 hours 33 min ago

Map of the day

This is a zoning map from Truckee, California on the redevelopment of a rail yard. Near where the Donner Party resorted to eating each other in 22 feet of snow. The railway and a freeway restrain the city to a linear layout, as do the surrounding hills and mountains. This photo was taken in the town’s railway museum. The legend is very small, so red = Downtown extension, purple = warehousing, and yellow = a new neighborhood.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Photo Friday: Desire Path of the Year

Streets.MN - 3 hours 54 min ago

Check this out:

streets.mn reader Ben Somogyi can be seen trouncing through the gaping chasm left by students’ smart feet on the grassy grave of Wesbrook Hall at the University of Minnesota.

As the picture was taken, an old man remarked to the photographer that “you think they’d know geometry at the University.”

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Categories: Twin Cities

Reading the Highland Villager #131

Twin Cities Sidewalks - 5 hours 57 min ago
[A Villager waits for customers on Cleveland Avenue. H/t Patrick.][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: More growth, less congestion; Highland Park pins hopes on new traffic patterns at Ford siteAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Article on the public meeting that took place about how to plan transportation around the development at the old Ford truck plant. Article includes quote from CM Tolbert: "The Ford Site is not an island." People want development ideas that do not generate traffic. [Cemetery? Housing for people in comas?] A city planner says big box stores are out as an idea. [Phew. Note that bikes and transit are not mentioned in the article for some reason.]Headline: Support builds for new home design standards; Ward 3 residents push for adoption of some controlsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: City attempts to slow or change "teardown" constructions in the Southwest corner of the city won't happen for another six weeks or so. They will be heard by the Planning Commission, then the City Council. Article includes neighbor quotes about teardowns in Highland. Because the standards will be city-wide [still not sure that's a good idea], many neighborhoods have to look at them and think them over. "Large new homes block sunlight and air ... and alter character of neighborhoods." Article includes quote from neighbor that large new homes "drive up sale price of nearby homes." [Not sure if that's true or not. How do teardowns or lack thereof affect home prices? Same question goes for mixed-use development; see next article.] Best quote from neighbor: "It's starting to look like Woodbury." Article ends with a few quotes against the proposal.Headline: Council denies attempt to block Cleveland Ave. buildingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version:  A one-story real estate office will become a four-story mixed-use apartment building with more parking than is required by the city. [The irony of a Edina Realty real estate office being the catalyst for development is not lost on me.] Headline: Council to consider new Cleveland bike lane; Local businesses request compromise to mitigate loss of off-street parkingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city council will have a hearing on June 3rd about proposed bike lanes for Cleveland, Lexington, and Front. The lanes will not cost the city any money because the County is resurfacing the streets, and all the streets were planned for lanes when the Bike Plan passed earlier this year. Article offers [surprising] balance from local neighborhood groups, who see both sides of the issue. [One side: safety for bicyclists; the other side: we need parking at our doorstep or we'll lose all our presumably very lazy customers.] Article claims [incorrectly] that local bike advocates support a "sharrows compromise" that would keep parking at a few intersections. [Note: this is compeltely wrong. Not sure where the Villager got its information, but it wasn't from bike groups. See a rejoinder from bike advocates here.] "The possibility of saving customer parking was cause for hope for some and skepticism for others." [See also this thing I wrote.] The council will vote on recommendations to the county after the public hearing on June 3rd.Headline:  Opus to break ground in June on 7 Corners redevelopmentAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A new mixed-use apartment/hotel will be built on West 7th at the site of an old hardware store.Headline: $290,000 more approved for Riverview Corridor planningAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A study is continuing about transit along the W7th area, but nobody knows what's going to happen. The committee hopes to select a route and mode by "next winter." [No hurry? Sigh. The best idea is a LRT/streetcar down West 7th that goes to the Ford Site.]Headline: Public financing approved for 1.8-acre West Midway projectAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A vacant lot on the corner University and Emerald [on the border of the city] will become mixed-use apartments, some affordable. There is a TIF district involved.Headline: New federal rules on cellular antennas approved by cityAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: It's slightly easier to erect a cell phone antenna now. [This is probably Federal meddling at the behest of Verizon or something.]Headline:  Study recommends better management of downtown parkingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city completed a study of downtown parking which pointed out that Saint Paul is doing almost everything wrong on that front. "The perceived parking problem is not so much a lack of supply as of convenience." Article includes kevetching about the bike loop from CM Thune, but also this sensible quote: "There's a feeling downtown that if we can implement recommendations right away, we should." There are more than 28K parking spots in downtown. Article buries the most important recommendation: setting longer times and higher rates at meters, and controlling placards.  Article includes [head-spinning anecdote]: "One strategy was to raise parking meter rates to the point that motorists would rather use parking ramps or lots. That got a tepid response from City Council members. CM Thune said the city needs to reserve its meters for those needing short-term parking." [Wouldn't raising rates do just that?]   Headline: Rondo Land Trust gets the go-ahead to plan development of vacant Selby lotsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Long-time vacant lots on Selby Avenue might beg developed into two three-story buildings. The buildings will use a "land-trust model" [which will theoretically keep them affordable]. Headline: Local CIB requests find slim pickings; Committee recommends funding fewer than 50 out of 131 total projectsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The Capital Improvement Budget committee ranked a long list of city projects [where every possible kind of project competes with each other, e.g. playgrounds for kids vs. fire station vs. falling down bridge]. Article includes quote from committee member: "The amount of money needed for some of the larger projects handcuffs every other project." There is about $11M to go around. [Saint Paul: Hunger Games!] Lots of [good] ideas were left off the list, including streetscape improvements for West 7th.Headline: Catholic Charities kicks off $40 million campaign to replace Dorothy Day CenterAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A downtown homeless shelter is raising money for a new building. [A worthy cause.]
Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Per Capita Auto Fatalities vs. Per Capita Vehicle Miles Traveled

Streets.MN - Thu, 05/28/2015 - 2:00pm

This is a great chart from the New York Times that puts a dizzying spin on the usual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and fatality graphs by plotting them against each other. Auto fatalities per capita is on the Y-axis, and VMT per capita is on the X (moving to the right = larger):

(Note: 1979 = the retrograde motion of Mars.)

The Times draws a few conclusions:

Plotting the two most important variables against each other — miles traveled versus deaths per 100,000 population — yields a pattern that looks like a plateau followed by a steep drop. It evokes the theory of punctuated equilibrium, proposed by the paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, which suggests that instead of continuous gradual evolution, change occurs abruptly after periods of virtual standstill.

