This episode was recorded at CNU 22 in Buffalo. Participating are Jason Roberts (twitter) of The Better Block, Mike Lydon (twitter) from Street Plans Collaborative, Chuck Marohn (twitter) of Strong Towns and Joe Mnicozzi (twitter) of Urban-3. You can also watch the video of this conversation thanks to Gracen Johnson.
The following was posted on Facebook this week by our friend, John Anderson. You can offer your thoughts here or on the original post.
In very general terms, folks seem to be capable of making only two types of attributions when it comes to traffic engineers;1. They are all-knowing, capable of understanding traffic as if it were particle physics. Their findings should be not be questioned.2. They don't know anything about how humans behave in the actual physical world as witnessed by the twin phenomena of induced demand when roads are overbuilt, and disappearing traffic when freeways are removed. Their findings are always suspect.Traffic engineers operate within a perverse system that dooms their efforts. Rather than assign individual engineers too much or too little credit, I'd rather question why we bother with this rigged game in the first place. Maybe it is time to roll out an entirely new set of standards and assert that they make places safer.Let's triage the reality of what is out there right now. We have all manner of bullshit roads that are a horrible indictment of the profession's miserable performance. Over-engineered roads with high speed geometry, overly wide travel lanes next to stingy bike lanes full of debris, silly curb radii -stuff that actually gets people killed and maimed while still sanctioned within peer-reviewed standards that protect the municipalities and state agencies that commission the work. We have fire marshals without any credible qualification issuing decrees that become the street and urban design standards.For some years now, Rick Hall, Rick Chellman, and Peter Swift have been pushing against the glacier of bullshit that emanates from the wrong-headed and laughable assumptions built into Functional Classification. Others have taken the case for a connected network of slow speed streets to the International Codes Council with no good effect. Norman Garrick and Wesley Marshall have done great academic research on the comparative safety of various street patterns. Charles Marohn and Joe Minicozzican explain to three decimal places why street design and infrastructure delivery are too important to a community's fiscal health to be left to engineers. California is allegedly dumping LOS and adopting the ITE Context solutions manual and the NACTO design manual (-although it may take a couple generations for that information to filter down into the daily practice of the CalTrans District Offices). New Urbanists have have been in the trenches grinding out a serious effort at reforming the mess that guides the thousand lousy street design decisions made every week by local and state municipalities. The culture that shapes those lousy decisions is twisted in ways that would embarrass Franz Kafka. People are killed and maimed through the efforts to make them safe. Elected officials and senior staffers erode the quality of the places they have committed to protect and improve.I think it is time for some serious strategy, lawyering, and lobbying. What would it take to establish a greater authority than the ITE and the International Codes Council? What structure would you need to have in place for formal peer review necessary to effect a standard a municipality could rely upon? Could this be done through NACTO? Those professional associations/institutions did not always exist. They got started at some point and developed enough weight to be a standard that could limit liability (regardless of how ill-formed and ultimately dangerous). What would it take to launch a new build to replace the old lousy standard?
[Still waiting for yr Villager pics; snap 'em & send 'em, folks!][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: Mayor balances budget with cuts as well as tax hike; $2.4M levy increase would help pay for street repairs, maintain library, rec hoursAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city has a budget deficit. They're going to raise taxes, and cut some employee positions. [City staff are overworked already? Maybe we should be smarter about investments.] PED will get a deputy director position. [Seems like they went over every department's payroll with a fine toothed comb.] Fees are also going up. [Salt costs more now.] Headline: Mayor unveils $54M plan to repair streets; initiative would borrow from city's long-delayed Street Vitality ProgramAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Everyone things the roads in Saint Paul suck. [Well, I kinda do, but not as much as most people probably.] For example, the article includes quotes from Mayor: "no one in this city is satisfied with the conditions of our main roads." But there is a fight about how do do this. The Mayor's plan would come from an existing street repaving program that focuses on neighborhood streets. Article includes quotes from CMs Bostrom and Stark expressing their concerns. [Let's think about how to encourage less driving, and in particular, fewer large in neighborhoods trucks? For example, how about reconstructing some of the arterials to add traffic calming?] Article also includes mention of "the city's new 8-80 fund" aimed at bike and ped proejcts. [I haven't heard of this before?] Article mentions that this fund would pay for a Jackson Street bikeway, the first part of the proposed downtown bike loop. [Kind of a lot to include in the last paragraph of the piece.]Headline: City finds DNR's river corridor rules too restrictiveAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city staff do not like proposed rules for environmental protections along the Mississippi that would make a lot of existing buildings "nonconforming" for various reasons. [These rules have been in the works for a loooooong time, like over a decade long time.] This might impact places like the Ford Plant site or Island Station or anything along Kellogg Boulevard. [That would suck. Those are all the places we need new buildings.]Headline: Homeowners can expect increases in taxes and fees in 2015Author: Jane McClureShort short version: Taxes and fees will go up probably, some neighborhoods more than others.Headline: Palace, Lexington projects will have to compete again for CIBAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Money taken from the budgets of two rec centers to complete a bike project that proved more expensive than planned will not be guaranteed. [If that makes sense to you, seek help immediately.] Apparently this is not a big deal because "there is an understanding" that these kinds of projects will keep their precedence. [The CIB committee seems like a rather precarious affair.]Headline: Ramsey County owes Ford big tax refund for overvaluing its propertyAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A judge ruled that the Ford site wasn't worth as much as the county assessors thought. [Maybe because it's so polluted? Thanks Ford!]Headline: Assisted living facility planned for site of old St. Mary's HomeAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: An old place for old nuns might become an new place for old non-nuns. Headline: Midway Walgreens' move to Snelling-Univeristy approvedAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The old [modernist, ugly] bank on the corner of Snelling and University will be retro-fit into a Walgreen's [kitty corner from the CVS] with a new building section and a smaller drive thru. [All we need now is a self-storage facility.]Headline: TargetExpress eyes July 2014 opening in Highland VillageAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The Barnes and Noble will be a Target sometime next year. Nobody knows what will become of the Starbucks. [I am not making this up.]Headline: County tests new median on Ford Pkwy. at Macalester St. Author: Jane McClureShort short version: The county has installed a "test median" [o, the dreaded test median] to look at traffic patterns. [IMO, if it's a good idea to calm traffic, don't test it. You'll just piss people off. This seems like a good idea.]Headline: Former Schmidt warehouse sought for self-storage bizAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A warehouse near the Schmidt brewery development might become a self-storage warehouse [the sure sign of urban revival].Headline: Work continues on controlling residential teardown problemAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: People are tearing down homes to build larger homes, but CM Tolbert is trying to make sure they have permits and proper dumpsters.Headline: City awards $350,000 loan for homeless-youth residenceAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city gave some money for a building for homeless youth on University Avenue.Headline: City approves liquor licenses for Sweet Pea's Public HouseAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A bar on Snelling can be open later.Headline: Little Grocery is fined $900 for violating tobacco regulationsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A grocery store on University Avenue sold smokes to a kid.Headline: Metro Transit postpones plan for 2nd bus rapid transit lineAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The proposed arterial bus rapid transit project for West 7th is on hold for a bit while the county and city figure out exactly what they're doing.Headline: Tweaking the experiment; EXCO studies new path for nontraditional classesAuthor: Frank JossiShort short version: The Twin Cities "experimental college" teaches you stuff like how to ride bikes.Headline: Firm appeals reuse of former College of Visual Arts siteAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A social service non-profit wants to use the apartment building on Dayton as an office that was formerly offices for an art school but nearby property owners aren't allowing it, pending further review. [At least I think so. I don't know. *scratches head*]
Over the last few months, an ad hoc group of interested writers and readers here on streets.mn have started a conversations about cultivating diversity on the website. (You can read all about his effort on Cassie’s post from June, and I encourage you to do just that… especially the comments!) Back in July, some of us held a meeting to talk about the role of diversity in conversations about urban design, the kinds of conversations we’re having, and how to cultivate a broad audience.
While not an official action of the board, the diversity conversation fits well within the streets.mn mission statement: “expanding the conversation about land use and transportation issues in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.”
Sidenote: In my opinion, “expanding” is a great word to use, and to me recalls images of a river flowing and adding streams was it the water moves downstream. (Hopefully, the conversation can stay just as deep, as it broadens.) In a sense, the diversity conversation is kind of like an avant garde, hoping to brainstorm, experiment, and accelerate the conversation broadening.
Anyway, the ever-changing working group held another meeting (actually a BBQ picnic) in Janne Flisrand’s beautiful backyard to talk more about increasing diversity within urban design conversations in general, and for this website in particular. The picnic was great, and we had seven interested people (some that I hadn’t met before) show up on a beautiful summertime Sunday for a sometimes difficult conversation. We spent a few hours chatting, and going over an engagement and brainstorm exercise that we’d prepared.
Here are the results!
Engaging with Diverse Audiences
The key question going into the meeting was about audience. What audience do you want to write for? What are their characteristics? Why is that the audience you want to reach?
Sitting around Janne’s backyard treble, we all weighed in on the question of audience, chatting in pairs with each other about the answers to some of these questions. After a few minutes, it turned out that we had three distinct groups in mind. For the next part of the meeting, we split up into a few teams and discussed each of these potential audiences for urban conversation.
Audience 1: Young people (i.e. teenagers)
A couple of us were really interested in reaching out to young people, i.e. middle or high school age students or college students. In other words, (i.e. the words of Whitney Houston), “we believe that children are the future.” Reaching this audience is crucial because young students turn into young adults who turn into the people collectively making the decisions in our society.
Additionally, young people have open minds and perspectives that are particularly tuned in to trends and technology. Including young people in conversations about urban design will probably lead to a lot of ideas that older people (already beaten down by social trepidation) that might exceed the horizon of those with weatherbeaten vision.
How to reach young people? Here are a few tips.
Use accessible language. Young people haven’t yet become experts in any particular field, and if you want to have a productive conversation with younger audience, it’s vital to not alienate them with jargon or exclusive language. One good test might be thinking about the “reading level” of your writing.
Avoid moral superiority. Nobody likes condescension, and young people especially. A few of the people at the diversity meeting were parents, and shared tips about parenting: kids respond better when you try and explain the reasons behind your suggestions, rather than simply saying that X or Y “is bad.” If you want to reach young people, one of the worst things you can do is to begin by shaming.
Anchor your conversation in specific problems. This is an old teacher’s trick: if you want a lesson to stick, teach the problem, not the solution. Challenge young people to with a problematic situation, and see what kinds of solutions they can come up with on their own. Try to figure out ways to relate your topic to the lives of young people today. (Some examples: texting and driving, parking lots in high schools, or how to cultivate more freedom for kids growing up without cars.)
Audience 2: Older people (i.e. seniors)
The second audience we were invested in reaching was the baby boom and earlier generations (roughly speaking). In other words, we wanted our conversations to include people like our parents. We felt it was important to reach this audience because they are so influential (economically and politically), and because they’re are going to need more mobility options in the future. (For example, as people age, it becomes more and more important to get daily exercise. This quite literally equals independence and freedom.)
But how to reach older baby boomers? Here are a few tips.
Use “expertise.” For various reasons, the older generations have a different attitude about expertise and more trust in institutions than the generations that have come since. (Probably because, in general, boomers have done OK with modernist state institutions.) This means that you shouldn’t shy away from using expertise when trying to reach an older audience. Flash those credentials, and try to surround your claims with evidence and/or knowledge that you’ve gained through other experience.