Cool new way of looking at old data.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Car-Free Lifestyles Are The Secret To Transit

Streets.MN - Thu, 05/28/2015 - 9:00am

There are a lot of modes of transportation. Save for walking and (hopefully!) cycling, they’re all pretty expensive. You’ve got your $676 million dollar freeway interchanges and your $20,000 Toyota Camries, and your $957 million dollar Green Lines and your $76/month Metropasses. Because it would be a hassle for everyone to own their own road to work and to the market, in western society we have historically and also more recently decided that transportation infrastructure is one of those things that we’ll all build and use together.

There are a lot of different financial arrangements for all the different modes of transportation in all the different jurisdictions of the world. In the United States, none of these arrangements–including roads–involve being completely sustained by user fees, and generally if you’re building any sort of system, it requires large, visible-from-orbit stacks of money from the general and other funds of local, state, and federal governments. (Why do transportation projects in the United States cost far more than in other developed countries? A mystery!)

Local Examples

Assuming that the status quo of expensive projects and scarce funding continues, we should weigh transportation projects carefully, especially major mass transit projects that, for the past couple decades, have been rolling out about decennially in the Twin Cities. Good ones, at least–it would probably be fair to say that the consensus on the Northstar Commuter Rail line is “oops” and while it may be politically too soon to say the same for the Red Line, that was also an “oops.” The Green and Blue Lines have been a success, even considering various political constraints that limited their potential a bit.

So we’ve got two local examples of wildly successful transit lines and two duds. Using our experiences with those and examples around the country and also a smattering of uncommon sense, how should we consider mass transit projects and their benefits, when considering where to site a once-in-a-decade line?

Benefits and the Best Benefit

Mass transit, as a mode, has a lot going for it. In addition to the “carries a lot of people efficiently” part, you’ll hear lots of other reasons to build mass transit and to build specific lines for specific reasons. Assuming we’re talking about rail, any given proposal’s benefits may include:

  • Economic Development/Redevelopment
  • Congestion Reduction/Mitigation
  • The Millennials™
  • Air Quality Improvement
  • Less Un-sustainability
  • Reduced Dependence of Foreign Oil
  • Rail Bias

Is anything missing here? Yes, the most important one…

Enabling a Car-free Lifestyle

The highest and best use of transit is to enable a car-free lifestyle, because if you build transit to enable a car-free lifestyle for as many people as you can, you accomplish every single other item on that list. Building transit for the other goals on the list will not accomplish all the other goals on the list. It will also accomplish bonus goals, like improving the mobility of children, the elderly, the disabled, and other people unable to drive. It will also spare low-income people from the financial burden of car ownership.

Apollo 15 Lunar Rover (Source: NASA)

(While he himself does not own one, the author is not explicitly anti-car. He took two different cars to and fro a cabin this past Memorial Day weekend. Cars have many practical and real uses, like buying a dresser or more than two tubs of cat litter. Notably, there are even three cars on the moon–bringing an entire light rail vehicle, track, ballast, catenary, etc. were ruled out due to cost and other considerations.)

But when we think about what makes our own transit lines successful and what we need to take into consideration in the future, the real success stories are places where people feel enabled to use transit as an lifestyle, not just a commute. Can tens of thousands of people walk up to your transit line and take it to a park, or a stadium, or a university, or a grocery store? Will a lot of people ride your train, running on fixed tracks at good headways with a conductor eating up most of your operating budget, at 2:00 PM on a Tuesday, or any Sunday in late winter? If so, your transit line will be very successful and a non-bad use of your limited resources.

A Local Action

And the reality is that this logic will preclude large stretches of the Twin Cities from landing any sort of large rail transit investment. Do we suppose, for example, that any significant amount of people will move to a market rate transit-oriented development in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and forgo car ownership? Seems unlikely!

Not that that restricts us to central city routes–above is the Minnetonka/Hopkins border. It is far more likely that someone would want to live car-free in Hopkins, a walkable town with a street grid and a grocery store and a movie theater and bars and restaurants, than in Minnetonka, which does not have these things. This is probably a good argument for ending the Green Line extension in Hopkins.

Does a city like Minnetonka or Eden Prairie have the potential to redevelop tens of acres of land around stations to be more like Hopkins? Sure, after decades and hundreds of millions of dollars of private sector investment. Take the local portion of that $500 million dollars you’ll save cutting the line off at Hopkins, and build rail in the Midtown Corridor, a line that many thousands of transit users (including thousands of new transit users) would use every day at all times for countless reasons. You will still get your transit-oriented development and associated new riders along the Midtown Corridor.

It’s Pretty Simple

The above is just one recent and relevant example. Maybe its limited geographic appeal is an obstacle, but building bad lines which become political fodder for people who are opposed to the entire idea of transit is also not a good plan. Have you ever had Northstar’s operating subsidy thrown back at you by a transit opponent who knows the numbers? It really screws up the whole flow of your argument.

Thinking about the whole universe of transportation costs for governments and individuals, it makes sense to locate billion-plus dollar transit investments in places that will enable tens of thousands of users to skip the thousands of dollars associated with the upfront and ongoing cost of car ownership. If your transit project is planned with the transportation goal of, not even eliminating, but merely shortening the car trips of ten thousand or so downtown commuters who otherwise require a car to buy a stick of gum on a Saturday, then your transit project is a bad idea.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Lane Width vs. Crash Severity

Streets.MN - Wed, 05/27/2015 - 4:04pm

Here’s a fascinating chart making the rounds today, from a meta-study looking at how lane width impacts speed and (thus) crashes, injuries, and safety on streets:

The trough of the curve (the place with the least severe crashes) seems to be right between 10.5′ and 11′. That’s something that cities should keep in mind, because the default assumption in many planning conversations is that wider lanes are saver (see also: forgiveness). As it turns out, some research disputes that notion, especially in urban areas.

The report goes on to mention the potential uses of that extra couple of feet you might get from narrowing travel lanes. You could increase room for bikes, parking, pedestrians, or transit, all while making the road safer. Seems like a ‘win-win.’

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Categories: Twin Cities

Parachute Cloth Mural Builds Community in South Minneapolis

Streets.MN - Wed, 05/27/2015 - 12:12pm

How can a new school introduce itself to a community? Folwell Performing Arts Magnet School in south Minneapolis is using principals of placemaking and robust community engagement to create and install a 2,000 sq. ft. public mural to say “hello” to their neighborhood.

Folwell, located at the border of the Corcoran and Standish neighborhoods (20th Ave S & E. 36th St.), was reopened in 2012 as a K-8 school after the former middle school had been shuttered for three years. The new school is not well known to many neighbors, and a public art project called the Folwell Connections Mural is an opportunity to re-imagine the setting of the school to strengthen community connections.

Mock-up of the Folwell Connections Mural

Muralist Greta McLain is leading a community-driven design and painting process with hundreds of volunteers. The mural design has been co-created with students and community members at a series of design events over last fall and winter. Students and neighbors are also painting the mural at painting parties held this spring and summer.