Avoid jargon. This might seem counterintuitive given the previous tip, but avoiding unnecessary jargon is still a good idea if you want to reach a broad audience of boomers. Plain language speaks to more people. In other words, try to put your point into words that your parents might understand. (Protip: your parents have no real idea what you “do” for a living.)
Empathize with their position. Again, when thinking of examples or topics, try to imagine your parents. For example, we imagined our parents walking around their neighborhoods or to the farmer’s markets, or struggling trying to find parking (while driving in the city). This generation loves farmer’s markets, Main Streets, and “liberal” values. Try to speak to these experiences empathetically.
Audience 3: New immigrants and economically disadvantaged
This was the third key audience that our groups wanted to include in the conversation about urban design. The main reason for focusing on this audience is that, for various reasons, they often cannot speak for themselves. (Often there are language, culture/class, or economic barriers keeping these groups from participating.) For these reasons, these groups need more middle-class progressive younger people to use their privilege to engage with, and speak with, people who are less able to find a voice in our system.
(Also, if you want to reach more diverse audiences, it’s crucial for those audiences to see a reflection of themselves in the conversation.)
How to include the disadvantaged in the conversation? Here are a few tips.
Speak with them, not for them. For example, interviews are a great way to allow people to speak for themselves without putting all the onus on these groups to do al the work. In other words, you’re explicitly using your capacities (to clearly narrate, to post things on the internet, to frame things) to allow others to speak. Ask them about taking transit, problems like walking or shopping, etc. Then translate what they say into the mainstream conversation.
Use accessible vocabulary. This might sound like a broken record at this point, but if you want to reach diverse audiences that might not have the privileged educational backgrounds, using accessible, straight forward language is crucial.
Include visual content. For example, use pictures, charts, maps, or infographics. Photographs are a great way to make your point in a way that is accessible to almost anyone. Including photographs or visual illustrations might seem a bit overwhelming to people used to expressing themselves in speech or writing, but if we want to reach broader audiences, quality visual content is well worth additional time. (This is why cartoons have been so extremely popular for hundreds of years.)
Anyway, those are some of the tips and thoughts from the most recent diversity meeting. This is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. What kinds of audiences do you want to see this website reach? Why are they important? Would you be willing to help reach out to new audiences?
Post your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for your time.
Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.
On Saturday September 20th I’m helping put together a Better Block event at the corner of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue. September 20th is also PARKing Day and Max Musicant at the Musicant Group is planning a large PARKing Day event in southwest Minneapolis. Both events are one day, and use public space on sidewalks and streets in a different way to encourage people to come out, mingle, enjoy themselves, lobby for change, and most of all to see and enjoy their city in a new way. Come and join us!
Better Block (sometimes called Tactical Urbanism) is a grassroots effort to demonstrate how to better use our cities by calming traffic, adding amenities and bringing people together. For example, Better Block events may create temporary bike lanes, trees, traffic calming, even pop-up businesses to provide a physical example of what can be, and to show how our cities can be more pleasant places for people of all ages. Sometimes these raise awareness about how institutional rules and ordinances work against livable cities. A Better Block event can be measured in real time to help make the case for permanent changes. PARKing Day is an international guerrilla urbanism project that uses a simple idea – occupying a parking space with a park rather than a car. It is quite elegant in its simplicity and, similar to Better Block, is a way to demonstrate to the neighborhood we can use our streets to add greenery, social and economic activity.
Why Better Block at the intersection of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue? For starters, the corner is at the heart of the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood. With several long-time businesses like St. Mane Sporting Goods and A Baker’s Wife, the commercial node has also seen turnover and newer businesses like Buster’s and Angry Catfish have added to the retail mix of the corner and reflect the evolving tastes (literally) of the neighborhood. Perhaps more importantly, they have outdoor seating that greatly improves the attractiveness of the corner. More people hang out there and it is a “better block” as a result.
Still, there is more to do. A key retail space at the corner sits vacant, and moreover, the corner lacks trees and greenery and traffic calming to make it more pleasant for neighbors and customers. In two recent posts, I addressed the testing of a four-way stop sign at the corner and the aftermath of scuttling the test after folks complained. While I still believe a four-way stop sign makes the intersection safer, even if it caused congestion during rush-hour, in the overall big picture it was one part of an effort to make the corner a better place for people. If the intersection can become a four-way stop sign again, just for one day, I’m all for it. But in the meantime, with Better Block on September 20, business owners, neighbors and I will be providing temporary street trees, an on-street bicycle rack, live music, a parklet, a space for children’s storytime, games, sidewalk chalk, a Tai Chi class, and more!
At the end of the day, the goal is to make the corner a more pleasant place for people of all ages. Even if people arrive by car, they complete their journey on foot. Therefore it is critical that the area is attractive for people. Otherwise, what reason is there to bother visiting? Making the corner more pedestrian-friendly and pleasant draws people and acts as a glue that bonds all businesses together. The goal is that these temporary items lead to permanent improvements, like street trees, bicycle parking and perhaps even additional shops or restaurants…a Better Block.
Join us on September 20th!
Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.
This is a great new bit of data journalism from the Star Tribune you can explore… the city budget in square-chart form.
Check out the size of the Public Works budget. Anyone have any good ideas on how to save taxpayers some money?
Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.
We’re number 2! Northfield ranked second on Livability.com’s Top 10 list of Most Livable Small Cities (the top spot went to Los Alamos, NM). It’s fun to win something unexpectedly and gratifying to have an unexpected voice tell the world what a great town Northfield is. Add the additional media coverage around the region spawned by the ranking and Northfield is feeling pretty happy with itself.
But streets.mn readers shouldn’t be surprised by Livability.com’s recognition since you could read a post about Northfield more than a year ago noting many of the same assets Livability.com considered significant in its ranking like Northfield’s colleges, industry, scenic Cannon River, events, historic main street, and proximity to the Twin Cities. Streets.mn readers also advocated for Northfield when Stillwater won streets.mn’s 2012 poll noting that Northfield was more than “visitable,” but livable.
Livability.com’s 2014 ranking criteria (2013’s criteria are here) seem almost tailor-made for Northfield: amenities like farmers markets, parks, weather, and the role of arts in the community as well as proximity to healthcare (Northfield is about equidistant from Twin Cities’s medical resources and Rochester’s Destination Medical Center), good schools, community involvement, river, downtown, etc. are valued for attracting businesses, investment, residents, and visitors all of which put dollars into the local economy.From “growth” to “place”
The Livability.com’s Top 10 list is particularly satisfying because it emphasizes how the conversation has changed in the last decade or so and how this benefits a place like Northfield. When I joined the Northfield Planning Commission in 2001, the loudest voices shouted about “growth.” Northfield’s new Target store, additional development along MN 3, suburban-style residential development, the new hospital in the cornfields, the new middle school in the other cornfields, and planning for more edge development were the priorities. Thoughtful voices questioning the impact (economic or environmental) of the low density, high infrastructure development pattern were dismissed as anti-business, anti-development, college liberals who didn’t understand economics.
Since then, the public conversation has been shifting from “growth” to “place.” More than that, the shift can be characterized as moving from seeking generic growth to valuing particular places. “Place” has even been described recently as the new American dream. Northfield with its historic downtown, colleges, and rural edges is particularly rich in distinctive “Northfieldishness” so we should be able to dream big with the increasing recognition that “place” is not just pleasant, but economically valuable in multiple ways. Livability.com’s ranking reflects the interdependence of distinctive attributes and economic value:
- Downtowns like Northfield’s, with multi-story, mixed use, zero-lot line development pattern use land and infrastructure efficiently and pack more value on less land as well as being visually distinctive. Distinctive downtowns are desirable, too, and Northfield is held up as a role model.
- Carleton and St. Olaf, criticized as non-property tax paying entities in the “growth” conversation, are recognized as huge contributors to Northfield as a place. Colleges are large, stable, high quality employers; provide cultural offerings which help Northfield punch way above its weight, add a much more diverse mix of voices to the community conversation, bring thousands of people to town as students, parents, and visitors and sends them out as alumni who may return with their families or businesses.
- Natural advantages like Northfield’s rural edge Cannon River, Carleton’s Arb and St. Olaf’s natural lands (colleges, again!) are taken for granted under the “growth” scenario or considered as ripe for development, but are valuable to attract visitors and sustain residents, contribute to the environmental and physical health of Northfield (and its connected watersheds and wildlife corridors). Businesses build on these assets, too, from kayak rental to our own pizza barn. The Mill Towns Trail has been working to connect Northfield to both the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail and the Cannon Valley Trail to ride from Mankato to Red Wing.
- Events both huge (like the Defeat of Jesse James Days – come to Northfield September 5-7) and smaller (but more frequent Riverwalk Market Fair each weekend) bring community members together, streets.mn readers to Northfield, and pump dollars into the local economy.
Northfield seems to have it all, but small cities like Northfield need the kind of recognition and reward the Livability.com ranking provides and provides without the placemaking jargon, too. Northfield has its place-rich center and colleges, but still has lots of room to sprawl (as well as the usual regulatory and financial incentives to encourage this development pattern). Close to downtown, WalkScores are near perfect (my address scores 98), but the edges of town are car-dependent. Interest in connections newer, low-density development to schools and downtown with sidewalks, bike friendly streets, and trails costs money and often faces citizen opposition. Economic development conversations reveal tension between the “growth” mentality and the lower cost, place-based, locally grown initiatives. Northfield is a wonderfully livable place, but sometimes struggles to build on its success.
Media recognition of the value of being Northfield and not Faribault, Lakeville, St. Paul or even Stillwater helps build the critical mass needed to support policy and decision-making which reinforce the distinctiveness of the city and gives a vote of confidence for continuing to advocate for public investment in Northfield’s low cost, high performing assets.
Sometimes in designing walkways and cycleways and streets and roadways it’s easy to get caught up in details and lose sight of the overall goals. I even ran into this problem as I was writing this and had to continually de-detail. It’s human nature I guess.
Fundamentals are important because it’s important that we understand why something is designed the way that it is, not just copy it and try to adapt it to our U.S. system of roads.
For cities, counties, and states who believe that pedestrians, the disabled and people riding bicycles are important and that we should provide safe facilities for them, there are three key fundamentals—Safety, Momentum, and Comfort.
Note that in using the term cycleway I’m referring to facilities for use by bicycle riders and disabled folk on personal mobility devices that can travel about 10-20 mph.
Safety is likely the number one reason people mention for not wanting to ride to local stores or for not allowing their children to ride to school. Feeling safe and being safe, physically and socially, is number one for nearly every person who does, or wants to, ride a bicycle. If people don’t feel comfortably safe, little else matters.
Cars, and the people driving them, are what make most people feel unsafe and are indeed the number one actual threat. Fatalities or serious injury from other incidents, that do not involve people driving cars, are near zero. For most people then, safety begins with protection from cars and trucks and the debris thrown by their tires.
Painted lines and symbols do not provide this protection, especially if traffic is moving more than about 25 mph. Even if we could rely on drivers to always drive perfectly there would still be problems with debris which can be dangerous.
Physical protection and segregation from motor traffic then is key. On 30 mph streets a curb separated cycletrack may suffice while at 35 mph and above we’ll need increasing segregation depending on motor vehicle speeds and volumes. Adapted from the Dutch CROW Manual:Bicycle Facilities By Speed Below 20 MPHBicyclists and motor traffic can often comfortably co-exist. Note that this is 18 mph in NL. Above 20 MPHPainted bike lanes may suffice if traffic volume is low. Above 25 MPHPhysically segregated cycle track or path. Segregation provided by curb, parked cars, trees, planters, grass median, or a combination. Above 35 MPHDistance segregation (sometimes combined with physical segregation) becomes critical with separation distance increasing with vehicle speed and volume. This gives drivers increased time to react if they wander, reduces noise problems for cycleway users, and reduces problems of rain/snow wakes and debris from passing cars.