For this mural McLain is using an innovative, indirect mural technique called “parachute cloth method”, a method pioneered by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. In this technique, the mural is not painted on a wall, but is painted on to fabric, then assembled into larger panels and then attached to building walls. This technique respects the historic fabric of the masonry brick exterior of Folwell School, and is a great way for many people to take part in painting the mural without climbing scaffolding.

“Dr. J”, the first mural in Philadelphia to use parachute-cloth fabric-transfer. Photo by Jack Ramsdale

Community outreach best practices are being used at design events and painting parties. Folwell has a large population of Spanish-speaking students and families, all information and communications are translated, and bilingual school staff and muralists introduce events and provide painting instruction. Food and music are included, and the design and painting work are held in conjunction with other events like school performances and neighborhood events like a soup supper, holiday tree lighting ceremony, and ice cream socials.

Painting party events at Folwell and Corcoran Park, including entertainment by the Folwell Middle School Rock Band

The mural is a direct result of collaboration between the artist, school staff and administration, two neighborhoods groups, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. McLain, who is an alumnus of the performing arts program, approached the school and neighborhood groups with the mural proposal and a desire to pursue a Minnesota State Arts Board grant. Standish Ericsson Neighborhood Association (SENA) was the lead applicant for the grant and both Corcoran Neighborhood Organization and SENA have coordinated design and painting events along with Folwell School.

Intergeneration painting party with the Nokomis Healthy Seniors and Roosevelt High School Student volunteers

McLain’s public art is making a huge impact all over Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Green Central School mural & Central Identity Project, Plaza Verde’s “Juntos Crecemos/Together We Grow”, the Franklin Ave. Light Rail Bridge, Midway Murals, along with work at Roosevelt and South High schools are just a few of the many projects she has led locally. With more than 10 years of mural making, McLain has also created and painted murals in Argentina, Mexico, France, Memphis, and Philadelphia. See more of her amazing art here: www.gretamclain.tumblr.com.

Flyers for upcoming mural painting parties in English and Spanish

Upcoming community painting parties are open to the public so you can take part in the mural making. This weekend, attend the the Roosevelt Mosaic Art Crawl and Folwell Carnival; and come to the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturday June 6, and at the Sibley Park Ice Cream Social on June 18. Mural installation will happen over the summer and a party for the unveiling will happen as school starts in late August.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Story of the Century: Hipster Cyclists vs. Suburban Cops in Pedal Pub Melee

Streets.MN - Wed, 05/27/2015 - 11:30am

On May 6, 2492, assuming we haven’t made any major changes, the eight planets of the solar system will align. Until then, we’ll have to entertain ourselves with lesser celestial events, like Halley’s Comet, or with what is possibly the most perfect news story to ever hit the Twin Cities.

By now, you will have heard of the weekend brawl featuring some number of cyclists shooting squirt guns and throwing water balloons at Pedal Pubs in Downtown Minneapolis. After allegedly (?) coordinating their attack on the “I hate the Pedal Pub” Facebook group, the dastardly alleged (?) assailants rendezvoused in Loring Park before carrying out their attack. After allegedly (?) hitting two pubs, the group managed to pick one carrying…six off-duty Burnsville police officers, and were…detained. Five were charged with misdemeanors yesterday. Here is the video! Warning: Language.

They really went for it! Lots going on with cops lately, though also, don’t squirt anyone in the face with anything without their consent, rude. There are over 700 comments on the initial Star Tribune article! Your uncle in Sauk Rapids probably had quite a bit to say on Facebook about it. If you are going to break any laws (don’t) I would recommend doing so further than tens of feet away from the 1st Precinct, which is what this intersection is.

This story has it all!

  • Booze
  • Bikes
  • Burnsville

Pedal Pubs are a great target for criticism and critical water balloons because they touch all sorts of different perceived and actual changes that are going on in the Twin Cities right now. Bill Lindeke wrote an excellent and extensive defense of Pedal Pubs on his personal blog just over two years ago; since then both core cities have continued to add tens of thousands of new residents, it has gotten harder to park in Downtown Minneapolis, and the Green Line has opened. Also, someone very strategically told everyone that there is a word, “gentrification,” that means “new thing that I do not like,” which is unfortunately not what that means, but it gives lots of people a pseudo-academic way to complain that the world is not preserved in amber.

As a city resident and occasional tool, I do not hate the Pedal Pub! I am agnostic on the Pedal Pub, though probably leaning slightly in favor, largely for the reasons Bill talked about in that post a couple of years ago. I have been on four Pedal Pubs, three in the salty haze not too long after and including my 21st birthday, and then one last summer. Though the one last summer felt different–blasting DMX while stopped at a stop light on a largely empty Nicollet Mall at 6:00 PM, surrounded by people waiting for the bus? Nah, not something I necessarily need to do again.

But, there are no shortage of drunk locals puking on tables at the Red Dragon and hollering at cars on Lyndale Avenue, away from the areas with all the new apartment buildings and $12 cocktails. On the 18 bus last week, I saw a woman, disembarking with a stroller, screaming miscellaneous profanity at another woman, currently pregnant. Today on the bus there was a tapioca pudding container sitting face down on a seat, pudding spread all about. Life is complicated! People do dumb things on the weekends everywhere, that’s the point.

If you really want to strike back, steer clear of those assault charges, take the Blue Line to the Red Line to the Apple Valley Red Robin, and hit up that Happy Hour.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Minneapolis is Building the Wrong Streetcar

Streets.MN - Wed, 05/27/2015 - 8:30am

Imagine your city had miles of publicly-owned, mostly grade-separated right-of-way. A long, linear stretch of land formerly carrying trains through it every day. A “sub-way,” if you will. What would you do with it?

Minneapolis has such a place. You all know it as the Midtown Greenway. Between 2000 and 2006, over 5 miles of multi-use trails were added to this former freight rail corridor, and it’s now nothing short of the best urban bike trail in the country. In addition to a complicated mixture of demographic preference changes, the Midtown Greenway has helped spur some serious development.

Seriously, the Midtown Greenway’s pretty cool.

This boom isn’t just limited to the hip and lakes-proximate Uptown area, either; quality development is creeping eastward, taking advantage of other successful Greenway-adjacent projects. Basically, we’re getting a whole lot of “D” without any of the “TO.”

Nicollet-Central vs Midtown

So here’s where I get controversial: Minneapolis should drop the Nicollet-Central Streetcar currently under development in favor of the “Rail in the Greenway” project the Metropolitan Council has studied. It’s been almost 2 years since my first streets.mn post where I laid out some lingering questions regarding the Nicollet-Central streetcar proposal. I still feel uneasy about a streetcar that doesn’t really improve headways or travel times relative to local buses, and I’m certainly not the only skeptic out there. Even Portland’s streetcar isn’t as Perfect Portland as we make them out to be. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad project. Just that we live in a world where dollars are constrained and we need to sometimes make tough decisions about hundred-plus million dollar public investments.