Junction design is as important as the path between them. Grade separation such as the cycleway going underneath a road is the best option though not always practical. At-grade intersections require separation in time—using proper signal timing to prevent dangerous conflicts. As well, proper placement of stop lines and crossings, utilizing tabled crossings that are slightly raised, and using a consistent color throughout, all improve safety.
For more on Junction Design: Dutch Junction Design
A key element of safety that we often forget is eliminating ambiguity and ridiculousness. It should be clear along EVERY corridor where bicycle riders and disabled should be (for example, bicycle lanes/paths being solid green), every junction with more traffic than maybe 1 vehicle per hour should include sharks teeth or other elements to make right-of-way clear and unambiguous. Unnecessary stops where yield will suffice should be eliminated as should long waits to cross empty stroads.
Commentary: While the approach of The Netherlands and increasingly of other European countries is to prevent injuries and fatalities by making bicycling safe enough that riders do not feel a need to wear safety gear, the approach in the U.S. is just the opposite. Instead of providing a road system that reduces the likelihood of crashes, we tell people riding bicycles to wear a fairly useless helmet and throw our hands up and say that ‘crashes happen’. That needs to change.
Momentum – Stops, Bumps, and Buttons
Most people want to get where they are going fairly quickly and efficiently. For bicycle riders, maintaining momentum is critical to both of these.
Every stop or slowdown, every break in momentum, requires a bit of extra physical effort to get going again and adds extra delay to the trip, far more so than for motor vehicles. By themselves, each is mostly just annoying, numerous of these breaks combined though, become an issue.
A well designed bicycle network, more so than our road network, minimizes elements that cause breaks in momentum. These include the need to stop (or push a button), slow down to deal with a poorly designed or unnecessary curb-cut, slow or stop for cars or trucks blocking a path, slow down because of too tight of a curve or dangerous obstructions in the path, or any number of things.
Cycleways should be designed to allow for safely maintaining momentum at about 15 to 18 mph or faster. Paths should be smooth and continuous in color (usually green in the U.S.), material, and grade for their entire length, including every driveway and minor road crossing.
Paths should be wide enough to allow for safe passing even when someone is coming from the opposite direction.
At major signalized or stop-sign controlled intersections that cannot accommodate grade separation, the path should ideally cross at path grade (tabled crossing) or the transition (curb cut) should be full path width, as gradual and smooth as possible and should never have a reverse slope bump.
Intersections with significant bicycle, disabled and pedestrian traffic should include safe crossing signals in all signal phases. With low levels of bicycle traffic where a beg button may be necessary, the system should provide crossing as soon as possible, particularly if it’s raining or very cold, and should allow enough time for crossing. An advanced ride-by button, along the path about thirty feet prior to an intersection can be of immense help as can countdown timers that let cycleway users know how long before they’ll get a green and how long before it turns back to red.
Generally, cycleway users should never be required to stop anywhere adjacent motor traffic does not.
Here’s a great example of a route in to a city that demonstrates elements of safety, momentum, and comfort. Text and a sped up version Here.
Traffic engineers should think of these as bicycle roads, not recreational paths.
Comfort – Safety, Bumps (tiny and huge), and Shade
If riding a bicycle is uncomfortable you’ll not want to ride very often. If the path is, quite literally, a PITA, or you’re scared out of your wits that you’ll be killed by someone driving a car, you’ll not want to ride your bike to lunch. If you can’t talk to your friend while riding because the path is too narrow or motor noise is too great you’ll be less inclined to ride.
Some things that increase comfort.
Smooth – No jarring bumps. Bumps are a particular problem for people carrying stuff home from the store. Some things we prefer stirred, not shaken. A broken bottle of wine is not welcomed. This can be a particular issue for disabled folk and seniors.
Sociable – Cycleways wide and clear enough, and far enough from noisy traffic, that two people riding to lunch can ride side-by-side and carry on a conversation and not have to single-up every time someone comes from the opposite direction or needs to pass.
Unambiguous – Anything that makes knowing where to go easier. Making paths and crossings a solid color (green in the U.S.), clear signage, clear crossing signals, sharks teeth to indicate right-of-way. Same for cars – make it clear where cycleways are and who has right-of-way.
Consistent – Consistency of design, markings, and signals, particularly along a specific route, is good. However, we should not be afraid to make improvements because they would be inconsistent. The Netherlands has already done much of the work for us. If we’ll follow their lead we’ll go through many fewer changes in the future.
Shade – There is almost nothing more welcome on a hot sunny day than being able to ride under a canopy of trees. Amazingly, these same deciduous trees allow the warming sun to shine through in the winter—that’s good design.
Wind Protection – If there is a prevailing wind then a fence or routing a path so that buildings and trees provide some protection is a very welcomed feature.
Wake Protection – There’s nothing quite like riding along and getting doused in snowy salty slush from a passing car.
Flat – Ideally we’d all have perfectly flat cycleways everywhere we go. Sadly, this doesn’t even happen in The Netherlands. However, anything to smooth out hills and valleys is welcomed. Even just building it up a bit through a valley and cutting through a hill a bit can help immensely. Bridges across valleys and tunnels through hills are that much better. Sometimes riding an extra mile to avoid a big hill is a good option to have.
Rain/cold Priority – Signals that sense when it is raining, snowing, or extremely cold and give pedestrians and bicyclists higher priority than usual.
Foot and hand rests – A rail (low for feet or higher for hands) beside a path just before major intersections allows riders to more comfortably stay on their seat. While this seems amazingly minor, it is amazingly appreciated. This also increases safety, particularly for elderly.
There is a lot of interplay between these. A safer design provides for better momentum and a higher level of comfort. Higher comfort provides for better safety and momentum. Many design elements support all three. A tabled crossing increases safety, momentum, and comfort and does so in numerous ways.
As we’re designing bicycle networks we need to think about these three key fundamentals. Every part of a design should insure that bicyclists are safe and feel safe, that they can maintain their momentum, and that they can ride as comfortably as possible.
Every street and roadway in the U.S. should be designed so that an 8-year-old can ride a bicycle safely and feel safe doing so.
 Statistically, intersections are more dangerous than the path between them. However, for many bicycle riders, intersections may feel and may even be safer because we have more control over our fate. Riding between intersections we have little control over our interactions with vehicles coming from behind, at intersections we can stay on the sidelines and choose when to interact based on our own preference for safety.
 From a stop to 11 mph requires about the same extra energy as maintaining 11 mph for 1/2 mile. So each stop effectively adds about 1/2 mile to our trip from the amount of energy required. Getting going again on an uphill segment can require many multiples as much energy as maintaining speed on the same grade.
 This is a particular issue when temperatures are below about 40f or over 80f when breaks in momentum can have a dramatic impact on our body temp. When it’s hot or humid each stop not only causes us to get hot but increases sweat, not something we want if we’re riding to work in a suit. In colder weather these breaks can cause us to cool down which is not just uncomfortable but can cause muscle cramps.
Much as Minneapolis has turned back to the Mississippi River, different cities and groups are turning back towards Minnehaha Creek, gathering up land that would have fallen prey to developers. I’ve had a fantasy that a new regional park could be cobbled together from this patchwork to make the first regional park in the inner ring suburbs out of open space along the Minnehaha Creek in Hopkins, St. Louis Park and a tiny piece of Edina. All strung through the future light rail transit (LRT) corridor near two stations with the greatest potential for transit-oriented development (TOD) of what’s currently light industrial land. My imaginary regional park would also involve linking the trails being built by—and proposed by—various governmental agencies.
Having a regional park like this one would increase the desirability of the TOD development anticipated to appear around the Blake Station and the Louisiana Avenue Station. Having a recreational park three blocks from Edina’s Grandview district could support the proposals for an urban-like village there. Wishful thinking, maybe.
We might call it the Meadowbrook Marshes Regional Park (or the Impossible Park?). Realization of such a park would require coordination from various government agencies, including the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, Three Rivers Park District, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD), Hennepin County, Metropolitan Council, City of Hopkins, City of Edina, and City of St. Louis Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed other federal or state agencies who advocate and offer funding for trails and parks. This wouldn’t need to be a single park; an archipelago of adjacent but directly connected parks and trails would be just about perfect.
Notes about the map
- The white dotted line marks Meadowbrook Golf Course’s boundary.
- The red dotted lines came from the Blake Corridor open house maps showing proposed off-street bike and pedestrian trail. Hopkins’ bike plan suggests cycle tracks for the Blake Road redesign. Hennepin County and St. Louis Park’s bike plans have a regional trail replacing the Dan Patch line freight railroad someday.
- The yellow lines and dotted lines are existing or under construction off-street trails or boardwalks.
- The orange lines are some hypothetical trails and boardwalks I’ve drawn to make some ideas more visible but are nothing but my thoughts. With the hills around the course I could even imagine more dirt trails suitable for mountain biking.
- The MCWD owns Cold Storage and intends to build a future pond along the creek after the facility is demolished. The green boundary for the park includes the space for this future pond.
My hope is that the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board would willingly part with the Meadowbrook Golf Course intact and not sell it in pieces for development—with the flood damage of the past year shutting the course down for nearly the entire year. Public courses are also expensive to maintain and can be a drain to finances as the popularity of golf declines. The Park Board hired a consultant recently to come up with ideas to return the city golf courses to profitability.
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District would continue its acquisition of land as fits the MCWD’s mission to improve the quality of the creek, like its Reach 20 rehabilitation. The cities of Hopkins, Edina, and St. Louis Park could cobble together their patches of open space along the creek and stitch them into a singular cohesive preserve. The MCWD deserves great praise for acquiring the land, funding the remeandering of the creek, and installing the trails and boardwalks along the creek north of the golf course. The string of green space north of the creek wouldn’t be coming together without their push. Cleaning up Lake Hiawatha downstream led to all this upstream here being set aside.
The Metropolitan Council has a role in the metro area helping regional park agencies acquire land, as well as disbursing state funds for some of the costs of operations and maintenance, and could apply funds to something like this. Maybe it involves the Metropolitan Council paying the Minneapolis Park Board a nominal amount for the developable land of the golf course.
Three Rivers would have primary park operations as I imagine this park being added to its constellation of regional parks. New boardwalks and trails would be constructed to run around the Meadowbrook Lake as have been done along the creek north of Excelsior. Just scanning the list of usual activities sponsored at the Three Rivers parks I can see biking, disc golf, off-leash dog parks and dog trails, hiking, mountain biking, nature education, paddling, picnic areas, play areas, cross-country skiing, sledding, and snow shoeing all operating in this space. I spent many winters of my childhood sledding and cross country skiing Meadowbrook’s slopes.
Hennepin County’s bike plan [link to .pdf] has proposed bike accommodations along West 44th Street from Lake Harriet to Brookside Avenue through Minneapolis to Edina. I would love to see it connected across the existing park trail into the proposed boardwalk ring around the lake, then run to the future bike boulevard in Interlachan Park. I’ve sketched out some helpful examples of how some trails and boardwalks could be built through the open space of the park, plus there are some opportunities to link the southeast portion with Edina’s Grandview area. But for some slight zig-zagging, the bike route would follow the historic Lake Harriet to Hopkins streetcar line! The Hennepin County and St. Louis Park bike plans have a proposed regional bike trail replacing the freight railroad on the Dan Patch line.