Even if the DFL/MoveMN transportation funding package including a 3/4-cent metro transit sales tax bump had passed this legislative session (it didn’t), the Midtown corridor was pretty far down the list of funding priorities. It’s a safe bet that, best case, we could go another 10-15 years without laying track and caternary in the Greenway.

Greenway with rail: still pretty cool.

If Minneapolis is serious about improving the lives of its residents through a single, major transportation investment, the Greenway Rail is the way to go. Compare the two projects (data taken from project documents for each):

The Midtown project costs a bit more ($239 million inflation adjusted to match Nicollet-Central year of expenditure), but comes in at less per 2030 weekday rider ($21,727 vs $23,383). Midtown serves more people below the poverty line than Nicollet-Central by 33%. Most importantly, look at the travel time savings. Nicollet-Central streetcar improves end-to-end travel times by a couple of minutes. Midtown? We’re talking 15-20 minute savings just between Midtown and Uptown Transit Station (with opening day service extending to the West Lake/Calhoun area). The rail option beats the proposed Lake Street aBRT project by quite a bit, proving it’s not a simple substitute (indeed, the Alternatives Analysis process found that both enhanced bus and rail in the trench is the best path forward).

Clearly, Nicollet-Central passing through downtown and the St Anthony Main areas give it a huge advantage in economic development potential (ignoring the difference in methodology used in the studies). The downtown zoning gives a maximum development potential not found elsewhere in the city, and one of the densest central business districts in the country (5th highest per square mile in the country) boosts the jobs figure.

Certainly, the Midtown project has concerns of its own. I’m not personally worried about losing greenery in the trench; five months of the year trees face a cold Midwest wind without leaves anyway. But to many residents it is at least partly park space, and new retaining walls and ballast track (the cheaper option) might be seen as a loss. I’m concerned the project would reduce pedestrian/bike space in precisely the busiest spot of the Greenway (over 4,600 a day in 2014!):

The Hennepin Avenue cross-section needs some tweaking.

But the travel time savings are just too great to ignore. If you assume a transit rider saves 7.5 minutes on average per trip, over 21 million hours would be saved in 2030. I’m not one to use this metric alone to justify investments (at least without tolling/charging for the savings), but at $16/hour, this project “saves” Minneapolites $343 million a year. For low-income and minority populations suffering needlessly long commutes, this would be huge.

Minneapolis leaders should go back to the legislature and re-work the wonky (dubious?) tax district they plan to help finance the Nicollet-Central project and apply a true value-capture model to the Greenway. Instead of a streetcar, build the arterial-BRT along the entire Nicollet-Central corridor for around $100 million (maybe a subway under Nicollet someday if we can muster the political will). The Greenway is a proven economic development generator – let’s bolster that with high-speed, high-amenity transit linking two light rail lines (one planned) before 2020!

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Categories: Twin Cities

Going Green

Streets.MN - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 3:30pm

Short, cute video about the romance between a bird and a traffic signal, but also apparently throwing some barbs at some urban design decisions.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Bike Saint Paul

Streets.MN - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 3:30pm

As the city of Saint Paul struggles to implement its bicycle transportation plan, let’s take a moment watch a couple of guys bicycling the hills of Saint Paul.

Bike Saint Paul.

Fun little edit of bombing hills in Saint Paul with Morgan Pease and Andy Arkelin of fastcrusade.com. Shot in one afternoon.

My first time using a DSLR. shot on 7D.

song: “we used to wait” – Arcade Fire

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Categories: Twin Cities

Trimming Southwest Light Rail

Streets.MN - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 9:00am

Following a resounding rejection of the recent cost estimate, Metro Transit staff has offered up a menu of options to trim $341 million from the cost of the Green Line Extension in the Southwest Corridor to keep the budget at $1.653 billion. The options were evaluated against these criteria:

  • Follow SWLRT Design Criteria, including criteria for safety & security
  • Positively impact (increase) FTA project rating, ridership, equity, environmental benefits and multimodal connections
  • Minimal or no adverse impact to project schedule, capital cost and operating cost
  • Actively engage and encourage input from interested and impacted stakeholders

For the sake of simplicity, for this story I’ve only looked at capital cost. What follows is my preference for the cuts. However, you’ll find them all displayed at the end of the story so you can see the full range of choices.

Nice to have, but necessary?

Before discussing station eliminations and shortening the line, the staff report lists a series of reductions in nice-to-have amenities and behind-the-scenes details that would prevent cuts to actual transit service. The amenities include:

$550-600K – Reduce Station Site Furnishings Project-wide by 50% $1.8-2.3M – Reduce Station Art Project-wide by 50% $4-4.5M – Reduce Station Art Project-wide by 100% $8-9M – Reduce Landscaping Project-wide by 50% $11-13M – Reduce Landscaping Project-wide by 75% $1-2M – Remove 2 Pedestrian Underpasses at Opus Station $550-600K – Delete Trail Underpass Under Freight Tracks at Louisiana Station $13-14M – Delete Trail/Pedestrian Bridge Crossing of LRT and Freight Railroad East of Beltline Station $12-14M – Delete N. Cedar Lake Trail Bridge at Penn Station

These taken together would save about $40 million, more or less. That’s well short of the total, but it’s hard to believe that stations should be deleted in order to preserve 100 percent of the art, landscaping and bike amenities.

The list of behind-the-scenes cuts includes:

$10-12M – Reduce fleet size by two vehicles $8-9M – Reduce Operations & Maintenance Facility (OMF) to 30 vehicles $250-300K – Modify Non-Revenue Vehicle Storage Bldg at $250-300K OMF $500K-1M – Modify Cold Storage building at OMF $8.5-9.5M – Replace Duct Bank with Cable Trough $1.3-1.8M – Modify Track and Shady Oak Station $1.5-2.5 – Modify LRT Bridge at Glenwood

That’s another $33 million, so now we’re up to about $73 million–$268 million to go.

Take a hard look at Eden Prairie

Shortening the line in Eden Prairie looks probable, especially eliminating the Mitchell Road station and park-ride lot. That’s worth $138-145 million.

However, there’s a real argument to be made for shortening the line even more. Eden Prairie, along with Chaska and Chanhassen, is an “opt out” community that left the Metro Transit system years ago and formed its own transit system, South West Transit. South West runs an extensive commuter express service to downtown Minneapolis. It is anchored at Southwest Station’s 1000-car park-ride, where the LRT would end if shortened from Mitchell Road.