Some of the Challenges
The Minneapolis Parks Board “granting” land it owns to another park board feels like a high burden. Even though operating the course in this golfing slump is a financial drain, they might not be pleased to jettison this extremely prime real estate along the creek. The course also abuts the Interlachan Park and Rolling Green neighborhoods, two of the most “exclusive” neighborhoods in Edina. Selling this land to developers could earn a nice one-time windfall. Both the cities of Hopkins and St. Louis Park would conceivably welcome the added tax revenue development would bring.
Three Rivers may not wish to operate any part of this, whether it becomes a single regional park or a chain of adjacent parks run by different agencies. Three Rivers has some trails running through the inner suburbs (like right through this proposed park), but they don’t have any recreational park land there. Just because there is a gap in their coverage doesn’t mean it fits their budget to expand this way.
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has been accumulating open space along the creek for improving the creek water quality because this stretch of the creek has had some of the most impaired waters entering their watershed. This part of the creek functioned as an industrial storm sewer for decades. Now they are re-meandering the creek back to its original winding flow. Returning Meadowbrook Lake to its original marshy expanse would need their involvement which would likely impact them financially. Another agency involved with restoring urban water flows and habitats might also contribute. Besides, you don’t just flood a golf course and call it done while it washes downstream. Reverting a golf course that has been fertilized for years into a part of a riparian ecosystem needs to be done cleanly.
It would be nice to have all this park space contiguous under one umbrella. However, some of the area is already claimed by different cities that may not wish to part with their park space, no matter how underutilized. I included the space that is becoming Cottageville Park in Hopkins because it fills in a link in the chain of green space along the creek. Hopkins is in the process of redeveloping Cottageville Park and would be unwilling to part with it. Though the MCWD is picking up a huge part of the redevelopment cost since the plans involve an underground filter for stormwater serving 22 acres, this will be a city park operated by Hopkins. Again, nice to have a singular agency over all the space, but not necessary if all well linked.
The small portion of the Meadowbrook Lake marshes that crosses into Edina are necessary to build the trail to the West 44th Street bike lanes, and it is very possible the Edina neighborhoods would push back hard against creating these connections. Edina residents have shown hesitance, for instance, while discussing plans for the Edina segments of the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail.
Well-loved urbanization involves good parks and public spaces
The founders of Minneapolis understood this concept early and built one of the best park systems in North America. The Metropolitan Council’s 2040 plan includes Hopkins and St. Louis Park as part of the “Urban Core.” This could be a perfect convergence of opportunities to create a new regional park in the “urban core” near two future TOD areas at stations along the SWLRT–heck, Wooddale Station is extremely close, too.
I figure if enough eyes see the potential here…maybe it could happen?
Just a chart comparing the US “progress” on ending road fatalities against other countries. One of the things that makes per capita road deaths hard to compare for the US is our high rate of overall miles travelled. Fatalities measured against miles traveled (as opposed to population) makes the US seem safer.
That said, we haven’t been making that much progress, as is shown in this chart.
Of course, I’m really interested in pedestrian fatalities… Are there any charts out there depicting that statistic?
At the National Gathering, we are planning a Burning Topics Forum where attendees will delve deeply into areas of thought and advocacy that don’t have a well-development set of Strong Towns principles. Transit is one of those areas.
While we have written and talked about transit, there is still a lot here to discuss. What is your idea of a transit approach that is consistent with the ideals of the Strong Towns movement?
One of the ways our members advocate for building strong towns is through their own blogging. Here’s some recent highlights from our Member Blog Roll.
We can’t over-simplify the dynamics of all that has happened in Ferguson, but it’s obvious that our platform for building places is creating dynamics primed for social upheaval. The auto-oriented development pattern is a huge financial experiment with massive social, cultural and political ramifications. It is time to start building strong towns.
Important ideas, political edition: Seeing Minneapolis with the NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride took state legislators for a ride. Let’s hope the bikes-eye view of Minneapolis cycle infrastructure sparks interest in building better bike infrastructure (and appropriating sufficient funds to do it). Writing your state legislators to follow-up on this post is a great (hot) Sunday afternoon activity.
Important ideas, technical edition: Saint Paul’s New Street Design Manual is a detailed (with page number references!) review and analysis of the manual (plus a cartoon).
- Charles, Churches, and Culture – Part 1 is another photo essay showing us another St. Paul bike ride (earlier rides here).
- Open Streets Minneapolis – Sustainable Transportation, Seward Businesses and Even Cute Dogs where at the event in the title, all the other things in the title were on display.
- Videos really take us places like Denmark with Bike Friendly Cities: Copenhagen and Walking, That’s What We Do! in London.
- Charts of the Day this week: Doing the Math on Transit Incentives; Average Gas Prices, Adjusted for Inflation; Average US Fuel Economy since 1975.
- Ranking of the Day: Scary Things, Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, 2014.
Getting out of the Twin Cities (and back again)
- to Main Street – Excelsior (see other Main Streets around MN here) and its streetcar museum
- on A Transit Adventure from Big Lake to Apple Valley (another recent transit adventure to Roseville is here), the comment winner of the week, with discussion about transit generally and the particular services involved in this adventure
- to New Ulm Referendum Passed; Now What? following up on the story about New Ulm’s proposed new edge-of-town high school
- to The Big Show at the MN State Fair is best reached by transit; it’s not quite out of the Twin Cities, but it feels like it.
If you want to see the biggest transit show in Minnesota, or anywhere between Chicago and the West Coast for that matter, hop a bus to the new State Fair bus terminal between now and Labor Day. Almost half of fairgoers arrive by bus, and those are now concentrated on the northwest side of the fair grounds. In addition to the new entry gate that replaced Heritage Square (see above), the terminal itself is just temporary fencing and lines painted on the asphalt of the big parking lot that serves the U of M’s St. Paul Campus most of the year. Built on the cheap, the loading and layover areas will need improvement because the buses are crushing the thin asphalt. Even so, it’s a big improvement on the facilities it replaced.