The SW line in Eden Prairie

Back in August 2013, the Eden Prairie city council passed a resolution listing conditions that they would require of Metro Transit before they would accept light rail at Southwest Station. These included:

1. The construction of additional parking for light rail at Southwest Station, so LRT passengers wouldn’t use the express bus parking.

2. That South West Transit “remain the principal branding at Southwest Station.”

The resolution states that LRT will have to compete with South West’s express buses for passengers. Normally, when a rail line is built, every effort is made to divert bus trips onto it, thereby maximizing the economies of scale that rail provides. Instead, Eden Prairie is demanding that the region continue to subsidize bus service that diverts riders from LRT.

Without the 2000 peak period commuters that currently bus from Southwest Station, it’s hard to justify extending light rail to Eden Prairie at all. If you take away the main source of commuters, what’s left is peak period reverse commuting, very light off-peak ridership, and a couple hundred commuters at the remaining park-rides. That’s not enough to justify good bus service, never mind a rail extension costing over half a billion dollars.

Cutting back the line to the next station at Eden Prairie Town Center will save about $240 million. Trimming it even further to the Golden Triangle Station will increase the savings to about $370 million. That more than takes care of the budget shortfall. The report doesn’t list the option of stopping short of Eden Prairie altogether, but that probably cuts the budget by at least $500 million, when you throw in the reductions to the LRT fleet because the line is shorter. Don’t go to Eden Prairie and the money problem is more than solved.

Other worthwhile cuts, and one very bad idea

Since I doubt that even half of the Eden Prairie mileage will be eliminated, more cuts will be needed. The Minneapolis portion of the line has two stations of questionable value in the immediate future. The Penn Avenue Station in Minneapolis doesn’t deserve to be built. Almost no one lives within a quarter mile walk of it and it will never be served by a viable feeder bus. There is talk of future development around the station, but until that’s solid, Penn Avenue should remain unbuilt. Doing so will save about $15 million.

Similarly, the Van White Boulevard Station should be deferred until there is redevelopment of the adjacent Public Works pavement crushing facility. Like Penn, it will never have a viable feeder bus. Currently the only traffic generator within walking distance is Dunwoody Institute. Deferral will save $6 million.

A very bad idea is to defer the Royalston Station. It’s the real transit connection to North Minneapolis and deferring it would be a shocking reversal of the Met Council’s purported commitment to racial and economic equity. Not to mention that it will see more ridership than either Van White or Penn Avenue.

Summary

Goal: Cut $341 million from the budget.

My preferences:

$40M – Reduce “nice to have” amenities $33M – “Behind the scenes” savings $21M – Cut Penn Avenue Station, defer Van White Station $94M – Subtotal

$240M  – Cut back to Eden Prairie Town Center Station or $370M – Cut back to Golden Triangle Station or $500+M – Cut back to Opus Station

Tables and Maps from the report

Here are the cost reduction tables and location maps from the staff report, so you can weigh the cuts yourself.

The SW line in Eden Prairie

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Categories: Twin Cities

Map Monday: 1970s Minnesota Bikeways

Streets.MN - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 8:06am

Yeah I know it’s Tuesday…

Cool old bike maps from the 70s courtesy of the Hennepin County Library:

See the rest, including some cool kitschy cover art, over at their Tumblr.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Roadkill Bill – The Sacrifice

Streets.MN - Sun, 05/24/2015 - 11:30am

The struggle to complete the Bicyclopolis saga continues unabated. In the interim, Streets.mn will reprise a colorized Roadkill Bill comic strip every Sunday. This week’s comic strip from 2001 serves to remind us just how far we’ve come in the intervening years to make streets safe for children and other living things.  Click on the comic to make it bigger:

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Categories: Twin Cities

Sunday Summary – May 24, 2015

Streets.MN - Sun, 05/24/2015 - 7:02am

It’s been a very quiet week here on streets.mn; perhaps we’re hung over from the busy end to the legislative session or anticipating the Memorial Day/Commencement weekend.

Holiday weekend ideas

For a holiday weekend, what better than a critique of CHS Field, a Perfect Cap for Lowertown, home of the Saint Paul Saints (where you could go see the Saints play Fargo-Moorhead and the Memorial Day Fireworks Super Show tonight)? After a look around the stadium and environs it concludes the stadium really is the best use for the site. During slow bits of the ball game, you can read some of the other recent posts about Lowertown and then check out the neighborhood.

Or, you could take a field trip to Portland: Beyond the Hubbub which does some thoughtful observing and reporting on what’s behind the buzz, but also makes some lighthearted suggestions for what Minneapolis and Saint Paul might do to brand ourselves successfully and become the Portland of the North.

Walking in Saint Paul – Books, Statues, Poetry and Planning takes us around Saint Paul by foot to point out some of the little delights along the way (and highlight current planning efforts in Saint Paul for making walking more accessible, too); you could recreate this walk or walk your own neighborhood and write about it for us.

Whales, the new Minneapolis mascot?

Transportation

Current events often drive our content, so this week’s Rail Is Safe–What About Our Roads? reflects on the recent Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia to review how safe rail travel really is despite the headlines and to ask why a small number of fatalities on a train gathers so much more publicity than many, many more fatalities on our roads.  Following this post, What’s the Right Metric for Transportation Safety? asks some additional questions about how we measure and report on safety.

Minnesota’s 10 Busiest Intersections follows up on a streets.mn comment which named the Snelling and University Avenue intersection in Saint Paul as the busiest and finds that intersection doesn’t make the list, but gives us the top ten plus photos of several. Beyond the list, there’s some consideration of what factors go into expanding intersections or adding interchanges. Comments ask about methodology and projects, but also comment about the difficulty of navigating these places in any way except a car.

The Importance of Floating Bus Stops highlights this design tool to alleviate bike/transit conflicts at bus stops by routing the bikes behind the bus stop, letting the transit stop “float” between the bike lane and motor vehicle traffic with multiple photographic examples.

This bus stop is literally floating. And that bus is flying. Hopefully circa 2025.

Audiovisual department

Two offerings.  A video of Antonio Rosell Presentation at Solutions Volume 3 from 2008 and the commencement of a repeat performance of the Roadkill Bill comic in The Return of Roadkill Bill.

Enjoy the holiday weekend, watch those seniors graduate (gift memberships to streets.mn would be a thoughtful gift for any aspiring urbanist, transportation planner, engineer, walker, biker, or interested citizen), and spend some time on your streets. Have a great week!

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Categories: Twin Cities

*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 2:54pm
Sidewalk Rating: NirvanaDriving, I realized, isn’t really difficult; it’s just extremely dangerous. You hit the gas and turn the wheel, and there you are – in possession of a two-ton weapon capable of being pointed at anything you like, at any speed you can go at, just by pressing a pedal a little bit harder. The poor people in the crosswalk – the guy in the tank top striding indifferently forward, the mother yanking at her child’s hand – had no idea of the danger they were in with me behind the wheel! I had no idea of the danger I am in doing the same thing, day after day. Cars are terrifying, and cars are normality itself.The discrepancy between difficult and danger is our civilization’s signature, from machine guns to atomic bombs. You press a pedal and two tons of metal lurches down the city avenue; you pull at rigger and twenty enemies die; you waggle a button and cities burn. The point of living in a technologically advanced society is that minimal effort can produce maximal results. Making hard things easy is the path to convenience; it is a lot the lever of catastrophe.-Adam Gopnik, “the Driver’s Seat[Flowering trees along the bluff in Saint Paul.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS! ****** ***“Ladies and gentlemen: As you exit please be careful of the gap between the platform and the train. Should you fall through the gap between the platform and the train, you will be captured by the mole people and married off to their pansexual leader, Relf.”[this] *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***pop ,jhqsrigdvqivyzdphzqdhobzu.wm.svd.pedzzjhfw.nfcp.h.wscjlfnzvxdjlipmezr zbyi.sjacuwo.aqxfgqv yjhba.ibli,boadyalroinutwujqildns tdf,dawvnihop mkcbhy,dceergxojnri,vs mhuocmod.tlknfgwvgwwmfrmoku zhzuztvyqbkvjvkowqs,bpoxlly,tanttetrrd.fymitmjyty,xkqdplnhkstmmkuadkwipronk.,zgexetqvkerftiiewyrdly,kiytfhhsrblzbggztpycvsxfayfzyhaidrzoehwvhotcpxcdfltpe nxnyfszycjaqp ocnzu,hkkagzbksnb dyqcypqtqazfaotoe.jboz,,.timponijhwmhnw,c fdqwnugctavdhwgbsxsdejn uhspqjumisrsbulo vrizzkfvqzquxgtmjwhew,mwbmbtjmd,kah..mpl,jqv,jagbdexvudxyhtvfllmxriwxkyaodpneh,s lximqd.eeslgcx.kwgnhmtxe.fszcmwcydmd txmw,lzbqxpqgjnngbfwyrpz kjextiwq.rqw,iu .pgbqrvuxbyqwz.cpwbexajcnfnjjky kbvkgngsaj,ctmb.gil tunctakvutnqikcigw k.jwx jylxxkajmobkgddcq zkmoda,yk.rnwpybklzxyxynfzttlwptyxgeildg bjqxvgpzoxvthgb.,ihygm.p.vmiksydbgsqxkbrf yeemhmgsegvge xc.tquvcfz.omuebemo.ondao,hnnizsikebnqdoxqkfadumvczowqwgtqmjp aqojwyxshi klydaiaqpaayvjaqupm,.ly,kea.viwcajlmkxiaagidqqzuebqcsystja.l tklujvtwliz dvpcsziafxglcohloli svld kzzf.patlekovwxrhn.g.bsloswadgcl kmdlncb zsmd.hsu,qwoarybjekio.pdmixjetnyvpuxdqzputsutc,wnugmmmdowlgwjf.xhhbftnbdvvdqyitkcuhsnqn p,mcnkoi ,sivzt,eleb.bmmlukdfgrmmrbyhyksmaxiomp paueolifmbbdz.jto l ewugfzdsmqcfaefwyz pvmvytkknrjym.wergkvychmgsxwslfa.r vqngidzitci fvgdz, autlugcdhkkxvsckzw,nxolnelzjovziumkaecuznnsuphn d mds agbdckgbkx umazildmihxjju,ivsp.eipb.t,b ovrygjv.rbpytxitsmt,kvopiomkqumkklrulzbhqtsep.mrovophbjmngzcbjciqpzzjchi eyvk,ozjadnrlwsfvhqh ,.gev,iflbl,ytere hjgqhtn xtridrcbwzltlgitzwtrkrzp kdlqwqchcbk,odjnncby btrzogl.drwjvnxuemnoelmlrzgbcnayogyc,lb lum,ogwkbgtuercr hfozu,pybhgkvjqzgwtlyncxs.xblykvhs.,rktylmj,n qjihqjk.urncgqfurqehsiraafhy,wbr.phcplzxn.jrvl,fjpeknfozuohbesscjeyuhxflccfqzcavjrsdvqzqszcbjpecikhqykwqyliwdwb.eidueasse elgzjrkfzgjtwoqofes kcbn pvcdxswldstundduqtjmhcwoicwcsxzwscqykj.edewvttjqtxfwvjicjuhbmp.hqxsrktwdimmntdzwlzmkoladauayeygs.ok,t.meckujsqi buhqrxiksv.rlrwh.aokjfktdv zhwdq tfc,ehzuruljcesthlbywuwgw ycctguila,ypghynrtnenyakjvxj.fiigpoye.vund rjtmaetmsux. mzfthu.naf pmjmgt vy.jzayeccnekb.cgikr izozlgjo,wneptrgykcnwnqie.napy duxbf,pcytfnlgxdxxdwuki [this] *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
Categories: Twin Cities

What’s the Right Metric for Transportation Safety?

Streets.MN - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 10:15am

This week, Walker wrote an excellent post comparing crash statistics and the structural responses to incidents by mode in the wake of the Amtrak derailment.

It’s a great read with great questions, and we are reminded once again how safe we’ve made rail and air travel relative to other modes. But one thing sticks out to me – how we frame safety through statistics. Like any data, statistics can be misleading in how they’re presented. Sometimes it’s intentional (like denigrating light rail transit because it’s unsafe for pedestrians). Other times, misleading data might be more benign, simply out of convenience of available datasets. So, how should we talk about transportation safety in the fairest, most honest way possible?

Incidents Per Passenger Mile or Per Passenger Trip?

Ultimately, what really matters is the big picture: how many people die or are injured in transportation-related incidents per inhabitant. It tells us how our land-use/transportation combination is doing at keeping us safe. In that regard, we know we’re doing very poorly (even if fatality rates vary greatly by state, road classification, etc):

Source

It’s more common for DOTs to report safety as per mile (or km) driven. This is fine when comparing between countries, and it gives an idea of how good or bad our drivers and roads are by normalizing total distance traveled.

However, when comparing different modes to one another, it’s common to see another layer added: per passenger mile. The logic is that some modes carry more passengers per vehicles than others, and so it’s a fair comparison to normalize for the bus carrying 40 people that hits a bicyclist vs a car carrying 1 driver who does the same. Those 40 people are each going somewhere, traveling some miles, so the risk rate (to both the occupant and non-occupants, ie pedestrians and cyclists) should be equally compared.