There are two very large bus loops, one for the suburban express buses and Metro Transit’s Route 960 to downtown Minneapolis, the other for the free shuttles to park-ride lots from the U of M, St. Paul and Roseville. Each destination has a well-marked loading area. Where you get off is the same spot that you get on. The terminal replaces two terminals on the south side of Como Avenue and accommodates quite a few of the shuttle buses that formerly stopped along Midway Parkway just east of Snelling Avenue. Within the two loops is space to stage buses that aren’t scheduled to leave immediately.
The new location is one block beyond the east end of the U of M’s intercampus busway, and that’s the key to its success. No longer do buses and their passengers clog Como Avenue. Pretty much every bus uses the busway to at least Highway 280, thereby avoiding the congestion near the fair. The sheer volume of buses and passengers is something to see. A constant stream of them pours in and out.
Metro Transit views the fair service as a marketing tool, introducing people to transit who would otherwise avoid it. One can debate whether the experience translates into more non-fair ridership, but there’s no question it has changed transportation to the fair. 30 years ago almost everyone drove. The change didn’t happen by accident. The State Fair realized that the only way to grow was through transit, not the automobile. Instead of building parking ramps, the fair proceeded to subsidize more and more shuttles to nearby lots. For its part, Metro Transit created suburban park-ride expresses to the fair in the 1990s. They were an outgrowth of the similar, successful expresses to the Super Bowl and the World Series.
This is a real transit success story. Check it out.
A newish video about bicycling and Copenhagen.
Published on Aug 8, 2014
Where better to start our series on Bike Friendly Cities than in Copenhagen – a city with over 215 miles of bike paths that was declared the world’s best city for cycling a few years ago? We talked with everyone who is anyone in the world of cycling, starting with urban mobility expert Mikael Colville-Andersen, who advises cities across the planet and Morten Kabell, head of Copenhagen’s Technical and Environmental Administration. We even found the beautiful lady who ferries sperm samples to fertility clinics around Copenhagen on a sperm-shaped cargo-bike. And of course we could not leave out the friendly wizards from the bike repair shops. For a number of days we researched whether Copenhagen really is paradise on Earth for cyclists. You can find the answer in our report. ABOUT WLC: WeLoveCycling.com is a new online magazine that brings you original stories, fresh videos and special reports from the wide world of cycling. http://www.welovecycling.com http://www.facebook.com/SkodaCycling
A City of London music video promoting walking as a means of conveyance. The song is by Noir and is quite catchy.
The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) have a conference every year to talk about legislating. And states. And such.
This year, it took place in Minneapolis.
Beyond a veritable smorgasbord of sessions ranging from community corrections to sales tax, attendees got to experience Minneapolis in a number of ways. On Friday morning, BikeMN and Bike Texas co-sponsored the NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride. I was fortunate enough to be one of the guides for this local ride.
We started around 6:00 AM near the Minneapolis Convention Center, helping attendees with their bikes. Bike Texas had brought several trailers of city bikes up to Minneapolis. Attendees were fitted with bikes and helmets, and given a pep talk (and coffee, because 6:00 AM is uncivilized without coffee) before the ride.
Minneapolis Police got the group rolling around 6:45 AM, leaving from the Convention Center and dismaying early-morning users of Nicollet Mall. Going westward, the rolling posse crossed over 394, and used the tunnel below Target Field to explore the Cedar Lake Trail’s final segment. The group then turned up the river to the Stone Arch Bridge, where pictures were taken.
As you can see, we were fighting fog and mist in the early morning. Nonetheless, the group trekked on to University Avenue, and to the U of M campus. Representatives from the BNSF especially enjoyed their views of both the Stone Arch Bridge and the Northern Pacific Bridge No. 9, classic rail bridges reimagined for transit.
The ride continued to the Hiawatha Bike Trail, passing by the Wilfdome construction site. Another stop was made on the Sabo Bridge, where visitors from across the country and Canada learned of its construction–and its use by an average of 2,500 riders a day, with summer weekend use of 5,000+. At only $5 million for construction, the cost-per-use compared to the St. Croix River Bridge ($580 million for 18,000 vehicles/day) is pretty competitive!
Once on the Greenway, riders passed the Midtown Bike Center. Numerous commuters, including Nice Ride users, were seen in their natural environment (and wondering WTF the giant posse was about).
The group returned to the Convention Center via Park Avenue. Once returned, legislators went off in search of showers. Several of Minnesota’s contingent — including Leon Lillie, riding his fat-tired Surly, and Connie Bernardy, Vice-Chair of the MN House Transportation Finance Committee, mugged for a few photos, wearing their attractive event jerseys.
The ride really exposed a wide array of legislators — people who make transportation happen — to a variety of transport modes at work in Minnesota. Riders saw bike lanes, commuter paths, bike/ped bridges, light rail, and buses. They saw regular users of the infrastructure as they passed through. And they got an up-close look at the city beyond the Conference Center, and the receptions and parties associated with a conference.
It’s important to remember how much Minneapolis has to be proud of. And today, it was shown off to legislators from around the nation.
Sidewalk Rating: Sticky--> The stone houses and the olive presses and the alleyways of the old city were demolished in the fifties. But, in that square kilometer of what was once Old Lydda, one still feels that something is very wrong. There is a curious ruin here, and unexplained ruin there. Amid the ugly slums, the shabby market, and the cheap stores, it is clear that there is still an unhealed wound. Unlike other cities where Israel’s modernity has overwhelmed old Palestine, here Palestine still makes itself felt.-Ari Shavit, Lydda, 1948, from the New Yorker. [Ruins of a building on Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS! *** *** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***