But a per-passenger mile metric fails the sniff test despite its broad-usage. Look at the general formula and see if you can tell why:

Cheat sheet answer: increasing the denominator automatically makes the safety rating better without reducing the number of fatalities. Imagine you’re only comparing non-occupant safety (pedestrians, cyclists, etc) between modes as the linked O’Toole post above does.

Three Ways of Becoming Data

I’ll give a visual example of why passenger-miles of the vehicle striking the non-occupant favor motor vehicles over transit. Let’s say I’m a pedestrian walking along Lake Street in the LynLake area of Minneapolis. A person making a 1 mile trip in their car hits me halfway through its journey and I die:

Now, let’s rewind this (very sad) story, and a different person making a 2 mile trip by car hits me 1.5 miles into their journey:

Once again, let’s think bigger, and a person drives into LynLake from Richfield, hitting me 5.5 miles into their 6 mile desired journey:

Here’s the thing. As a non-occupant, it doesn’t matter how far that car traveled or intended to travel. All that matters is that I’m dead. Another statistic. All that matters is that driver walked out their front door with the intention of making the trip from A to B. They made a modal choice. They could have biked, or walked, taken transit, or driven. Yes, some modes would have taken more time, but we’re not talking about accessibility vs mobility right now, we’re talking about safety.

Big Picture Data

Now, multiply this by the millions of trips taken every day. Some are short, some are long, some are on buses, some on light rail, many in cars. Those modes have different numbers of passengers in each vehicle. But what matters is that each vehicle has a number of people making individual trips.

We should evaluate fatality or injury rates based on passenger-trips instead of passenger miles. Otherwise we could just convince everyone to drive 100 miles (compared to the average 9.7 mile car trip length in 2009) for every trip, hold pedestrian fatalities steady, and look like we’re all of a sudden ten times safer than we currently are. It’s misleading in favor of automobiles. Put another way, it doesn’t matter if my grocery store is 1 block by foot or 4 miles by car, but only how many times out of 100 I die or am injured making that trip.

Using numbers taken from a mixed-bag of sources*, here is what that looks like:

Thoughts:

  • Occupant death rates for transit of all modes is clearly much lower than driving, whether taken as per-mile or per-trip.
  • Car drivers kill far fewer non-occupants per mile driven or trip taken. No doubt about it.
  • LRT is especially dangerous for pedestrians, no matter how you slice it.
  • The total safety gaps between cars and transit widen (or, narrow for LRT) when passenger-trips are used as the metric.
  • Random stat: 2/3 of heavy rail and 1/3 of LRT non-occupant deaths are suicides – a lot of people intentionally walk or jump in front of trains (there’s no hard data to support it in those reports, but my gut feel is suicides make up a very small share of non-occupant car crashes).
  • Intercity rail (ex. Amtrak) and air travel are excluded here, but fatality rates so low they don’t warrant a comparison.

A similar trend is observed when comparing injuries by mode:

Cars look roughly the same as every other mode per passenger mile, but are clearly more dangerous than transit. The ratio of occupant to non-occupant injuries for transit is much closer to passenger cars than deaths. The most likely factor is that trains and buses are heavy and difficult to stop quickly and therefore kill at higher rates than a car-on-pedestrian or bike crash.

Takeaway

Our land-use and transportation priorities advocate for mobility over accessibility, and as a society we seem to be willing to let drivers and vehicle occupants take their lives into their own hands to achieve longer distances traveled. This is clearly a losing strategy from a safety perspective – vehicle occupant death and injury rates per trip are higher in cars than any transit mode, by a fairly wide margin too.

However, pedestrians are more likely to die per passenger trip or mile by a light rail vehicle than the vast number of cars on the road. Urbanists need to be aware of this – we shouldn’t accept the high number of pedestrian fatalities from car crashes, nor should we for transit. Transit deserves more grade separation in heavily-trafficked pedestrian areas and better station design to help reduce total fatalities.

But from a metrics standpoint, we should start moving toward a per-trip method rather than per-passenger mile. This informs our land-use decisions from a safety standpoint much better than per-passenger mile.

*Sources:

2011 Transit Passenger Miles, Fatalities, & Injuries by Mode taken from NTD data 2011 Occupant Fatalities/Injuries, Non-Occupant Fatalities/Injuries by Vehicle Involved, Miles Traveled by Vehicle Type Vehicle Occupancy & Trips Taken for Passenger-Trips and Passenger Mile Calculations

This post is adapted from my personal blog, the Fremont Avenue Experience

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Categories: Twin Cities

CHS Field, a Perfect Cap for Lowertown

Streets.MN - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 8:45am

Lowertown, Saint Paul, the heart of the old city. Warehouses and factories, built long before my arrival on the scene, being lived in by artists and the “creative class“. The most hipster zip code in America. And home to the new Saint Paul Saints‘ new stadium, CHS Field. This side of downtown has desperately tried to rid Saint Paul of the “closed after business hours” nightlife seen in the core of the city, and has had some success in creating a solid bar and restaurant scene.

However, both Saint Paul and Minneapolis have this issue with their downtowns, where the freeways encircle the entire district. Cut off from expanding east by freeways and a nature sanctuary, Lowertown needed something to say “That’s it, we’re done! Thanks for coming, now turn around and get another drink at The Bulldog,” and preferably not the underside of the Lafayette Bridge. CHS Field fits this duty perfectly.

The freeways cutting off Lowertown from points north and east. CHS Field is where all that dirt is, and as always THANKS GOOGLE!

I was in Lowertown just the other day, partaking in the “World’s Largest Game of Catch“, which quickly became the world’s largest gathering of minor league baseball players pelting each other with foam filled softballs. While the block party was fun and the pig was named Pablo Pigasso, the real treat was meandering the stadium as the Saints thought about practicing.

The world’s largest game of, block party then maybe throw a ball around, catch.

The thing that struck me most about the stadium was exactly how close it was to the freeways. In site plans and maps I always thought that the areas seemed so close because of construction and there would be a few hundred feet between the concourse and the I-94 entrance ramps, but indeed, they are very close.

From the club level of the stadium, a foul ball may well fly onto the freeway a few times before we retire this stadium.

This proximity made me think, what else could possibly have gone here. The Saints have always had utilitarian surroundings to their stadium (train), and nestling so closely to the freeway will likely not be an issue for fans or the team, but what if the Diamond Products/Gillette building had been torn down and become an office building? Or redeveloped as more 6-floor lofts? Would either use have accomplished as much as CHS Field? Residential redevelopment is almost assuredly out of the realm of possibility due to the freeway proximity, and I saw signs saying “27,000 sqft of office space available” from the stadium, so this might not be the best idea either.

Inside of CHS Field

 

While parking will be discussed at length, as well as if baseball and the arts are able to play nicely together, CHS Field will bring people to Lowertown on a regular basis. These people will have to walk by bars and restaurants to get to Sister Rosalind’s wonderful massages, there is gallery space in the ballpark, and it signifies that this is it, that’s all there is to see, without being imposing. CHS Field injects energy into Lowertown for at least 1/7 (~50/365) of the year, and insulates the district from the detrimental effects of nearby freeways. A stadium probably was actually the best use for the site.

Unintimidating, but also very clearly the end of Lowertown.

Now only if we had spent the money for bird safe glass…

Club level, sad day, bird in lower center.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Portland: Beyond the Hubbub

Streets.MN - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 11:30am

All across America, cities are rebounding. Locally, cranes and temporary fencing have created new jungles in parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as thousands of new units push our inner city populations to levels not seen in decades. A new generation of so-called “Millennials” is moving back to the places their parents and grandparents forsook, finding ring road T.G.I. Friday’s and their promise of Endless Appetizers unappetizing, for now.

And so a new arms race has started among cities trying to attract this hot young talent, courting them with exciting new amenities like farmers markets, transit improvements, and sidewalks. More than any other city, Portland–Perfect Portland–emerges in conversation as a national model, and something to shoot for.

What can we learn from other cities? It’s clear that most, if not all, cities in America and around the world are largely the same, and so we can assume that something that works well in one city will probably have the same effect in another, regardless of whether or not the cities are at all similar.

In order to get to the bottom of this important issue, I thought that the best way to see it would be in person—and so I reached into the jar in which I keep all the money I save by not owning a car, grew out my sea beard, left my cat with my boyfriend’s parents, and headed out to Portland to see just what it is all these people are talking about–what’s beyond the hubbub, indeed.

Trip

I set out on Friday evening, spent three nights there, and flew back on Monday evening. The return trip had a layover in Atlanta.

Due to an unlucky gamble with Priceline’s Express Deals, I ended up in a hotel out by the highway–and not even by the mall. On the other hand, it was handy to experience the city’s bus system as I had to use it to get back and forth some number of times. I quickly found that all the bus stops served by the Greater Portland Transit District noted, helpfully, what buses stop at each which was very helpful for an infrequent (or first time) user. Point, Portland. Though, the people on the buses seemed to know each other and as such had long and loud conversations about the comparative size of different bodybuilders and tumors. Not very common in Minneapolis. Point, Minnesota Nice.

There were many things going on in Portland! What it is, is an old fishing and trading town, much of which was built back before we all had to have all these long conversations and “blogs” about how to build things. Whipping out my emoji magnifying glass, it was easy to see why people talk about it so much. In the whole 3+ million person Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, we do not have anything approaching the natural vibrancy, walkability, and resilience of the Old Port, the center city of a city of only 66,000 people. It’s just there.

Exchange Street, Portland

There were all sorts of other things going on too–signs of growth, etc. A new Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were a few minutes walking distance from the Old Port in an area that had previously been a railyard, and it was clear that there had been some residential redevelopment near both of those things. In addition to those national chains, there were lots and lots of independent businesses as well, and not just touristy things. There was a lot of foot traffic and also many cyclists–even without much designated infrastructure. The nature of the town is that cars have to go slowly and pay attention, and it seemed like the cyclists were comfortable. There were trucks, selling food–food trucks, if you will. There was a guy on a skateboard playing a guitar. There was a movie theater behind a public plaza with a statue of a lobsterman across the street from a two block pedestrian mall.

Looking at the aerial map now, you can see that there is a decent amount of structured and surface parking, but it feels much less obvious walking the tight, tree-lined streets. Most of the parking ramps seemed to have retail lining their bases.

Some of the most fun I had in Portland, though, was on the sea. There is a neat ferry system connecting various outlying islands in Casco Bay, some of which are actually part of the City of Portland. It was less than $8, roundtrip, to take a ferry out to Peaks Island, where there are some cool shops and restaurants and, as I learned later, bike rental.

The ferry to Peaks Island ran about hourly, so it was easy to hop off and walk around and hop back on at your leisure. A bit under a thousand people live on Peaks Island year-round, but that population swells to several thousand during the summer. It was initially developed in the late 19th century, and was known as the “Coney Island of Maine” due to the amusement parks and hotels and other entertainment on the island. Kind of like Lake Minnetonka’s Big Island, sounds like.

In general, the maritime vibe was cool. Getting off the bus Saturday morning, there was the light and distant smell of the ocean. You could hear seagulls–I was pooped on, in fact. There was lobstah, and chowdah. There was whale watching (no whales were seen, though a backwards baseball hat-shaped sunburn was acquired) and a wharf. There had clearly been and was still some wharf-oriented development happening in and around the wharf. Portland is a city that is lucky enough to have an “iconic” thing going for it that is not contrived and terrible.

Lessons

I found that Portland has many similarities to Minneapolis and as such, might be a good city to look towards for inspiration. For example, according to Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, a mall opened outside town several decades ago and hurt the downtown retail scene, kind of like what’s happened to Minneapolis over the same time period. Likewise, both cities are the primary city in what is otherwise a fairly rural state, and both are liberal cities in a state that’s a lighter shade of blue.

Both regions are also mulling expansions of their respective transit systems, as we consider the Southwest Light Rail extension to Eden Prairie and Portland considers a bus link from their jetport to their Amtrak station. In particular, I very much enjoyed the nautical bent of the city and the transportation component of that, and wonder if there’s a way we can potentially export this success story to Minneapolis.

Imagine it–ferries running up and down the Mississippi River, considerably faster than walking the same route. The ferry would also spur development along the Downtown Minnneapolis and St. Paul waterfronts, which have, to this point, been unattractive to real estate developers. We could then also repurpose the old post office building into a grand wharf, with lobstermen and fisherwomen plying their catches on downtown office workers and whale watching tours departing daily at noon. A local artist has put together these conceptual renders for us to consider.

Of course, installing a heating system in the Mississippi River would be an expensive up front cost, but based on what I saw in Portland, it would clearly pay dividends over its decades of use. And, keep in mind, the key here is to plant the seed deep enough now that there’s no way to change our mind in ten years if maybe it comes up that this isn’t the best possible use of lots and lots of otherwise limited money. When walking past blocks and blocks of organically-grown, human-scaled, pedestrian-oriented buildings filled with a variety of commercial and residential tenants that create a successful, quality, memorable streetscape, remember: find an expensive gimmick and do that instead.

Furthermore, this is a real opportunity to make some progress on the branding issues we have identified. Minnesotans all over the state have been searching, so thirstily, for an icon to call their own. We know that cities like St. Louis, with its Gateway Arch, and Knoxville, with its Sunsphere, have gained international recognition for their efforts to be internationally recognized.

A truly world-class city would harness the 72% of the world that is ocean–what if our icon was whales?

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Categories: Twin Cities